Sunday, May 22, 2011

Live Theatre Starts With The Book

Write What You Know

Everyone has a story….

I tried to Google who was credited for that quote and 180,000,000 results came up. I clicked on a few, and it seems everyone takes credit for the saying, even a 17 year old in Nebraska. The saying is as old as time and it’s true. Everyone has at least one good story tell. The question is: How, or will they tell it?

About 15 years ago, I had the idea that maybe I’d try to become a published author. I’d written several plays and had some story ideas that I was interested in pursuing. It was also the beginning of the dot com phase of the internet and I obsessed with it. I did a lot of research and found if I had thousands of dollars to spend and a warehouse for storage, I could self-publish my own book. Vanity presses were the only real possibility. That didn’t mean I could necessarily market or sell my book but I could definitely get it printed. I’m happy to say that times have changed and there are many options, some even free, for future new authors.

Today, so many new possibilities have flooded the literary world. Social media, especially blogging, is giving writers an outlet to be heard. Ebooks are all the rage and coffee shops are full of patrons sipping lattes and staring intently at their portable reading devices. Now, newer, more cost effective methods of publishing are available to everyone. It might be time to write that ‘great American novel’.

Print On Demand (POD) self-publishing is a far better scenario for the would-be writer than the vanity press options of 10 to 15 years ago. There are many companies to choose from and they can range from completely do-it-yourself-- to editing, cover design and marketing for hire. They can range from free to thousands of dollars depending on the needs or services you choose to format and market your book. Some companies have required services and others have a completely open framework with optional choices for assistance.

The basic premise is simple, you upload your finished book and format it with the assistance of your chosen POD company, choose the size, cover (you can submit your own design- recommended), etc. and it is all stored by the company in a digital format and only printed on request. That’s the over simplified version, but you get the idea-- and no more boxes of unsold books! Most companies also have the option of selling copies in print form as well as ebook format.

How do you actually sell your book? That’s another wonderful advantage of Print On Demand services. Most companies also offer marketing and distribution channel options.  Some come with a cost, some with a lower royalty, but the bottom line is you need to be prepared to market your book yourself. Don’t forget, if you want to sell your book through distribution, an ISBN identifier is a must. Again, many companies offer a free ISBN but depending on where you want to market it, you may need to file for your own unique publishing ISBN.

There are many stories of authors that have found modest, even phenomenal success marketing their books through social media channels, websites, fan pages and even Twitter. The important thing is to establish a presence and a brand and make connections. Blogs are a wonderful way to build followers and market your book, especially if you somewhat of an expert on a subject, or have a unique story to tell.

Can you actually make any money selling your book? That depends on you. The amount of time you are willing to spend marketing, speaking to niche interest groups and getting the word out there, will have a huge impact on your success. Keep in mind that the average POD pays a royalty of 40%, which is a vast increase over traditionally published books that only net the author an average 15% of the sale.

In 2006, the average of all POD or self-published books sold was 75. In 2010, the number was up to nearly 200 copies. As a comparison, the average number of all traditionally published books in the US, as of last year, had dropped to 200. In sales, the balance between traditional publication and self-publishing seems to be leveling. What the big publishers have that self-publishers don’t are their established distribution and marketing channels.

Currently, my two favorite POD companies are CreateSpace, which is tied directly to Amazon, and Lulu Publishing. They offer a wide variety of options and easy to use platforms for publishing (and marketing) your book. Lightning Source and Dog Ear Publishing are two other highly recommended companies. If this is something you decide to pursue, you should always use caution and research the company and any costs involved. Take your time and make a wise and educated decision. There are literally thousands of publishing companies out there to choose from; and beware of companies that require large investments or book purchases. Check out the company’s reputation thoroughly before entrusting them with your book. Try to retain all publishing rights whenever possible.

Since theatre and particularly educational theatre are such a specific niche market in publishing terms, POD seems like a smart avenue for my endeavors. I would rather focus my energies marketing my own book, than sending out endless query letters to agents and publishers that have mild to little interest in such a niche market. I’ll keep you posted on my progress as I continue to explore this exciting opportunity.

What's your story?

Book Spine photo. Retrieved May 22, 2011 from

CreateSpace website.

Dog Ear Publishing website.

Lightning Source website.

Lulu Publishing website.

Pen and Paper photo. Retrieved May 21, 2011 from

Self Publishing Resources website.

