News & Comment

What big publishers tell playwrights

(October 03, 2015)

Imagine you've written a play and think its worthy of publication and when you send it to a well-known publisher this is the response you get:

"If you are thinking of submitting a play to us for consideration, please note that we only publish plays alongside major professional productions on stage in the UK or Ireland. If your play has not yet been staged professionally then we are not able to publish it."

What does that tell you about the state of present-day play publishing in the UK?  Would you say they are being somewhat "risk averse"?  What if everyone stuck to that?  Your only hope of getting your play performed would be to enter and win one of the national competitions.  In the words of the Americans, "It sucks!"

The reason behind it is historical.  In the past all plays were printed in A5 books and the publisher risked losing loads of money if the public didn't buy them.  Now there is e-publishing and publishing-on-demand which means the publishers dont have to fork out for lots of printing and unwanted books,  they can store the script in digital form and print out as many copies as are needed. (but of course the companies doing the digital storing charge as much as they can which still acts as a block to small publishers like us)

The system is slow to change so they stick to their old tried and tested methods.  Other than coming to people like us, the only other way for a new writer to get their play known by a wider audience is to start their own acting company, which is what Shakespeare probably had to do.

We wonder whether amateur groups are aware, when they choose one of the scripts from the big companies, that this is the old-fashioned closed system that they're supporting ... we suspect not.



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