Remember a while back, I had to choose a play for our upcoming Playwright’s Showcase, and some were…um…not good? Like, some were about aliens flying in through ceilings and it’s only a staged reading so that really wasn’t an option, and also one was really, really focused on Wonder Woman’s chestal region? Yeah, so that happened. Anyway, I was able to choose one, and it happens in a week. I have the tech rehearsal for it today (which should be a piece of cake, the lights and sound for it are pretty basic, and also, in case you weren’t aware, I totally rock the light booth hardcore, and if you WEREN’T aware of that, what’s wrong with you, of COURSE I do!) and then the show goes up a week from today. It’s a brief piece, I think people will enjoy it, and if they don’t…well, it’s pay-what-you-will. If you complain about something you didn’t technically have to pay for, you deserve throat-punching.
So all year long, I get emails from aspiring playwrights, as I’m the person who will be reading their submissions during the submission period. You’d think they’d be nice emails, like, hey, I notice on your website that you have a local Playwright’s Showcase every year, when can I submit my work? Thanks ever so. Or something like that. As someone who writes, I’m actually kind of versed in the art of querying, and submitting one’s work for potential publication. Here are some hard-and-fast rules. They’re going to seem basic. That’s because they ARE.
- Read everything you can find about the place you’re submitting to before you either submit or query for submission, or the person you’re submitting to will think you’re an illiterate jackass. It’s clichéd, but you really, truly only have one chance to make a first impression, and if you send a letter asking a question that’s CLEARLY stated on the website/in the publication where you’d like to see your work featured, you blew it, Mr. Magoo.
- BE NICE. First: if you know the person’s name you’re submitting to, use it. If it’s a lady-person, use Ms. So and So. If it’s a man-person, use Mr. So and So. You’re not their friend. You don’t presume to use their first name (unless you don’t have another option, or if it clearly states “please use my first name” or “address letters to Joe at…” or something.) BUT WHAT IF THEY’RE MARRIED, AMY?!??! WON’T THEY BE OFFENDED?!?!?!? They won’t be offended. Ms. covers all the bases and shows that you’re sensitive to the fact that they might NOT be married. Married women won’t be offended by Ms.; unmarried women REALLY won’t be offended by Ms. Second: Don’t be rude. DON’T BE RUDE! You’re trying to SELL yourself. Why the hell would you be rude? We’re going to talk a little more about this later. Or a lot more, you know me. I’m kind of heated-up about this so I think I’ll probably go into detail. But BE EFFING NICE. This person has the potential to publish/produce your work. Yelling at/haranguing/insulting them? Not a smart move, Slappy Jones.
- Be patient. Whoever you’re submitting to probably gets a lot of submissions. If they have time to respond right away, awesome. But if they didn’t? An email 3 days later saying, “Didja get it didja get it DIDJA GET IT” is really not called for and makes them feel pressured. BE PATIENT, MY CHERUB.
- If they accept you, be gracious, thank them, and celebrate. However, if they didn’t? Don’t, don’t, DON’T email them insulting/yelling at them, and for the love of Pete, do NOT email them INSISTING they tell you WHY they didn’t choose you. That’s not their job. They owe you nothing. A million reasons go into them not choosing you. You were a bad fit. Someone else’s work was better. You annoyed them and they didn’t choose you because they knew working with you would be a nightmare. Your grammar was abysmal. You used glitter pen and handwrote the whole thing instead of typing your work. You included glitter in with your submission so when they opened the letter, a CLOUD of glitter came out and got all in the carpet and their cat had glittery paws for like a MONTH. I mean. Hypothetically. Of course. I know. In a perfect world, it’d be all about the work. Sure it would. But if it comes down to three pieces of work, all equally good, one by someone who’s been polite and well-mannered and has no typos, one by someone who’s written you harassing emails, and one by a glittery fairy-person who included an 8×10 Glamour Shot of them wearing wings and carrying a wand in with their submission, I think it’s pretty obvious which one you’re going to choose, right? Right. (NO, the answer isn’t Fairy Princess Sparkles. Be realistic, glitter is difficult as SHIT to clean up. We did The Rocky Horror Picture Show at my theater about ten years ago, before my time there, and we STILL find body glitter in random places around the theater. Glitter sticks like a mofo, yo. For YEARS. Plus you KNOW if you choose someone like that, she’d cry if the play you produced wasn’t like she imagined it in her head. I can’t deal with crying. I mean, it’s not like baseball. THERE’S NO CRYING IN BASEBALL! There’s totally crying in theater. I’ve DONE crying in theater. I’ve SEEN crying in theater, probably at least once a show. But if you can head it off at the pass, you sure as hell TRY to. Sheesh.)
