The Young Dramatists Issue 1
10 Things You Should Know About Licensing
stacks of DPS plays in black against a red background

Before we dive into a list about licensing, it would probably be a good idea to explain what licensing is. In short, as a playwright or composer, you own your work. When someone (a theatre, a school, etc.) wants to produce it, they need to license it from you. In other words, you’ll enter into a contract with the producer that will allow them to perform your work at a specific location, on specified dates, for a royalty fee. When you work with a theatrical publishing and licensing house, they handle these types of contracts and royalty negotiations for you. Now, on to the list…


Theatrical licensing and publishing go hand in hand. A “play publisher” will not only publish your play, but they will also handle the performance rights of your work (within an agreed-upon territory).


A theatrical publisher’s goal is to generate as many licenses of your work as possible. As the author, you give up some amount of control as to who gets to produce your work, and in turn, you (hopefully) receive more productions (and more royalties).


Speaking of royalties, as the author you should always receive the vast majority of the income from performance royalties (70% - 90%). The trade-off is that the publisher will make the vast majority of book royalties (up to 90%).


While theatrical publishers do license professional productions, licensing is dominated by the non-professional producers: schools, universities, community theatres.


You do not need to be produced professionally to be published. While most off-Broadway hits will find publishers, those same plays and musicals aren’t always what schools and community theatres are looking for. Publishers need plays that are aimed at non-professional markets.


Contrary to popular belief, there are more than just three or four play publishers. There is, in fact, a whole ecosystem of theatrical publishers. Your new play or musical may be perfect for a smaller publisher that focuses on a specific market.

7When your play is published, your job isn’t over. There are thousands of published works available today. If you want your piece to thrive, keep working your network. Keep on submitting to theatres. Keep posting about it online. You are still the lead marketer of your work.


Producers (especially non-professionals) find plays and musicals the same way everyone finds everything these days—the internet. A publisher’s website is arguably more important than how prestigious their books are. Do your research and get to know publisher websites.


When you get a publication offer, have a list of questions prepared. How often does the publisher pay royalties? Do they have an author portal? Can you order books at a discount? You can and should engage with your publisher. And if they come across as a faceless entity, that tells you a lot about how your relationship will be with them.


Lastly, it’s great to say you are a published author, but it’s even better to say you are a produced dramatist. If that play of yours really is only for pro theatres, then focus on that professional premiere before trying for publication. If your play is for non-professionals, great. Find a school or community theatre that will workshop your piece. In the end, you want to submit your play to publishers only when it’s truly ready for licensing to their wider world.

11 Sorry, one more: the best advertisement for an old play is a new play. If you have a play and it gets published, great. Write the next one. And then the next one. Write for different markets. Write different styles. Just keep writing.

Brendan Conheady
Brendan Conheady

is theatrical consultant at Pocket Coins Theatrical ( Previously, he was a publishing and licensing executive for over fifteen years (Playscripts, Dramatists Play Service). He also writes plays and lives in Brooklyn.