Tag: playwright

Why I’ve Become a Hybrid

This article was originally posted on Kim Rempel’s blog on March 31, 2017 under the title

What 16 Publishing Contracts Taught Me About Ego, Publishing, and Making Money as a Hybrid Author-Preneur

I used to think finding an agent and securing a traditional publishing deal was the pinnacle of writing success. It would prove I was legit. I’d finally be able to call myself a writer without feeling like a fraud.

Since my first book came out in 2009, however, my thinking has changed. I’ve signed sixteen traditional contracts, had an agent, said good-bye to that agent, used a vanity press twice, and self-published using both Createspace and Lightning Source. I’m a hybrid – a new breed of writer trying to use the best from both worlds.

The Truth About Traditional Publishing

Before we go any further, I should set the record straight about what some of these terms actually mean. Traditional publishers do not charge any kind of fee. Period. These can be big New York firms or small boutique houses, but there is no cost to the author in a traditional contract. Instead, the writer gets paid for their work, through an advance, through royalties on books sold, or both.

There are still many pros to traditional publishing. Besides the assurance (most of the time) of a quality product, one’s books have access to the company’s distribution channels. There are none of the headaches of managing all the production and bookkeeping responsibilities. However, there are some serious downsides, too. Authors have minimal control over their own work. There can be restrictions on the cover, launch date, and promotions. Less of the profit goes to the author since he or she is also fueling the larger machine of the publishing company.

Don’t Make These Newbie Publishing Mistakes

I’ve had a few less than stellar experiences with books that were traditionally published. My first book deal was for my book, And The Beat Goes On. I later learned that this particular publisher also charged for services (a vanity press), but in my case there was no charge of any kind. I worked with multiple editors, cover designers, proofers, etc. I didn’t know much about contracts, so I signed a seven-year deal for a 6% royalty on the cost price. The book originally came out in hardcover and sold for $30. Since my royalty was on the cost price, not the list price, I ended up making about $.87 per book. Even if you’re not a mathematician, you can see that I would have to sell a lot of books to make any money! However, I was just thrilled to have signed a real book deal and I was naïve enough to think that my books would suddenly start flying off the shelves.

I had a rude awakening when I realized I was still expected to do much of my own marketing. As well, my hands were tied when it came to giveaways, pricing, or sales. Add to that, the fact that I could not make any changes of any kind for seven long years since I no longer had the rights to my own work.

Here’s another story about my agent. I will not name him here, but he was a very nice man, and again, when he agreed to represent me I was thrilled, thinking I’d finally arrived. (This was a few years after that first book deal.) The first contract he found me was for my book, Wind Over Marshdale, with a small ‘boutique’ publishing house. The deal was for a much more substantial royalty, but remember, he was entitled to a 15% cut of whatever royalties I made. After hearing from readers who wanted a sequel, I decided to write a novella length story called Lone Wolf, which basically answered the question on everyone’s mind, “What happened to Thomas?” My agent felt that pitching a novella, even to the same publisher, wasn’t a smart move. I asked him if I could pitch it myself and he said, “Go ahead.” (In my case, my agent had first rights to any subsequent work I might produce.) I pitched it to the same publisher and they wanted the book, so I signed with them without my agent – meaning more royalties for me!

The story doesn’t end there, however. He had in his possession another of my manuscripts called, Three Strand Cord. He was busy pitching it to various large houses with no success. Again I suggested trying the same boutique publisher, but he didn’t feel that the royalties or distribution channels would produce a high enough return to make it worthwhile. In the meantime, that manuscript was floating around from publisher to publisher for more than a year, totally out of my control. Finally, after much prayer and a few emails, we decided that it would be best if we parted ways. It was a very amicable parting and I have nothing against him. He did his best for me, but I was beginning to realize that the bureaucracy of the traditional system, with all its gates and red tape, was not something I was interested in pursuing anymore.

A Warning on Self-Publishing

One of the biggest issues with the modern era of self-publishing is the glut of poor quality books out there. I’m not, by any means, saying all self-published books are poor quality. On the contrary, modern author-preneurs are becoming savvy marketers. Part of that means realizing that substandard quality may begood enough for the first book, but it will not sell future books. It’s worth the investment to outsource such things as editing and cover design.

 The Freedom of Hybrid Publishing

Authors no longer have to be bound by seven-year contracts or agent’s wishes. We have the means to take control of our own writing careers and maybe even make some money at it. While I’ve signed a fair number of traditional deals, I’ve also seen the wisdom in learning the ropes of self-publishing using Createspace and Lightning Source, two of the most well know DIY platforms.

I don’t plan to self-publish exclusively, though. All of my stage-plays have been published traditionally in the US and I do quite well on the performance royalties. In this case, these publishers have a reach I could never hope to duplicate. It wouldn’t make sense to re-publish them myself, since I would stand to lose significantly.

Similarly, at this time, I am not planning to get the rights back for a couple of my other books. Clean Reads, (formerly Astraea Press) a small press who published both Wind Over Marshdale and Lone Wolf, treats their authors very well. I’ve made some wonderful connections, and have been involved in some amazing promotional opportunities with them. Why would I want to leave?

There is no one answer, just as there is no ‘one way’ to get published. The advantages of being a hybrid are many. And a growing number of high profile authors are now also going the indie route. They’ve made a name for themselves via the traditional route, but now find they have more flexibility and control over their own work.

There’s nothing wrong with doing both; there is value and validity to each method. It is up to individual writers to choose what path makes most sense in any particular situation. Like never before, writers have truly become the authors of their own destiny.

