Monday, February 27, 2017

Build (and Share) Your Own Writer Marketing Tools: The Binge

I’ve been actively marketing my writing for years. As I do, sometimes I find a glaring lack of tools to address a particular marketing challenge. Sometimes I get lucky and discover that someone else has found the same problem and has already been hard at work to solve it, and maybe I can buy a piece of software or join an organization. But sometimes it’s necessary for me to make the tool myself.

Back in 1993, it was hard for playwrights to find up-to-date marketing information—we had annual guidebooks with listings, but they went out of date quickly. So I started publishing a monthly newsletter, Market InSight for Playwrights, that gave playwrights fresh info. Hundreds of playwrights subscribed and a lot of us got a lot better about sending out our plays to the right places.

I sold Market InSight around 1999  (it lasted under new ownership until 2016), and I kept submitting my work and using the info in the newsletter. But I found it hard to stay motivated. Then I heard about an entire town that was banding together to collectively lose weight. By making it a communal event, and building in layers of accountability and fun, the town found a way to establish healthy habits and get healthier.

I thought maybe I could bring playwrights together to do something similar for marketing our scripts. Thus the Playwright Marketing Binge was born. In 2003, about a dozen of us took the challenge of sending out a play every day, for 30 days. We committed to reporting back to the group every day about what we sent, why, and where. It was a way to have fun doing chores that can often be a real drag. And it worked! We all sent out a lot of scripts and started to get more productions.

 It worked so well, that we started taking the challenge twice a year, every March and September. On March 1, Binge #30, will commence, now with 940 members from around the world. What began as a lark has turned into an extremely supportive and active online community. And a very generous one—where people share submission opportunities all year long. Many of us have met in person, and sometimes members band together to encourage (or demand) that theaters treat playwrights more fairly. Our writers get productions around the world. I submit a LOT more scripts now that I'm involved with the binge, because I have the information at my fingertips, and I'm inspired by my fellow bingers.

Some important lessons to keep in mind from the success of the Binge:
  • Sharing works. This group experiences success because people are generous about sharing opportunities. Creating a large and active cloud of opportunity ends up benefiting the whole group. Not everyone posts or shares, but enough people to do make it work.
  • Successful tools aren’t always planned. The first Binge was an experiment, with very limited goals—we wanted to have fun and submit more plays. The community that grew up around the events is the most powerful aspect of the Binge, but that wasn’t the initial goal. Part of the reason it ended up working had to do with tone, openness, and the right amount structure (not too much, not too little).
  • Tools don’t have to expensive or complicated. There is no budget to run the Binge. It’s free to join, and it doesn’t cost anything for me to run it. (It’s a Yahoo Group.) You can participate if you want, but you can also join and merely lurk. The only thing you can’t do is be a jerk to other members. The goals for each binge are simple: submit something every day for 30 days; but those are only goals—each person uses the group in their own way.
  • Consistency helps longevity. The dates used to shift a little. Deciding to make the Binges start on March 1 and September 1 simplified operation. Choosing a software platform that is easy to manage helps a lot. Simplicity of operation is important if you want something to last without burning out the people who are running it. The time required to manage this group is minimal. The benefits, to me and to many, many people, are large—in terms of sharing information, building community, and establishing good marketing habits.

As you make your way through the artistic and business aspects of creating plays, books, and films, consider where you find gaps in resources, information, community.  You are not alone in experiencing these gaps.  Has someone else already found a way to fill that gap? Or is there an experiment that you can try, on a limited scale and budget, that might solve the problem not just for you, but for other writers, too?

Let me know what you try.

If you’re playwright and want to join the Binge, all you have to do is click here and join the group.

Great examples of other tools people have created include Donna Hoke’s Trade-a-Play-Tuesday, and QueryTracker (for fiction writers).

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