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Thursday, June 16, 2011

Some thoughts on becoming an Indie Playwright (act one)

How does a playwright promote and/or market themselves? Specifically, an independent playwright -that is without a major publishing company representing them? This topic came up a few weeks ago on a writer discussion board and it lead me to consider my own history, philosophy and methods of self promotion. How did I do it?


History

Back in 2000 I got the idea to offer the murder mystery comedies I had penned for a local group to the world at large. Now here is where most Business/Marketing Guru types throw concepts out such as "Feasibility studies" and "Researching your Market" and other text book terms. I read those books and...pretty much ignored them.

I knew there were some big time play publishers out there such as Samuel French and Dramatists Play Service but at the time, I didn't feel confident enough to submit my quirky little plays to the big boys. No. I decided to try it myself.
I went on-line and searched for "Murder Mystery Scripts" to see how many other "indie" playwrights were dwelling in that genre. Hmmm. Not too many.
How much did they charge for performance rights and royalties?
How did they send the material to the customer?
OK. That 20 minute research session seemed feasible to me. No Power Point with nifty lines and graphs needed. My market research said I just needed a name and a website.

I had dabbled in a few amateur websites before, so creating my own site was not an issue. Of course, here in 2011, there are a multitude of Do-it-yourself Web Creation sites that hold your hand through making a website in a virtual click by number process. Back in 2000, not so much. I had decided on the name "Play-Dead" for the site. (There is a post here: Grateful For The Name that explains how I came up with "Play Dead".

I admit, the first version of play-dead.com was a bit over the top. As most people who create their first websites, we tend to go crazy with fonts, colors and designs. I was guilty.

As far as promotion went, well.. I submitted my site in a few Free "Get Your Site Listed on A Million Search Engines" type deals. That was it. Promoted. Remember in 2000, Social Networking was not around. I created and waited. And waited.

Almost a year to the day I first published my website I got a request from New Hampshire for a script. Wow! Cool! I was going to be produced in New Hampshire!
I printed out a copy of the script, drove down to the local Post Office and mailed it off. Here would be the test of my talent. A theatre group I did not know personally, would be mounting a production of a script I wrote. There would be no patronizing friends patting my back saying, "It's really good. It's very funny." This would be an impartial jury. It is this fact that ties into my philosophy.

Philosophy
You can promote the utter crap out of yourself with ads, billboards and every marketing trick in the world, but if what you do; your product or talent is not very good, no amount of promotion is going to overcome that fact.

I heard a story about the old Heavy Metal Hair Band called W.A.S.P Blackie Lawless was the lead singer and created this crowd pleasing stunt where he would shoot Roman Candle style fireworks from the saw blade-codpiece of his costume. One night, something happened and the device didn't go off but instead exploded. Needless to say, a minor implosion in that region of the body is not pleasant. As they carried him off the stage he said to his band (paraphrased)"See! If we could write good songs I wouldn't have to do this (stuff)!"

Sure you can resort to gimmicks that will create a buzz - but that will only last so long. It comes down to your actual product whether it's songs,books or plays. I believe the end result will be the measure of your talent. Not the buzz you create.

But doesn't "buzz" get you noticed?

Yes, of course it does. I'm not knocking creating a "presence" or a "buzz" about yourself, that's an important path which allows people to find you. But when they find you, the songs, books or plays you create need to be as strong as all the buzz. The bite needs to match your bark.

This was and is still is my philosophy. If I was going to make it as a playwright, I wanted to rely on the actual plays I write to be the litmus test. So you could say I chose the "organic" route of marketing. I wanted to make sure the work I created had legs to stand on before I resorted to the larger promotion arena.

A few years went by and I got more and more requests for my scripts. It began to appear it had developed legs. And I didn't to place a Roman Candle codpiece between them.


More on promotion (the bigger arena) to come.

