THANK YOU to NJ Drama Australia National Journal and University of Newcastle lecturer Carol Carter for reviewing The Risk Theatre Model of Tragedy: Gambling, Drama, and the Unexpected. Highlights from this milestone review–the first from an internationally respected peer-reviewed journal– include:
This book presents fresh approaches and perspectives in relation to the teaching and writing of tragedy and, as such, is a useful resource, particularly for theatre studies and secondary drama teachers.
I was enticed by this thought-provoking, insightful and compelling read that, once started, was extremely engaging and impossible to put down.
The Book is divided into four separate parts which systematically cover the topic and flow efficiently and cohesively from one to the other in building up a strong argument underpinned by examples and an extremely broad and extensive knowledge base.
Of interest in this part of the book is Wong’s discussion of Comedy as an open system of ‘milk and honey’ versus tragedy as a closed system of ‘perpetual shortage and rolling blackouts’. He describes tragic heroes as strong, charismatic and with a sense of endurance versus incompetent, weak comic characters. We are led to a deep understanding of the proposed model and why Wong believes so passionately in the role of tragedy in today’s society. In the final (ninth) chapter, which is concerned with ‘why risk theatre today’, Wong concludes with these words ‘Tragedy, by forever dramatizing risk, adds to our understanding of risk. And I think that tragedy, because it adds to our understanding of such a captivating and elusive concept, has a claim of being the greatest show on earth’.
The journey my book has taken in this last year has been amazing and humbling. It reminds me of what Anthony Hopkins said a few years ago when interviewed by Jimmy Kimmel. Hopkins was a few months from his eightieth birthday. Kimmel asked him if the years had given him any important life lessons. Without batting an eye, Hopkins responded immediately, and with conviction: “Don’t stop. Keep going.”
Persistence is the key. But persistence can be hard. Last February, I made a list of theatre, classics, and literary theory journals all over the world. In March, I started mailing out complimentary copies of The Risk Theatre Model of Tragedy. Each package would go out with a custom-tailored letter asking the journal if they would be interested in reviewing and a press release. Of course, there wasn’t much to put on the press release as the book didn’t have any rewards or reviews yet. There were about seventy to send out. Each night, after coming home from work, I’d be able to put together a couple of packages. It takes a surprising time to type up the letter, address the packages, and fill out the customs forms. I’d put together two or three packages, and then I’d go to bed.
After a month and a half of this, I grew to wonder–was this worth it? I mean, I was coming home from work, cramming some food down my throat, and then putting together the packages. The reward was uncertain. But the work was very certain. It wasn’t only the time, the costs would add up as well. My cost for the paperback itself is just under $15. Then there’s the shipping, which would range from $17 (domestic) to $27 (international). Most of the journals were outside Canada, so that’s about $40 to send each copy.
I began to doubt. How worthwhile was this expenditure? Would any journals put the book on their “Books for Review” list? Would any reviewers want to review the book? And then, if they did, what sort of review would my questionable book receive? All these questions gnawed away at me. But fortunately, Hopkins dogged advice stuck in my head: “Don’t stop. Keep going.” And so, I kept going.
After the review copies had gone out, I’d check to see if there was any action. A few copies would make it into their “Books for Review” lists. And then, for months, nothing. Then last night, this wonderful, glowing review from Carol Carter in NJ Drama Australia National Journal. I sincerely hope that her review piques the interest of theatre practitioners worldwide. Would that I could get a few more breaks like this one! Go NJ!
The moral of the story? When you don’t stop and when you keep going, sometimes some luck and a little bit of magic will come your way. If you give up, you’ll never know how close you were. To everyone: do like Anthony Hopkins. No matter the odds, if you believe the value of your endeavour, keep looking ahead. You never know.
There’s one curious coincidence I’d like to add. Many moons ago, when I was almost young, I wrote an article on fate and free will in Homer’s Iliad. Only one journal–an Australian journal–accepted it. The article is called The Harmony of Fixed Fate and Free Will in the Iliad and it was published by Antichthon in 2002. Here’s the link. This got me a foothold into the academic world. A strange sense overcomes me now, many years later, when, out of seventy tries, it is again an Australian journal that comes through. Please ask your local library to carry this groundbreaking book and read it today.
