The Politics of Submission

Boy, did I get an eye opener last week.  One of our authors tipped me to a forum for plays and playwrights where he thought I could post our call for submissions.  Little did I know that Heartland Plays, Inc. would fall victim to attack because we have (but are waiving as we build our playlist) a reader’s fee.  Now, don’t get me wrong, ten years ago I would have made some of the same comments about any publisher asking for a fee to read one of my plays.   Perhaps not as viciously, but in spirit the same, more or less.  After all, I was Kentucky Playwright of the Year and the legendary Horton Foote likened my work to Strindberg.  But after ten years of observing the decline in publishers and theaters that accepted unsolicited submissions and playing a few little tricks of my own, like placing a note to the editor about 15 pages into the script and receiving a form letter stating “after carefully considering your work, we determined it does not fit our market at this time” I came to the conclusion, I’d be happy to pay a publisher to read my script if I knew it really would get read.  Cover to cover.  Including a critique of the work with our reader’s fee seemed to be a good way to show we are sincerely interested in supporting new writers.  However, submissions were trickling in and we wanted you to send us your scripts, so we waived the reader’s fee and got our call for submissions out on a number of additional sites and wow, they started rolling in.  I can hardly keep up and I’m loving it.  However, some disgruntled playwright on the “playsandplaywrights” forum went to our site and started lambasting me starting with, the only reason a publisher would ask for a reader’s fee is because it doesn’t have good titles and it’s the only way it can make any money.  I can’t imagine he read any of the work in our catalog, which by the way anyone can do for free without having to pay for a perusal book and postage and wait three days to get it.  If he had, he would have seen the quality of the work we carry and the standards we expect in our playwrights.  I was also informed it was my job to read plays and a privilege to read the scripts and that who cares about my critique anyway since presumably I don’t know anything about plays or theater or anything of that sort.  I went from relishing opening my e-mail to see what I was going to read for the day to cringing that I was going to get attacked again.  Fortunately it’s been quiet the last two days although my entire contacts list was spammed.  Coincidence, I hope.  The experience has left me a little wiser and the few better points stated in some of the comments about the pros and mostly cons about reader’s fees may help us decide if we will request a fee for anyone other than those who want a guaranteed cover to cover reading with a critique.   For now, politics aside, we still hope to hear from you– even you, the disgruntled playwright and those of you who seem to think it is easy to get a publisher to read your work without an agent or major production history.  We don’t care about your particular politics, we only care about the quality of your work.