Monday, December 20, 2010

Writing by the Numbers: my audience numbers so far (since 1990)

Those of you who know me will not be surprised to learn that I keep a big spreadsheet that tracks every script and book I've written (62), how many productions each has had, how many people have seen it, and how much money it's earned from both productions and publication.  Since 1990.

Beyond just the basic obsessive/compulsiveness of it, I do it because it helps me gauge the effectiveness of my marketing and writing efforts.  In some fields, you can just look at your salary or your annual review with your boss, and feel like you've been making progress (or not).  But I don't have a boss, and the money is so bad in theatre, that the numbers generally aren't enough to help you want to keep going.  Having a sense that I'm actually reaching people with my work gives me a boost.  And having real numbers helps a lot when it comes to setting goals for marketing at the start of each year.

It'd been at least a year and a half since I fully updated the spreadsheet (it takes a while), but I finally got around to it last week.  Here's where the numbers stand right now:

  • To date, I've had about 300 productions and readings of my work.  300 feels like a good number. 
  • My work has reached more than 84,000 people, and it breaks down like this:
    • More than 9,400 have seen my full-length plays
    • Almost 10,000 have seen my one-act plays
    • More than 41,000 people have seen my ten-minute plays.
    • Altogether, at least 59,000 people have seen my work on stage
    • I'm pretty sure my radio plays have reached more than 23,000 people.
  • 2010 was a pretty good year--my work has been seen/heard/read by over 7,000 people this year.
  • My short play, Christmas Breaks, has been seen by the most people, more than 5,800.  Reading the Mind of God, a full-length play about the astronomers Kepler and Tycho, comes in a close second.
  • My lifetime earnings from writing continue to remain a fairly modest number, especially if you spread it over 20 years .  The amount the scripts have earned varies wildly, from almost nothing to a few thousand dollars (that's counting prizes/fellowships).  2010 was my best year so far, in terms of writing income.
None of these numbers are exact.  Whenever I end up dealing with a theatre who produces my work, I make sure to ask for attendance figures.  But with the productions of published work, that's impossible, so I estimate 40 people per performance, which is safe, but probably on the low side.  With the radio plays, it's hard to guess, but most of the stations are very small, so I estimate conservatively.

There are multiple ways to view these numbers.  In some sense, they pale in comparison with the number of people I'd reach from just one of my scripts being produced for film or television.  Writers whose work appears for long (or medium) runs at larger non-profit or commercial theatres could reach my lifetime audience in less than a year.  The same goes for money--I have friends who have earned many multiples of my lifetime playwriting earnings from just one book deal.

But for scraping and clawing out productions and publications of a bunch of plays (and one novel), almost exclusively in small theatres and schools, these numbers feel good to me.

If you happen to be one of the people who have seen or read my work over the years--thanks!  As you can see, I don't take audiences for granted.  You're a big reason for why I do this.

I'm also curious--do other writers/playwrights keep track of stuff like this?  Let me know if you do.

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