I have not been able to write about Outrageous Fortune nearly enough because of other work obligations. And Mead Hunter's post has an enormous amount worth responding to. As an ex-literary manager, he had both wide experience and no reason to keep his mouth shut about some bullshit he's seen. The results are interesting. Check it out here.
Some thoughts on what Mead raises... first, it seems strange that Todd London et al didn't spend some more time talking to Literary Managers once there was enough said about them to create a whole subheading in the chapter. Obviously, they're not the focus of the study, but given how much they're discussed, it might've been good to talk to a few more than they did.
Part of what happens as a result is that both playwrights and artistic directors blame lit managers for things and the lit managers are given no chance to respond. For example: there's an artistic director who basically thinks it's bullshit that a literary manager would ever say "I fought for your play, but the AD doesn't want to do it," and that basically when lit people do that, they're being chickenshit liars in order to keep their friendships with playwrights intact. Given that the final say on the season is generally the Artistic Director, I find it difficult to believe that there aren't frequent cases where lit people want a play in the season and don't get it in for whatever reason.
Anyway, I want to get to the meat of Mead's post which, to my eyes, is this part about the "language of rejection" and the need for authenticity:
Of course there should be no dishonesty. But many writers ask for specifics when the fact is that often there is no satisfactory reason why a play does not stay under consideration. Many elements and disparate personalities come into play during season planning, and if the decision-makers’ discussions don’t generate enough heat, even an excellent play will fall off the table.I will respond to this by telling a story, a story of rejection! Rejection of me!
Also, let’s not be naïve. Do playwrights really want unvarnished honesty? If I say to you, “We passed on your play because we felt your ending was lame,” what subtext do you hear? If you rewrite that ending under the impression that now Theater XYZ will gladly produce it, and that doesn’t happen, then you will really feel had. The danger of specific criticism is that will be received as advice -- or even as a promise.
In early 2009, I wrote a book proposal, my first ever, largely based on a published friend's successful book proposal. Mead and I actually worked on it and my sample chapter together for a bit. When I felt like it was ready for some friendly eyes (this being my first proposal/sample chapter, I wouldn't call it nearly done yet, because I'm not sure what that means), I showed it to a different friend of mine's agent.
The agent responded with five pages of notes. The notes made it clear that, even were I to take the notes and make the changes she described, she would not consider taking on the book. I would say 50% of her notes were really great and useful, and the proposal did need to be restructured along some of these lines, and some of her thoughts on the sample chapter were really great. 50% of them were because she thought I was going to write one book and I was, in fact, writing another. Her notes helped me realize I was kind of splitting the difference between two ideas, and that I should go further in the direction of one or the other, the direction that was right for me and right for the book was actually away from what some of her notes were urging me.
This is the important part here though: These notes were far, far blunter than I have ever seen notes given in theatre to anyone working in any field other than design. And I'll tell ya... it didn't feel awesome. It took a couple of days before I could get through that I was kind of upset at the rejection to actually see what the notes were. But at that point, I dusted myself and the proposal off and went to work. That project has laid dormant for awhile, because of other writing needs, but when it's time to go back, I'll reexamine those notes and see how I feel.
The other thing to add in is that this exchange happens all the time. Writers send manuscripts and proposals to agents and editors, who send back fairly extensive notes. If they think they would be willing to consider the next draft for publication or representation, they say so (please resubmit blah de blah) if not, they don't.
Now, let's say she was a literary manager and I a playwright. She sends me five pages of notes suggesting concrete changes to a play (or in this case, actually a proposal for a play). She either indicates at the end that they will seriously consider the play if I take these notes or that they won't but she still wants me to have these notes because this was her honest feedback.
Why is any of what I've just described bad or wrong, other than it hurts people's feelings from time to time (and, I would add, puts artistic directors and lit managers in the unwelcome position of having to regularly hurt people's feelings)? It seems to me that the above was a fairly honest and authentic process of rejection, and the end result is my proposal and sample chapter will be better, because it helped clarify for me some issues with the text, not because i will change that text to suit what someone else wants it to be (in fact, it will get further away from some of her suggestions).
I'm not saying this is actually how we should do it or anything, I'm just interested in people's take on it. This is one form of authentic rejection dialogue. Would you want that? Why or why not?