Wednesday, May 7, 2014

Why you need a publisher

I often hear from playwrights who say that they don't want to be published. They hate the thought of splitting royalties with a faceless corporation. Even more, they hate the thought of giving up control over their plays. As a result, they spend a big chunk of their time promoting their play, arranging for the performance rights, collecting the fees and the myriad other activities required to get a play produced.

Now everyone has the right to pursue their career the way they see fit. But if your goal is to make some money at this game, then I think this view is shortsighted.

Last May, Pioneer Drama Service published my first full-length play, The Butler Did It! Now that it had the imprimatur of a major publishing house, I thought I would bolster their promotional efforts by advertising it myself.

I ordered 250 postcards, bought a big spool of postcard stamps and mailed them off, focusing on community theatre companies that had done goofy comedy/mysteries like mine.

The total cost was around $200. That may seem like a lot, but if the postcards resulted in just 2 productions, I'd break even.

So yesterday, I received my annual royalty statement from Pioneer. I was thrilled to see that The Butler Did It! had gotten 24 productions. Surprisingly, however, not a single one came from those postcards. They were all a result of Pioneer own promotional efforts.

I'm sure a few came from people stumbling across Pioneer's website as the result of a Google search. But I suspect that the bulk came from people who were already loyal customers of Pioneer, and knew what to expect when ordering a play from their catalog.

So yeah, my postcards earned me a big fat goose egg. And that's for a play that's already published. Imagine how much more difficult it is to get a production with a play that hasn't been published.

My other plays did well too. Last year, I was a little worried because the number of productions for The _urloined Letter had dropped from 9 in its first year to 4 in its second year. But this year it nearly regained all that lost ground with 8 productions. And Long Tall Lester did even better, its 18 productions representing a healthy 20% increase over its inaugural count of 15 productions.

As a playwright, you often feel like your plays are your children. And it can be hard to send them out into the world without you.

But plays are meant to be produced, and the best way to achieve that is to get them picked up by a publishing house that will give them as much care and attention as you would yourself.

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