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NETWORKING AND FOLLOW-UP, or “I submit like you said; what else?”

November 15th, 2017 donnahoke


In my blog post, How To Submit So Your Plays Get Produced (recently recorded as a Dramatists Guild webinar!), I talk a lot about getting your work out here. And why it is so important because you’re not only showing people that you’re consistently in the game, not a hobbyist but a serious contender, but also creating both brand and momentum. So this sequel post is about how, once you’re submitting like a fool, to keep your name in front of people—which is what gets them not only to read the work, but to read it with an expectation of wanting to like it.


Naturally, this means surrounding yourself with people who will keep your name in the game, and there are so many ways to do this. And all of them are about making not connections, but relationships–with  everyone in this industry from playwrights to dramaturgs to artistic directors to literary managers and so on. Because it almost never takes just one relationship to make something happen. And it almost never takes just a one-time meeting someone to make a relationship. And it never takes hearing your name once for someone to read your work. All of it is like putting vegetables on a kid’s plate: they say it takes ten times before they like them. And there are some vegetables they are never going to like no matter how many times you put them there. This business isn’t much different.



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Not everybody is going to like you, and that’s fine. Not everybody needs to. You can’t work with somebody who doesn’t like you anyway, so move on to somebody you connect with. I don’t know about you, but industry or not, I like hanging out with people I like and who I believe like me. Life’s too short not to. And don’t ignore playwrights! They can be friends in every city across the country, are a source of information about the theaters there, and might even offer a couch when you need one. Plus playwrights very often wear more than one hat.


But let me say again, NONE of these things should be on your mind when you’re meeting someone at a party. Talking about yourself and your work is the kiss of death. Somebody has to be interested in YOU before they’re interested in your work. You can shove your play in somebody’s face, or give your elevator pitch, but unless that person finds you engaging, it’s not going to get read. I’ve often had playwrights excitedly share that they asked so-and-so if they could send a script, and were told yes. Hard truth: that’s the easiest way to silence an over-eager playwright, but it doesn’t mean the script will get read. Consider your own actions: what is it that gets you curious enough to seek out someone’s work on NPX?


So how do you meet people? So many ways:


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BE OF SERVICE: There is no better way to meet people than by offering to help them. Any meeting I ever have—and I learned this from a wonderful director—I ask, “How can I help you?” I have volunteered to read plays for various organizations, and, now those organizations come to me and ask. Before I even became the Western New York regional rep for the Dramatists Guild, I organized playwright events in my region (you don’t need to be a rep to do this!). I created Trade A Play Tuesday (#TAPT) and Playwrights Offering Free Feedback (#POFF). This is the kind of service that works for my personality and my lifestyle, but you may feel better building sets at a theater, or offering a class. Find an enjoyable way to give back. Not only do you meet people, but you also keep the focus off you and your work, which is a relief. Being part of this community is a huge reward, and one that pays off one hundred percent of the time whether I have a production going or not—but you have to be a part of it.


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TRAVEL: When you get a production or reading somewhere, GO. Sometimes you can’t, of course, but when you can’t, you’re at least Skyping into rehearsal to give them a face with your name, right? Right? If you do go, don’t just go to your reading or rehearsal or opening night. Never go without setting up meetings, coffees, or meals with theater people in the area. Use the Playwright Locator Thread on the Official Playwrights of Facebook, check out theaters in the area, but don’t let time go wasted. I never go to New York without connecting with at least two people. Make the best of your investment in the travel.


***A word about inviting ADs to coffee… This is popular advice, but, at the same time, I’ve heard ADs say they get inundated with coffee requests. Consider where you are in your career and who you’re asking to meet with you. If you have only one play that you’re pushing, don’t ask the literary manager of the Public Theater to have drinks; you’ll be disappointed. Network horizontally. Connect with the right people at the right time.


I have an unproven theory that if you meet someone who really has any power in this industry—and your relationship is more than cocktail party recognition—you get one ask. And when you decide to make that ask, it should be for something specific that they can actually provide, not “How can you help me?” but, for example, “Can you get me a reading at X?” (Ideally, if you do have that relationship, that person recognizes their relative power, and offers something to you.) The timing should be right, and, also, the project should be right—for both of you. You should be doing that person a favor as much as you’re asking them to do one for you. You want it to be something you’re working on together. Why? Because this person is your friend, not a means to an end. To date, I can count on one hand the asks I’ve made in this regard; the answer hasn’t always been yes, but we’re still friends.


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HAVE AN ONLINE PRESENCE: Have a website. Be on the New Play Exchange. Make helpful and meaningful contributions on Official Playwrights of Facebook. Create initiatives. Ask provocative questions. Use your Twitter account. Social media is one huge cocktail party, and the easiest one for introverts to attend and be active at. Chatting with people online is like collecting business cards, and those relationships can grow. There are so many people I’ve become so friendly with online that when I meet them, it’s hard to believe we’d never seen each other in human form.


