Monday, January 15, 2007

Public Lending Right surprise

When my PLR statement arrived the other day, I was surprised to see that one paperback had been borrowed 78 times from UK public libraries in the year to June 2006, earning £4.66 or about US$9.

Surprised because I couldn't fathom how the libraries had got hold of copies.

The book came out in 2002 and I believe it to be the first novel with a list of links to relevant websites at the end of each chapter. There were 58 links in all and when I have an hour to spare I plan to check how many are still working. All of them, I hope.

The publisher was not too happy about the inclusion of links, and insisted on printing the following at the beginning of the book -

Heartline Books regret that they can accept no responsibility for the accuracy, reliability, security or suitability of any of the website addresses with the pages of SEA CHANGE by Anne Weale.

The reason I was surprised the book had been borrowed 78 times was because Heartline Books went into liquidation a short time after the book was published. So Sea Change has never earned a penny in royalties. As for the advance, in a moment of misguided generosity I waived it, wishing to help a new publisher get started. Naturally I assumed the amount of the offered advance would be paid into my bank account eventually as sales and royalties mounted.

Why I didn't notice borrowings of Sea Change on previous PLR statements, I'm not sure. Perhaps, because the publication of the book had been one of the few unhappy episodes in my half century as a writer, instinctively I ignored the title.

However, having checked previous PLR statements, I now find that it first appeared in the statement to 30/6/2003 when it was borrowed only 14 times, earning 68 pence. In the year to 2004 there were 76 library loans earning £4. I seem to have mislaid the statement for 2005 but it's likely there were 70+ borrowings that year. If so, the book's total PLR earnings to date are about £13, rather a meagre return for all the writing hours and research that went into it.

Still, I enjoyed writing it. Here's the foreword.

"I have always loved the sea, or the ocean as you may call it, depending on where you live. Islands, rivers and oceans have been a recurring theme in my life and my stories; and men who brave the sea in its wildest moods have always been high on my list of heroes.
Since I began exploring the World Wide Web, one of my greatest pleasures has been following, online, the many round-the-world yacht races, including the dramatic rescue by the Italian yachtsman, Giovanni Soldini, of the French yachtswoman, Isabelle Autissier, after her boat capsized in the Southern Ocean.
Within hours of that rescue being reported, I found myself thinking, 'What if the situation had been reversed…if a woman had rescued a man…a man she had every reason to dislike?' Once a writer's imagination has started working, there is no stopping it until she has brought her story to its conclusion.
I am always sorry to part from the people in my stories. But, despite all the challenges and difficulties, I know they have a happy future ahead, and I say goodbye to them with the hope that they will find readers who, by the last page, will share my affection for them."

When Heartline's liquidation was over, I asked how many copies of Sea Change they held and was told about 1,500. I asked if, instead of them being sold for pence to a remainder merchant, I might have them. No reply. Later, when I enquired again, I was told the books had been pulped.

Naturally, I'm pleased that the book is being read despite the misfortunes surrounding its publication. But the question remains : where did the public libraries get hold of copies?

Perhaps, when they emerge from their busiest time of the year, the PLR people will be able to throw some light on the matter. It may be that only a couple of public libraries have copies of Sea Change. 78 loans in 12 months is very small beer.

I was interested to learn that of the 330 million total UK library loans last year, 142 million were loans of PLR-registered books. Of the 23,869 recipients, only 363 authors were in the maximum payment band.


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