Brit Lit Depts. vs American Lit Depts.

I’ve been submitting plays recently, and it wasn’t until I got my fourth email acknowledgment from a British theatre that I realized why that stood out to me. Hardly any of the Americans were sending acknowledgments.

Now granted, many of the American theatres I’d submitted to were quite a bit smaller. But it still made me think back to when I was in Austin, where I spent a year as the literary manager of a really small theater. (My title was technically “literary associate,” but it was the same thing.)

I was the only one in the department. My job was to open the script submissions, enter them into my tracking system, get them to volunteer readers, enter their recommendations into my recommendation tracking system, meet with the artistic director to discuss the plays, and most importantly: respond to the playwrights.

And I always responded to the playwrights. I had a “thanks for your submission” response. A “forgive us for taking longer than six months” response. And a whole range of ways to say “we’re not producing your play,” ranging from “please send us more” to “we will keep this very polite because you may not be completely stable.”

This didn’t seem odd or excessive to me at the time. I mean, in the non-theatre world, people tend to acknowledge a PowerPoint document sent via email with a quick, “Thanks, Jan. Got it,” so that Jan doesn’t have to worry that it disappeared into the ether. I always assumed it was standard practice.

So allow me to gently nudge all you American lit folk out there to learn from the Brits and consider taking seven seconds to shoot off a quick, “Got it, thanks,” to playwrights.

First, it’s polite. Second, it will make you stand out, because nobody else is doing it. And third, it will literally take seven seconds.

As an experiment, I timed how long it took me to open a new email, type in an email address (which is on the cover page of every script), open a Word doc that had my old acknowledgment letter, copy it, paste it into the email, and hit send.

Seven seconds. Now, I am on a Mac. If you’re running Windows, you may need to budget twelve seconds.

I will even provide the paragraph for you to cut and paste, if that’s what’s holding you back:

This email is just a quick acknowledgment that we have received your play and will be putting it through our review process. Due to the incredible volume of plays we receive every year, please allow us six to nine months for a response. Thank you very much for the opportunity to see your work.

Remember, this is not coming from a playwright. Those people are always looking for ways to feel slighted. This is coming from a former literary manager. (All right, all right, literary associate.)

Thank you very much for taking the time to read this post.

2 Replies to “Brit Lit Depts. vs American Lit Depts.”

  1. Good post, Tim. Back when I was submitting regularly, it was so much different when dealing with British theaters, who were so prompt and overtly friendly that you wanted to hug them, even as they were rejecting you.

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