 

Plays the Ultimate in Recycling

Plays rely on recycling all the time. Parodies and adaptations of classic works, fairy tales, and even the Bible are a common way for playwrights to break onto the stage.

Most of my published plays are stage adaptations of familiar stories – fairy tales and other classics that have stood the test of time. I’m okay with being less than original when it comes to writing plays. There are so many fantastic stories out there that are begging to be rewritten for a live audience. I figure if Shakespeare can do it, so can I. For example, his play The Two Noble Kinsmen is a remake of Chaucer’s The Knight’s Tale. (If you don’t believe me, I challenge you to read them side-by-side.)

If you are new to writing plays, adapting a familiar story is a great way to get your feet wet. Of course, it is crucial that before you do anything, you check to make sure there are no copyright restrictions. In essence, anything published before 1923 is considered public domain. That’s why fairy tales, Shakespeare, Dickens, and even Bible stories are fair game. Many works are public domain even beyond 1923 due to various copyright registration rules.  You will want to do your research if in any doubt.

I find adapting classic stories for the stage very rewarding, even if the basic idea is not originally mine. Using the given framework of plot and characters still allows for a lot of creativity. It is up to me to make the story come to life – literally. In the previous issue of Fellowscript, I emphasized that a play is not the same as a movie. This is important to keep in mind, even when writing adaptations. The playwright must decide how the story will be staged without the use of complicated sets and scene changes, and how the motivation of each character will come across in their dialogue and actions without sounding contrived. It’s always fun to add some unexpected twists, as well. In my stage version of the Peter Pan classic called Hook’sNemesis, Captain Hook is a neurotic female who has her psychologist as well as her mother on board the pirate ship. My premise started with the thought, “What if Hook had Mommy issues?” and it went from there.  (Her mother always wanted a boy…)

Many Christian playwrights choose to adapt Bible stories for the stage, which is another way to hone your skills as a playwright. Another thing I mentioned in last issue’s column was the fact that plays are meant to be produced. Why not offer to write your church’s next pageant? Easter and Christmas are the two most popular, but there are hundreds of other dramatic stories that are easily adaptable to the stage. (Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat comes to mind.) However, understanding the basics of dialogue, stage movement, and other theatrical dynamics can be FS spring issuethe difference between a ‘nice’ Easter pageant and a truly moving experience.

Writing plays is a skill set that takes some practice. Scripts also tend to require a fair bit of revision once they are test driven with real actors on a stage. That’s why recycling play ideas from other works is such a great way to start. There is enough to think about in terms of dialogue, action, scene changes, and just the sheer logistics of making it work without having to wonder if the plot has merit. As a bonus, audiences love watching their favourite stories come to life. It’s a win-win!

*Much of this article was originally printed in the May 2016 issue of Fellowscript Magazine.

A Pivotal Point In Time

Who doesnplay-bookmark-8’t love a good stage play? The immediacy and intimacy of a live performance beats a motion picture any day. Anything can happen – and often does. From an early age, I participated in school and church productions, and later, once I was in college and beyond, I started writing and directing as well. My ‘real job’ is teaching Drama at the secondary school level. You could say I lucked out when it comes to a career. I get to do something I love each and every day I go to work.

I credit my fascination with drama to a few key people. My high school drama teacher, Mrs. Rees, was an inspiration – albeit a taskmaster. Before that, though, I can pinpoint an exact moment in time when my love for the dramatic arts came into being. I wrote my first play when I was in Fourth Grade – a dramatized version of a book I’d read called Ghosts Don’t Eat Sausages by Marion Koenig. For some reason that now escapes me, I loved that book and decided to make it into a play. I then convinced several of my friends to act it out during recess time.

It’s a wonder the ‘actors’ could even figure out their cues, let alone read my writing. I corralled my chosen cast every recess – either outside or at the back of the classroom if our teacher, Mrs. Sullivan, would let us stay inside. I think I was a hard taskmaster as a director. I remember feeling frustrated on more than one occasion when people didn’t know their cues. No wonder – there was no such thing as photocopying at that time and I didn’t even bother with a typewriter. I just hand wrote the entire thing and then recopied individual parts and handed them out on scraps of paper.

Thankfully, the cast was patient, and there must have been something about the project that inspired them as well, since we persevered for weeks, perfecting and rehearsing a plot that was likely full of holes at its inception. When we started, I don’t think I knew exactly what the final objective would be – just that this was a good story and it needed to be told! Mrs. Sullivan must have seen something of merit, perhaps in my tenacity in doggedly whipping my actors into shape. It wasn’t long before she suggested that we perform the play for an actual audience – the entire school population, if we were up for it.

Say no more! That spurred us on to even greater efforts as we added costumes and props and continued to perfect the line delivery and action. Finally, the day of the show arrived, and an assembly was called. I don’t remember if we were the only item on the program or not. It really didn’t matter, since for me, this was like getting recognized at the academy awards. As I recall, the show went off well. We got a full page in that year’s yearbook and I was credited as the ‘writer and director’.

All these years later I still look upon that seemingly insignificant experience as a pivotal point in my development as a writer. I’ve gone on to write and direct dozens of stage plays, some of which are published and have enjoyed a measure of success across stages in North America. If it wasn’t for the encouragement I got from my Grade Four teacher, I wonder if I would have gone on to write another play. It’s something to ponder.

  • This article appeared in the August 2014 issue of ‘Bookfun Magazine’, page 163.

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