Adventures in Self-Publishing

by Kitty Felde

Two of my plays have been published. My one act adaptation of Nikolai Gogol’s short story “The Nose” is available from YouthPLAYS, and my Bosnian war crimes play “A Patch of Earth” is included in a pricey collection from the University of Wisconsin Press with the sexy title “Theatre of Genocide.”

Over the years, Im always happy to send pdfs of various other titles. But now, I’ve taken the plunge and started self-publishing my work.

It started when an old public radio pal Cash Peters asked me why everything I did was ephemeral. Radio stories went out over the air and disappeared into the ether. Plays came alive before an audience for a limited number of nights and then the lights went out. Where was tangible evidence of my creativity?

He wasn’t the only one who thought that way. The general public seems to take “authors” more seriously. When my first children’s mystery “Welcome to Washington Fina Mendoza” was published two years ago, friends and family suddenly took me more seriously. I was a BOOK author. I had tangible evidence of my creative output, something they could hold in their hand and put on a bookshelf and wrap up in pretty paper to give to a favorite child.

Of course, given the state of the publishing industry, getting our plays and books published is a gigantic crapshoot. The “Big Five” publishers in New York have again consolidated to become the “Big Four.” Covid has shut down not just Broadway, but Lort houses, community theatres, even high school drama programs across the country, dealing a severe blow to publishers of plays. I felt fortunate that any of my plays came out in print.

But that was then. This is now. I hate waiting for somebody else to say “yes” to my work. I’ve self- produced several of my plays. Why not self-publish?

Last week, my acting edition of “A Patch of Earth” went live on Amazon, published by Chesapeake Press, a publishing house named after my warrior cat who lost her life to a coyote.

Also live, a Teacher’s Guide to my first Fina Mendoza mystery. This wonderful publisher (me) then decided that the first Fina book deserved a second edition with a better cover and a more user-friendly size. It also deserved a hardback version from a distributor that could get it into libraries – something my first publisher was unable to do.

Are you tired of waiting around for someone else to believe in your work? Are you ready to join the legions of writers who are publishing their own stories? Here’s my step-by-step guide to publishing your own plays. I will warn you: the software requirements are a pain in the neck.

There are two main players in the self-publishing game: Amazon and Ingram. The latter is not just a printer, but also the distributor that most libraries use to purchase books. (It also costs $25-$50 to use while Amazon is free.) If you have a play that you want to see on library shelves, you’ll need to use Ingram. I use both.

  1. Since you’re your own copy editor, carefully look through your script for errors. And look again. I promise you: there will be mistakes.
  2. Sign up for KDP on Amazon and/or Ingram Spark’s self publishing platform. There are many, many pages of information you’ll have to supply, including an ISBN number. (NOTE: Amazon will give you a free one, but then they end up as the publisher of record. I purchase my own ISBNs at a website called Bowker. They also sell the barcodes that go on the back cover.) There are also categories to choose to optimize searches, keywords, etc. (This is more important for books than plays, but there’s a wonderful software program that will help you identify these keywords and categories.)
  3. Download Amazon’s free interior book templates.
  4. Pick the 6” by 9” version for Word.
  5. Cut and paste your script into the template, using standard script formatting. (I use the old fashioned version with character names in caps at the left margin.)
  6. Print out a copy and look for errors – a missed word, bad formatting, etc.
  7. Sign up for Adobe Acrobat Pro DC’s free trial period and change your play from Word to a PDF. (NOTE: just printing as a pdf from word doesn’t work for some reason.)
  8. Upload the pdf to Amazon and/or Ingram.
  9. Design a cover using the templates provided by Amazon and Ingram or hire a designer. You can also noodle around on Canva’s book cover creator. The only problem is that it only creates a front cover, not the back. (Reedsy is a great place to find design professionals for covers or even interior layout. It also offers a free software program that will turn your print script into an e-version.)
  10. Publish!

You can purchase discounted author copies of the scripts, though you have to pay for shipping, even if you are an Amazon Prime member. And you have to do all your own marketing (another topic for another day). But now you have a printed script that actors can use for rehearsals, a professional looking paperback that you can hand to a director or producer, and tangible evidence that indeed, you are a playwright. You can even wrap it up in pretty paper and give it to your parents to prove it.

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