GO TO CONFERENCES: I wrote an entire blog post about this, so I’ll just link it here and not go into it again.


I will, however, talk about repeat contact. If you’re at an event and you meet the Artistic Director of XYZ Theater, or a publisher you haven’t heard of before, that doesn’t mean you’re IN. The correct response is not to fire off an immediate email with your script attached—unless you were expressly invited to. Unless you stayed at the bar together until 3:00 a.m. sharing your deepest secrets, this person is still just an acquaintance, in an industry where you will ultimately have hundreds and hundreds of acquaintances. And in an industry where this person gets hundreds of emails a day.


So what do you do? Send an email following up on something you discussed when you met, or offer help on something they needed (connection with another person, info about your city, a source for a cello player, e.g.). Build the relationship so that next time you see this person, you are a better acquaintance.


At every event you attend, you meet new people, reacquaint yourself with others, and reach a friendship level with others still. It takes time. But it’s a small industry, and you will run into the same people again and again. And it often will take several meetings, and several established connections to make even a small thing happen. But that small thing might lead to something else. It might not. If there were a big flow chart that showed how everything happens in this business, I think we’d be amazed. I can’t say what’s on that chart, but I can guarantee that conferences are some of the big circles.


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OWN YOUR HOMETOWN: This is your base camp, the easiest place to make relationships, because you have access to theaters and people all the time. But living in the town isn’t enough. For which of these three playwrights do you think theaters are more likely to agree to host a reading?

1) The one who boycotts theaters that don’t respond to unsolicited script submissions.

2) The one who decides to get “back in the game,” so goes to a show or two and then sends a script.

3) The one who consistently shows up at productions, and regularly connects with theater staff with thoughts.

It seems obvious, but these are real examples. If you watch the dynamics in your own town, you’ll see who gets produced, and if you’re connected to the theater scene, you’ll see why. It isn’t random.



USE EMAIL: Want to connect with a theater outside your hometown? Like the theater on Facebook and engage on the page. Use email. Start with an introductory email about why you think you’re a good fit for the company, and ask if you can send a play. If you’re invited to send it, explain why you chose the one you’re sending, and thank them for agreeing to acquaint themselves with your work. Follow up six months later. If you get encouragement, stay connected. It can take years for enough momentum to build that someone at the theater wants to read your script. This is no substitute for in-person meetings, but it can work.


When Stephen Kaplan and I recorded “How To Submit So Your Plays Get Produced” for the Dramatists Guild, we had some kickback from a few who said we shared how to submit, but not successfully. I maintain that if you do all the things we suggested in that webinar, you will get produced. It’s a numbers game, a patience game, and a long game. If you don’t enjoy meeting and hanging out with theater people for its own sake, you’re in the wrong business.


I responded to one of the complainants with some of the advice offered above, and got a response that the playwright had “reached out to the theaters in town at one time or another.” And I immediately saw the problem. “One time or another” is not enough. That’s not relationship-building. That’s not “What can I do for you?”; it’s “What can you do for me?” In your personal life, would you tolerate a “friend” who only shows up when she wants something? Of course not. So why should an AD do something for you just because you asked?


Cold submission success does happen, but as I discovered when I wrote the 52-entry Real Inspiration for Playwrights Project (#RIPP), it is rare, and by no means the norm. Acquainting yourself with those entries will reinforce—from the mouths of artistic directors and literary managers—a lot of what I’ve said here. As I said, it’s a long game, but two of my favorite sayings sum it all up:


—Never give up on something because of how long it might take; the time will pass anyway.

—The harder one works, the luckier one gets.


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This is getting really long, but I’ve spent eight years learning how this business works, and there’s a lot to share. I hope this answers a lot of the questions we received following the webinar. With luck, this will be a session at the July Dramatists Guild Conference (you should be there!!), so if you have questions or feedback, please use the comment section below. And if you made it this far, thank you, and I hope you learned something!


Please follow me on Twitter @donnahoke or like me on Facebook at Donna Hoke, Playwright.

Playwrights, remember to explore the Real Inspiration For Playwrights Project, a 52-post series of wonderful advice from Literary Managers and Artistic Directors on getting your plays produced. Click RIPP at the upper right.

To read #PLONY (Playwrights Living Outside New York) interviews, click here or #PLONY in the category listing at upper right.

To read the #365gratefulplaywright series, click here or the category listing at upper right.


10 Comments on “NETWORKING AND FOLLOW-UP, or “I submit like you said; what else?””

  1. 1 Sherry said at 10:49 am on November 15th, 2017:

    Great advice! Thank you for sharing.

