Sunday, 6 April 2014

The Public Part of UK Author Earnings - Katherine Roberts

April 6th marks the start of a new financial year, and I have a new History Girls post to write... so you can probably guess what this one is going to be about! In the same way that I find it impossible to create anything while I'm thinking about money, I also find it impossible to blog about creativity. Instead, I thought I'd show you a graph from my finance file that counts as vaguely historical since it covers my 14-year career to date (and that feels like a long time in publishing these days).

UK library loans of my books (Year 2000 - 2013)

In case you can't read the figures up the left hand side, these show the approximate lifetime loans for my books. Years are across the bottom, and book titles are written on the curves. Here they all are, listed in order of popularity:

The Great Pyramid Robbery - 56,000 loans (heading off the top of the graph)
Spellfall - 35,800
Song Quest - 28,000
The Babylon Game - 20,000
The Mausoleum Murder - 18,800
The Amazon Temple Quest - 17,200
The Olympic Conspiracy - 15,000
Crystal Mask - 12,900
The Colossus Crisis - 8,000
The Cleopatra Curse - 8,000
I am the Great Horse - 6,800
Sword of Light - 5,500
Dark Quetzal - 5,400
Lance of Truth - 200

1) Figures correct to June 2013, as reported by the UK Public Lending Right office.
2) My final two Pendragon titles Crown of Dreams and Grail of Stars are not shown on this graph, since they both published in 2013.
3) Data is not gathered from every library every year. Each year a different sample of UK libraries is taken, and the results are scaled up to account for the whole country - this means it's possible zero loans can show for a book that actually loans quite well in the author's local library, whereas a sample taken from an author's local library where their books are popular might skew figures for that year the other way. (Over time, though, the sampling system should be fair to authors wherever they live.)

You would probably expect books with earlier publication dates to show the most lifetime loans, and indeed my most-loaned title The Great Pyramid Robbery (historical fiction, hooray!) was published back in 2001, while my second most popular title Spellfall (fantasy) was published in 2000. You might also expect books that have had several editions to show more loans than the others, and happily my award-winning debut book Song Quest (currently in its third edition at Catnip, after being first published in hardback by Element and then in paperback by Chicken House) comes in a clear third.

Books only published in the last couple of years will obviously not show many accumulated loans yet, but already the first title of my Pendragon series, Sword of Light (published in 2012 and chosen for the Summer Reading Challenge that year), has performed one of those fascinating crossovers on the graph and is now officially out-loaning the third title of my earlier Echorium Sequence Dark Quetzal (published in 2003).

In fact, if you look carefully at the graph, you'll see several places where my historical titles have overtaken my fantasy titles in the loan stakes, which makes me wonder why children's historical fiction is not easier to place with publishers. On the other hand, this is only a UK graph, and historical books are not popular everywhere. My Echorium Sequence titles (Song Quest, Crystal Mask, Dark Quetzal), which all have surprisingly flat curves on the graph, sold better than their loans suggest particularly in the US. My Seven Fabulous Wonders books on the other hand, even the one shooting off the graph, did not sell in America - or at least only as export copies - since they were not taken on by an American publisher, although they did get translated into several European languages where their historical settings are presumably more familiar with readers.

I find library loans quite interesting, because they are - or used to be - a fairly accurate reflection of print sales, and it's true The Great Pyramid Robbery and Spellfall were my top two selling titles in print. It also used to be that loan figures for a title were higher than the UK print sales, at least in my experience - but lately there's a different pattern emerging, with books selling as many or more copies in print as are being borrowed from libraries. Also, I've had my backlist selling as ebooks with online retailers for a couple of years now, and out of those books I am the Great Horse - although flattening off now on the loans graph - last year outsold the rest of my backlist put together. So perhaps ebooks are taking over where library loans flatten off?

I am the Great Horse - now an ebook

I'll admit the flat part of the curve occurring at a lower rate of loans for each successive book is rather worrying. Is this because of the recent library closures? Cuts to public funding? Or the frustratingly slow period in my career a few years ago? I'd have to compare my graph with other authors' PLR graphs to be sure if it is a trend... but Sword of Light (second curve on the right) looks to be reversing that for me, so perhaps there is some hope yet for my future as an author. Also, this graph shows data from UK public libraries only, and does not include loans from the many excellent school libraries around the country that I know keep copies of my books on their shelves so children can  borrow and read them if they want to. That's a good thought to end on.

Right, that's enough displacement activity! Just got time for a few fun figures to warm up before tackling my accounts...

The reason this graph lives in my finance file is because each one of those loans has earned me between 4p and 6.2p under the Public Lending Right scheme (the rate per loan varies each year). So, over the course of my career to date, working with an average of 5p per loan, my most popular book so far The Great Pyramid Robbery has earned me approximately £2,800 (or £200 per year), and all of my titles added together have earned me a total of  £11,880 (or about £840 per year). I'm always a little uneasy about PLR, since it comes out of people's taxes who might never read books... on the other hand, libraries are one of the public services we pay our taxes for, and there is a cap on payments to limit the burden on the public purse.

Historically, the PLR payment has not always existed for authors, but library loans clearly account for a large section of my readership, as they must do for many other authors. I'd be interested to hear readers' views on whether authors should be paid for these loans, especially if/when ebook lending takes over from print.


Katherine Roberts writes historical fiction and fantasy for young readers.

Her latest series the Pendragon Legacy about King Arthur's daughter is now available from Templar in hardcover, paperback or ebook. Meet the heroine Rhianna Pendragon and her friend Prince Elphin of Avalon in the free ebook prequel Horse of Mist.

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Stroppy Author said...

I don't see any reason to question that we should get PLR - it recognises that the free loan of our books might reduce sales, so it's entirely fair. We don't have any say over whether books go into libraries. If it were possible, instead of a buying (say) a hat to wear to a wedding, we could get the same hat for free for the day from a clothing library, the clothing industry would scream the place down. PLR is both vital and fair. As for taxes - that's how taxation works. I don't use sports grounds, but taxes pay for them. It works out on balance.

Incidentally, I get far more PLR on books that sell fewer copies - there is an inverse relationship between royalties and PLR income. I haven't done a proper analysis, but it's certainly a trend (in fiction titles).

I think people often borrow books they are unwilling or unable to buy - because they are not in a bookshop, or because they are no deemed worth the money (those picture books have so few pages for the high price, you know).

Katherine Roberts said...

Interesting about your PLR being greater for books that sell fewer copies - yes, would be interesting to do a study of why!

I suspect availability might be a bigger influence than price. If so, then it makes sense that readily available ebooks might take over from loans, especially for readers in rural areas who find it more difficult to access a library.

Readers? What say you?

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