Anyway, on to the main event. I get probably 1 or 2 emails a month, all year long, about “when can I send you my play I’ve written so you can produce it in your Playwright’s Showcase?” and then I respond, saying “I’ll add you to our mailing list, and when the selection process opens – which is at the end of the year, usually October to December – you’ll be notified.” (If they were to read our website, the answer to this question is pretty clearly stated, but some people aren’t the most web-savvy. I try not to get too stabby about it. I have a template, I cut and paste the response in, I add them to the mailing list. It takes me about 5 minutes.) Most people are cool with that. Some…are…well, not.
I am going to cut and paste in two emails I recently received from people here, with identifying identification taken out. If you wrote these emails, and somehow have wandered on over here, well, probably I should feel bad I’m picking on you, but I just don’t. I’m using you as an object lesson. You should feel so, so helpful that you’re showing others what NOT to do. Plus, look, some of your work just got published! You’re a STAR, baby!
To: Amy’s theater
From: Angry playwright (without cause to be)
I contacted you months ago about submitting a script and was told I’d be contacted when submissions were being accepted. Obviously I wasn’t contacted. What happened and do you know of any other theater groups that might be willing to look a local person’s script?
OK. First, a little background: I got this in response to a notice I sent out about our upcoming Playwright’s Showcase next weekend. This person DID email me asking about submissions for next year. He emailed me after this play we’re about to produce had already been selected. I informed him then (I think it was in…oh, I don’t know, February? March?) that the next submission period would be at the end of the year, and he was now on our mailing list and he’d get an email once the submission period opened.
What did this person do wrong? Anyone? Anyone? Bueller?
Well, he’s accusing me of apparently PURPOSELY NOT INFORMING HIM of the selection period. If he’d paid any attention to the email I sent months ago (I’d love to paste that in here, but the email client we use for the theater doesn’t save sent mail, like I’d like it to) it clearly explained that we’d already chosen a play for the 2012 showcase. This is 2012; therefore, the email he received about the 2012 showcase was the play selected LAST YEAR. (Well, technically in January 2012, but it was submitted last year, if you want to split hairs. Don’t split hairs, that just makes a mess I have to vacuum up.) The 2013 showcase hasn’t begun the submission process yet. As I explained in my earlier email to him, it will most likely run from October to December 2012 (or whenever I get my ass in gear, whatever, it’s not an exact science.) Also, “what happened” is a little accusatory, and I am not here to provide you information about other theater groups and what they do. RESEARCH THAT ON THE INTERWEBS, SON.
(I would never email, say, a poetry magazine, accuse them of not letting me know when their submission period had been open, and then ask them if they knew of other poetry magazines that were accepting submissions. Can you imagine the nerve? RUDE.)
I responded with a very polite explanation of what I said above (minus the all-caps, of course, I’m very professional where my theater is involved) and even though I totally wanted to say “RESEARCH IT YOURSELF ASSHAT” I did mention a local theater I know of that does accept unpublished one-acts by local playwrights. I did not include a link to their website. I told him it was easily found with a Google search. Because, seriously? You need to take your own life into your own hands, mister. This is not my job. I have enough on my own plate. I’m scrambling to deal with a million of my own things, I shouldn’t have to help you market your script, too. I have my OWN book to market. And, sorry if it makes me biased, but the time I spend on that is a little more important to me than the time I spend on your lazy ass. Also, I don’t get paid for the work I do at the theater. It’s all volunteer. So, dude? Do your own legwork. I’ll take the cut in pay. $0 minus $0 is still $0, you know?
Now, this one is even BETTER. Ready?
To: Amy’s theater
From: Demanding All-Caps McGurk (who I’ve never heard from before in my life, BTW)
I’ve contacted you before about submission of my One Act
Play that has music attached to the play. I’m asking where in
Albany theatre group can I send my play or where to get a
grant. PLEASE ANSWER IMMEDIATELY WITH THIS
All-caps! Bold! Large font! Bad grammar! A demand! A lie! This one hits ALL the bases, whoa!