Wednesday, June 15, 2011

More Thoughts On Being an Indie Playwright and Promotion (Act II)

As I was saying in my last post, for the first several years I maintained a low profile insofar as promoting myself as a full fledged independent playwright of murder mystery comedies on line. It was around this time my old good friend Bob Baker of The Buzz Factor began his Indie Music Marketing and Self Promotion empire. Needless to say, (but I will) Bob is tremendously well versed on "branding and promoting" and all around Guerrilla Marketing for creative types from musicians to authors. He was always amazed that I wasn't actively marketing my site or myself on line.

But you see, the thing is - I didn't wake up one morning and decide I was going to become a Murder Mystery Playwright. I didn't spend all my energy everyday pursuing the dream of being a playwright and overusing the word PASSION. No, I had other things in mind and this playwright thing was just.. a goofy little hobby thing I did on the side.

This goofy little hobby kept getting bigger and bigger. And Bob would shake his head at me, "I can't believe you aren't marketing yourself!"

OK. So what IF I did market myself? What would happen? After all, I had essentially found a niche in writing Murder Mystery comedies and many theatre groups seemed to enjoy breaking up their production seasons of "The Odd Couple" and "Bye Bye Birdie" with something a bit different.

Clean the Dancing Kittens from your Home

An important piece of wisdom Bob instilled in me was: Keep Your Website Clean.
After all your website is your home base, your featured presence. This is the place all your marketing is going to point to. It should be clean and simple. No dancing kittens or flashing fonts dripping with blood. No embedded music players cranking out Death Metal. Your talent should entertain customers not your website. People want to find out your information and they want it quickly.
What do you have?
How much is it?
How do I get it?


If they have to click on the Skull that explodes into flying monkeys to see a list of your plays, then forget it. Look at the high commerce Websites out there such as Amazon or E-bay. A plain white background and plain font.

It's also helpful to provide as much information as you can in the most concise manner. Since I have play scripts, I provide a brief plot summary, the number of characters, how much it is and how it will be delivered.

Once my website was clean I began the process of promotion.

The Market

So I began reading various SEO, Marketing Tips and Promotion articles on line and taking the advice of my friend Bob. Now, granted, there is a lot of information to learn out there, but not everything applied to my particular field.

No Newsletters, Thank You Very Much

Many Marketing magnets will insist you get people to sign up for a Newsletter. Yes, sign up is the key. Create an email sign up form. This is called "Permission" marketing. You must ask very nicely if you can send out a newsletter with updates and all kinds of cool stuff. You must get permission otherwise it's called SPAM. I personally do not subscribe to the Newsletter philosophy. Sure, it keeps your name out there and reminds customers of your presence but for someone like me... Why? I could not imagine what kind of updates and cool stuff a playwright can send in a newsletter.

Update: I was at the store today and had an idea for a play!
Cool Stuff: I wrote 3 more pages of that one thing I've been working on!

But again that's just me.

I have found a Blog accomplishes the same thing. I can post updates, performance information and news. Establish a presence on-line that's here if you want to read it and saves everyone from hitting the delete button or filling up the Spam folder.

Hello World

So the main point in promotion is letting to world know you exist. The first method is letting people find you. How do they find you? One way is advertising.

One of the first forays I explored in advertising was Google Adwords. You know, those little ads that occupy the right side of Google's search page. If you are searching for Left handed Octagon Widgets, you will see ads related to 'Widgets'. It is easy enough to set up and there are plenty of tutorials and pages devoted to Adwords. Every time someone types a few keywords, such as "Plays", "Scripts" etc.. your Ad will appear. If your ad is clicked, you pay a small fee. You do not have to spend a fortune. I have my budget set for the absolute minimum and you can "pause" or "stop" your ad at anytime. The bottom line is that anyone searching for "Murder Mystery Plays" will see my ad on the right side. An association begins to develop: "Murder Mystery Plays" = "Play-Dead.com".

Another Link in the Chain

I found quite a few theatre websites that would link to my site for free. Doollee.com allows playwrights to list themselves and their work for free.
Stageplays.com offers a Banner Exchange program where you create a free banner for your site in exchange for allowing other theatre sites to display their banners on your site.

These are just a few of the avenues I pursued, there are many others out there that will link back to you if you link to them. The more links you can get, the higher your rankings will appear in search engines. Again the bottom line is letting the world know you exist.