Until next time, I’m Edwin Wong, and I’m doing Melpomene’s work by sponsoring the Risk Theatre Modern Tragedy Playwriting Competition (https://risktheatre.com/). No risk, no reward.NJ Drama Australia The Risk Theatre Model of Tragedy Gambling Drama and the Unexpected
It’s official. Look for The Risk Theatre Model of Tragedy: Gambling, Drama, and the Unexpected in audiobook format wherever talking books are sold this spring. I’ve signed on with an intriguing newer company called Findaway Voices. It’s a one stop shop for audiobook creation and distribution. Findaway has teamed me up with a fantastic narrator: composer and actor Greg Patmore. Here’s Greg’s bio:
Audie Award Winner, Earphones Award Winner, SOVAS Voice Arts Awards nominated. Greg narrates in a warm, mature and responsively detailed British baritone, characterising in UK, US and world accents and listeners often feel they are listening to multiple actors in his productions. Ideally suited to a wide range of fiction genres, his natural presence also works well for factual and non-fiction presentations. He is a British actor in TV/Film in the US and UK such as Hatfields & McCoys, Vera, Coronation Street, Law & Order with additional experience in music and sound design production. Showreel https://vimeo.com/155034065 Passions include Rugby League, roaming Europe in a Dutch barge, real ale, music and books. Lots of books.
Although I found Findaway through an internet search, there’s surprisingly few third-party reviews of the company online. Most of what’s online is from Findaway itself. They have an informative website and also maintain a blog. It’s hard to find information about the company itself such as when it was founded and who owns it. It appears to be run by Will Dages, who signed my contract as ‘Head of Findaway Voices’. The Creative Pen has an informative hour-long interview with him on YouTube where both interviewer and interviewee are brimming with enthusiasm over the possibilities of the audiobook format. Worth a watch.
The Audiobook Process
Findaway makes it easy. You create a project file by downloading your book and a blurb about your book. You let them know a few details such as genre, BISAC codes, ISBN, and copyright. If your book’s already published, you should have everything on hand. It took about half an hour to enter the project metadata.
After that’s done, Findaway asks some questions about the type of narrator you’re looking for: gender, tone, accent, age. Then you wait. A few days later, they sent back a casting list with eight narrators that fit the criteria. In 2018 they boasted connections with 1500+ narrators. I would think that number has grown–it’s a really good opportunity for folks with golden voices to make some side money. Prices ranged from $240-340 (USD) per hour (narrators on average read 9000 words per hour). There’s a short bio of each narrator as well as multiple audio samples from previous books. After you listen to them, you can narrow down the field further by asking for a personal audition. You upload a short section of your book, and they’ll record it. I selected four narrators for a sample, and three got back the next week.
The section of my book I asked the narrators to read had extended quotes from various plays with male and female voices. When I listened to the audio samples, Greg Patmore’s ability to make each of the characters take on a unique identity won me over. I hit the ‘Book for Production’ button. The choice was easier than I thought, and, for that, I was happy.
In the next few days, Findaway sent me a basic contract. I signed and they signed. The next step in the process was to fill out “Production Notes.” On this form, you tell the narrator what you’re looking for in terms of tone (I wrote down “clear, powerful, gritty, tough”), pace (“dramatic and lively”), and feeling (“with authority, engaging”). I also included a pronunciation guide for fifty or so names, as the book discusses quite a few ancient plays where the characters have names we’re not used to today like “Gorboduc,” “Eteocles,” or “Eumenides.”
And that takes us up to the present moment. In the next few weeks I’m expecting an extended audio sample. I’ll review and comment on it, and then we will be in full production. I love this “Uberization” of the press. First it was companies like Friesen Press that gave self-published writers an opportunity to be heard. And now Findaway is extending this into the world of audiobooks. This is the digital revolution! Yes!
Until next time, I’m Edwin Wong, and I’m doing Melpomene’s work.
From the Winter 2019 issue of literary journal Island Writer (Vol. 17 No.2). Thank you to Joy Huebert for reviewing.
The Risk Theatre Model of Tragedy
by Edwin Wong Friesen Press, 2019, available at Munro’s Books, Bolen Books and online Reviewed by Joy Huebert
Risk Theatre has won many awards, including the 2019 Readers’ Favourite Book Contest, previously won by comedian Jim Carey, Star Trek actor/director Jonathan Frakes, wrestler Diana Hart and New York Times bestselling authors Daniel Silva and Judith Ann Jance. Wong will be attending a gala in Miami this November at the Miami Book Festival where the organizers will be selling and displaying the book. It has also won previously in the CIPA EVVY awards and the National Indie Excellence Awards.
Wong’s lengthy (270 pages) book can look intimidating, appearing to be one of those intellectual academic tomes that one always wishes to read but can’t quite make the effort to wade through. Instead, I was delighted to find an engaging look at tragic theatre, filled with interesting ideas and unique insights. As a person without much expertise who enjoys theatre, the book was a captivating voyage through all kinds of plays, including works of Shakespeare, the Greek classics, and modern works such as those by Eugene O’Neill.
