It’s that most wonderful time of the year again. I checked my mailbox and there it was. The envelope from the Canada Council for the Arts, with the blue cheque from the Public Lending Right Program.
The what, you might ask?
The Public Lending Right Program was put into place by the Canada Council for the Arts as a kind of compensation for the presence of books in Canada’s public libraries. If you’re a Canuck (a citizen or a permanent resident) and an author, illustrator, translator, editor—and, this year, narrator!—you can head on over to the site, and download what you need to register for the first time.
The way it works is a bit random, but it’s also been consistent in my experience. They check seven libraries, and each library they find your eligible title(s) in counts as a “hit.” And the “hits” equal payouts. So if the “hit” is, say $50, and your debut novel shows up in three libraries? Ta-da, $150.
Obviously, this—like so much in publishing—lends itself to the long tail. And the “hit” rate declines over time, but we’re talking a twenty-five year spread here. My first novel, Light, is still in the first category of 0-5 years of eligibility, so it counted the same value as Triad Soul, which came out in 2017 (and thus was eligible for 2018). Accordingly? Every year I’ve released a new title, I’ve done better than the years before. It grows.
Every year, alongside any cheque, you also get the form to add any new titles to your list, so this year I get to add Exit Plans for Teenage Freaks, and Of Echoes Born, which is super-exciting.
As an author, I’ve always loved libraries. They’re magic. Libraries were a huge part of my freedom as a younger queer man, too, as a place I could find books without having to out myself to a bookstore clerk or—more importantly—a parent. The PLR is the cherry on top of loving libraries, and I find a lot of Canadian authors don’t know about it. So every year, when the forms show up (registration is open February 15th to May 1st this year for titles released in 2018), I try to make noise about it. It’s not a secret. And if you’re an author, this cheque can often be the biggest income you see related to your work in a given year.
The PLR is also another reason I try really, really hard to counter any discussions about how libraries might hurt authors, and how flipping amazing it is when I hear a reader has borrowed my book from the library. I mean, libraries are magic, as I said, for so many reasons, and of course any copies bought for a library are exactly that: bought copies, so it’s already a win. But as a Canuck? A reader asking a library to carry my book absolutely also helps keep me afloat financially beyond that single purchase, and I truly appreciate it.
(Side-note? It’s not just Canada: the United Kingdom, all the Scandinavian countries, Germany, Austria, Belgium, the Netherlands, Israel, Australia, and New Zealand have PLR programs, too; so if you’re an author in those countries and you didn’t know, check it out and see how you go about registering.)