First, nope, she’s never emailed me before. I save every email I get at the theater. I know this because I’m running out of storage on that account and need to start deleting some shit. Second, what’s up with the all-caps and bold and huge font? To make sure I don’t miss it this time (I didn’t miss it the last time because I NEVER GOT IT BEFORE?!?!?) Third, where to submit? Again, as mentioned above, I’m not your mom, I’m not here to walk you through potty-training and hold your hand and pull up your underoos, darling special snowflake. And last – a grant? Are you kidding me? There are PEOPLE whose JOB it is at companies to find grants. These people get PAID. You want me to do this job for you for FREE? No. No, thank you. I don’t even know where to BEGIN looking for a grant for you. And a grant for what? Are there playwright grants? See how little I know about this? What do I look like, a research librarian? (Ooh, do I? I wouldn’t mind looking like a research librarian, what a cool job THAT would be!)
Also this grammar is odd. Not TERRIBLE odd, just enough odd that it makes my head hurt just a little bit. Like when a painting hanging on a wall is just a HAIR crooked. It makes you think you might be imagining things, but are you? Are you really? I think the issue is “where in Albany Theatre Group can I send my play.” That sounds weird, right? Or am I imagining the crooked painting in the no-tell motel?
I replied to this one similarly to the one above, explaining our submission policy and process (and that we don’t accept musicals, so if it’s a musical, she’s shit out of luck, only I didn’t SAY “shit out of luck” because, well, like I said, I try to be professional) and for this one, again, I mentioned the other local theater group that has a local playwright’s showcase. I flat-out said “I wouldn’t even know how to advise you about where to apply for a grant. I would suggest going online and starting your search there.” I mean, really? Who needs that advice in 2012? Wait, is this my grandmother? GRANDMA? IS THIS YOU? DID YOU WRITE A PLAY? I LOVE YOU GRANDMA!
Listen, I’m sympathetic. I am. I’ve been writing poetry since the early 90s and submitting it for publication since the mid 90s (before it was easily submitted via email – it was all about SASEs and hardcopies, back in the day. A person bought a LOT of stamps.) For all the poetry I’ve written, I’ve probably been published a dozen times or so. As for how many times I’ve SUBMITTED poetry – well, at least ten times that many times. Or more. You face a lot of rejection as a writer who wants other people to see your writing. If you’re not up for rejection, probably keep a diary and then hide it somewhere no one would ever find it and never, ever show it to anyone, ever. Because even with something like a blog, you’re going to face rejection. For all of the happy happy joy joy “I LOVE YOUR WORK,” there’s someone who’s going to hate what you do and is not at all shy about telling you that. You have to develop a thick skin if you want to put yourself out there. Does it ever stop hurting, all that rejection? Well, yes, and also no. No one likes to be told they weren’t chosen. But it does get easier. (Especially after the first acceptance, because then you know you’re not TOTAL crap.) Especially if you deal with volume. If you send out, say, 20 copies of your work to 20 different places, it gets easier when one rejects it, because then you can say, “Oh, well, it wasn’t right for this place; 19 other places have it, too. I still have a shot.”
You have to keep repeating to yourself it’s not personal. As long as you did everything right – and by that, I mean you weren’t a TOTAL asshole, I mean, if you offended the person without meaning to, by maybe the content of your piece, or the person hates semicolons and you didn’t know that, well, there’s very little you can do about that, that’s a style thing, not a YOU-thing – it’s totally not personal. You need to repeat that, and internalize that, and BELIEVE that. What it is, is that what you wrote isn’t right for that particular venue. Something ELSE you write might be (I had success at a few publications with different poems than the ones I sent them originally – I just waited a bit, then sent some more) or maybe that particular venue isn’t right for you, but another one would be. Toughen up, keep submitting, and keep working. If you want your work out there, that’s what you do.
(Susie at Insatiable Booksluts has written some excellent advice for budding writers. I highly recommend, if you are at all interested in submitting your writing, you make that one of your first stops. Here, I’ll even link you: here’s the author’s guide to social media page. Totally invaluable advice over there, most sincerely, and not only because I love Susie to distraction and because I also write over there.)
And for the love of all that’s holy, STOP YELLING AT PEOPLE VIA EMAIL. (Well, unless you know them. Then you can yell at them if you want, I don’t care. I don’t know your life. Or even especially want it, as I love my own a great deal, thank you very much.)