Wong presents an original theory of tragedy that resonates with our modern age. The tragic hero is a gambler in a high risk, high stakes situation, a troika of the stake, the cast and the outcome, as in this quotation:
The hero stakes life itself to play the game, stakes intangible and all- too-human things, such as the soul, the milk of human kindness, happiness, honour, love, family friendship, faith, reputation, and duty….by making the wager, the heroes of risk theatre reveal life’s hidden value.
Wong’s book offers short, tempting chapters such as “The Poetics of Chaos,” “The Myth of the Price you Pay,” and “The Debt to Nature.” He explains features of tragic theatre that include: the proud hero, the minor meddlers and (un)helpful advisors, Kings and Queens, supernatural elements, passions running white hot, consolations gone wrong, and dangerous and uncertain times. All ideas are nicely illustrated by excerpts from plays, and by lively commentary.
A quibble: Wong knows a wealth of information about his topic, but the chapter that addresses “Tragedy and the Second Law of Thermodynamics” is a little obscure and for me, was a little less readable than the rest of the text.
Wong concludes with a heartfelt position that tragic theatre
addresses our modern difficulties. If done well, risk theatre is the place where audiences go to see how much honour is worth, what the price of friendship is, and how much they will pay for power and glory.
Wong ends on a strong note: Tragedy, because it adds to our understanding. . . has a claim of being the greatest show on earth.
Joy Huebert has published stories, poems and creative non-fiction in many Canadian literary magazines. She has won first place in the Short Grain postcard story competition, the Victoria Writers’ Society Fiction competition and the Victoria School of Writing Postcard story competition. Joy is the editor of Pathways Not Posted, and author of My Brother’s Basement, both published by Quadra Books. Joy has participated for over 20 years in writing collectives in Edmonton, Rossland and Victoria that have organized conferences and workshops, presented literary events and published chapbooks. Joy was a Librarian for 37 years, most recently at the Oak Bay Branch of the Greater Victoria Public Library where she enjoyed working with readers and writers in a culture of literacy.islandwriter
Great feedback from Judge 68 at the Writer’s Digest Book Award Competition. It’s rewarding to read a review from someone who enjoyed the book. The observation that the book would have benefitted from further engagement with recognized theatre authorities rings true. A number of reviewers have also commented on this shortcoming. To address it, I’ve begun a series of blogs that compare and contrast risk theatre with other movements and theories of drama. If you’re thinking about entering a book competition, consider the Writer’s Digest contest. Maybe you’ll get a critique from eagle-eyed Judge 68. Onwards!
Shout out to editors Carla DeSantis and Damian Tarnopolsky and proofreader Mark Grill for 5 out of 5 on spelling, punctuation, and grammar.
Until next time, I’m Edwin Wong, and I’m doing Melpomene’s work.
Entry Title: The Risk Theatre Model of Tragedy: Gambling, Drama, and the Unexpected Author: Edwin Wong
Judge Number: 68
Entry Category: Nonfiction/Reference Books
Structure, Organization, and Pacing: 4/5
Spelling, Punctuation, and Grammar: 5/5
Production Quality and Cover Design: 5/5
Voice and Writing Style: 4/5
The author contends, with interesting arguments, how the profound change in world events and developments calls for a new model of tragedy that conforms to a modern pattern of risks. Moreover, he argues how these risks can lead to often unexpected and unintended consequences, all highly dramatic in scope. An influx of the sheer gamble involved in actions taken in today’s turbulent world and then dramatized is implicit in this provocative theory, which the author then supports with absorbing details that mirror the myriad functions of today’s global connections.
The many implications of this theory are explained by the author, though the central thesis can be more specifically explored in its various manifestations. However, readers will gain a strong spread of knowledge about the current and past theatrical worlds. In this vein, the author-to bolster his theory- reinterprets classical tragedies from the ancient Greeks to contemporary playwrights. Many insights into what composes a drama, in the past and now, flow from the author’s remarks. However, more comments by other authorities in the theater world would strengthen the book’s content and appeal and give it more balance. The first section covers the philosophy and poetry of tragedy and its structure, including the element of risk, tempo, and such issues as the politics of chaos and from chaos to command. Forms of tragedy encompass standalone, parallel motion, and perpetual motion works. The second section goes into major issues that have been the fulcrum of plays, both past and present, with an in-depth analysis of such subjects as trade and money. Examples, including stretches of dialogue, buttress the points made. The third section discusses how to write risk theatre, including such aspects as divine interference, the limits of knowledge, and errors of induction.
