Oh man, this year it feels even more wonderful than most. Last week, I checked my mailbox with increasing anticipation (because I’ve learned it’s often a Valentine’s Day surprise) and lo! 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? And hey, that’s awesome. Ask away.
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 (by which they mean a citizen or a permanent resident living in Canada) and an author, illustrator, translator, editor, or narrator you can head on over to the site, and download what you need to register for the first time.
The payout system feels a bit random, but my experience has been consistent. The PLR program checks a number of major libraries (this year it was eight) for all your registered titles, and each library they find your eligible titles in counts as a “hit.” And the “hits” equal payouts. This year, the “hit” for a recent title is $63.47, so if your debut novel showed up in four libraries? Ta-da, $253.88.
Now, “recent” means 0-5 years. The “hit” rate declines over time, but it’s a twenty-five year spread. My first novel, Light, just left the 0-5 years of eligibility, and is now part of the category II (2011 to 2015) so the hit rate there is now $50.78 per library. (Light was in three libraries, by the way, so that was $152.34). Basically, though, if you’re an author and you register all your titles every year as they come out, then every year chances are you—like me—will do better than the years before. It grows, in that “long-tail” publishing way.
Registering new titles is fairly easy, too. Alongside any cheque, you also get the form to add new titles. The downside is having to have photocopies of the copyright and title page (especially in a pandemic, given I don’t have a photocopier at home), but I figured it out.
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 I try to talk about it.
Registration is open January 1st to May 1st this year for print books, e-books, and audiobooks published between January 1, 2016 and May 1, 2021. It’s not a secret. And if you’re a small-pond, smaller-author like me (I mean, queer romance and spec fic, y’all), this cheque can often be the biggest income you see related to your work in a given year. And as someone who writes e-novellas quite a lot of the time, the fact e-books are included is fantastic.
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.)