Wednesday 20 May 2009

Money for nothing (but no chicks for free)

Once your book is in print, you need to register for PLR - public lending rights. Under this scheme, authors, illustrators, translators and adaptors are paid for the use of their books in libraries. Great, huh? I suppose it's not exactly money for nothing, as if there were no libraries, some of those readers might have bought the book. But it feels like money for nothing when it turns up.

The beauty of PLR is that you don't have to share it with your publisher - it's all yours! The money is paid in January or February each year on the basis of library loans during the previous year. No, you can't fiddle it by borrowing your own books lots of times and getting all your friends and relatives to do likewise. The payment is based on a sample of libraries, which changes each year, and is scaled up to give an estimated figure for total loans.

This is how it works. The fund available for PLR (currently about £6.8 million) is divided amongst registered authors (etc) for their registered books. The amount you will get is calculated from the number of times your books were borrowed, with the payment being approximately 4p per loan. There is an upper limit of £6,600 to prevent Jacqueline Wilson and so on walking off with the entire pot. If you earn less than £1 it won't be paid but is carried over to the next year. You will receive a statement in January and the money will be paid into your bank soon afterwards.

You can't just sit back and wait for the money to come. You have to register each new book before 30 June to be included in that year's calculation and payment. You can't claim retrospectively, so if you don't claim your books one year, you can't pick up the cash for that book later (unlike ALCS payments - more on that another day). This is becaues the amount per loan is calculated by dividing the whole pot by the number of loans of registered books, so if your book isn't registered, it's not included in the calculation.

It might sound easy, especially when you have only one book, to keep on top of your PLR registration. But you need to register each edition (each new ISBN) of each book if you are to get all that is owed to you. That means you have to register the hardback and then the paperback, and if there are any further editions, you have to register those, too. Often, publishers don't tell you when your book comes out under a new ISBN (eg library binding rather than standard hardback). To keep on top of it, search for yourself on Amazon. Once a book is registered, it is carried on from one year to the next, but you do need to keep checkng for new editions of old books (reprints are OK - they have the same ISBN). One book can have three or four different ISBN numbers.

What now? The deadline for registering books to be included in this year's calculation and payment is 30 June. If you're late, your book(s) won't be counted until next year, and you'll lose your money. You need to register yourself with the PLR agency ( and give your bank details so that you can actually receive the money. Then you need to register each of your books in each of its editions. You will receive a confirmation to show what you have registered. You can't register books that aren't yours - there is a checking system in place and all your book registrations will be checked. Your name must appear on the title page of the book - that's the rule. However, if NO names are on the title page (as with licensed character books) you can still claim the PLR as long as you can demonstrate you wrote/illustrated/translated the book.

If more than one person is named on the title page - the illustrator and writer, or writer and translator, for example - you can claim only a share of the PLR. The standard is split of 50:50 author:illustrator for picture books. Adaptors can claim 80% if the original author's name is on the title page, or 100% if it isn't. (You can vary this if you both agree.) For illustrated chapter books, anthologies and so on, you will have to agree the proportion with your collaborators. You share will reflect the proportion you contributed, so if you have 10 poems in a book of 100 poems, you can claim 10% of the PLR. This means you have to talk to the other collaborators - the PLR agency won't do it for you.

PLR relates only to book loans in the UK, so there's no point registering the ISBNs of your US editions, for instance. (Money for loans in some other EU countries is collected by ALCS.) VAT is not payable on PLR payments (only useful info if you are VAT-registered.) And PLR continues for 70 years after you die, so your descendants can use the January cash to toast your memory.

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