I’ll never tell you your play sucks

Here’s why.

When I first started out, I had two vivid negative experiences.

  • An artistic director told me “Never send me another play.” He didn’t want to see my work ever again.
  • A second artistic director returned a play to me (which I had submitted for a three week development project) with the note “There is not enough time to fix this play.”

Luckily I’m stubborn. These two experiences only strengthened my resolve to keep writing. Even though as individual events they were devastating, I never considered giving up a writing life. Maybe because I didn’t have a back up plan!  If those AD’s were trying to get me to stop writing, too bad.

I don’t understand the impetus to take someone down with their criticism. It’s not necessary and it’s cruel.


Now, that’s not the same as…..

…telling someone they’re great when their play needs work. Sunshine and roses when they’re not warranted is not productive and doesn’t help a playwright move forward. That should be the goal of all criticism: comments that help a writer move forward with their work. If your comments are merely emotion, and negative emotion at that, what’s the point?

The question then may be: “But what if the play is beyond help? Aren’t you doing the writer a disservice by encouraging them to work on it?”

Who am I to make that call? The plays those ADs determined “beyond help”  have both gone on to long lives. What if I had listened to them? What I can do is make sure I’m clear about the work that needs to be done (usually via questions) and what the playwright can do to move forward.


We all need feedback.

It’s a vial part of the writing process. Writers need feedback to grow their plays. That outside eye can be the turning point between writing a good play or a great play. But feedback can be a tricky tightrope – you have to find the right person. Sometimes you get unexpected feedback you didn’t want to hear – I received  a feedback form from a contest once (a form I didn’t ask for) in which my play was given a D and scrawled across the bottom of the page were the words “I did NOT like this play.”  

We spend so much time on our words that it hurts if they’re not loved unconditionally. It’s easy to only want praise or to disregard feedback that isn’t what we want to hear.

Feedback is a two way street. If I’m going to take care with the comments and questions I give a writer, I expect them to handle those comments with care. But if I’m the writer, and the feedback I receive is unkind with little care, then I toss it aside. That feedback is not worth my time. And that’s how you should handle unkind feedback.

When Feedback Bites

Rejection letters hurt. They’re depressing. They make one feel like less than a writer.

I wear a number of different hats. Along with being a writer, I also sit on the other side of the table and read submissions for my publishing company Theatrefolk. By in large, I send out far more rejection letters than acceptance letters. There are a number of reasons for that:

  • We work in a narrow niche and with specific criteria.
  • We’re a small company and don’t often double publish on the exact same topic.
  • We want to to love what we promote. So it may be a runaway hit, but it still has to grab us as a piece of theatre.

Because I’m a writer too I’m aware of how rejection letters land. They hurt. They’re depressing. They make one feel like less of a writer. It’s worse when the rejection is a form letter with no indication as to “why” a play was rejected.

For that reason I try to give specifics when a play doesn’t move forward.  A lot of the time there are other factors in play that have little to do with the quality of the work or the ability of the writer: it doesn’t fit the criteria, we just published something like it, it’s a play that should be seen rather than read.

That’s a tricky one. It’s the one that hurts writers most.



I know this because it’s the response that gets the most bite back from writers. I have been told that I’m wrong. I have been told that the audience loved the play and so should I. I have been told I don’t know what I’m doing.

It’s okay. I can take it. It doesn’t make me change my mind, but I know why a writer bites back in that case. They have the audience applause ringing in their ears. I don’t.

It’s a bit strange to choose plays to publish strictly from the page. You have to be able to see the play and hear the play without actually seeing it or hearing it. I’m pretty good at it after twenty years. It’s thrilling when you read a play and your imagination takes over. You see and hear everything fully.  The play lifts off the page, it’s an amazing moment. It comes to life.

It may be that play is a winner when it’s produced. I’ve been in adjudication situations where I read a play before I see it and have been amazed at the difference.

But you can’t choose material based on  “may be.” More often than not, my customers won’t see the play before they chose it, they’re only going on what they read. The play has to live on the page. It has to come to life in the imagination of the reader.

If you get an “it should be seen” comment from a publisher your first response may be to lash out. Bite back. Let them know they’re wrong and they don’t know what they’re doing.

Take a moment. Breathe. In fact, take three days and then ask yourself this question:

Is it important that this play is published by this company?

Is it? Really? Because if this is the company you want to house your wares then the last thing you want to do is write a nasty note telling them they’re wrong, regardless of how you feel. It doesn’t help nor is it endearing.

Instead, see if you can start a dialogue with the company, ask specific questions about issues with the script. Say thanks for the feedback and think about sending them something else. Use this rejection as the start of a relationship. And if the company doesn’t respond favorably to starting a relationship, then you know they weren’t going to be a good fit for your work anyway.

If  the company is not important, move on. Let it roll off you. You don’t need to prove your point by telling anyone you’re right and they’re wrong. What good will it do? Find another company and get your work in their hands.

How do you handle rejection comments?