Friday, May 18, 2018

My 7th year sales

I just received my annual royalty check from Pioneer Drama Service and I'm happy to report that this year was another record-setting one for me. That's largely due to a little play called The Enchanted Bookshop. In the nine months since it was released, this play made almost as much money as my other eleven plays combined.

Not bad for a bunch of public domain characters.

My total number of productions was 311, a 36% increase over the 228 productions I had last year. Strangely enough, I'm still reaping the benefits of the ten months I was laid off as the last three plays I wrote during that time were released this year, including The Enchanted Bookshop (released in July), Wicked Is As Wicked Does (August) and The Purrfect Crime (January).

So yes, The Enchanted Bookshop was my #1 play for the year, blowing the roof off my previous record with a whopping 107 productions (Rumpelstiltskin, Private Eye had 63 productions two years ago). I'm thinking it'll do even better in the coming year as it has already booked 41 productions.

My #2 play was You're Driving Me Crazy!, which has been a big hit with schools due to its short playing time (40 minutes), flexible casting (7 to 13 actors) and minimal set (four chairs). It dropped quite a bit from the 61 shows it snagged last year (see above), but still managed to pull in an impressive 37 shows. It remains especially popular in Canada, with 8 of those productions coming from our neighbor to the north.

Million Dollar Meatballs surprised me this year with its strong showing at #3. It got 34 productions, the same number as the previous year, its first full year and traditionally the best year a play ever does. I guess schools gots to have their farces.

I was really pleased to see my #4, Trouble in Paradise Junction, do so well in its first full year, with 30 productions. This large-cast satire of reality TV is my publisher's favorite play of mine. It also holds a lot of meaning for me, since the perfect little town at the center of the story was largely based on my own hometown.

My #5 play was The Stinky Feet Gang with 23 productions in its first full year. I owe a lot to Lori, the editor at Pioneer who fought to put this one on their slate. It had a slow start last year but appears to be heating up now.

I'm sorry to see Rumpelstiltskin, Private Eye, my #6 play, continue to drop in popularity. It had 63 productions two years ago, 40 last year and just 19 this year. I don't why it's dropped so much, but I suspect there are so many fractured fairy tales released each year that its hard for an older one to get much attention. One nice surprise is that at the end of this month, it'll get a production in Germany, my 11th country.

My #7 play was How I Met Your Mummy, which also struggled. It dropped from 30 productions last year to 14 this year.

The Butler Did It! is my feast or famine play in the #8 slot. It had 34 productions three years ago, 14 two years ago, 30 last year and 14 again this year. Here's hoping it pulls off another strong showing in the coming year.

The _urloined Letter and Wicked Is As Wicked Does tied at #9 with 10 productions. For The _urloined Letter, that represents a tie with its previous best, an impressive showing for my first play. As for Wicked Is As Wicked Does, those 10 productions represent a bit of a slow start. As a brand new fractured fairy tale, it should have done much better. Will it get some heat next year? I think so, as it has already booked 8 productions.

Rounding out the list is Long Tall Lester with 7 productions (its worst year yet) and The Purrfect Crime with 3 productions, which should have done much better in its inaugural year. It's my most female-heavy play and fairly easy to produce (one set, mostly) so I've got to think it'll do much better next year.

So a few down results, but the up results are so strong that I can't complain. Plus, as they say in baseball, there's always next year.

Thursday, May 17, 2018

Danville Bookshop makes connections

The Enchanted Bookshop got a nice write-up in the Commercial-News of Danville, IL, where the Red Mask Players are performing the play this weekend. (Fun fact: This is the same theater where Hollywood icon Dick Van Dyke got his start.)

Positive feedback is always a good thing, but I'm continue to be thrilled by how people have taken this play to heart. In the article, reporter Brianna Kirkham writes:
[Director Ruey] Sandusky said she feels a special connection to the story because she's an Oakwood librarian herself. 
"I think a lot of kids aren't reading as much now," she said. "I love this play because it inspires people to read more."
Thanks for the kind words, Ruey. I hope you have a fantastic performance!

Wednesday, May 9, 2018

Pioneer launches photo contest

My publisher has just announced their first photo contest, which I think is a fantastic idea. For full details, check out their Facebook post below.

I hope all of my loyal followers submit something. I've seen a lot of great photos from my plays, and I think any one of them could win the big prize.

Good luck!

Wednesday, May 2, 2018

I get profiled

I was pleased and a little surprised when my editor Jeremy Johnson said he wanted to interview me as the second in Pioneer's brand new series of Playwright Profiles. Well, that profile came out in their newletter today and I'm really happy how it turned out. Jeremy and I had a wide-ranging conversation, covering everything from where I get my inspiration to whether I'm as big a cat person as my plays suggest.

To read the interview, click here. And if you want to get all of the Playwright Profiles (as well as a ton of other helpful articles), be sure to subscribe to Pioneer Drama Service's twice-monthly newsletter. You'll be glad you did!

Saturday, April 28, 2018

More feedback from Hollywood

To add to my latest post, I just received a second set of feedback on my screenplay for The Enchanted Bookshop, this time from a well-known screenplay-hosting service (sharp readers will get my reference above).

