It’s a Creative Business: How to Use Copyright-free Images and Sound Without Getting in Trouble

This week, Rodika Tollefson discusses the importance of copyright and creative responsibility.


If you create art for a living, you probably feel strongly about protecting your copyrights. After all, even if all that sweat and tears went into the work for the pleasure of it, you have bills to pay.


I am constantly surprised how many creatives don’t think twice when the tables are turned. They think it’s perfectly okay to copy a photo from a news or stock site, or an image from social media, and use it for their own website, brochure, etc.; use a song purchased from iTunes for a video promoting their art, event, etc.; or re-purpose someone else’s painting for their book’s cover.


Paying 99 cents for a song for your personal music library doesn’t mean you can legally use it as a soundtrack for that great video promo you’re making, and just because it’s easy to copy and paste an image from a website or someone shared a photo on Facebook doesn’t mean you can take it for your own use.


This also applies to images from historic archives, including the Library of Congress, because they often have a copyright holder. In these cases, all you may need is to ask permission. Get it in writing!


What’s a creative with a limited budget to do in all other cases? If you need free music or images, look either for works in the public domain, or for those that have a Creative Commons license. Many photographers, musicians and artists — even professionals — freely allow others to use their work, often only in exchange for attribution.


Some sources of free music:


Some sources of free images:


Read the license terms carefully because even a Creative Commons license may have restrictions and specific requirements on how to give the artist credit. Some don’t allow use for commercial purposes — and even if you’re not making any money from the product, your purpose may still be considered commercial. If you can’t give attribution to the artists, many of them will let you use their work for a small fee instead.


One final point: Don’t let by the term “royalty-free” mislead you. It doesn’t mean “free to take.” Chances are, you need to pay a licensing fee, which comes with certain terms, just like Creative Commons (it may restrict use to news purposes, may require author credit even if you’re paying for the image, and may disallow any editing).


And, of course, don’t forget the best resource of all: fellow Pen Women. You may have a composer or photographer in your own branch who would be happy to share her work with you.


(Disclaimer: I’m not an attorney and this column isn’t intended as legal advice on copyrights. Do your own research.)


Rodika Tollefson is a member-at-large who has a master’s degree in digital media, which included coursework in digital media law. She’s a seasoned journalist who now provides digital media content and strategy, and is currently the editor of The Pen Woman and the National Public Relations Committee Chair.

“Book with Pencil” by winnond/

WANTED: GUEST BLOGGERS! Pen Women are invited to submit guest posts for two new series: Creative Inspirational Wisdom and It’s A Creative Business. Please visit this link for more details. We look forward to reading your material!

It’s a Creative Business: Business or Unconditional Love

This week, Ronni Miller reflects on her professional journey as a creative.


Business What did I know about business? I had been a stay-at-home mother, raising three children after graduation from Boston University with a liberal arts degree, and before that I was a sheltered daughter from a middle class Jewish family whose father was a lawyer and mother was an in-the-closet artist and writer.


Determination to achieve whatever it was you wanted had been the operative narrative around the dining room table in my home of origin.  All I ever wanted was to write, publish, marry and raise a family. Writing had been my mainstay, my plumb line since I was six years old.


Motherhood absorbed my energies, while creativity found a home in children’s plays I wrote for my children’s school and short stories that were stuffed in file folders. The feminist movement lit my fire, and I began to write articles and essays about the need for women to aspire to their creative potentials. A divorce propelled me into teaching English and theater in a private school, where I continued to hone my experiences by writing curriculum for my sixth and seven grade English courses. Trained in acting, I taught drama. That led to my initiation of a yearly consortium drama festival for six private schools in the area of northern New Jersey, which gave students an opportunity to showcase their talents.


I left teaching and landed jobs editing local newspapers and magazines, continued freelance writing and publishing in local and regional publications, and acquired rejections from national magazines that shook my confidence. All the while, I continued to raise my now high school-aged kids.


