Let’s crunch numbers. Yesterday a copy of I Am The Devil went down to Florida from the idyllic Highmount Post Office. The charge to send the play and to stamp a self-addressed envelope (to return the play after its inevitable rejection) was $9.45.
This was the first time I have used the US Postal Service for a play since their July price increase. Previously, I was paying $3.95 each way; sure, the total increase was only $1.55 more, but it made me confront the fact that I was pushing the ten-dollar mark just to send a play on its way. Binding a play only costs me about six dollars (for paper, document covers, labels, etc.). If I currently pay almost five dollars to get a play returned to me (if they even bother), it’s almost not worth it to send an SASE; I should just keep printing six-dollar plays instead.
No matter how the prices work out, the dead-tree world is losing its glamour. During my absence from the Post Office, I was sending more and more of my work through e-mail. It’s still frustrating, though. So many theatres have websites, but few of them have the capability to receive e-mail submissions. The ones that do often want to be fashionably modern, but don’t quite know what to do with an e-mailed play when it arrives. Postage isn’t getting any cheaper, but e-mail should be making things easier.
So, if you are a literary manager moving into the 20th Century, here is what you need to do:
- Develop a clear literary submission policy. This is important for both mail and e-mail submissions. Do you accept full plays or only samples? Samples of how many pages? Do you require a resume/biography? Do you only accept submissions during a certain period? And, most importantly for you, how will you process these submissions when they arrive? By making a concrete policy, you will get more managable submissions.
- Let writers know your accepted file types. Plays can come in an endless number of file formats, and you may not be able to open all of them. Even if you can open a file with a strange extension, the program you use may not display or print it correctly. Sometimes this even happens within the same version of Microsoft Word. To minimize these file differences, let playwrights know what you will and won’t accept. Personally, I recommend playwrights use PDF files; it may be difficult to find a PDF printer (there are free ones, just not from Adobe), but they always display exactly how they will print, on every computer.
- Know your limits. Your average play doesn’t take up too much disc space, but it can be exponentially larger than your average e-mail. If your company maintains a free Hotmail address, you have 2MB of disc space. Since your average full-length could be anywhere from 250-500K, you’ll need to empty your Inbox after every fourth or fifth play received (and download those plays to your computer). Depending on how often you check your mail, you may not be able to keep up with demand.
- How will you read the submissions? You can read them on the computer or print them out. If you’re going to print them, though, you’ve just burdened yourself with the cost that formerly belonged to the playwright. If you want a play on paper, why bother with e-mail at all?
- Respond! Using the Postal Service, most playwrights can expect to be paying for all of their correspondence with a theatre. If they want the play back, they’ll send a big SASE. If they want a response when it’s received, they’ll send a postcard. But with e-mail there’s no postage and no plays need to be returned. You should take the ease of e-mail to reply when a play is received and to follow up when you have accepted or rejected it. It isn’t best to ignore the traditional forms, like sending an e-mail when you were mailed a play with an SASE. But responding to an e-mailed play with e-mail is both acceptable and encouraged. These do not have to be individualized responses, either. Form letters are OK, but be careful. Don’t send a mass-mailed rejection to a random grouping of playwrights. If the e-mail is sent or carbon-copied to everyone, you’ve just publicized every writer’s address. And if you send blind carbon copies, some e-mail filters won’t let the mail through. It’s best to just copy and paste that rejection into individual, separate e-mails.
The most important thing for theatres is to be prepared and be consistent. Playwrights (wise ones) want to be as accomodating as possible, so you should be as clear as possible in stating the best way to get plays to you. It takes work, but all theatre does.