HOW TO SUBMIT SO YOUR PLAYS GET PRODUCED

November 5th, 2014 donnahoke

 

I make a lot of submissions. More than a few hundred a year, as anybody who knows me can attest. And submitting that much–no surprise–yields results in the form of readings, workshops, and productions, as I’ll recap at the end of next month. But before I do that, i.e. before I subject myself to comments about how I must have no life and that most people don’t have that kind of time, I’m going to preemptively tell you that making steady submissions doesn’t have to be a time suck . In fact, on average, submitting takes me fewer than fifteen minutes day. (And it’s only that high because of those full-length opps that ask for artistic statements.) That’s it. In the time it takes to play a couple rounds of your favorite Facebook game, or sit in the drive-through line at Starbucks, several submissions can be made. Do that every day, even several times a week, and they add up quickly.  More importantly, if you’re a playwright, it’s part of the job you can’t ignore.

 

Here’s how to be ready for every submission:

 

**For every play you’re submitting—whether it’s production ready or for development opps—make a PDF of 1) a regular copy titled nameofplay 2) a copy with no identifying information called nameofplayblind 3) the cover page only with contact information 4) the cover page only with no contact information 5) a one-paragraph synopsis 6) a synopsis with cast breakdown 7) a two-to-three paragraph synopsis.

 

I usually start thinking about the synopsis for a play as I’m finishing it, at least the short one (the long one is asked for less frequently), so that as soon as a development opp comes around, I can hit the ground running. Most opps call for some combination of these things, particularly short play opps.

 

**Have a cover letter on file for each play as well. You can cut and paste the standard information about the play, and personalize where necessary; on email, it’s as easy as forwarding the letter, changing the TO: and Subject fields, and personalizing. For short opps, I use a very short and sweet letter akin to “here are my plays.” I haven’t found that to be a hindrance, and it keeps things simple for both me and the person on the receiving end.

 

**What about those opps that want a synopsis ON the cover page, or a bio included on the cast page? These are plentiful enough to be annoying, but easy enough to handle. Just go to your original Final Draft document (the “regular” mentioned above), paste your bio or synopsis or whatever onto the cover page, then save the document as a PDF called nameofplaynameofopp. Close out the Final Draft file and hit “don’t save,” so that the mutated copy isn’t retained in Final Draft, but is ready to attach once you’ve cut and pasted your cover letter. (After that, I usually delete it so that I don’t have a million PDF versions with different specifications cluttering up my files; if you really want it, it’s still attached to your email in the cloud.)

 

**For full-length snail mail opps, I order copies from my local printer; yes, it costs more but it saves so much time and paper flying all around my office. I choose these opps judiciously, so I don’t find it cost prohibitive. I order the copies online, then prepare the letter (which I’ve tweaked and printed from my existing file) and whatever application form or other paperwork required, and address the envelopes. That way, when I pick up the scripts, all I have to do is attach the paperwork, and pop the whole package in the envelope. For short play snail mail, I will print at home, but never more than one copy,

 

**I don’t wait until the end of the month to make submissions, because then it gets grind-like and overwhelming. Plus, you’re more apt to make mistakes if you’re submitting to one opp after another. If I have some to make, I do them first thing in the morning, a “pay yourself first” mentality that I learned in a high school finance class. Some days it might be 20 minutes, other days none at all, but I find thinking about a big stack more intimidating than doing a couple every day or so.

 

I didn’t write this post to sound condescending, and I hope it doesn’t. I’ve just had so many people say to me, “I don’t know how you submit as much as you do. I couldn’t possibly.” I think anybody can, but it helps so much to be organized so that for each opp, you’re not scrambling to collect the things you need and feeling like you’re starting over each time. Interestingly, while I was writing this, a short play opp arrived in my inbox, and I went to read the guidelines and submit. It took two and a half minutes to write a brand new (short!) cover letter, and attach my blind file. They don’t all go that fast but, as with anything, the more you do it, the more it becomes routine, and the quicker it goes. It’s just a hump to get over, but we all know how to do that.

 

If you’ve got any tips to ease the submission process, please share.

 

Donna

Follow me on Twitter @donnahoke or Facebook at Please like my Facebook page: https://www.facebook.com/donnahokeplaywright.