I worked as a temporary secretary while my children attended college, which helped supplement a freelance income so that I could finish my first novel. An epiphany happened after years of struggles to survive that led to my Write It Out® service product, now entering its twenty-fifth year. As founder and director, I facilitate workshops in the U.S., Bermuda, and Italy, guiding individuals to express feelings, memories, and experiences through writing. In my private practice as Book Midwife, I coach individuals to birth their books.


I’m thankful every day for that epiphany.  My students and clients have been my inspiration and motivate me to continue offering services. The Program has segued into the healthcare field; it’s used by people affected by cancer as well as those who have suffered loss and life-altering conditions, who want to document their stories in prose, poetry, and theater pieces. Seven published books remind me that joy of creating is a balm to my spirit.


Five suggestions to others:


  • Dedicate yourself and believe in your product or service.
  • Trust yourself to pursue a dream.
  • Rely on desire as your support system.
  • Listen and observe your efforts as an educational experience.
  • Incorporate your life experiences into a new profession.


I’ve translated the word business, still foreign to me, to mean service. That has made all the difference. You can call it business, service, profession or simply unconditional love. I call it being an entrepreneur.



Ronni Miller, award winning fiction writer, author of seven books of fiction and nonfiction, produced playwright, published essayist is the Founder and Director of Write It Out® a motivational and expressive writing program for individuals of all ages since 1992. She facilitates workshops in the US, Italy and Bermuda and has a private practice as Book Midwife. A NLAPW member since 2008, she serves as board member of her Sarasota, FL Branch and 4th Vice President of our national society. 


“Female Writing on Notebook” image by adamr/


WANTED: GUEST BLOGGERS! Pen Women are invited to submit guest posts for two new series: Creative Inspirational Wisdom and It’s A Creative Business. Please visit this link for more details. We look forward to reading your material!


It’s a Creative Business: Make Sure You’re ‘Legit’

In this week’s guest blog post, The Pen Woman Editor Rodika Tollefson illuminates what creatives need to know about business.


If you’re one of those creatives who enjoys the business side of things, congratulations! You are part of a very small group of people who love accounting and marketing as much as they love creating their art.


For the rest of us, the business aspects of paid creative work are tedious—which means we put them off for as long as we can.


You may be able to procrastinate when it comes to posting your receipts or updating your website. But there are a few things you should not postpone, and that is to make sure that you are conducting business according to the applicable local, state, and federal laws.


As soon as you decide to sell your work, you are a self-employed owner of a business. Even if you’re a solopreneur—without an incorporated business—and you don’t have a business name, you’re still liable for licenses, permits, and taxes.


Here are a few things you need to know:


Business licenses: Requirements vary from state to state and, in some cases, you don’t need one until you meet a certain revenue threshold. Even if you don’t reach that number, a business license is a good idea for those planning to do public commissions, sell to the public, and so on.

In addition to the state, some local jurisdictions such as cities require business licenses. Some must be renewed every year.


Income taxes: The IRS may consider your business a hobby for the first few years if you don’t have net income, but your state may not.

In Washington state, where I live, the business and occupation tax is based on gross income, which means businesses have to pay taxes whether they actually net anything. There are very few deductions, and none of them apply to the typical writer or artist. Instead, the state has credits, on a sliding scale, for businesses that earn up to a certain amount.


Sales and personal property taxes: If you’re selling tangible items like art, you will likely be liable for sales taxes. That means you have to collect them from your customers, keep track, then remit them to your tax entity (typically the state).


In some states, sales tax is based not on where the sale originates, but on the shipping destination. Talk about an accounting nightmare if you’re selling and shipping to customers in other locations!


Some jurisdictions also tax businesses on their inventory and personal property like equipment. My county does this, though luckily the total of my equipment value is low enough to meet the exempt criteria.


Home business permits: Some local jurisdictions require a special permit for conducting business out of your home, especially if customers will be stopping by or the business will generate noise (a chainsaw-carving artist, perhaps?). Check with your city or county.