If your work is published by a major or minor publishing company, they may do some of the promotion/advertising for you. But again, they may not. I personally chose not to let an unknown entity handle the work I created. Sure they may have inside roads to promote your work with a full color ad in Playbill, but then again, they may not. Who better to let the World know about you than you?


Next: The Social Scene

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

Thoughts on the Social Scene Self Promotion Service (Act III)


There are some major avenues of "Hey Look At Me" you can drive your self promotion bandwagon up to that were not around when I started as a reluctant marketer. These streets do have names and they are located in the Social Network section of Info highways. Facebook,  LinkedIn and Twitter to name a few. If you're an independent artist and would like to flash your work to the world, it is beneficial to expose yourself. (Yes, write your own joke here)

You are the person who creates something: a play, a song, a book or any piece of art and in many cases, the public is familiar with the people behind the work: Van Gogh, Van Morrison, Picasso, Warhol, Neil Simon, Neil Diamond, Dostoevsky,Tolstoy etc.. We hear or see these name and usually we can call up something familiar about their work, because we have become... well, familiar with their work. They have been around the block a few times and may have passed us on the sidewalk. I mean, if a car keeps going around the proverbial block, sooner or later you will notice it.  And none of these people had access to social media because it had not been invented yet. No, Tolstoy didn't have Twitter account - "Wrote about War today- thinking about writing about peace next. #longnovel".

If you wanted people to become familiar with you and your work - the best you could do is hang a poster or leaflet up in the local cafe or hoped to be mentioned in the newspaper. Perhaps someone read your book or saw your painting, heard your song and told someone else about it - who then told someone else....    Bottom line - now that we do have social media -- as an independent artist, getting your "Name" out there increases an association between you and what you do. (And of course, "Links" to your site)

Public I

One drawback of creating a Profile on Facebook or Twitter is that while you are creating a presence that associates your name with your work, it also allows room for you to expose your true nature and feelings that may not delight the world at large. Example: One day you post your "New play is produced in Sheboygan this weekend!" Which is fine. The next day you post that "Rush Limbaugh is a big Fat Fart head!" Which is fine also, but may alienate a few potential patrons. It's best to keep your politics, religion and old photos of yourself sharing a bong with GG Allin to a minimum.


Essentially, putting your face and your name out there on Social Networks with the subtext of your "Brand" (music, poetry, writing, photography etc..) while at the same time, putting your "Brand" out there,(your Website), with the subtext of yourself, you create two paths in which the public can find you and maybe follow you. I believe it's best to keep the Brand of "You" to a minimum.

Well Done vs Over Done

While it's a major benefit to promote yourself on-line and in Social circles, keep in mind the idiom from Henry IV, Part One in which Falstaff says: "The better part of valour is discretion". I have seen many Self Promoting Indie types go overboard posting about themselves and their work.
It's as if a point of reference to be noticed is drawn from a 6-year old at the Supermarket, standing in front of the impulse-buy Candy display. Repetition of a desire may wear the parent down into letting a child have the Gummi-Worms, but repetition of a self promoting artist can get annoying, (depending on the topic). I mean sure, if your work is being published, your play is being produced or you have a headlining gig at club, great! But if you're telling us that you're having coffee with Uncle Otis again and that you need to color co-ordinate your sock drawer, ummm, OK. Didn't really need to know that. It should be about "Here is my work. This is what I do" and NOT "Here is me. This is my organized sock drawer."

As a member of the public and potential fan of your work - tweeting or posting about your work will spark my interest. A photo of what you ordered at a deli - does nothing in the end. What it boils down to is what you do not who you are. Don't allow yourself to overshadow your craft. Two essential writers in the world of literature -  J.D. Salinger and Thomas Pynchon - can you immediately see them in your mind? Do you know anything about their personal lives? Read their latest tweets? Liked a band they checked out on Facebook?  Did it really matter?

Post Toast

There are many schools of thought on what you should post on-line, how often you should post and you can find self proclaimed experts on line.  For me and my work -  I have found it best to stick to matters related to theatre, writing and all related matter. Friendly not familiar. Personable not personal. Well done and not over done.