The writing is incisive, but some long paragraphs need to be broken up. It’s more difficult for readers to absorb, let alone enjoy, long paragraphs that take up all or most of a page. Chapter breaks help in absorbing the interesting breakdowns of the modern theater world and the author’s fascinating expectations of what the future might bring.
A glossary of dramatic terms would be a worthwhile addition. Insertion of some photos of scenes from famous plays would create a solid pictorial dimension and help break up the text.
The title and subtitle cite the contents well. The cover image would be more effective if the card-holding hand was of someone on a stage.
Wong’s hardy debut book of literary criticism succeeds in presenting a challenge to the famous playwrights of yesteryear while providing a compelling framework for today’s storytellers. Inspired by Nassim Nicholas Taleb’s Fooled by Randomness: The Hidden Role of Chance in Life and in the Markets and drawing on examples from Sophocles, Shakespeare, Ovid, and several other venerated writers, Wong depicts risk—not sorrow or regret—as the peak point of all tragic stories, arguing that setting up one’s own downfall through a misjudged gamble is, in fact, the greatest tragedy of all. Much of the book is devoted to retellings of classic stories, leading to the redefinition of the tragic theater art form. Wong goes beyond considering characters’ risk-taking to examine factors such as meddling from outside forces, external authorities, passion, and the supernatural.
The book’s appeal lies in its novel premise and attention to detail. Readers opening it in hopes of a quick explanation of tragedy in drama may find it initially slow going, but they will be satisfied by Wong’s complete and thorough explanation of a new perspective from which one can view the masterworks of tragic theater. Wong concludes by challenging modern playwriting, viewing it both as a form of art and as a way that playwrights themselves take risks.
Tragedy has long been seen as essential to literature and drama, and much ink has been spilled about what makes it work; the idea of conscious risk-taking being the real source of tragic emotion feels genuinely new and exciting. Though the language is dry, dense, and highly technical—leavened only by the occasional humorous quotation—this is nonetheless an excellent compilation of arguments that will stimulate creative minds.
Takeaway: Playwrights and philosophers will completely devour this deep dive into the idea that tragedy stems from the misjudged gamble.
Great for fans of Eric Bentley, Simon Shepherd, Neil Verma.
Design and typography: A
Marketing copy: A+
Monday, October 28, 2019 6pm at S104 Campus Lecture Theatre, 1000 K.L.O. Road
Thank you to the English Department and Terry Scarborough for the invitation. Fantastic to see risk theatre, a bold new 21st century theory of tragedy gaining academic traction. Here’s the writeup from the Okanagan College News:
Tragedy has entertained people since ancient times. But what makes those sad stories of human strife so fascinating?
Okanagan College’s English Department is hosting a speaker on Monday, Oct. 28 whose new theory about the role of risk in dramatic storytelling is creating waves in the art world.
Theatre expert Edwin Wong will present his 21st century theory of tragedy called “risk theatre,” which posits that tragedy puts people face-to-face with unexpected implications of their actions by simulating the profound impact of highly improbable events. Risk is the dramatic fulcrum of the action, he asserts.
“Tragic heroes, by making delirious wagers, trigger unintended consequences. Because they wager human assets, tragedy functions as a valuing mechanism. Because they lose all, audiences wonder: how did the perfect bet go wrong?” Wong explains.
Wong is a classicist who studied ancient theatre at Brown University. In 2018, he founded the Risk Theatre Modern Tragedy Competition with Langham Court Theatre, one of Canada’s longest running community theatres based in Victoria. It is the world’s largest tragedy playwriting competition. His award-winning book, The Risk Theatre Model of Tragedy: Gambling, Drama, and the Unexpected, was published this year.
Risk theatre has taken the academic world by storm, finding coverage in BC Bookworld, Broadway World, The Elements of Writing, Monday Magazine, New York Review of Books, The Dramatist and the Tom Sumner Program.
“Bringing artists and scholars like Edwin Wong to Okanagan College enriches the learning experience for all our students,” said Robert Huxtable, Okanagan College Dean of Arts and Foundational Programs. “And more generally, exploring the human condition through literature and theatre is informative for us all in this period of increasing discussion of the effects of perceived improbable events.”
The presentation on Oct. 28 will be held in the Kelowna campus lecture theatre (S104), 1000 KLO Rd., starting at 6 p.m. Admission is free. Copies of Wong’s award-winning new book will be on sale at a discounted price of $10.
What do I have in common with celebrities Jim Carrey, Jonathan Frakes, Diana Hart, and bestselling writers J.A. Jance and Daniel Silva? Readers’ Favorite announced today that THE RISK THEATRE MODEL OF TRAGEDY: GAMBLING, DRAMA, AND THE UNEXPECTED is a winner in their 11th Annual Book Award Contest!
