How Writers Earn Money: Lending Rights

What are lending rights?

I sometimes have readers apologise to me for borrowing one of my books from a library instead of buying a copy. These readers assume (quite rationally) that library lending results in loss of income for authors. Luckily, in Australia, a government scheme, administered by the Ministry for the Arts, compensates authors and illustrators for this loss via lending rights:

  • public lending rights (PLR) = books held in public libraries
  • educational lending rights (ELR) = books held in libraries at schools, universities & other educational institutions

It is important to note that your payment is based on the estimated number of your books held, NOT the number of times your book is loaned.

ELR & PLR are calculated separately and the calculation must reach a minimum of $100 for you to receive a payment.

ELR & PLR tend to decline for each title over time as copies of your books go missing (bastard people) or are retired from circulation due to lack of interest (sad but true).

You have to register your books to receive payments

In order to receive PLR/ELR, authors have to register their books. Sometimes your publisher will do this for you; if this is the case make sure you thank them for being awesome and caring about your income! The deadline for registrations closes 31 March each year. There is a delay of 12-18 months before you receive your first payment.

There are no back payments so if you miss the deadline, you miss out on all the potential ELR/PLR payments for that year. Unless you are independently wealthy or a super-mega-bestseller, this will hurt your heart so get on it!

Lending rights only apply to hard-copy books

Currently e-books and audiobooks are not eligible for ELR and PLR but Rebecca Giblin from Author’s Interest Project  is doing some ground-breaking stat-collecting research in this area, so hopefully in future, authors will also be paid for non-paper formats of their works held in libraries.

Case Studies

PLR/ELR can add up to a significant amount over time

Children’s authors tend to earn more ELR than adult authors

Children’s & YA Author Chrissie Keighery

If you publish regularly and consistently, and if your books are popular with children’s librarians, ELR & PLR payments can grow into a significant amount over time. Over a fifteen year period, Chrissie has earned almost $200,000 in lending rights. 

Chrissie Keighery is the author of over thirty books for children and young Adults, including 13 books in the popular Go Girl series and the award winning Whisper.

PLR/ELR can decrease as copies go out of circulation

Literary mid-list author Annabel Smith

In 2013, I only had one title in print, my debut novel A New Map of the Universe, which seems to have been almost as popular with educational libraries as with public libraries – an unusual result for adult fiction, as you can see from the other years in which my PLR is two or three times higher than my ELR.

By 2014, my second novel Whisky Charlie Foxtrot was out, pushing up my PLR income significantly, though hardly affecting my ELR. For the next few years my lending rights income remained fairly steady based on those two novels. By 2018, as copies were lost or retired from library collections my PLR dropped, and my ELR dropped to beneath $100 thereby earning me nothing.

Bestseller: Graeme Simsion

Graeme’s figures are exceptionally high as The Rosie Project (2013) was one of the most borrowed books in libraries, & The Rosie Effect (2014) was also in the top 10. Despite this, what he earned from ELR/PLR was equivalent to 2% of his domestic royalties. So even when you’re a bestselling author, lending rights payments are still not enough for a condo in the Cayman islands!

Graeme Simsion is the author of 2014 ABIA Book of the Year, The Rosie Project, which sold over 3 million copies worldwide, as well as The Rosie Effect, The Best of Adam Sharp, and Two Steps Forward, co-written with his wife, Anne Buist.

PLR often significantly outweighs ELR

For both Dawn and Favel, who each have two published novels, PLR payments significantly outweigh ELR. Unusually, while Dawn’s PLR has decreased slightly over time, her ELR has increased. (Further evidence of the randomness and unpredictability of writing incomes).

Dawn Barker is the author of Let Her Go, and debut best-seller Fractured which was shortlisted for the WA Premier’s Book Awards, both published by Hachette.

Favel Parrett’s novels are When the Night Comes and Past the Shallows, which won the Dobbie Literary Prize and was shortlisted for the Miles Franklin.

There is a long delay between publication & payment

Some authors do not earn ELR

Sue and Kim both had books published in 2013 and their first PLR payments were in 2015. They remained stable until this year, when they began to receive payments for their second books which came out in 2016. They will not begin receiving PLR for their third novels until 2020. Like many commercial fiction authors, their books have not been acquired in large enough numbers by educational libraries to earn them ELR.

Sue Williams is the author of a crime caper series set in Rusty Bore, population 147. Her debut, Murder with the Lot, was shortlisted for the Ned Kelly Award. 

Sue Williams is the author of a crime caper series set in Rusty Bore, population 147. Her debut, Murder with the Lot, was shortlisted for the Ned Kelly Award.

Kim Lock is the author of Peace, Love and Khaki SocksLike I Can Love and The Three of Us     

Summary

What you need to know about ELR/PLR

  1. You MUST register!
  2. There will be a delay of 12 to 18 months between publication/registration & your first payment
  3. If you write for adults your PLR will significantly outweigh your ELR
  4. Some books receive no ELR payments at all
  5. Sometimes PLR/ELR on older titles will decrease as titles get lost or go out of circulation

Thanks

Thanks to Christine Keighery, Graeme Simsion, Dawn Barker, Kim Locke, Sue Williams and Favel Parrett. I believe greater transparency about incomes benefits all authors and I appreciate their willingness to share this information. If YOU would be willing to contribute some facts & figures to a future post, or if you have any additional information about ELR/PLR, please let me know in the comments. Thank you. 

3 thoughts on “How Writers Earn Money: Lending Rights

  1. Thanks for sharing this information (and thanks to the other authors, too). That’s a great overview of ELR/PLR. I’d always wondered how it worked… and now I know.

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