A few final thoughts later. I'm meeting Aunt Bunny at Costco. She finally buying me that 3 gallon vat of Gummi Worms.

Monday, June 13, 2011

Making it fit your Niche and the Personal Side of Self Promotion

Making it fit

One of the problems with being a "niche" artist is that when it comes to promoting yourself, you have to find "niche" methods. As I stated in a previous post, there are countless numbers of folks out there writing about tricks, tips and methods of marketing yourself. I know because I do read them. Not every piece of marketing advice is going to apply to you, so you will have to run much of it through some heavy duty filters. As an example, here are a few decent websites:

Social Media Examiner
How To Market Yourself
For Musicians: (my friend Bob Baker's) The Buzz Factor
And one of my favorite blogs -Seth Godin's Blog

As for myself, a comedy murder mystery playwright, I have to sift through much of the information, on-line and in books and twist it to fit what I do. Years ago, my friend Mr. Baker hosted an "Indie Music Boot camp" and he asked me to come and video tape the various presentations. There were some great guest speakers offering insight into the "indie" world of self-promotion including Derek Sivers, founder/creator of CD BABY and Ariel Hyatt of Ariel Publicity. As I listened to the speakers pontificate on marketing and promotion, I found it was easy to replace the word "musician" with the word "playwright" and apply the advice to myself. (except the bit about creating an email list for a nifty Newsletter -everybody is on that bandwagon!)
I encourage any artist, whatever your niche, to read the information available about promoting and marketing and modify it to fit yourself.

The Human Element

One popular topic the speakers discussed was "Social Marketing". The major factor of social networking sites is the personal interaction or human element. Back in High School, when I was a minor actor in "The Miracle Worker", the playwright William Gibson did not have a Myspace or Facebook page. He did not have a website. You could not jump on-line and find out if he "Liked" anything or played Farmville. If you really desired to interact with him, you could write a letter and send it off to his publishing company and maybe, just maybe, they would forward it to him. Perhaps, years later, he might respond.

These days, you can find and interact with almost anyone on the internet. Many of the theatre groups and/or actors that have been involved with my scripts, are my "friends" on Facebook. I get emails from High School students who are involved in my plays and have questions about characters or dialogue, which come straight to me (not forwarded from a publishing company) and I always respond personally.

Lee Mueller at Freedom High SchoolI have even visited a few High Schools during productions and held Question/Answer sessions and lead the students through some improv games. I'm not telling you all this to toot my own horn, but only to claim that "personal interaction" is one of the best methods of "self-promotion" you can utilize. People will remember you from the interaction of answered email, phone call or personal appearance more than they will remember the name from a byline.

The Discussion Interaction

There are many websites such as Linkedin that have "groups" related to your field. These are "discussion" groups where people just like you come to seek advice, introduce themselves or maybe even rant. Many social networking sites have discussion groups for your field of interest. Be careful about jumping into any group full throttle as an advertising billboard for yourself:

"Hi I'm an Amazing Playwright and have 500 scripts your Theatre needs to produce!"

Gee, thanks Goober! But this is a Playwriting Discussion Forum and we are all amazing playwrights that have scripts theatres need to produce. It would have helped if you were familiar with this fact. I believe the appropriate response involves the phrase "preaching to the choir". Read over the threads in the groups to get a good idea of what the topics are about before you jump in guns a blazin.

Anyway, I encourage artist to interact with other artists. Lend advice or participate in any discussions that may be posted. Stay away from the Smarmy Salesman approach. Use it to "network" with others in your field. I have met other playwrights who specialize in certain types of plays, (musicals, children's plays)and have had inquiries from Theatre groups looking for that exact type of material. I will immediately forward this onto the playwright and in turn they will do the same for me.

In fact, prior to writing this blog, I posted a question on the Playwrights Group, seeking other writers to share "How They Promote or Market" themselves and hopefully will get some responses I can include in my next blog. There is also a comment section below if anyone wishes to contribute.