Amy Peterson (writing plays under the pen name Ash Sanborn) aspires to be a playwright and has e-published her play, along with other writings. She explains her varied and unique approach to networking and marketing.
1. Pretend for a moment I’m a director or producer looking for my next play. Pitch me one of your plays in five to ten sentences.
The Feast of Jovi Bono (known to friends as TFOJB) is a new play, a challenge to actors to tell their stories in slam poetry/spoken word art. It’s the story of forgiveness between mothers and daughters, exes, the life-beaten and the life that beat them. What if a tent city moved next door to your house? You’re just one person – what can one person do to help create life from destruction?
Most plays in this century do not have a narrator, but ours has a snarky chef to make us laugh and tie the feast together. There’s a rugby game, cake getting all over, an expanding table that Malcolm (Jovi’s best friend) keeps tripping over, padparadsha oranges, and stories that light up the night.
2. What motivated you to become a playwright?
TJOJB has not had the usual development process mostly because of the slam poetry. First I did send it to the developmental readers at my local theater (Spencer Community Theater in Iowa) and of the three readers, two of them had very helpful feedback. I took many of their suggestions. The next step would have been a staged reading in which I would have found a partner-director, assembled the cast (which usually consists of whoever shows up) and had one or at most two rehearsals. The reading would be in front of an invited audience who would then provide further feedback. This is where the process broke down: the slam poetry is actually quite a challenge to the actors and would require more than a rehearsal or two for any one to effectively perform it. A cold reading would create the effect the early readers feared: that it would be a group of actors standing around reciting poetry. If that’s the case, what on earth are we doing?
From there I sent the script to a few publishers, all of whom said it was not for them, but to please consider sending them any future plays. They weren’t getting it. The slam poetry cannot be confined to the page. Then I received an email from Stageplays.com. They were dipping their toes into e-publishing plays – a very new concept – and for a very reasonable price, I could partner with them to get the script out there, available to directors, along with my contact information so I could work with them on staging it. TFOJB will have its premiere Labor Day weekend. It is my hope that video and other promotional material uploaded on Stageplay’s website will help artistic directors and performance committees from theaters throughout the nation decide this is something they need to do for their theaters and for their communities.
3. Have you been traditionally published? Why or why not?
I have always been an indie author, even with my memoir and novel, probably because I am a control freak. I had an offer from a traditional publisher for each of those books, but in conversations with editors at those houses, I realized they didn’t get it. They were taking extremely divergent directions from my vision on story lines and format, and I realized in the case of each book, it would become something it was not. There are days I wonder, if I’d not been so committed to my artistic integrity, if I would be more as an author now. In the business of publishing, I’d undoubtedly of been a greater force by now. However, as a writer and artist, I would have shrunk.
4. How have you liked self-publishing so far?
I don’t consider indie authorship self-publishing, maybe because that phrase has become a profanity in the industry. I haven’t liked it in my other projects because I am simply not enough of a self-promoter to make it work well. However, there are new ways of promotion and delivery to readers and others growing almost daily. I am so excited about e-readers, new applications and other technology to delivery my words, that I am finishing my degree (finally) in a BFA Creative Writing program specializing in writing for visual media.
5. Tell me about the marketing techniques you’ve used to sell your writing. Which ones have been the most successful?
With TFOJB, I have several efforts happening at once. I have unabashedly added dozens of actors, directors and producers on LinkedIn and Facebook. With that audience, I then post my video trailers for their perusal, and through social networking I also attempt to build relationships with those decision makers to give TFOJB a larger, hopefully national, stage. I have had some amazing conversations with some fairly high level producers and other movers and shakers in New York, Chicago and Minneapolis theater worlds. No one has signed a contract yet, but they are reading, thinking and considering.
I am also funding the world premiere on RocketHub through a crowdfunding effort. I do not believe we have seen the potential of crowdfunding to bring independent literature and theater the attention it deserves.
6. Are there any marketing techniques you intentionally avoided or discontinued, and if so, why?
I have no intention of taking out ads because I have yet to think of an ad campaign that would target the right individuals and make them any more interested than developing personal relationships through social networking has done.
7. What’s the most important thing you’ve learned about self-publishing that you didn’t know when you started out?
Promotion, promotion, promotion. I am 40 years old and am only now figuring out that it isn’t that my writing talent isn’t enough to launch my projects to success; it’s that it is not enough on its own.
I have spent years developing myself as an artist and figuring the audience would find its own way. There’s so many distractions for an audience today that they in fact will not find their own way but they need a beacon to light the way. Promotion is not selling out as an artist or writer; it’s lighting the way for your readers and audience to find what they didn’t know they were looking for. If it’s the right audience, they will realize when they see my work that it’s what they were seeking all along.
8. If you could do one thing differently in publishing your writing, what would it be?
I have tended to push my work out there when I was so tired of looking at it; when I felt that further changes were not improving it, really, but just changing it more. However, in the clear vision of hindsight, I find that one more edit would have put it closer to where I would want it to be.
9. Independent writers face the obvious challenge of marketing their books and other writing without the resources of traditional publishers. What advice do you have for an indie writer just starting out?
Believe in yourself. You have a voice; make sure what you’re putting out there is authentic. Keep talking until someone listens, then make sure your words, your baby, your creation, is all you believed it to be when the inspiration first hit you. Don’t write to what you think the audience will pay to read, hear or see. Write from your mind and soul.
Make your craft as good as it gets. Then step out into the light and if you have the swift confidence of faith in yourself they will gather. They will listen. They will hear. They will know. They will believe, too.
10. What projects are you currently working on?
At the moment all my energy is poured into TFOJB and Labor Day weekend. I am recrafting the next play in this series: Brigid Kildare’s Steelworks. Just briefly, that is a play about, among many other things, the legendary friendship between Brigid and Patrick of Ireland. I was first writing this play for National Playwriting Month in November 2009, and got through the first act.
I put it away to develop TFOJB. In November 2010, I found out a high school classmate of mine was in prison and had been for years, and on Facebook his friend said he was depressed because his mother had passed away and it seemed no one was writing to him. I thought surely I could send some light and cheer. I wrote a letter. My soul’s twin wrote back. Now we are collaborating on a crazy number of projects, not the least of which is a story about his life. We also have a legendary friendship so unlikely it’s as though I wrote it into life.
I’m truly not sure how to indie publish all of that, but one day sooner rather than later it will happen. Brigid Kildare’s Steelworks is also undergoing a rework to incorporate restorative justice and the crushing sameness of a long prison term.
In my spare time (ha!) I’m developing a short story collection. My short story, “Namesake”, was a finalist in the Lorian Hemingway Short Story Competition in 2010. The second story for that collection, “The First Thing He Noticed Was Her Legs”, is a reader favorite but has not yet placed in a competition. I plan to release this collection independently, making as much use of e-publishing and reader apps as possible and also exploring the addition of visual media to the stories.
11. If you could market your brand – not just one particular book or play, but your overall brand of writing – in one sentence, what would it be?
There’s sainthood in all of us – I don’t care who you are, where you’ve been, what you’ve done – you can change the world for the better.
12. How can readers learn more about your writing?