Thank you to editors Carla DeSantis and Damian Tarnopolsky for making concise the argument that risk, in tragedy, is the dramatic fulcrum of the action. Thank you to proofreader Mark Grill for his sharp eyes. Thank you to professors Laurel Bowman, Charles Fornara, and David Konstan for their inspiration and insights on drama. Thank you to Michael Armstrong, Michelle Buck, and Keith Digby at Langham Court Theatre in Victoria, Canada for turning this book into the world’s largest tragedy playwriting competition. Thank you to all the playwrights all over the world who have entered the Risk Theatre Modern Tragedy Competition. Together we will change the course of this art form! And finally, thank you to Readers’ Favorite for making this opportunity available. Publicity means so much to writers releasing their debut efforts. It is an honour to win the prize and to have my book displayed at the Miami Book Fair International.
Congratulations to all the other winners who I look forward to meeting at the Miami Award Ceremony this November. Miami, here I come! Here’s the link to my five-star Readers’ Favorite review by Astrid Iustulin: https://readersfavorite.com/book-review/the-risk-theatre-model-of-tragedy
Until next time, I’m Edwin Wong, and I’m doing Melpomene’s work.
This isn’t the first time risk theatre has been on the road. Enthusiastic audiences have heard about this new theory of tragedy at the University of Calgary, the Society of Classical Studies AGM, the University of Massachusetts Boston, and the University of Victoria. This last year though, with the publication of the book, my day job (yes, I have a full time day job), and the Risk Theatre Modern Tragedy Competition, I haven’t had a chance to take risk theatre on the road. Now that things are settling down, it’s time to go in itinere, as they say in Latin.
I’ve lined up an October 29 lecture at Okanagan College. A talk on tragedy is perfect for Halloween. Thank you Terry Scarborough for the invitation! And another opportunity popped into my inbox to speak at a conference in Austin, Texas next year. What a dream, a trip to the Lone Star State! The organizers wanted a 800 word abstract, and I’m sure the competition will be tough to get into this prestigious conference. The text of my proposal is included below for your reading pleasure. Will it be good enough? “New theory of tragedy” for the headline–you’d think that would get some attention. Doesn’t everyone want a new theory of tragedy? Fingers crossed!
PS I have a pet peeve. Although Seven against Thebes is probably more correct (prepositions are not capitalized), it just looks wrong. And what is worse, ugly. Any right minded person with a sense of aesthetics–to me at least–would write it Seven Against Thebes.
Until next time, I’m Edwin Wong, and I’m doing Melpomene’s work.
Aeschylus’ Seven Against Thebes, Probability, and a
New Theory of Tragedy
In Euripides’ Bacchae, the worst-case scenario happens to Pentheus if the stranger spreading a seditious cult happens to be a god, and not a hobo. In Shakespeare’s Macbeth, the worst-case scenario happens to Macbeth if his opponent happens to be not born of woman. In Miller’s Death of a Salesman, the worst-case scenario happens to Loman if he discovers that his insurance policy makes him worth more dead than alive. In Sophocles’ Oedipus rex, the worst-case scenario happens to Oedipus if he finds out that he is the regicide. What were the odds of the worst-case scenario happening in each of these cases? Although the odds appear to be a longshot, they are impossible to quantify. In the tragic canon, there is one play—and one play only—where it is possible to quantify and demonstrate the odds of everything that does happen and does not happen. This fascinating play is Aeschylus’ Seven Against Thebes.
In Aeschylus’ Seven, seven attacking captains—one of whom is Polyneices—lay siege to seven-gated Thebes. Seven defending captains—one of whom is Polyneices’ brother Eteocles—defend Thebes’ seven gates. The worst-case scenario takes place if brother confronts brother at the seventh gate: brother will kill brother, kindred blood will be shed, and, in addition to the normal hazards of warfare, miasma results and the Furies will be unleashed. Because the captains are assigned their gates by a random, lottery process (Hermann, 2013), it is possible to precisely quantify the odds of the worst-case scenario. The worst-case scenario odds are 1:49. Conversely, the odds that the worst-case scenario does not happen are 48:49. The worst-case scenario is therefore an unexpected, low-probability outcome with odds 48 to 49 against. Most of the time, Polyneices will not encounter Eteocles at the seventh gate. Because the peculiar structure in Seven (seven attackers, seven defenders, and seven gates) allows us to work out all the permutations and combinations of the captains at the gates, we can determine the odds of the worst-case scenario. And, because we can determine the extent to which Aeschylus paradoxically brings about the fated event seemingly against all odds, we can quantitatively verify what we had suspected from watching Bacchae, Macbeth, Death of a Salesman, Oedipus rex, and other tragedies, and that is that unexpected and unanticipated low-probability events happen with alarming frequency in tragedy. What is more, these low-probability events carry the highest consequences. Heroes’ best-laid plans are often dashed because of such events and all is lost.