  2. 2 Ruth Tyndall Baker said at 12:07 pm on November 15th, 2017:

    I’m doing most of what you suggest. I can’t seem to get second productions after a great premiere. ? Also you mention fo)ow up. I haven’t done that. Does it pay off go send a note with perhaps thecast size and synopsis after maybe 3 months? Thanks. Ruth

  3. 3 donnahoke said at 12:13 pm on November 15th, 2017:

    First, I recommend reading this:

    And then follow-up questions: what were the circumstances behind your world premiere? Where was it done? Why was it done? What is the subject of your play? What was it that made the premiere great? When you’re in competition with every play ever written by every playwright living or dead, the relationships discussed in this post become more important than ever. What can you offer a theater that does the next production of your play?

    As for follow-up, definitely. Once is not enough if you’re going to try to get someone to decide that your play is better than the millions that already exist. That second production takes infinitely more hustle than the first, and some plays are easier than others for several reasons: uniqueness of content, ease of production, opportunity for outreach, etc.

  4. 4 Mercedes Cohen said at 10:12 pm on November 15th, 2017:

    Dear Donna,
    I just finished watching the webinar and I can’t find the link to the pdf with the resources in the PowerPoint. Could you send me a link or direct me to the Guild connection so that I can get the pdf? Thanks for all the great info!
    Mercedes Cohen

  5. 5 donnahoke said at 8:42 am on November 16th, 2017:

    Were you registered for the webinar? It went on to those who were registered. I’ll have to check to see if it’s going to be made available to everyone.

  6. 6 donnahoke said at 8:45 am on November 16th, 2017:

    Apparently, there is a link to the PDF right above the video.

  7. 7 Michael said at 9:05 am on February 17th, 2018:

    Hey there. First off, many thanks for this blog. I’ve found a ton of helpful, super smart and encouraging info and advice here. Thank you for being so generous. That as an accomplished writer you choose to take the time to share so much (many) of your experience(s) and help those of us further down the ladder of accomplishment and success speaks volumes.

    Quick question…I have a full length making the submission rounds and it now has three workshops upcoming. It was also advanced to the semifinals of the O’Neill and still in mix of a few other contests/conferences. Having had finalist success before at the O’Neill, I was wondering if you had a sense of when in the Spring you found out it was a finalist? I know the final slate of plays is announced in mid-April, but was wondering about people’s experiences of how long between semi finalist notification and finalist notification (or rejection)? Did you find out in Feb? Or was it later in March? Basically, is no news good news or do you think (to mix some metaphors) that ship has already sailed and now I’m dead man walking waiting for the rejection email? Just trying to figure out their timeline since they’re vague about notification dates, etc., and I’m too chicken to send a pushy email asking them. Just curious. Not obsessing (much), but a potential production is in works and clearly would be a nice boost if I was lucky enough to pass on into final round. If you have any thoughts that might help from your own experience, that’d be great. No worries if not. Best in 2018. Ciao!

  8. 8 donnahoke said at 2:41 pm on February 18th, 2018:

    Hi Michael — Thank you for your kind words about the blog. I just checked my email and I found last year on March 7 that I was an O’Neill finalist. I think the snail mail rejections did go out a bit later this year than last, so it’s possible it could be later than that, but it’s probably safe to say it won’t be earlier than that. I try not to think about it lol. Like you, I have the play out in a tons of places, so I only hope that it hits in some, although, as you say, getting to the O’Neill finals is a great feather in the play’s cap. Good luck to us both!

  9. 9 Michael said at 8:55 am on February 19th, 2018:

    Many thanks for the response. Do you have a semi finalist play this year? You may have mentioned it in the blog above and I missed it. Yeah, I’m hoping that no news thus far is good rather than bad, but I also know the cut to Finalists is brutal, numbers-wise. This is my first full length, so trying to keep expectations low(er). It’s weird: the play has had good industry response already and as I mentioned, three workshops with a likely production in 2018-19 by one of the theatres, which is usually anyone’s big goal, but my insecure self is hoping that getting a few conference/contest accolades will cement that, or make the theatres say ‘OMG, we must do it’. Hate the Sally Field ‘You like me, you really like me’ quality of my current neediness, to be embarrassingly transparent. Funny too that because it’s such a long long long shot (in terms of actually getting into the NPC) that the benefits of that experience aren’t even on my radar and apart from the almost fantasy ‘objectives’ I sent them (knowing how hard it would be to be actually chosen), just the possibility of acknowledgement beyond semifinals has overshadowed the whole ultimate point of wanting to get into the Conference in the first place. A good lesson for me in keeping perspective and remembering the primary reasons for writing in the first place. Good luck with your year and your own entry!

  10. 10 Donna said at 9:09 am on February 19th, 2018:

    I do, and since the rejections only recently went out, I guess that info is not embargoed anymore. Being a semi with your first full-length is pretty great, as is having interest in it already. My first two full-lengths will never see the light of day haha. The mantra of “Submit, forget, and write the next play,” is a good one 🙂 GOOD LUCK!

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