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LAUGHING MATTERS: Wait a Minute, Mister Postman

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Since Back Stage has moved to a new mailing address, I thought this would be the perfect time to talk about mailings. If you're a comic booked to do a regular show (versus pre-shows and open mikes), your club-if it books far enough in advance-may regularly send out listings describing events. Some clubs, however, don't send listings at all. Especially if you're producing your own show, the job of doing mailings may be yours alone.

It never hurts to ask if a club does its own listings-because the contacts that it has already made are the same people that you want to send materials to, and to start developing relationships with. Many cabarets are great about doing monthly mailings to press and keeping websites updated. Or they may suggest whom you should contact in order to be included in a general listing. At the beginning or end of their listings sections most publications print their own "rules of the road," whom to contact, and the best way to do it.

Publications often print what their "lead time" is-i.e. the amount of time that they need to have your information in advance of your performance. If they don't publish this information, call and ask for it, or else you might be mailing incorrectly and heading your materials straight for the "circular file." National monthly magazines can have as long as a three-to-six-month lead time, with a general industry standard being four weeks ahead for weekly publications. Free papers, even those that come out weekly, are often on a four-week schedule as well. (Their listings editors may be freelancers who only work a few times a month and aren't reading/checking the mail constantly.)

Some daily papers that have weekend entertainment sections may allow two weeks or 10 days for receiving listings by fax, but the bottom line is that you have to get them your information as early as possible. When you send something to me at Back Stage, please consider that it will take a couple of weeks after it reaches the office to reach me. Also, always include a contact number at which I can get in touch with you.

Mailing once doesn't guarantee you a listing either. There isn't much print space to go around for the many performers and shows out there. Materials get lost, too. So, what are some ways to make your mailing more likely to be listed? Faxes often get looked at more quickly than mail, so if a publication lists a fax contact number, that's reason enough to send one. Many magazines and websites in New York City now provide subway information and won't use a listing unless it explains how to reach the venue by subway. You need to list the cover or ticket price, the drink minimum, and whether they take credit cards. Having a distinctive postcard or flyer that someone might want to save doesn't hurt either.

Neatness counts: If you're faxing me a third-generation smeared copy that I can't read, or an art collage with information that only really makes sense to you, you're being your own worst enemy. I receive handwritten, illegible, and stained/ripped materials often-also materials with no note or review request. These are not the best ways to introduce yourself-and isn't that what your mailing is doing: introducing yourself to me?

What are the differences between a listing, a mention, and a review? A listing is like a classified ad: It just states the facts-who, what, where and when-and rarely has a writer's or reviewer's opinion. A tip to remember: General listings are not press reviews. Sending or faxing pages and pages of listings may show that, yes, you're getting papers to list you-but it also underlines the fact that you aren't getting write-ups.

A "mention" might be a few lines added to a listing by reviewer who already knows your work, or a columnist writing about your being cast in a special project, working in a benefit, receiving an award, etc. That's why it's always good to let writers know what you're doing. Perhaps I reviewed you a few months ago, so it's too soon to give you space for another review; but if you're doing something different or have had a great career leap, I would want to feature at least a few lines about it. I like to tell you readers when one of your peers has had a breakthrough just by paying his dues, so that you'll know it can be done.

Here at Back Stage a review usually happens because you've been mailing flyers and review requests to me and over time have gotten me interested in what you do, or you've sent me a tape that grabbed my interest. You may be with other established performers or a company I respect, you may have been recommended to me, or you could be generating a lot of interest or "buzz" and I'm seeing from your press kit that you have clippings from other publications that I read and respect. There are also the cases where you just have a great idea, or have sent a really impressive press kit.

Why not be prepared for that next booking you want to publicize by starting now to try to notice the magazines and newspapers that give regular space for listings, and the places where you think you'd be most likely to be listed. You need to do this homework carefully, though. If you're half of a duo that does musical comedy in a mostly cabaret setting, you'll do better in the cabaret section. If you do stand-up, don't send to a theatre section unless you're performing something like a one-man show.

Here at Back Stage, we, the weekly "Bistro Bits" column, handle cabaret acts. My biweekly column handles comedy-primarily stand-up in comedy clubs-but notes some cabarets and the occasional musical comedian or one-man comedy show. We columnists try not to overlap in what we cover. "Laughing Matters" is a review and "how to"-oriented column rather than a general-listing section.

Don't just blindly send to any publication. Know what it publishes, so you can target your mailings and increase your chances for success.

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