The observation that low-probability events (low-probability from the point of view of the characters who do not see them coming) can have high-consequences leads to an interesting conjecture: what if tragedy is a theatre of risk, a stage where risk is the dramatic fulcrum of the action? In other words, the mystique of tragedy is not so much wrapped around motivations and nobility and flaws but around a hero who, by taking on too much risk, triggers exceedingly low-probability, high-consequence events?
My paper will close by exploring, as a point of further thought, how tragedy can be thought of as “risk theatre” and how risk theatre can be the basis of a bold new 21stcentury theory of tragedy, one which resonates with modern preoccupations with chance, uncertainty, and probability. Risk theater asks, “What if something happens that we did not think would happen?” and understands that tragedy dramatizes the limitations of intention against the vastness of the possible. Tragedy, in this view, is an exercise in risk management: by dramatizing risk, audiences emerge from the theatre with a higher sensibility of unintended consequences. By understanding this, ancient tragedy can powerfully speak to modern audiences who see scientists, engineers, and policy-makers gamble with the future of the world: it might happen the way they think it will happen, but, then again, more can happen than what their models project. With our technological, financial, and military wherewithal, we have a moral imperative to better understand risk, and the best way to examine risk is through tragedy.
Hermann, Fritz-Gregor. “Eteocles’s Decision in Aeschylus’ Seven against Thebes.” In Tragedy and Archaic Greek Thought, edited by Douglas Cairns, 39-80. Swansea: Classical Press of Wales, 2013.
So You Want to Get Your Self-Published or Indie Book into the Library? Read on!
It’s not easy but it sure is more and more possible. Just like how alternative music and indie rock in the 90s eventually went mainstream, so too alternative and indie book publishing is going mainstream today. With outfits such as Friesen Press, Kindle Direct, and Lulu, authors can easily bypass the closed gates of traditional publishers. Nothing against traditional publishers, but sometimes, when you have to get a book out, and you can’t get into their old boys’ club, you have to figure out alternative solutions.
While indie presses can get your book into the market, you still have to sell the book. In this blog, I’ll be talking about one particular type of customer: the library. In Canada, there’s over 3000 libraries. And in the USA, that number goes up to 120,000. That’s a lot of potential customers! Since my non-fiction book on theatre and creative writing came out six months ago, I’ve been learning a lot about marketing. Marketing is a full-time job. In these six months, I’ve sold 600 books. While it doesn’t seem like a big number, other writers have been telling me that’s pretty good. In the last month, I’ve begun focusing on libraries.
From a marketing perspective, libraries are a little trickier for self-published authors. While there’s a ton of resources to help indie authors promote their books, there isn’t so much out there to help them approach libraries. In this last month, I’ve found that it is indeed possible to get your book into libraries. I’ve just started the library drive and eleven have jumped on board: Pasadena Public Library, Fargo Public Library, South Texas College Library, Brown University Library, University of Bristol Library, Greater Victoria Public Library, University of Victoria Library, Russian State Library, Richmond Public Library, Smithers Public Library, and the Alberta Playwrights Network Reading Room. Here’s what I’ve learned.
Several Months Before the Publication Date
Start thinking about getting reviews from the trade publications librarians read: Library Journal, Kirkus, Midwest Book Review, and Publisher’s Weekly (or their indie counterpart Booklife) are good starting points. Keep in mind, some publications, such as Library Journal, only accept titles for review three months or more before the publication date. I lost a good chance here, as they rejected my application, since I approached them a few months after the publication date. Dang!
Several Months after Publication
Set up an Amazon author’s page. Set up a Goodreads account. Try doing a Goodreads Giveaway. A Giveaway is where you pay Goodreads $119 for the privilege to give away x number of books. Goodreads members interested in reviewing your book enter a lottery to receive a review copy. You are responsible for sending the winners a copy of the book. Then you wait for them to give you a review. About 25% of my Giveaway recipients ended up reviewing the book. Mind you, some reviews may still be coming. It takes some patience. To get in the library, you need to generate some publicity. Reviews help that process.
