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!)

 If you’d like to know more about me and my work, please visit my website, like my Facebook page or follow me on Twitter


In my last post, I mentioned I was a bit stuck again. Well, two weeks on, I’m still a bit stuck, although I have made some progress. I’m sure this isn’t an insurmountable ‘stuck’, but there are so many distractions at the moment!
The last couple of weeks have been quite busy with teaching-related work. I’m supervising some MA students, so there’s been a lot of reading before tutorials as well as the usual preparation for my weekly class, and some extra work preparing for a one-day class, which I taught alongside my friend and fellow author James Russell. I’m really enjoying the co-tutoring, and it’s making life a little easier for me. The one-day class went off very well – we had lovely feedback from students and came away buzzing. 
A few days ago, I did an Off-The-Shelf event with four other authors, talking about our experience of writing MAs and what they can lead to. We were a bit worried about the turnout because, not only did the printed brochure list the wrong venue, but it was pouring with rain and there was other good stuff on the same night. At 7.30, there was just one audience member and the pub cat. As we filed into the room, the cat turned to look at us, then stalked off, tail flicking. I’m not sure what he was expecting! But then people began to drift in, having been redirected from the other venue, and by 7.45 most of the seats were full. It turned into a really good evening, with lots of questions from a lovely, lively audience.
To celebrate the success of the evening, we had a few drinks afterwards. Well, you do, don’t you? This resulted in me managing to leave a rucksack with five copies of The Secrets We Left Behind, and one of The Things We Never Said in the pub or the taxi home – not sure which. I was certain that when I phoned the pub and taxi firm, someone would have handed in the bag, after all, who’d want five copies of the same book? But no, five days on, and they still haven’t turned up. I’m just hoping I don’t see them chucked on a skip somewhere…
So, that’s a roundup of recent distractions (not including emails,domestic duties etc). The little progress I have made may be due to the discovery that my favourite coffee shop offers hot drinks for a pound before 10am on weekdays. So almost every morning, I’ve been heading over there as soon as I’ve walked the dog, and it makes me feel like I’m going to work. I usually manage a couple of hours most days, so even if I don’t write anything else for the rest the day, at least I’ve done something.
I often go walking when I’m trying to solve a problem with my novel, but everything is so gorgeous at the moment that even that is distracting. Sunny silvery mornings and golden afternoons; crunchy leaves and conkers underfoot; sycamore helicopters spinning through the air all around you; isn’t autumn the most beautiful season? Here’s one of my daily walks:
I met with my writer’s group this week and got some encouraging feedback on my work. The main criticism was that the scenes needed trimming. I’m not doing much editing until I get to the end of this draft, but given that I’m stuck at the moment, I really enjoyed spending some time trimming/editing these sections. I always overwrite, and it’s one of the things I often pick up on in the work of others. I think we all do it to a certain extent, and you really need fresh eyes to spot it.

I’ve not worked on the novel at all over the weekend, but I’ve done writerly things, including going to an event where three crime writers talked about their writing process, having lunch with a writer friend, and taking yesterday off to spend most of the day reading. 
Coming up
Tomorrow (Tuesday 21st Oct) is the launch of Watch and Wait, a short story anthology to which I’ve contributed.If you’re in Sheffield, do  pop along. Details here There will be readings, live music and general merriment – should be a great evening! Tickets available on the door, proceeds to the Lymphoma Association.

The next blog post will be on 3rd November, when I will have just returned from a three-day writing retreat here and will be about to set off on another one (this time for 4 days), here. So really, the next two blog posts should show considerable signs of progress!

New Amazon reviews:
The Secrets We Left Behind – two 5-star and one 2-star
The Things We Never Said – two 5-star, two 4-star and one 3-star

If you’d like to keep an eye on what I’m up to, follow me on Twitter @sewelliot or ‘like’ my Facebook page
And my website is here