Getting your play published

Stock image - girl with pcWe interview playwrights at all stages of their careers at 17Percent. A playwright whose first full-length play is being produced soon on a small tour asked ‘how do we go about publishing our plays?’ She is thinking about publishing it herself, which is of course an option… depending on how many copies you realistically think you might be able to sell. But if self-publishing isn’t for you, what about a publishing house, who might also be able to deal with licensing amateur performances of your play?

17Percent contacted three of the major play publishers to ask their advice.

Nick Hern Books
(Contact Matt Applewhite, Managing Director and Commissioning Editor

Nick Hern Books is the UK’s leading specialist performing arts publisher with over 1,000 plays and theatre books in their catalogue. They also license most of their plays for amateur performance. Their list of plays includes work by many of the UK’s preeminent playwrights, as well as some of the most exciting emerging writers. They work with major theatres and theatre companies across the UK and in Ireland to publish new plays alongside their professional premieres, often in the form of a ‘programme/text’ that combines the functions of theatre programme and playtext.

Since 2011 – of new plays (not adaptations or translations) 53% were by female writers.  Nick Hern Books have published 13 original plays by women, versus 8 by men in the second half of 2014

Matt says:

Essentially, we start off by reading a submitted play, seeing if it’s something we want to add to our list, that benefits from being in print, that people will want to read and/or perform in the future – a whole combination of reasons. The first and foremost thing, though, is that it has to be getting a full, professional production somewhere. 

We can only really publish plays *alongside* their premiere production – ideally as a programme/text being sold to audiences. That’s when interest is highest and there’s a captive audience to buy the playscript. After this time, script sales are few and far between, so we will only publish work in these circumstances if the plays had made a real impact (rave national reviews, media coverage, winner of awards, high box-office figures, a transfer to a larger venue, strong amateur rights potential, etc.). Without at least a few of these compelling factors, we just find that published plays sell in unfeasibly low quantities.

At any stage, I’m happy to look at scripts and get to know a writer’s work. Plays can get emailed straight to me, then I try and have a read of things that come our way, or pass them to one of our editors or Tamara, our Performing Rights Manager. Because we license amateur productions of all the work that we perform, the likelihood that it will have a future life with amateur companies is another of our considerations.

Aurora Metro Books
(Contact Cheryl Robson, Company Founder and Editor,

Aurora Metro is an independent publisher situated in an old stable building in Twickenham, near Richmond-upon-Thames, in England. The company was founded by writer and editor, Cheryl Robson and a group of women writers in 1989, but is now run by a small dedicated team with an experienced Managing Editor, Rebecca Gillieron taking it confidently forward into its third decade.

In 2014, they celebrated 25 years of publishing and have published around 100 playtexts and 20 play collections to date.

Cheryl says:

We do publish plays sent in if we think they fit in with our list.

We usually publish plays in 4 ways:

  • as a program/playtext –  we need to know about it 2-3 months in advance of production.
  • in a collection of a playwright’s work
  • in an anthology of several playwrights based on a theme or category eg .plays by Black and Asian writers
  • in a subsidised collection eg. Plays by Dutch women playwrights

Sending the play after a production is over and publicity has waned is not ideal. But if a second production is going to happen then get in touch ahead of that to see if a program/playtext is possible.

Samuel French

Samuel French have been publishing, selling and leasing plays for performance since 1830. They have over two thousand playscripts available, from comedies to tragedies, sketches to full-scale musicals. In the last year 50% of plays published have been by female writers.

The Acquisitions Team say:

Historically Samuel French has published plays after their first professional run has ended.  However, as the industry has evolved in recent years, so has the company. We are now more flexible, and take on work earlier in the creative process.  This can mean publishing plays by unagented writers or plays which are on the path to being produced but have not yet been professionally performed. Recently we’ve taken on plays from a combination of sources: via agents, from speculative submissions and from seeing a performances at a variety of venues.  In practice we don’t often publish work sent purely on spec, but it’s not unheard of and it we value this kind of contact as it can be a great way to access new plays and open a dialogue with up and coming writers.

Like other publishers, we’re always keen to try and time publication with a show’s opening and to sell programme/play texts alongside a production.  However, the shows in our catalogue have long lifespans, and we are also open to publishing work after it has been produced. We work with a huge variety of companies around the world so, if we love a play, feel that we can help nurture it and know that people will enjoy performing it, then we want to get it out there.

The length of a run isn’t necessarily a factor in getting your work seen, but the best thing is to give us plenty of notice and to send us a script as well. Despite being at the theatre at least three nights a week, we are not able to cover everything!  We read everything we are sent and the licensing team’s input is very valuable as to what kinds of plays people most like to perform.  We have the luxury of five dedicated staff members in our licensing department who possess, between them, the most incredible wealth of knowledge. Many of them have been with the company over twenty years, and they all know our list like the back of their hands, so a rave review from one of them carries serious weight!

Our prime interest, of course, is in the work itself, and then the extent to which we can add value to a play’s future life.  We have to be selective, and we’re careful to ensure our catalogue is balanced and manageable so that we can continue to showcase new writers and their work effectively. Now that self-publishing platforms are so accessible writers can create a record of their plays without a publisher’s help but, as both a publisher and licensor, we are able to bring a huge wealth of experience and our international resources to bear.  This creates exciting opportunities to bring the plays in our catalogue to new audiences.

Samuel French has an online submission process. Queries are accepted by email only, and unsolicited full scripts are not accepted in any form. But keep checking the FAQs as they do change from time to time. If interested, they say, they will contact you within 2-3 months to see the full script.

There are of course, many other play publishers, who will all have slightly different criteria for submissions. A useful list can be found on
Good luck, and let us know if your play is published!

About 17Percent

A campaign to get more plays by women playwrights onto UK stages.
This entry was posted in Advice, Aurora Metro Books, Nick Hern Books, play publishing, Samuel French and tagged , , . Bookmark the permalink.

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