Speaking of reviews, also set up a NetGalley account. Whereas bibliophiles (and some librarians) go on the Goodreads site, NetGalley is populated by folks on the professional side: librarians, booksellers, educators, and book reviewers. If you’ve got one or two titles, you’ll save a few bucks joining a NetGalley Coop instead of signing directly with NetGalley. Once you have Amazon, Goodreads, and NetGalley set up, reviews should start coming in. Be patient. And remember: there’s no such thing as bad publicity. If every review is five stars, customers aren’t going to believe them. The occasional one- or two-star review keeps it honest.
As many libraries rebrand themselves as community centres, you see more and more of them offering a selection of books by local authors. My local library, the Greater Victoria Public Library has an emerging authors program. Check your local library and see what they can do. Many of them are keen on supporting local talent. I’ve been doing Facebook polls, and many writers have been able to get their book into their local library simply by walking in and talking to the librarian.
If you have a fiction or young adult title, the SELF-e program might be a good fit (at time of writing, they accept but have not begun reviewing non-fiction, children’s, and poetry titles). How it works is that you supply them with a PDF or ePUB copy of your book, and they make it available for electronic lending at their partner libraries. Statistics show that 50% of people who borrow your book will go on to purchase it. Somehow, I question this number, but hey, they must have crunched the actual numbers…
Half a Year to Three Years after Publication
Libraries are interested in purchasing newer books. Unless you book becomes a classic, you’ve got three years to get into the library. So, what do you do after the initial burst of activity? Here’s what I’ve been doing as I enter a sort of no-man’s land six months after initial publication.
I created a Facebook business page for my book. And on that page, I made a post asking readers to ask their local library to purchase the book. Then I used the paid Facebook ‘Boost’ feature to advertise the post to people with links to theatre, libraries, playwriting, and creative writing. Here’s how the post reads:
***RISK THEATRE LIBRARY DRIVE*** If risk theatre ever inspired you to rethink tragedy, then write your local library. Ask them to carry the book. Ideas have a half-life, and after that time, they are done. Now, while risk theatre is full of that incipient energy, is the time to make inroads. And, as a grassroots art movement, risk theatre depends so much on your support. The book has a good start. In its first five months, it has sold over six hundred copies. Nine libraries stock it: Greater Victoria Public Library, University of Victoria Library, Smithers Public Library, Richmond Public Library, Russian State Library (the 2nd largest library in the world, thank you Natalia), Pasadena Public Library, Fargo Public Library, South Texas College Library, and the Alberta Playwrights Network Reading Room. Nine is not enough. Can we not have fifty by year end? Here’s the vital details:
TITLE: THE RISK THEATRE MODEL OF TRAGEDY
AUTHOR: EDWIN WONG
PUBLISHER: FRIESEN PRESS 2019
AVAILABILITY: Amazon, B&N, Chapters Indigo, and wherever books are sold
All it takes is a minute to get this idea out to waiting readers!
I’ve been also emailing the acquisitions or collections staff at libraries to ask them to consider my title. I send them a blurb with the purchasing details and also a PDF of the front and back jacket (so that they can see right away that the book has been professionally designed). I’ve started keeping track of libraries on a spreadsheet. I’ve hit up all public and academic libraries in BC, Canada (there’s a hundred or so). And now I’m concentrating on New York State because it’s a playwriting powerhouse. This process is extremely laborious. But since when has anything worthwhile been without labour? Here’s what my blurb to the libraries looks like. I’ve tried to emphasize in the letter the advantages to the library of carrying the title:
Here’s an amazing book on theatre and creative writing that library readers absolutely love. Would you consider adding it to your collection?—details below. We began the library drive a month ago, and the book can be already found at: Brown University Library, Pasadena Public Library, Fargo Public Library, South Texas College Library, University of Bristol Library, the University of Victoria Library, Greater Victoria Public Library, Richmond Public Library, Smithers Public Library, and the Russian State Library. Join the growing list of libraries which stock this exciting title!
The Risk Theatre Model of Tragedy:
Gambling, Drama, and the Unexpected
By Edwin Wong
AUTHOR & THEATRE EXPERT SEEKING TO REKINDLE THE ART OF
THE DRAMATIC TRAGEDY
★Winner in the 13th Annual National Indie Excellence Awards★
★Winner in the 2019 Colorado Independent Publishers Association CIPA EVVY Awards★
The author’s diagnosis and remedy for the current state of theater are imaginative and quite persuasive . . . An ambitious, thought-provoking critique of tragedy in the 21st century.
If you love literature—theater, film, novels, history, biography, opera, whatever—you need to read this extraordinary work . . . Read it—twice. You will never read another work of literature the same way.
—Charlie Euchner, Columbia University
An insightful and compelling read . . . Through the art of reinterpretation, Wong manages to present a bold, inventive new model of theatre through the lens of risk.
