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The Business of Playwriting 
By Jacqueline McMahon

You’ve spent months developing your ideas into the perfect play. You have revised, proofread and edited into the wee hours of the morning. You formatted your play with the latest software, then headed for the business supply store with the cheapest photocopying prices. You saved copies of your script on disk, on your computer and now, on paper. There is nothing more to do.

Wait a minute! Writing the play was only just the beginning. Unless you know of opportunities that come knocking on the doors of writers, you must now address the business side of playwriting.


Playwrights have several choices for getting their work out to the public: contests, theatres, publishers and residencies.

CONTESTS: Any search engine will provide playwrights with an incredible number of appropriate contests; many that do not even charge a fee. Obviously, the more prestigious and well known the contest, the more competition one will have and the harder it will be to be successful. Winning a contest can also provide many different results including prize money, a reading or production and even publication.

Warning: Follow the contest guidelines exactly as specified. Many wonderful plays will never be considered because the author did not comply with the complete submission guidelines.


a) PRODUCTIONS: Theatres are always looking for new material for upcoming productions. It is always best to inquire before sending a script. Market listings will specify whether to query, send a synopsis or the complete manuscript and whether the theatre accepts unsolicited submissions or only those from agents. Other information available to writers might be rights, compensation (i.e. royalties) and theatre’s response time if interested. Working with a theatre allows playwrights a chance to form contacts in the field, which could lead to further productions.

b) SELF- PRODUCTION: Sometimes newer playwrights will choose this option. They must be prepared to provide the financing, assemble the cast and crew and publicize the play but for some, this may be a necessary step to becoming a recognized playwright.


a) PROFESSIONAL PUBLISHERS: Many writers dream of having their work available in published form. For playwrights, having their works available in the catalogues of publishers such as Samuel French not only means recognition but potential financial rewards as well. Drama departments and theatre groups can order copies and pay royalties when doing productions but they may also purchase copies for their script libraries. Either way, the playwright stands to make some money when his or her materials are used by these groups.

These publisher websites are a great place to start:






b) SELF- PUBLISHING: The innovative playwrights of today are forming their own publishing companies and selling their scripts through their web sites. Offering both electronic scripts and hard copies online can be quite an instrumental way of marketing to a broad customer base.

RESIDENCIES: Established playwrights may apply for a variety of "playwright in residence" positions at colleges and universities. Benefits may include opportunities to lecture, a stipend, an atmosphere conducive to writing and being involved in the rehearsals of one’s own work.


With so many market opportunities, finding the right place for one’s work can be a daunting task. Whether one seeks out opportunities through books such as Writer’s Market or by using online search engines, one standard remains: DO NOT SEND ANYTHING THAT DOES NOT CONFORM TO THE WRITER’S GUIDELINES.

Contests, theatres and publishers will all provide playwrights with their specific requirements in this regard.

It has been my experience that many contests do not accept musicals, plays for children, or scripts with large casts and elaborate sets. Their resources simply cannot support such productions. That means that writers of these types of works must diligently seek out compatible markets for such projects. Writers of plays for children, for example, will find publishers and producers in Children’s Writer’s & Illustrator’s Market published by Writer’s Digest Books. Similar books exist for writers of other markets.

The ten-minute play continues to remain popular; as do one acts and plays with simple sets and smaller casts. There are publishers who specialize in genre publishing (like musicals, works for youth and other specialized markets) and larger firms who publish a great variety of genres.


Unfortunately, unless your name is synonymous with theatre, it is unlikely that your playwriting income will provide you with the equivalent of a full-time job salary. Playwrights often supplement their income by writing articles for magazines and e-zines or with jobs in the field, like teaching courses in playwriting and drama or even directing the works of others.

The main sources of income will come from performance royalties, script sales, and contest prize money. But most playwrights will tell you that it isn’t the monetary rewards that keep them writing… it’s seeing their words come to life in the ultimate reward: a production.


There are many benefits to joining a playwright’s organization such as:

  1. informative newsletters and/or magazines
  2. contacts in the business
  3. web listings to promote and sell your work
  4. workshops/seminars/retreats
  5. a place to meet and connect with other playwrights
  6. online resources such as forums/listserves/chats/links/articles (many of which can be utilized by anyone; not just members)

The following groups are among the best:

DRAMATISTS GUILD: http://www.dramaguild.com



INTERNATIONAL CENTRE FOR WOMEN PLAYWRIGHTS: http://www.internationalwomenplaywrights.org

NEW DRAMATISTS: http://newdramatists.org/ndintro.html

Playwrights may also benefit from other writing organizations and web resources. Although not a complete list, these are some of my favorites:

http://www.naww.org National Association of Women Writers

http://theatreandeducation.hypermart.net/PLAYWRIG.HTM Plays and Playwrights

http://www.puc.ca/ Playwrights’ union of Canada

http://www.suite101.com/welcome.cfm/playwriting Informative playwriting site

More Resources:





Many playwrights believe that an agent is necessary for a successful writing career. Playwriting, however, differs in one very significant way from other genres of writing. For most playwrights, it is the prospect of a staged reading or production that entices them to continue with their craft; rather than the continual quest for publication sought after by writers of articles, short stories and novels.

New writers of any genre will find it difficult to obtain representation until they have developed somewhat of a proven track record in the field. After all, an agent is looking to make money from his/her relationship with a writer and newcomers have not yet established themselves as worthwhile risks.

Cleveland-based playwright, Linda Eisenstein, has defied the odds surrounding the necessity of an agent to achieve success. With over 100 productions, a large number of readings and many of her works in print, she is proving that tenacity and self- promotion are viable tools to a playwright’s success. In fact, Linda would have the same take on marketing and making contacts even if she did have an agent: "Even playwrights with agents need to do a great deal of their own marketing."

So is it unnecessary for playwrights to have agents? Absolutely not! In fact, an agent can open doors to larger, more prestigious markets, deal with contract negotiations and recommend scripts to contacts many playwrights would otherwise not have.


bulletPlaywriting: Writing, Producing and Selling your Play by Louis E. Catron (click here to order)
bulletPractical Playwriting by Linda Eisenstein (available at http://www.lindaeisenstein.com/Practical_Playwright.html)
bulletDramatists Sourcebook 2001-2002 (click here to order)   
bulletThe Stage Writers Handbook (click here to order)   

For everyone from the aspiring writer to the seasoned professional, there is a wealth of resources to help you get on with "The Business of Playwriting."

Jacqueline runs a performing arts studio/boutique, "Slightly off Broadway," with her best friend. See her website at http://www.slightlyoffbroadway.com.  She is also the host of Suite101's Performing and Writing Musical Theatre website at http://www.suite101.com/welcome.cfm/musical_theatre, and writes for http://www.musicaltheatreinfo.com/





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