“Has anyone bought your plays?” and other questions about dramatic publishing

Last week, I found out that my sixth play is going to be published (you can read about it in a previous post) and I received a ton of congratulatory texts and facebook messages from family and friends who are really excited for me…even if the whole concept of what it means for a play to be “published” baffles them.

I mean, we all know that when books are published, they’re printed and sold in bookstores, but plays are designed for performance, not for reading.  And even the most avid theatergoer will likely never deal with licensing a play.  So it’s not surprising that dramatic publishing is unknown territory for most people.

Hopefully, this post will make things a little less confusing.

Whenever someone learns that I have a few plays published, the response is always the same: “That’s cool!  …What exactly does that mean?”

Basically, it means a dramatic publishing company thinks my play will be appealing to producers and directors (much like a book publisher might think a novel manuscript will be appealing to readers) and they’d like to legally represent the play.  And like book publishers, dramatic publishers edit, proofread, format, and coordinate printing.  The major difference between the two is that book publishers market to booksellers (like Barnes & Noble and amazon.com) in hopes of getting copies of their books into stores, while dramatic publishers market to producers and directors in hopes that theatre troupes will want to stage productions.

Another question I get all the time is, “Has anyone bought your plays?”

Well, technically the publisher owns a play once I’ve signed their contract, so you can say that they “bought” it.  (The legalities of copyright ownership can vary depending on the contract, but suffice it to say that the publisher controls the play.)

What I assume people really mean when they ask if anyone has “bought” the play is, “Have there been any productions of your plays?”

Yes, there have been productions of my plays, but I don’t always know about them in advance.  Some of my publishers notify me whenever a new production is happening and some send a yearly invoice that lists all of the productions that have taken place that year.  I like to google the titles of my plays to keep a rough track of productions so that I can list them on my website and here on this blog.

Talking about productions usually leads to the question, “How do you get paid?”

People who have an understanding of book publishing assume I’m paid a one-time fee for the play since book authors receive what’s called an “advance” (meaning they get a flat sum of money from the publisher before any copies are printed, and aren’t paid again until several thousand copies have sold).  An “advance” isn’t common in dramatic publishing, though.  Rather, playwrights receive a percentage of royalties and script sales indefinitely.  So every time a producer says, “Hey, this play looks interesting; I’ll buy a copy of the script and see if I want to mount a production,” I receive a percentage of that script sale.  And every time that producer says, “Wow!  That was great!  I’m going to produce this play,” I receive a percentage of the royalty fee the publisher charges the producer.  This is why it’s important for producers and directors to make sure they’re legally staging a play and have paid all necessary fees.  To stage a production without paying a proper royalty is essentially stealing from both the publisher and the playwright whose income is derived directly from these fees.

I get some other questions periodically, as well…

“Do you have an agent?”

I don’t personally have one.  Dramatic publishers deal directly with playwrights (as opposed to book publishers who prefer to deal with literary agents).  Some playwrights have agents to negotiate contracts for major professional productions, but I write mostly for the school play market and all licensing for these plays is handled by my publishers.

“Can I find your plays in bookstores?”

Probably not.  If you look at the play section of a bookstore it’s usually pretty small and contains only a dozen or so of the most popular plays of all time.  You’ll have an easy time coming across The Crucible but not A Family Reunion to Die For (even if I’m partial to the latter).

“Can I buy a script copy of one of your plays?”

Yes.  Please do.  Remember, how that whole, “How do you get paid?” thing works?  You can get copies directly from the publishers.  (Here’s a listing of my plays with links to the publishers.)

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One thought on ““Has anyone bought your plays?” and other questions about dramatic publishing

  1. Great Post! I get that question a lot as well. Mostly new producers who don’t understand why people pay royalties! Going to use this post to answer them in the future!

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