I asked Claire Eamer, author of Lizards in the Sky (most recently) and several other books, about her experience with PLR in Canada. Here are her comments. (Thank you, Claire!).
How did you find out about PLR?
Information about PLR is pretty widely distributed through writers’ organizations in Canada – including through informal listservs and meetings and workshops. Most writers will urge newly-published authors to registers, and organizations send out reminders.
How does it work, in your experience?
Once you’re registered the first time, the process is pretty painless. Each February, you get a cheque and a statement of how many of the 7 sample libraries your book was found in. In the same mailing is the registration form for any books published in the past year (or that you have neglected to register in the past). It’s a straightforward form where you provide title, ISBN numbers, number of pages…a few details like that. You attach photocopies of the title page, copyright page, and table of contents, and chuck it in the mail. And you’re done until next February. By the way, I’m right on top of this information because I filled out my registration for Lizards in the Sky two days ago and sent it off.
Do authors and illustrators split the per-book amount, as they typically do with royalties?
You indicate what level of responsibility you have for the book, which is based on the percentage of royalties you collect. For example, my first book was co-authored with a friend, so we each collect 50% of the PLR pay-out. For my other books, I collect 100%. However, I don’t have any picture books where I’m sharing royalties with an artist.
How does what you receive in PLR compare to what you receive in royalties for the same books?
I’ve made far more from PLR for my first book than I did in royalties, mainly because the book is long out of print and the publisher out of business but the book still consistently shows up in all 7 test libraries. No one has written a replacement book, so it’s still a reference that people use.
It’s difficult to compare the PLR payments to royalties because they depend on different things and work on different timeframes (see the example of my first book). I just checked my PLR statement and this year I got $339.22 for each of the recent books. That’s based on $48.46 per hit: i.e., a hit is the book showing up in one of the sample libraries. I got 7 out of 7 hits on each of the books, so I got the maximum pay-out. The older book gets a discounted rate of $29.08 per hit for books registered from 1986-1995.
Basically, you can’t live on PLR because it’s capped at about $5,000, but it’s certainly a nice addition to one’s income.
Do public lending rights make a difference in your ability to afford to work as a writer?
Yes. Every bit of income helps in this business. PLR will never be a major source of income, but it’s a part of the mosaic of income sources I put together.
In your opinion as a writer, are public lending rights a good idea? Why or why not?
Yes. PLR recognizes the value of the writers’ work, no matter how it is distributed. And, as I said above, every little bit of income helps.
In your opinion as a taxpayer, are public lending rights a good idea? Why or why not?
Yes. I regard public libraries as an extremely important public utility, and the books in them are an extremely important public resource. (I practically lived in the Saskatoon Public Library when I was a kid.) The books won’t be available if people don’t write them, so it’s important to recognize and reward – even at a modest level – the work that goes into creating them. However, I don’t want that reward to come through direct fees charges to library users. Free access to libraries is enormously important in building a literate society that is open to all of its members, not just those with sufficient financial resources. Therefore, the financial recognition to creators should be paid from the collective funds which we, as members of the society, contribute through taxes, according to our ability. I would add, as a Canadian, like healthcare!