Getting Published

Annie Gibson, Publisher at Playwrights Canada PressAn interview with Annie Gibson, publisher of Playwrights Canada Press

PGC As a publisher, what aspects are you looking for when selecting a new script?

AG I’m looking for work of high literary merit with a compelling story, that is perhaps topical, and has appeal to a wide variety of readers. Playwrights Canada Press is committed to publishing the best drama that the country has to offer, and we expect that the play has had a professional production before it’s sent to us.

The Press is always looking for plays that have the potential to be produced again, too. In addition to schools, bookstores, and libraries, we sell our books directly to theatres, so we take into consideration some of the concerns and limitations they often express when looking at scripts. Many regional Canadian theatres find it difficult to produce plays with large casts, and while cast size and make-up wouldn’t affect the book, we do take it into account when selecting scripts.

PGC What recommendations would you give to a playwright that is interested in publishing their work?  Based on the submissions you receive, are their any common errors that playwrights should be aware of when submitting their plays to publishers?

AG One of the most important things when submitting your work is finding the right publisher. I would recommend doing a bit of research before simply sending your script on in. Check out all the drama publishers and take a look at the kinds of plays they’ve already published. Your play may be a better fit with one publisher over some of the others so that would be your best bet for submitting for publication.

The first rule of thumb once a playwright has found the right publisher is to follow the submission guidelines. Most publishers (including Playwrights Canada Press) have them posted on their websites so they’re usually easy to find. We don’t require an agented inquiry or submission, but some publishers might. Playwrights Canada Press will accept submissions from both agents and individual playwrights.

In terms of individual submission, one thing I really like to see are page numbers on the script. They’re incredibly easy to enter in most word processing programs and are really helpful if pages get shuffled while I’m reading! I also prefer that scripts aren’t bound in any way.

One of the more common mistakes people make is sending us plays that either haven’t had a professional production or haven’t had a production at all. This is a fairly important distinction for us (more on that later), so if you’re unsure feel free to contact me to double-check. For Playwrights Canada Press a professional production is one where the actors and director are working under Equity (Canadian Actors’ Equity Association) agreements, or one that is staged at a member theatre of the Professional Association of Canadian Theatres. We do not consider Fringe or other festival productions to be professional (even if they meet the Equity requirement) except in rare circumstances.

PGC Many publishers hold a professional production of the play as a requirement for publication.  Why is that?

AG Our aim is to publish the best possible version of the script, and that means the version that works the best on the stage. In truth, that is the culmination of the playwright’s work. We make very few editorial changes to the plays that we accept for publication because the process undertaken by the director, dramaturg, cast, and crew, in concert with the playwright, during a professional production will have already created that best version of the text. A professional production is an important step in the development of the script.

PGC Could you give us an outline of the publishing process?  What happens between a playwright submitting a script, and the eventual book launch?

AG The first step after submitting a play is me reading it! The selection process is a lengthy one due to the number of scripts we receive and the amount of time I like to spend on each script. It can often take six months for me to respond to a submission. Right now, I’m selecting plays for publication twelve to eighteen months in the future.

Once a play has been selected for publication, we’ll start working on the contract. Some playwrights prefer to handle negotiations themselves and others will have their agent work with me on it. Our terms are fairly standard and we have an author-friendly contract. If the playwright elects to negotiate the contract themselves, I’m happy to answer any and all questions about the terms.

The first thing we’ll need is information for advance marketing on the book. We’ll ask for a synopsis of the play, any good reviews, a bio, and we’ll ask the playwright to fill out a questionnaire that tells us a bit more about him/her. We’re looking for details to help us sell the play at local, regional, and national levels, and information for our twice-annual catalogue. We also may start working on the cover, depending on when it’s needed for the catalogue and advance promotional material.

Closer to publication, we’ll do a copy-edit of the book on the computer. This allows the playwright to see any changes we’re making and make any final edits of their own. We make very few editorial changes except to fix typos and spelling errors, or to clarify things for ease of reading. From there the book is typeset (laid out for printing) and then we start proofreading. We’ll proofread it in the office first and then send it to the playwright for final approval. Once changes are entered, it’s off to the printer!

