This is not the story of a tax inspector from Brussels, though I’m sure that a thrilling novel could be written along these lines. No, this is the story of an ex-magazine editor who, by a curious twist of fate, has become the EU VAT spokesperson for the Alliance of Independent Authors.
What makes the story even more bizarre is that I still haven’t earned my indie chops in quite the way I had originally planned. But it is a useful story about taking whatever chances Fate throws in your direction.
It was roughly two years ago—how time flies—that the news emerged of the apparently sudden imposition of the new EU VAT regulations governing the sale of digital products. The winter of 2014 saw the interwebs awash with horror stories of micro-businesses that were about to hit the buffers, unable to cope with the cost of compliance.
Amongst the hysteria, a group emerged who kept their heads whilst all around them lost theirs. The EU VAT Action Group‘s page became the go-to venue on Facebook for lively debate and sensible advice about how to cope with the likely effects of the new legislation scheduled to come into force on January 1st 2015. Entrepreneurs and, in particular, creatives running tiny businesses from home benefited from both the research done by members of the group and, more impressively, the direct action taken by some of its leading members, including visits to HMRC HQ in London and the European Parliament in Brussels.
Amid this maelström, I got involved, largely because I had a firm grasp of social media and wasn’t afraid to speak out. I got noticed by the group’s voluntary leadership and played a leading role in one of the Twitterstorms designed to grab media attention about the problem. It worked, and I was interviewed by Radio 5 Live, just one of a flurry of reports on the airwaves and in the press at the time.
It just so happened that I had also become a member of the Alliance of Independent Authors and posted updates on their Facebook group—a move they appreciated because the legislation came as a real shock to self-published writers used to selling their own work via their websites and blogs, as well as, or even instead of, through the giants such as Amazon and iTunes. It seemed crazy that someone shifting half a dozen copies of their memoirs a month would face the same administrative burden as well-known authors selling thousands.
My activity caught the eye of ALLi suprema Orna Ross, who asked me to produce a guide to EU VAT for authors, which has become part of the advisory library offered by this excellent organisation. Now, a year on, I have produced an updated version* and a half-hour podcast ‘performance’ as part of their Frankfurt Book Fair Indie Author Fringe event which rolls out over the coming weekend of 22nd-23rd October.
I’m certainly not here to claim expertise as a European tax advisor. Good grief, absolutely not—I’m not an accountant and have no desire to be one. And if there’s one thing I know, it’s that no-one, even the EU VAT Action team, would be daft enough to claim to fully understand what the hell is going on! That, in fact, has been one of the major factors behind this mess: legislators have acted when ill- or uninformed about this hugely complex problem, especially the effects on the hundreds of thousands of micro-businesses and creatives who started trading online since the measures were first being drafted back in 2006.
No, the story for me is that I have been chosen to be part of this weekend’s events at all! Look at the list of contributors to the FBF Fringe and you’ll see some of the biggest names in the indie world—Orna, of course, and Porter Anderson, Joanna Penn, Mark Coker, Jane Friedman, Mark McGuinness… What the heck am I doing in this kind of company? This isn’t false modesty: it’s genuine bewilderment!
Am I suffering from ‘Impostor Syndrome’? Not really—after all, I’m not on the showbill as a result of claiming to know anything I don’t know, and it’s not as if this appearance is likely to make me a fortune! I do have moments when I’m conscious that I don’t have a string of self-published books to my name; but on the other hand, I did self-publish 26 issues of Battlegames magazine on my own over five years, and went on to design and edit 50 more, as well as a rather large best-selling, albeit traditionally published book. Moreover, the word “book” seems to cover a lot of products nowadays that, not so long ago, would have been called “pamphlets” or “booklets“. I am certainly not ashamed of my output.
I suppose part of me is looking at this another way: I really wish I was in a position to talk about some of the bigger subjects facing indie authors—writers in general, in fact. But this is where I acknowledge what Joanna Penn often says, when she points out that she admires and looks up to those who are further along the road than she is. I have to bear in mind that my contribution, however small it may seem to me, may be significant to someone else who has ‘got on the escalator’ more recently than I have.
As for the ‘big’ subjects, my time will come. As I write, design and publish more, the experiences I will be able to share will increase. So, for the time being, I’m grateful to be able to contribute at all. I don’t have to tell you that the chances one gets in life to become well known for anything are few and far between. Who knows what connections might result from being thrust into the spotlight because of this unlikely association?
If playing the role of ALLi’s EU VAT man is one of the vehicles in which I must travel to explore the future, then so be it. Life’s a curious and unpredictable ride and we must enjoy the journey.
*EU VAT: Pay Attention—or Face a Fine is on sale from my Payhip shop for $0.99. 50% of the cover price will be donated to my Combat Stress Appeal.s
“In the spotlight” image by Tony R, Freeimages.com