There may be other odds and ends for you to consider based on your own location. Penalties and back taxes are no fun, so make sure you do your research.


No one dreams of having to study tax code and business regulations in order to sell creative works—but if that’s what it takes to have the freedom and privilege of pursuing one’s passion, I’d trade a little accounting headache for punching a time clock in an office tour any day.



“Business Woman Writing Job” image by Feelart/

Rodika Tollefson is a member at large who lives in the Seattle area and serves as the editor in chief of The Pen Woman and the national Public Relations Committee chair. An award-winning journalist as well as a writer, graphic designer and video producer, she’s owned her own communications business for 15 years.


WANTED: GUEST BLOGGERS! Pen Women are invited to submit guest posts for two new series: Creative Inspirational Wisdom and It’s A Creative Business. Please visit this link for more details. We look forward to reading your material!


WANTED: Your Creative Submissions!

Calling all Pen Women! We cordially invite our members to submit artwork for consideration as Art of the Week and guest blog posts for our NLAPW blog. Please read on for more details.




You may have noticed we’ve shared some excellent member poetry via Poem of the Week, but we haven’t shared any outstanding member art in a while. We’d love to see your best work for possible publication as Art of the Week. Please review the general submission guidelines on our web site and then submit your artwork to our Art Editor, Jamie Tate, at We hope to feature some new works very soon!




We continue looking for member guest posts for two new series: Creative Inspirational Wisdom and A Creative Business. Accepted pieces will first appear on our NLAPW blog and later in upcoming anthologies from Pen Woman Press.


Creative Inspirational Wisdom posts will focus on all aspects of the creative process: brainstorming, drafting, revising and “publishing.” From where do you draw inspiration? What is your creative work space like? How do you tackle writer’s block or revise your work to make it even better? What are your “best practices” for creating? What helpful tips could you share with fellow creatives? Tell us what you’ve learned on your creative journey!


A Creative Business will share observations and advice about making your passion your livelihood. What do you wish someone had told you before you started out as a creative professional? Where did you learn how to run your business? How do you make the perfect pitch to magazines, galleries, etc.? What business practices lead to success? How do you market yourself and your work? What practical advice can you offer about taxes, licensing, insurance, and so forth? Share your expertise with us!


Posts should be 150 – 500 words on average, although longer pieces will be considered. You must be a current Pen Woman and the original author of your submission. Original posts are preferred, but reposts from your creative blog are also welcome (with the original link and permission to reprint clearly stated in your submission email).


Please send guest blogger post submissions to We look forward to reading you!


It’s A Creative Business: So Your Book is Finally Published… Now What?

We’re grateful to Kathryn Kleekamp of Cape Cod Branch NLAPW for sharing her professional expertise about book promotion in this guest post.


Whether your book is published by a major publisher or self-published, your masterpiece will sit in its carton unless it’s actively promoted. Although my publisher (Schiffer) lists my book in its catalog and distributes it to Amazon and traditional book stores, I’ve found the tips I offer below essential to boost sales. Many authors and artists either shy away from or dislike marketing, but believe me, it will grow on you. As an author and artist, I’ve met many delightful people at signings and book talks. If a piece of art or book subject resonates with the viewer or reader, it makes for an instant connection between two strangers.


In my case, casual meetings with those who have purchased my work have led to some satisfying and long term relationships. At a marketing seminar I once attended, the very successful speaker said that most of one’s sales will come from repeat customers. For me, it’s been true. After purchasing a book or artwork for themselves, many have come back time and again to purchase gifts for others.