Not surprisingly, these comments covered much of the same ground as the previous ones. This reader didn't have a problem with Book Fairy, but she did think that the way that Margie gets the locked book from Lady in Red seemed contrived. She also felt that the book characters were too passive. In her view, the plot is almost entirely driven by Eddie and Fingers.

One point this reader made that the other did not is that some of the dialogue seemed clunky and forced. I wish she'd provided more details as I'm not sure which exactly dialogue she's referring to.

Writers like to say that you can ignore advice that comes from only one source, but if two or more sources agree, then you've got to take it seriously. Well, both of these readers agree on the weakness of the book character's goals and the implausibility of the Lady in Red's scheme. You'd better believe I'm going to review those in detail over the next few weeks.

The good part? Neither reader thought the screenplay was uncinematic, even though the scenes run long and the entire story takes place in what is essentially a single location. So I guess the revisions only need to be minor. The readers also loved the premise and think the scene where the characters hide out in each other's books (something I new with the screenplay) is a hoot.

Now to get to work on those tweaks...

Thursday, March 29, 2018

You get what you pay for

Feedback is vital to every writer. We can cut and embellish and schlep words around all we want, but until we learn what others think of our stuff, we're just scribbling away in an isolation chamber.

So where do you find that feedback? A writer's group can be a big help when you're starting out. But if you want to take your writing to a professional level, then you need to hire a professional reader.

Eleven years ago, when I first started writing screenplays, I hired several professional reading services to give me feedback. As I discovered, almost all of these places are based in Los Angeles and are staffed by people who read full-time for the studios and earn extra cash by freelancing on the side.

The notes weren't cheap. Two to three pages on a feature-length script set me back $150, although some top-notch reviewers can charge upwards of $1000.

But they were well worth the money. The readers zeroed in on exactly what was wrong with my screenplays.

And there was plenty. The gags were derivative, the situations were implausible and--the kiss of death for any screenplay--the characters were completely unsympathetic.

 I tried to use the feedback to make my screenplays better, but I never got them to the point where I felt comfortable submitting them to managers and production companies.

Well, I must have learned a thing or two over the years because I just received my first set of notes for The Enchanted Bookshop and they were much more positive. In fact, the reader suggested only three minor tweaks to the script:

1) Change Lady in Red's tactics

As anyone who has seen the play knows, Lady in Red tries to sell Margie, the lonely bookshop owner, a cookbook with a lock on it. Why a lock? Because that's where the stolen necklace is hidden. Her intention is to leave the book at the bookshop so that the smugglers can pick it up later.

Well, the reader found it completely implausible that Lady in Red (Mystery Woman in the screenplay) would expect anyone to buy such a book. Also, Margie  would be instantly tipped off when the smugglers showed up the next day looking for "a book that don't open". Instead, the reader suggested that Lady in Red pretend to be interested in buying a book, then sneak the book onto a back shelf when Margie isn't looking (which she ends up doing anyway).

It's a great suggestion. Unfortunately, making this change means I'll have to dump some of my favorite gags in the play, but as Faulkner said, we have to kill our darlings. So out they go.

2) Focus the book characters' goals

The reader thought that the book characters bounce back and forth too much between two unrelated goals: saving the bookshop and stopping the jewel thieves. I wanted the book characters to start out being concerned about the shop to get the story moving, then switch to pursuing the other, more urgent goal when they discover the stolen necklace. The reader, however, thought it would be a stronger choice if I tied those goals together somehow.

I'm not sure this is a valid concern, but I'll think about it.

3) Dump the Book Fairy

The reader thought the Book Fairy simply wasn't needed. To her, this world-weary sprite seemed a little juvenile for the audience I'm targeting and had no real purpose in the story other to explain some things that would be better explained by the book characters themselves.

I have to smile at this one because my original draft of the play didn't include Book Fairy as a character at all. It only mentioned her in passing. But then, my publisher suggested I pull her in to provide a juicy role for some young actress. I played around with the idea a while, wrote a few test pages. And when I found that she made the story much stronger, I decided to keep her.

Still, the reader has a point. Something that works on the stage may not work on a screen. I'll have to weigh this one carefully.


So there you have it, a glimpse into the kinds of things that Hollywood thinks are important.

If you're part of a writing group that challenges you, inspires you, makes you better, then I say more power to you. But I still recommend that writers of all levels look into hiring a professional reader, especially if you want to submit to your work to a major contest or publishing house.

Sometimes you really do get what you pay for.

Friday, March 23, 2018

Bringing characters to life

Besides seeing your plays on stage, the best part of being a playwright is hearing the impact your plays have had on people.

That was the case yesterday when I came across a Facebook post from Tiffany in GA. She had just seen a production of The Enchanted Bookshop and described the play this way:
A story about a bookstore that no one visits anymore because no one ever reads books anymore! Sound familiar? Such a perfect modern day tale that reminds us that the characters of a book really can come alive if we just give them a chance! When was the last time you read a book and then missed the main character when it ended? I know I'm inspired to dust off some of our old books and bring the characters back to life!
Thanks, Tiffany! That means a lot to me.