 

Written by donnahoke

donnahoke

Dramatists Guild Council member and ensemble playwright-in-residence at Road Less Traveled Productions, Kilroys List and award-winning playwright Donna Hoke’s work has been seen in 40 states, and on five continents. Her full-length plays include THE COUPLE NEXT DOOR (Princess Grace semi-finalist, currently in its third year in rep in Romania), SEEDS (Artie award winner for Outstanding New Play), FLOWERS IN THE DESERT (AACT top 20 finalist), SAFE (winner of the Todd McNerney National Playwriting Contest, Naatak National Playwriting Contest, and the 2015 Great Gay Play and Musical Contest), and BRILLIANT WORKS OF ART (2016 Kilroys List, Winner HRC Showcase, Firehouse Festival of New American Plays, top ten Woodward/Newman finalist); she’s also authored more than two dozen short plays that have had hundreds of productions. Donna is also a New York Times-published crossword puzzle constructor; author of Neko and the Twiggets, a children’s book; and founder/co-curator of BUA Takes 10: GLBT Short Stories. For three consecutive years, she was named Buffalo’s Best Writer by Artvoice, the only woman to ever receive the designation.

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26 Comments on “HOW TO SUBMIT SO YOUR PLAYS GET PRODUCED”

  1. 1 Kelly said at 9:39 am on November 5th, 2014:

    Thanks for the practical guidance, Donna. I’d love to hear your thoughts on the psychology of submitting. I submit compulsively. There’s not an opp out there waiting for my submission. And I check the “want ads” every morning – sometimes more. See? Compulsive. I’ve had someone say to me, “Wow, you must REALLY have confidence in your writing.” (?!?!?) I don’t understand being fearful of submitting. It can be onerous, sure. But scary? Any insights?

  2. 2 donnahoke said at 9:41 am on November 5th, 2014:

    That’s a great idea for a future post! I’m going to have to really think about it!

  3. 3 Tammy said at 9:53 am on November 5th, 2014:

    Hi Donna, I’m curious what your return is, ie. what percentage of what you submit yields results, as in productions? And are these primarily contests you are submitting to? Tammy

  4. 4 donnahoke said at 9:57 am on November 5th, 2014:

    I submit to contests, development opportunities, and calls for plays primarily, but also some publishing opps. I also submit to theaters that I think are a good fit for my work, usually during the slower months when opps aren’t as plentiful so that I keep the momentum going. My positive return, i.e. I not only hear but get a yes, probably averages 7-10%, which I think is what most people say is the usual.

  5. 5 Arthur M. Jolly said at 1:25 pm on November 5th, 2014:

    All wonderful advice, and very similar to what I do.
    I also keep a separate bookmark folder, organized by due date, of submission opportunities. I find it useful when I run across one that I’ve missed but I want to submit to next year, or if I see something that I don’t have a play for at the moment, but might have one that fits the bill in the next couple of months. I label every one with the minimal info, i.e.: “Sep 15 U of Houston 10 mins”. I have about 240 bookmarks by now. I have another folder of submission lists (En Avant, Playwright’s Center, Dramatists Guild, etc)

  6. 6 donnahoke said at 3:32 pm on November 5th, 2014:

    Keeping logs is whole other post! Want to be a guest blogger? My records aren’t that sophisticated, just what I sent, when, and where. I do archive submission opps that come in the mail, and each year, I go through the previous year’s submission list to make sure I’ve hit up all the same ones. Nonetheless, I missed a couple this year somehow. I also leave notes on my master list to check a certain opp in a certain month.

  7. 7 John Levine said at 1:34 pm on November 5th, 2014:

    Thanks, Donna, for sharing your *secret* to success. The submission game (no coincidence that it’s called “submission”) can be so demoralizing. It’s vital to have a logical system to offset the odds.

  8. 8 donnahoke said at 3:32 pm on November 5th, 2014:

    I’ve found the more that’s out there, the less demoralized I feel!

  9. 9 Mia McCullough said at 9:38 am on November 10th, 2014:

    Just a little adjustment to your tip on writing synopses: write them when you begin to write your new play. It helps clarify what you’re trying to say, and it’s much easier to boil down an entire play into one paragraph when you haven’t written the whole thing yet. Your play may change by the time you’ve finished, and the synopsis may be obsolete, but it will still be a framework from which to rewrite a new, fitting synopsis. Synopsis writing is so hard. We may as well make it as easy on ourselves as possible.

  10. 10 Catherine Hurd said at 3:20 pm on November 10th, 2014:

    Hi Donna,
    Thanks for the very informative article. Would you follow up and mention where to find theatres that are looking for new play submissions?

  11. 11 donnahoke said at 3:34 pm on November 10th, 2014:

    Hi Catherine — Joining the Dramatists Guild is a great place to start; they post submission opportunities regularly and have a searchable database for members on their website.

  12. 12 Rutegar said at 5:19 pm on November 11th, 2014:

    “I make a lot of submissions. More than a few hundred a year …”

    Jeezuss … you don’t mean you write a few hundred plays a year ?!?

    Even the Bard at his best could only manage a couple of plays a year and that was in iambic verse.