Here are some suggestions for ways to promote your book and increase sales:


  1. Visit local book stores, gift shops and museums to arrange signings. Establish yourself as a real person, not just a title. It makes a world of difference.
  2. Create a simple website and Facebook Page. You can offer useful tidbits from your book without openly proclaiming, “Please buy my book.” Post things that are insightful or helpful to the reader.
  3. Approach your local community television and radio stations to arrange an interview. Be prepared to give them a book beforehand. If they interview you, post the video on your website.
  4. Depending on the topic of your book, contact regional book clubs, women’s clubs, libraries, churches, retirement communities, Newcomers clubs, senior centers etc., to arrange a book talk. It’s important to assess your audience beforehand and narrow your comments to things they would be most interested in. Keep your presentation fresh for yourself as well as your listeners.
  5. Send a query letter or story idea to local newspapers and magazines to see if they will write a human-interest story about you and your book. News organizations are always looking for fresh material to print. It’s important to indicate why your story is of interest to their readers. What sets you and your book apart from all others?
  6. Do a little research to find out who local media book reviewers are.  Send them a copy of your book with a cover letter to see if they would be willing to write a review. As you accumulate reviews, even if they’re from a friend or colleague, print a list to display wherever you have a talk or show.
  7. Many communities have outdoor summer fairs or holiday bazaars. The cost to rent table space is small and usually there are large crowds.
  8. To make point of purchase sales, the Square app for your cell phone is a wonderful way to process credit card sales. There is no monthly fee and a very small processing fee.  Many purchases are impulsive; you don’t want to miss out on buyers who may not have cash.


Inspired by her life on Cape Cod, Kathryn Kleekamp’s oil paintings bring the unique beauty and charm of this special place alive for the viewer. Her work is in collections throughout the United States and abroad. The second edition of Kathryn’s book, Cape Cod and the Islands: Where Beauty and History Meet will be released in June of 2017. Visit her website at or her Facebook page:


It’s a Creative Business: Plan B and a Prayer

Our first guest blogger, Dorothy Atkins, discusses how she made her creative dreams a business reality:


While working my career job, I always had a Plan B and a prayer. Traveling 90 minutes everyday by train, I’d write down a plan of what I’d rather do in life. I made a chalkboard at home with notes, inspirational quotes, and ideas of what my life would look like doing the things I loved. As a project manager, I wrote a plan for myself on a large, lined tablet. I must have used a ton of them over the years. I still look at my first outline of what I wanted to accomplish and marvel at how many things in my plan I did.


I put a big round circle in the middle of the page and smaller circles all around it with arrows pointing to the big circle. The big circle was my end goal; the smaller circles all around it was what I needed to do. I set out to do things that I could immediately work on (e.g. Who was my target audience, what did I have that no one was offering, etc.). Even though I didn’t know when exactly my dreams would happen, I knew that I had to be ready for when it did. I wanted to make greeting cards and be a motivational speaker, encouraging women to follow their dreams. By writing down my dreams and wish list, along with my research and readiness, I put it out in the universe and asked for guidance.


First, I had to motivate myself:


I had conversations with my inner self, using words I had read somewhere: “Choose safe, gentle souls who are willing not to criticize you but to support you in your journey.” Let them be thrilled with you; listen and hear what they’re saying.  Do not dismiss their compliments or encouragement.


  • Ask yourself what makes you feel alive.
  • Avoid balloon poppers (people who do not wish you well).
  • Trust in your instincts!
  • Learn, learn, learn.
  • Know your audience!
  • Ask why others would want you or your product.
  • Be scared, but don’t let fear keep you from trying. Give fear a name, and take away its power.
  • Talk lovingly to yourself.


What I continue to practice is confidence in what I’m doing. I’m always tapping into my creative side. I realize that I love what I do, and this keeps me motivated. It’s important to challenge myself to learn new things. Exposure is a key element to my success as a speaker and artist, and although I work from home, I go to work every day and work with passion!


An artist, life coach and motivational speaker, Dorothy Atkins tells her stories in vivid colors that mimic her work. Many of her images are gleaned from a family of storytellers. Dorothy finds her voice in painting: “I love being deeply moved.” She uses a variety of media to express herself, including acrylic, oil and ink. “Color creates a specific vibration and is an elemental aspect of my work.” Dorothy is a member of Santa Clara County Branch in California. Visit her web site at and her blog at