A slightly different blog post this time, in that I want to talk about PLR and authors’ income in general rather than my own writing progress. Normal service will be resumed next time! Before I move on to more writerly matters, though, forgive the slightly indulgent photo of me with my newest grandchild, whose arrival I’m using as an excuse for not posting for the last couple of weeks. Anyway, here he is, my baby boy’s baby boy. Like my recently completed third novel, and my currently in progress fourth novel, he is as yet unnamed.

I’ve just returned home from a lovely few days with him and his mum and dad, and while I was in London I took the opportunity to catch up with a some friends. Having spent rather too much money as usual, I was delighted today to receive my PLR statement. PLR (Public Lending Right) is the right of authors whose books are available in public libraries to receive a small payment from a government fund, based on the number of times the books are borrowed. The number of loans is estimated, based on various data collected from libraries across the country.

In my previous incarnation as a health-writer, I wrote a few health-related books and when the PLR payments began to come in for the first two or three, there was usually enough to buy a takeaway or two. As I wrote more books, the PLR increased and soon I could buy a nice meal out and a good bottle of wine. This time, with a full year’s worth of loans on the two novels as well as the non-fiction books, I reckon it’ll cover a modest holiday.

And I am so grateful. I’m grateful for the existence of PLR (which, incidentally, is constantly under threat of being cut to an even lower rate) and I’m grateful in particular to the libraries (many of which are also under threat) who stock my books. Most of all I’m grateful to the readers who borrow them. That little extra portion of income is so important, especially as it comes in just after Christmas when we’re all completely broke.

Even bestselling authors, with a few notable exceptions, don’t earn enough to make a living from their writing, which is why most of us do other work such as teaching, journalism, or critiquing and mentoring. Many people don’t realise how little authors earn. For every book sold at the retail price of 7.99 the author gets about 60p, rising to 80p if the book sells in large quantities – we’re probably talking more than 40k copies. Most books don’t sell anywhere near that. Yes, the author gets an advance against those sales and if the book doesn’t ‘earn out’ – in other words, if all those 60 pences don’t add up to the total of the advance – he or she won’t have to pay back the outstanding amount. But for most authors, there will never be royalties in addition to the advance.

The advance may be a few hundred pounds or a few thousand, but very few achieve the almost mythical ‘six-figure sum’. Even if the advance does reach six figures, which is rare, it’s not quite what it seems. When I heard that a friend had netted a £100k two-book deal I was thrilled for her – like everyone else, I pictured that enormous cheque. But then I remembered how it actually works…

An advance for two-book deal is made in five instalments: 1. Signing of contract, 2. Delivery of book one, 3. Publication of book one, 4. Delivery of book 2, and 5. Publication of book 2. Most authors have agents and agents make their living from commission on the advance, usually 15% plus VAT. This is an essential expense in my opinion because among other things, agents work incredibly hard to increase and protect their authors’ income.

But what this means is that even with an advance of that size, we’re actually talking about five payments of £16,400 (if my maths is correct) over the course of somewhere between three and five years, or possibly longer. Not a great salary, you’ll agree.

So the PLR payment, which if you’re lucky may be a few hundred pounds and if you’re really, really lucky, may be a few thousand, (the maximum authors can receive from PLR is £6600) is a vital part of an author’s income.

Writing books – researching our stories, working out the finer details of our plots, the seemingly endless rewriting and editing – it’s all difficult, time-consuming work. There’s also the admin side, the marketing and social media etc etc. And we often get asked to do talks and readings, which is lovely because we get to meet our readers, but we’re rarely paid for these appearances despite the hours we spend preparing, travelling, and delivering our talks.

Obviously we want people to buy our books, preferably at full price from a proper bookshop, although a discount purchase will still help. But if money is really tight, please borrow our books from your library. By doing so, you’ll help support the libraries, you’ll help to give a small boost to our income, and you’ll be doing the thing that’s so important to all authors – making sure our books are actually read.

So a massive thank you to all you lovely readers who have borrowed The Things We Never Said or The Secrets We Left Behind or any of my health-related books from the library. (And an extra massive thank you if you’ve bought one of my books, obvs!)

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