Once the book is back from the printer we start filling orders. We may also organize a book launch. We generally hold combined launches for several books at once, which have proven successful. Once the book is published we look for new promotional avenues, so we ask playwrights to keep in touch with us, let us know of any upcoming productions, and we’re always interested in new opportunities.

PGC Does the process differ for a playwright when their work is published as either a stand-alone title or within an anthology?

AG When a play is selected for inclusion in an anthology, the process is very much the same, but perhaps scaled back a bit. The contract, for instance, is a simpler affair because in anthologies we ask for non-exclusive publishing rights with a set fee.

The copy-editing and proofreading process is very much the same, but with an added step—the editor of the collection will also be looking over everything. This depends on the individual book, though, as often the plays we’re looking to anthologize have been previously published so we may skip the copy-editing step and just proofread for polish.

In terms of the cover and information about the book, we usually work with the editor to pull everything together, although we certainly welcome input from individual playwrights on sales and marketing opportunities!

PGC What are the considerations around the printing of excerpts of other copyrighted works in a published script?  For example, a script may call for a character to recite a line of a poem, or the lyrics of a song, etc.

AG If a playwright wishes to use copyrighted material, we ask that they acquire permission from the copyright holder for publication. Usually this is a fairly simple process, but in the past we’ve hit a few snags because it’s taken longer than expected. Some of the big music publishing companies can take quite a while to respond to license requests of this nature so I’d advise starting early.

There is generally a fee required, and that is the playwright’s responsibility to pay. If the copyright holder requires a copy of the published book, we’re happy to provide that to them.

I’ll also take this opportunity to mention that if a playwright is including lyrics or passages of other writing in their work, they should also be seeking permission for the use in public performances of the play.

PGC Can you give us any insight into the current state of the market for published plays?  How many titles do you print in a year, and who are buying scripts, both here in Canada and abroad?

AG I’m happy to report that published plays are thriving, both in Canada and abroad. Playwrights Canada Press has had great success in showcasing our titles to the post-secondary education market, especially in Canada, but in the US as well. We’re also seeing a very positive response from libraries in the US.

While published plays don’t do nearly as well as novels and non-fiction offerings, I think we’re making real headway in the literary community. We print about thirty books a year, and have recently started printing 600 copies (up from 500) of each title. I’m also pleased to say we have a very strong backlist. We continue to sell a great many copies of plays that are ten or even twenty years old.

Theatres, both professional and amateur, are also big buyers of plays. We always get a thrill when a theatre buys production copies of a play for a show they’re putting on!

PGC It seems almost everyone in the publishing world is concerned about digital or online availability of the works they produce.  How is Playwrights Canada Press addressing these changes in the publishing landscape?

AG Our first mission is to create electronic versions of our books that people can read! Plays need to be considered a bit differently from other e-books since our need is two-fold. We want individual readers to be able to access the scripts, but we also want performers to be able to use them. It means that for the foreseeable future, we’ll be creating two versions of each new individual play to reach the maximum number of people.

The first format is called an ePub and can be read on most handheld devices—a smartphone, an e-reader, the iPad, etc. The second format is a PDF and can be read on any computer, and even some of the aforementioned devices. While the ePub is sold through major e-book retailers like Indigo, Barnes & Noble, and Sony, the PDF can be printed (with the appropriate license, of course) for theatres looking to perform the script. It also allows people who don’t have a dedicated device to access the plays if they prefer reading on a screen.

There are some really wonderful things about digital publishing, but what I think is most exciting is making things available more readily internationally. With physical books we’re hampered by incredibly expensive and unreliable shipping services to send plays to readers in Germany, Italy, Australia, and other places we’ve had inquiries from. By offering a digital version of the book, readers around the world have incredibly easy access to the plays we publish.

PGC And of course, we have to ask you this: are you currently accepting new submissions?

AG I am indeed accepting new submissions! Take a look at our submissions guidelines at www.playwrightscanada.com/publisher/submissions.html or send me an email (publisher@playwrightscanada.com) for more information.

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