The idea of ‘tragedy’ was wrapped in the mystique of motivations and nobility and flaws that put it out of reach for me as a playwright. This book strips away the mystique and makes the form available to me.
—Donald Connolly, playwright and two-time Academy Award nominee
On Netflix, it seems the vast majority of shows are centred around doom, death, and destruction—and viewers can’t get enough. But if you take a trip to Broadway, all you see are upbeat musicals and comedies. There is a vast difference between the content consumed on television and live on stage—but why?
Theatre expert Edwin Wong thinks the time has come to reboot the ancient art of the tragedy. To do so, Wong who has a master’s degree in the classics with a concentration in ancient theatre, has developed a new and unique model of drama called ‘risk theatre’ to align tragedy with modern concepts of chance and uncertainty. The result is a tragic stage where every dramatic scene is a gambling act, and risk runs riot. His vision of the stage is outlined in his new book, The Risk Theatre Model of Tragedy: Gambling, Drama, and the Unexpected[Friesen Press, 2019].
The risk theatre model is a blueprint of 21st century drama. By drawing examples from Sophocles to Shakespeare and O’Neill, Wong argues in a clear and straightforward voice how tragedy dramatizes gambling acts gone awry. By dramatizing risk, tragedy speaks powerfully and directly to people living in an increasingly volatile world. Audiences leave with a heightened sense of how low-probability, high-consequence events defy our best-laid plans to reshape the world.
‘Today tragedy is a tired art. It fails to capture the attention and publicity that it once did in the past’, says Wong. ‘The Risk Theatre Model of Tragedy aims to restore this revered art to its rightful throne by illustrating and then inviting dramatists to create suspenseful, captivating risk theatre plays’.
To further this exploration into the art form of the modern tragedy, Wong teamed up with Langham Court Theatre, one of the oldest and most respected theatres in Canada, to create the Risk Theatre Modern Tragedy Competition, the world’s largest playwriting competition for the writing of tragedy. In its inaugural run, 182 playwrights from 11 countries participated. The competition is now in its second year and has been covered by Broadway World, BC Bookworld, The Dramatist (the official publication of the Dramatists Guild of America), and The New York Review of Books.
‘By reimagining tragedy as a theatre of risk, my book aligns the art form with the modern fascination with chance and uncertainty and restores tragedy to its rightful place as the greatest show on earth’, adds Wong.
EDWIN WONG is an award-winning classicist with a master’s degree from Brown University, where he concentrated in ancient theatre. His other research interests include epic poetry, where he has published a solution to the contradiction between fate and free will in Homer’s Iliad by drawing attention to the peculiar mechanics of chess endgames. Wong founded the Risk Theatre Modern Tragedy Playwright Competition with Langham Court Theatre to align tragedy with the modern fascination with uncertainty and chance. It is the world’s largest competition for the writing of tragedy (visit risktheatre.com for details). Wong lives in Victoria, Canada.
Title: The Risk Theatre Model of Tragedy: Gambling, Drama, and the Unexpected
Author: Edwin Wong
List Price: $14.99 (USD)
Formats: Paperback, hardcover, eBook
Pub Date: February 2019
Publisher: Friesen Press
What else can you do to get into libraries? Well, in Canada, there’s a non-profit owned by the libraries called the Library Services Centre or LSC. They provide cataloguing and acquisitions help to their members. In addition, LSC has a small press and author program. This service is completely free: you send them marketing info for your self-published or indie title, and they advertise the book to their member libraries. If libraries decide to order, LSC will send the author a PO and the author ships the books out to LCS. To provide this service, LCS expects a discount from list price, which, in my opinion, is more than fair. It took me half an hour to set up with LCS, and they listed my book within an hour. Very impressive! I’m currently trying to find LSC equivalents in the USA and UK. Please let me know if you know of one.
Three Years and Beyond
This requires some thinking outside the box. A writer on a Facebook authors page had a fascinating suggestion: use a service such as Findaway to convert your written book into an audiobook. The awesome thing about Findaway’s service is that they take care of getting your audiobook into libraries. Wow! The cost? On Findaway’s site, a 80,000-word book sets you back $2000-$2500 dollars (USD, 2019 estimate). That’s a little bit more than what Friesen Press charged me to distribute, layout, design, and typeset my written book. The difference in distribution between Friesen and Findaway, however, is that Findaway gets the audiobook into libraries, which is a big plus. I am stoked to consider this option in the future. It would actually be quite exciting to hear what the book sounds like.
Well, assiduous readers, there you have it: some ways of getting your book into libraries worldwide! I’ll see you in the library!
Until next time, I’m Edwin Wong, and I’m doing Melpomene’s work.