The best day of the year

By Caitlin Kelly

It happened this week, as it has now for several years.

It’s when one specific check, (or cheque, as Canadians and Britons spell it), arrives. It’s a payment from a cultural agency of the Canadian government, an annual payment from the Public Lending Rights program.

There are 30 of these programs worldwide, but only one in the Americas, so I’m fortunate to be Canadian and to be a participant — it’s a royalty system that pays people who have created books now held in public libraries.

I had never heard of it when I lived in Canada and only learned of it thanks to meeting a man whose wife was enrolled in it.

If you have published a book, or several, that meets its requirements, and have registered it, and it is held by public libraries, you’re eligible.

It is open not only to writers, but to photographers, illustrators, editors and — crucial to a nation that is officially bilingual (English, French) — translators.

I’ve published two books — both about life in the United States, albeit through the eyes of a Canadian — and both are still receiving this payment.


My first book, published in 2004. As someone who grew up with no exposure to guns, I was deeply intrigued by this most American of obsesssions


malled cover HIGH
My second book, published in 2011


Last year I got $452, and this year $507.50 — love that 50 cents!

To determine who gets how much, the program samples seven library systems in French and English — that might be a major city like Toronto (my hometown, whose libraries bought multiple copies of Malled), or a collection of smaller ones across a province or territory.

If your book has been registered for 0 to five years, the payment rate is $50.75 for each hit (i.e. it is still in those library systems), dropping each year to $25.38 for those held 16 to 25 years.

It may seem a pittance, but it means the world to me because it means my work still has readers.

The lowest amount one can receive is $50 and the most — even if you have 20 books in circulation — is $3,552.50

The PLR has 17,000 registered and a budget of about $10 million; every year there are 800 new registrants and more than 5,000 titles added.

The check arrived with a charming letter from its chairman, his closing sentence: “I leave you with my best wishes for another productive year of creation.”


I so appreciate that my government supports the arts in this way!

20 thoughts on “The best day of the year

  1. Robert Lerose

    It’s always a pleasure to find a check in the mailbox, but there is a special sweetness in this particular payment and the uplifting, encouraging note from the chairman–proof that literary works still matter and that civility exists. I’m happy for you.


  2. i have never heard of this and it is amazing. i love everything it represents and it shows how much it matters to the government. it makes clear their understanding of the positive impact that the arts on their society. bravo to them.

    1. I was lucky, by accident, to learn about it! The person who told me is someone who came to a Malled event in Toronto and who lives in Halifax, so it really was lucky.

      It is a very different world when there is real support for the arts, not just brutal competition for opportunities that still bring very real costs — like a Guggenheim that offers no paid health insurance to an American headed overseas or a residency a friend is on right now that gives room and board — but no travel costs. It’s costing her $10,000 to take the time off because all her costs don’t stop, even if she does. I don’t really think of this, however prestigious and competitive, as support — at least for anyone without a full-time job.

  3. Interesting! I have often wondered how writers get paid, if at all, for their intellectual property when it is circulated in libraries. What about second-hand bookshops? Do you get any kind of royalty?

  4. It’s small but it gives you an idea of how your work is doing “off the grid” so to speak while also giving you a little boost. 🙂 It’s important to support our artists and writers so that can be heard above the cacophony.

    1. I also — unlike some authors — never expect to “get rich” from writing commercially published books. Most books NEVER earn out their advance (you get $50K, for example — and they only give you maybe $5 back for each book you sell. Do the math!)

      Given how much wider my audience is through year after year after year of library readers, that’s a goal worth having. It is for me, anyway.

    1. It’s such a neat feeling to know my books are finding new readers. Wish they were paying me directly, of course, but this is a great program.

      Not every writer and book will qualify, but am glad I did.

  5. Pingback: [BLOG] Some Tuesday links | A Bit More Detail

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