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?


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.

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.

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