Thursday 19 January 2012

How was it for you?

Still with PLR, but from a different angle today. The question this time is - can you maximise your PLR payments? I don't mean by visiting the sample libraries and borrowing your books, or even mobilising friends and family to do that. Borrowing books to raise PLR is a sad and desperate (and doomed) tactic that will cost more than it raises. No. I mean - to borrow a phrase from the Crabbit Old Bag of Help! I Need a Publisher - writing the right book at the right time in the right way to get as much PLR money as possible.

Some books are borrowed more than others. You're more likely to earn lots of PLR from a racy romance than a handbook on cello maintenance, for instance. People borrow books for different reasons. They borrow books that they don't want to buy - either because they don't want to keep them after reading them, or because they can't afford them in the first place.

Picture books get a lot of loans because many people can't afford to buy lots of books for their children. Many who could afford them think (wrongly) that the book will take 20 minutes to read and so it's poor value for £8.99 - forgetting they will read the book again and again. Genre fiction earns a lot because readers consider it disposable. They read a romance/western/sci-fi book and will never look at it again. They might get through several a week. That's an expensive habit if you pay for each book, so libraries are attractive suppliers. (Loans of genre fiction might soon be hit by Kindle use - we'll see.) Non-fiction loans seem to be down, probably because people are finding information online that they would previously have looked for in a book.

My PLR goes up, year on year, because I write a lot of books. But libraries are buying fewer books. That means that having a backlist already in the libraries is important, too. But old books fall apart and are thrown away, not to be replaced, so very old titles don't earn PLR.

So - what's borrowed? No detailed breakdown for this year is available yet (though the annual report from PLR is), so I took a look at my own titles to see what's earning most.

Of 150 registered titles, half the PLR comes from the top four titles - they are all children's fiction. Of the top 10 titles, 9 are fiction. More of my titles are non-fiction than fiction, so that's a very significant result. The non-fiction title in the top ten is a glossy, very visual book on volcanoes published by Dorling Kindersley. Of the 9 fiction, all except one are published by a very large publisher, and all published since 2007. The books with titles most likely to appeal to children (in my view) did not score higher than those with less intriguing titles. (The official info that has been released so far shows loans of children's fiction up slightly, loans of adult books slightly down.)

My top-earning title clocked up two and a half times as many loans in the UK as sales worldwide. It's called Too Dirty and is published by Hachette.  All the top-selling fiction titles were for children aged 5-6. Even though the PLR is split 50:50 with the illustrator on these titles, the books generate a third of their advance each year in PLR.

The lesson from all this is that over its lifetime a book may earn more in PLR and ALCS payments than in fee/advance/royalties so we should be thinking about library-appeal as well as bookshop-appeal. Of course, the publisher is less interested in library-appeal so this has to be a covert agenda!

Which are your most-borrowed titles? Can we crowd-source enough info to put together a profile of the perfect book to write to get loads of PLR? Or at least, you might be able to maximise PLR-potential on your next book...

[PS - No, this is not an entirely serious proposal]


  1. By best-selling you mean most-borrowed here? Mine was by a long way Princess Grace, a picture book published in 2007. If you put the paperback and hardback editions together, it came to more than 18,000 loans.

    And it was a 50/50 PLR split but still earned me more than any other title. If you put all the Grace titles together, it comes to about 30,000 loans.

    So my deduction is that we need to invent a popular character and write lots of books about her/him!

  2. That's my finding, too, Book Maven. My top four were all about the same character and total (hardback and paperback) Henry came to 27,000 loans. Same age bracket at your Grace, roughly.

    Yes, most-borrowed. Will change - thank you.

  3. By far my bestselling title was LILY, which was a Quick Read for adults. This is closely followed by my 4 adult novels and then the ballet picture books. More and more books on the older end of the spectrum are falling off altogether. But yes, titles which have the same character do quite well.

    I'm sure that previous good earners like TROY will get less and less lucrative the longer they're out of print. If a library SHOULD want to replace a copy, they currently can't.

  4. Stroppy, pay attention, please: BAT. BAT. Not BAG. *clasps forehead in distress*

    But, to answer the question: easily my most-borrowed title is my only novel for the 9-11 age group. followed by Know Your Brain, which is my only non-fiction title for that age group.

    So, my experience supports your excellent findings.

    Adele - re Troy, there's a solution, should you wish to take it. If you brought out the ebook version and allowed Gardners to sell it, the library supplier, Askews, could buy it and supply it to libraries as an ebook. I know, it's only a partial solution, but worth saying?