Typewriter photo. Retrieved May 21, 2011 from

Thursday, May 19, 2011

When One Woman’s ‘Creativity’ Oversteps the Bounds of Legality: A Cautionary Tale

Rose's Turn

Once Upon A Time… in Baltimore…

Last month, Towson University opened their production of Jonathan Larson’s RENT. Or was it? It looked pretty much the same… set, costumes, lighting… all very similar to the original Broadway production…. but something was missing. Five lines. Director Diane Smith-Sadak decided to ‘cut’ the final five spoken lines in the show to make it better.

First of all, this is illegal. The contract that is signed by every group licensing the grand rights for this, or any show, clearly states that the script cannot be altered without the written consent of the copyright holder. Second, the deletion of those five lines completely changed the end of the story. Larson wrote RENT as a story of hope. In the end, Mimi reawakens from unconsciousness (and a dream), for a second chance at life. The deletion of the five lines leaves Mimi dead. There is no other way to interpret this… the hope is gone.

Following the April 21 preview of the Towson production, news of the change and the perpetrators started appearing on theatre websites and blogs. People clearly had opinions and were making them known. The news quickly made its way to Music Theatre International, who licensed the show and issued Towson a ‘cease and desist’ order. They were told to put the lines back in or close the production.

The lines were reinstated by the next performance.

That easily could have been the end of the story. Unfortunately, Smith-Sadak decided to make the issue a platform for her creative ‘rights’ as an artist, ending up with more than a little egg on her face. She openly declared in the press that she knew nothing of the contract or copyright protections and challenged the issue as a decree against artists. Smith-Sadak touts her years as an artist, director and playwright and yet still claims to have no knowledge of contracts or copyright law. This is dishonesty at its best.

“This whole giant mess comes down to the bottom line of dollars and cents,” Smith-Sadak told the school paper, The Towerlight. “And that is the biggest irony: that Jonathan Larson wrote passionately about the integrity of the artist following their voices against the commercial onslaught … and yet I keep wondering what he would think now having watched this thing grown over the last 15 years. What would he think of what has happened to this production, being in the hands of corporations and attorneys?”

Smith-Sadak’s caustic remarks show her complete disregard for Jonathan Larson’s work and the law put in place to protect it. "When you look at what really happens in people's lives, the end wasn't really ringing as true to me as I wanted it to. I struggled with it," Smith-Sadak said. So she changed it. Forget RENT’s accolades, forget the Tony Awards, ignore the Pulitzer Prize forget the law—Smith-Sadak knows better.

In an open letter responding to the infraction, MTI President, Drew Cohen called Smith-Sadak’s comments, “arrogant and presumptuous”. He went on to say, "You can make directorial changes, you can make scenic and design changes, and interpret the text and the score how you want to. But what you can't do is add, delete or modify the music or the text. In this instance this production deleted some of the text without permission."

Blatantly changing the script, the very art, Smith-Sadak claims she wants to create and protect, then crying “foul!” when she gets caught, is teaching her students to have no regard for the law, or other artists for that matter. She was hired as an educator to instill moral right from wrong in her students, as well as professional etiquette and respect. Ms. Smith-Sadak is supposed to be a guardian of art not the back alley (script) doctor and dishonest person she has turned out to be.

If Smith-Sadak wanted to smear her fingerprints all over the production, she could have done it legally. First, she could have insisted on original set and costume designs, not put the band on stage in the exact position it was on Broadway and she could have placed the setting in outer space for that matter. To top it off, she claims she wasn’t ‘killing Mimi’ she was leaving it for the audience to decide. Yet in the end, when Angel joined the cast for curtain call, she had him touch Mimi and she got up and joined the cast. Unless she changed something else in the script, Angel dies halfway through the second act.

A dead character ‘reviving’ another…hmmm… can we say Les Miserables? How original.

Bauer-Wolf, J. (2011, April 27). ‘Rent’s’ script edits violate copyright. The Towerlight. Retrieved May 11,2011 from
Hetrick, A. (2011, April 29). University Production of Rent Stirs Controversy With Altered Script. Retrieved May 11, 2011 from
JasonC (2011, April 28). MTI Responds to University’s RENT Script-Changing Violation. MTIBlog. Retrieved May 12, 2011 from
Smith-Sadak, D. (2011, April 26). Letter: Our leap of faith. The Towerlight. Retrieved May 11, 2011 from