  13. 13 donnahoke said at 5:23 pm on November 11th, 2014:

    Heavens, no! You can send the same play to many different opportunities.

  14. 14 Catherine Castellani said at 10:15 am on November 18th, 2014:

    Thanks for this. I find it’s like physical fitness–you build up. I’m not doing as many submissions as you do, but I’m doing more than I used to, and I know that because I keep track in a Google Docs spreadsheet. I have a tab for each play that’s making the rounds. This is super helpful when I get a rejection, especially if it was a nice rejection with a personal letter. I can then note that result on Tab A, and fill in the opportunity info (with the deadline) on Tab B, so that I can submit the next play to the same opp when the deadline rolls around again. I’m gradually developing my personal list of good opps this way. (Harder to do this for short plays, just because of the greater volume, but works very well for full lengths.)

  15. 15 donnahoke said at 10:19 am on November 18th, 2014:

    Fitness is a great analogy, as that’s another area where I pay myself first. (I don’t always pay myself a LOT, but I do pay :)). Workouts are non-negotiable, as is submitting. It doesn’t make sense to write and write and write and never let anybody see it. Thanks! (Your record-keeping system is so much more advanced than mine lol!)

  16. 16 Wayne Paul Mattingly said at 8:06 pm on December 23rd, 2014:

    Since I find the mind-numbing work of submissions least joyful of the playwright’s side of life, I usually reserve it for evenings with a bottle of Barbera, Malbec, Syrrah…you get my drift…

  17. 17 Donna Hoke said at 7:49 am on December 24th, 2014:

    Wayne — If I saved it all up so that it took a whole evening, I would do the same!

  18. 18 mary gannon said at 9:43 am on December 28th, 2014:

    Thank you for this very organized requirements documents. I really appreciate your taking the time to show your systematic approach. It is no surprise that you make a lot of submission and get lots of results. I am preparing a submission and I will start putting together folders for each play with all these documents as I submit. This is a very “pay it forward” bit of help for me.

  19. 19 donnahoke said at 9:27 pm on December 28th, 2014:

    Thanks, Mary!

  20. 20 Stephen Sossaman said at 5:43 pm on December 31st, 2014:

    I’m astonished that you find that many opportunities, Donna! I start with the Dramatists Guild resource, but most of the “opportunities” are not open to me because of restrictions on the playwright (e.g. must have an agent, be Latino or a woman, live in a certain state, be young) or on the script (e.g relevant to certain issues or lifestyles). And most of my submissions are just queries, few of which result in an invitation to send the whole script. So, beyond the DG and Googling, how do you find opportunities?

  21. 21 Stephen Sossaman said at 6:18 pm on December 31st, 2014:

    You apparently use Final Draft, and I have come to use Scrivener, after frustrations (while using word processing programs) adapting scripts to fit individual submission requirements. Are there reasons you prefer Final Draft to its competitors?

  22. 22 donnahoke said at 8:23 pm on December 31st, 2014:

    Stephen — I do use Final Draft. I tried Scrivener for a historical play I was working on and while it was great to organize, I found the lack of ability to backup in a satisfying way to be a detriment.

  23. 23 Stephen Sossaman said at 7:27 pm on February 8th, 2015:

    I have become more comfortable with Scrivener since our comment exchange last December. I back up by compiling to a pdf (and saving a backup .scrv file). To ask again my other question, what do you recommend as the best guides to theaters that accept submissions. other than the Dramatists Guild? The Guild’s Gary Garrison says that some 500 theaters in the USA produce ten-minute plays, and I am baffled about how to find them.

  24. 24 donnahoke said at 8:28 pm on February 8th, 2015:

    Any ten-minute play I submit is from a call specifically for ten-minute play opportunities. I don’t know what I’ve ever sent random ten-minute plays to a theater. That said, Gary is the one to ask. At a town hall meeting in Buffalo, he mentioned that he’d made $7,000 from ten-minute plays the previous year. I have no idea where he’s getting ten-minute productions that are bringing in that kind of money, but I suspect it might be from published pieces that are picked up by schools and theaters around the world.

  25. 25 FELICE said at 9:11 pm on September 12th, 2015:

    I love your organization. To keep a record of the exact items you sent to each theater/submission opportunity what do you do? I’ve created a folder called Theatre Sub Packs. Then each program or Theatre gets files of each item I submitted. It’s a lot of repetition but I keep track of what precisely I sent. Can you suggest a better way please!?

  26. 26 donnahoke said at 9:13 pm on September 14th, 2015:

    My method is hardly sophisticated; I just keep a list with date, theater, and play sent. For negative replies, I turn the entry red; for positive, purple. Anything in between gets green with a note like “Semi-finalist” or “send more work.”


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