Submission Mission Secrets Part One: Hey Playwrights!
I try to send out a lot of stuff. I like to think of submissions as a numbers game and the more I submit, the greater the likelihood that I will get produced. There’s also the simple truth that for the vast majority of theaters out there if I don’t submit I have 0 chance of getting a production, reading, or workshop. They don’t know me, they don’t know my play, and if I send them nothing to read, they will have nothing from me to read. That’s not to say that I don’t think personal relationships in theater are important, they are SUPER SUPER important. In the past few years as my relationships have provided me most of my opportunities I see that who you know helps a ton with getting plays selected. BUT you don’t get to form new relationships with far away people without the cattle call submissions. They may seem impersonal and impossible, and often they are, but sometimes you strike gold and get to know someone creating theater outside of your own theater bubble and BOOM new relationship. That’s why I think submitting an obscene amount is important. I get asked a lot how I manage it, and so I thought I’d tell you plain and simple, my secrets behind the #submissionmission…
1. Stay Organized
Keeping track of what you send where is VERY important. This keeps you from sending out duplicate plays to the same places, helps you with gauging response time, and if you keep it up over years, helps you track your results for specific competitions and theaters for the long haul. I use a google doc spreadsheet. I have a different color for my No’s (gray), Yes’s (green), Haven’t Heard Yet’s (different color depending on the year submitted), and Need To Submit To’s (neon yellow). I have over 1,400 rows, and the colors help me quickly go through and keep up with the submissions I need to get out. I group my submissions by theaters/organizations, and I like to keep track of their mission statement, or theme, the date I submitted, which play I sent in, what they want in the submission, and if I received personal feedback on what I sent them. I don’t know how I would function without my spreadsheet, simply titled “submission tracker,” which is almost always open in my browser ready to track a new submission or a yes or a no as they come in. I like to keep track of my rejections because it helps me gauge how I’m doing with specific theaters or organizations. There are places you submit to for years and years and always get the standard form letter rejection, and then suddenly (and magically), one day it’s a personal rejection letter about you and your play. Keeping track of feedback and how close you were to getting in is great because the following year I can jump back to my old submission to see what they liked about it and then try to make my current submission even stronger.
2. Keep Everything
Everything. All the things. Every rejection letter, acceptance letter, every artistic statement, draft, synopsis, character breakdown, everything. Even for bad plays. You never ever know. How I do this without losing my mind is I have a file for each of my plays in Dropbox. In that file I have all my current submission material; the current draft, artistic statement, synopsis, samples, and development history. I have all my old drafts in their as well, and those are all dated so I know what’s current and what’s not. My files are usually formatted like this: “PLAY NAME_ my last name_ type of material.pdf.” That way when a company asks for a synopsis and ten-page sample, I have everything ready and thinking is left to a minimum. I also keep a letter of intent for each play ready to go as well, with this I just change the “Dear Theater/Organization Name” every time I send it out. This makes the vast majority of submissions a snap, because all my material is ready and waiting to be sent out, each in their own individual folder organized by each of my plays. The exception to this is that I keep my plays 10 minutes and under all in one place, they’re all in my “short play” folder. Every folder also contains another folder with blinded material in it, which I triple check for my information because I’m both paranoid and crazy.
3. Read The WHOLE Submission Call And Then Some
I read through each submission twice, and then I transfer all the pertinent information to my submission tracker before I’ll start in on a submission. I also will read the theater’s mission statement, and look through their previous productions. I want to send out the play that’s the best fit for the theater, I think that gives me the best chance, I also don’t want to be the jerk sending folks things that they have no interest in. This isn’t always easy because sometimes mission statements are as vague as: “We want to produce bold new plays!” which is why I find looking through previous productions so helpful. Even if you’re not familiar with a particular play seeing the promotional pictures and blurb or synopsis for a show should help you figure out what it is that the theater does and is looking for.
4. Send Stuff Out To All The Places
Everywhere. Send your stuff out. I always think as writers, that’s our #2 job after the actual writing, sharing your work. I have 100% regretted sending out plays before they were ready to be sent out, but that never lasts long as I’m always writing something new to send out as well. It’s tricky, but get to know when your work is ready to be sent out to strangers. How many table reads with friends do you need before it’s ready for the world? There’s this special balance between too rough and over worked to death, it’s your sweet spot, and it’s something you have to figure out. Once a play is there, send it out like there’s not tomorrow. I hunt though a ton of internet listings, NYC Playwrights Blog, Kat’s Submission Central (on Facebook), Playwrights Submission Helper (only the free version because I’m cheap), Londons Playwrights Blog, Six Perfections (a blog which posts playwright and other artists opportunities monthly), and good old fashioned google searches. I also have a page on the New Play Exchange, which emails me every time an opportunity that fits one of my listed plays pops up. I order the Dramatists Guild Resource Directory each year and go through each submission and theater they list. I don’t have an agent, and so far this year I’ve sent out 341 submissions without any plans of slowing down. You can do it too! And if you want to see more of your work done, you should think about joining in.
5. But Have Standards
But seriously. Do have standards. This may come as a surprise, and I’ll get more into the details with my next post, but I don’t submit to every opportunity I come across. Often I don’t have what they want, either they’ve asked for a specific type of play or theme that isn’t in my arsenal, or I’ve read their mission statement and looked through their history and realized that ours isn’t the best union. But then there’s also submission fees to contend with… I often won’t pay submission fees. Now, for the big conferences or festivals that ask for money, I’ll bend my rule, for the O’Neill, Great Plains, Sundance, etc, but if you’re charging me $10 to read my 10-minute play, sorry, you’re not getting my money. I think that’s insane. And I don’t get mad at the theater, because if they find people who are happy to pay and their system works for them, fine, it’s just not for me. So figure out what you want, what you don’t want, and stick to that. It’s not worth getting a production if you have to bend your principals to get it.
Okay, enough yammering, I’ve got a ton of writing and submitting to get to, and I hope you do too! Good luck!