It’s rejection season!!!! Tis the time of year to drink your preferred beverage and talk A LOT about how “tough” our skin needs to be if we want to stay in this industry.
Probably my least favorite part of rejection session, aside from the endless “you’re still a good playwright” pep talks, is the rejection letters. It’s funny because once upon a time, I hated not receiving them. I would get so mad if a theatre company didn’t send a letter. Now, I almost wish they just ghosted me? Am I crazy? Is my masochism showing?
Here’s my thing. And, to be fair to every theatre company in the world, most of this is my fault. I’ve submitted to 100 opportunities a year and after a while, rejection letters get eerily similar. I’ve gotten to the point where I literally Ctrl + F for the word “Unfortunately” and I don’t read the rest of it.
Side note: Literary managers and artistic directors, please, please, please don’t stop using the word unfortunately. When you have 15 rejection letters in your inbox and so-so self-esteem because you’re PMS-ing and hangry, there is no sweeter relief than being able to search an email and not actually read it. If I had to actually read 15 rejection letters on the same day, I would need to go to my cry corner at work and probably need to leave early. Since FOR SOME REASON you insist on sending them during work hours.
Jk jk I know the reason. I know for most of you we have the same work hours and I cannot emphasize enough how much respect I have for each and every literary office around the country. Y’all are the real reason American theatre moves forward. And thank you. Truly.
I’ve spent a lot of time over the last couple of days trying to figure out what sort of rejection letter I would genuinely be thankful for. Aside from an incredibly honest one. I understand that you cannot email a playwright “Please don’t ever submit again.” I, for one, would appreciate that but I know most playwrights are sensitive and there would be a riot.
So, this is specifically for me. I’m going to pull a Kanye and make this moment about me knowing that this is probably not the standard.
So, right off the bat, I do not care how many submissions you’ve received. Knowing my play was rejected out of 750 v 1000 v 25 stings all the same. I have never understood why people were okay with being rejected out of 1,000 but not okay with being rejected out of 10. You were rejected either way. I think I’d actually feel better if I was rejected out of 10 because at least then I believe your readers actually made it through the full draft. I’m always very suspicious of the 1000+ submissions. Did you actually read it? Did you only read the first 10 pages? At one point was I rejected? How soon in the process? What was the process? ‘
Knowing the number is higher just makes me have more questions.
NEXT, I don’t need you to tell me how to feel. I hate when rejection letters are like “we know this is hard” or “this is never easy news” and YET all of them have this sort of language. Honestly, sometimes a rejection letter is good news so enough with all this fake empathy/sympathy. You picked the plays you liked for a reason and there really isn’t a reason to apologize for it. That sort of language makes me feel like those breakups where someone breaks up with and says “You’re so incredible. Really. I just can’t do this right now.” Um, okay? Thanks? Samesies goes for “we’re sorry XXXX.” Are you really sorry? For what?
Cool, so NEXT. I hate long rejection letters that are also general letters (I have different feelings about this when it’s a personal letter). If it is more than a paragraph, it is too long. Don’t try to sell me on a service you’re offering at a discounted price. Not the right time, fam. Don’t tell me about how great the other plays were. I don’t need three full paragraphs about how bad you feel about rejecting me when the letter is addressed “Dear playwright.” The amount of side-eye my rejection letters get would be almost completely eliminated if the rejection was no longer than the screen of my phone. 3-5 sentences. That’s all you need.
Alright. So what do I want?
Great. I’m glad you asked. Again this is completely specific to me…
I only want a personalized letter if I’ve placed in some way (semifinalist or finalist) and even then, unless you’re going to be specific, keep it short. I realize this is time-consuming. I realize the staff at lit offices across the country are underpaid and overworked (thank again times a billion for all you do).
So, just so you know, I have never decided not to reapply because of an impersonal letter. My decisions about whether to apply again have everything to do with what plays you do choose and nothing to do with what sort of rejection letter you sent. So, honestly, if I didn’t even place, I’m fine with
Thank you for your submission. Unfortunately, your script was not selected to move forward. We look forward to your submission next year.
That’s it! That’s all I want. Sweet, simple, short.
If I did place and you really want to write a personal letter, please, please don’t say the readers were “moved by the play” or how it’s clearly an “exciting new work.” If you have the bandwidth, please mention a relationship that stood out or a moment you were really drawn to.
Or, you know, don’t. See below.
Thank you again for submitting to [xxx]. We would like to congratulate you on making [semifinalist/finalist] but unfortunately, this script was not chosen for [the reading/the winner/etc]. We enjoyed reading your work and invite you to send [an edited version of the play/another script] to be reviewed in 3-6 months by our literary staff.
I love that theatre is trying really hard to be empathetic and to be considerate of the hard work playwrights put into creating their work. I love that theatre companies are attempting to connect with writers in a different way. But if it isn’t genuine, does that connection really matter?
I have been flat out rejected before 7 times and then got in the 8th time. You know what had no bearing on my decision to resubmit? The rejection letter.
Literary managers, I adore you. Artistic directors who are pulling double duty, you are a treasure. I hope you read this and realize you can free yourself from what I’m sure is the agonizing task of trying to come up with a good reason why a script was rejected when really the answer is as simple as you don’t have the budget for the cast or you know the audience won’t receive the play well.
It’s okay. We still love you. Just, you know, send us shorter rejections. Like, much shorter. I almost wish the word REJECTION was in the subject title.