Your Words Right Back at You

A couple of weeks ago, I was talking with a friend Ailsa on Instagram who is a professional actor. She was asking her peers for monologue resources, as she was having little success finding good ones either online or in books.

You might remember in October I made a script submission to the Traverse Theatre in Glasgow. This is in monologue form, and I’d already wanted to hear it read by an actor to check whether someone else would interpret my words as I’d intended. However, I wouldn’t have had time to do this before the submission date.

Nonetheless, I asked Ailsa whether she was interested in making an audio recording. After some discussion about what form it should take and her fees for doing this, she sent on the recordings a few days later.

Holy mackarel, I should have done this a long time ago. Ailsa had added pauses and shifts in tone of voice, all in-keeping with the character. By the final scene, I couldn’t believe the life that had been injected into my own words.

Probably the most illuminating part was how little would need to be rewritten. The corrections identified so far are all minor, and come to a total of less than half a page of A4.

Over the last three weeks, I’ve been working on finishing another play, this time a dialogue. When it’s time to review this, I’m seriously considering hiring other actors to read it for me.

Blanket Coverage

Some years ago, I went to a dentist that showed The Life Channel in the waiting room.

Its programmes consisted largely of short films about the improving and maintaining of health, and it was rather easy to ignore it while listening for your name to be called out. As I was undergoing a lot of procedures at the time, I was there with regularity.

Then an advert began appearing in the breaks for a service called My Favourite Directories, which seemed much the same as the Yellow Pages. At first, one of its two variations would be broadcast once in a while, then in subsequent weeks, they would run over the entire break each time.

It felt as though the company was deaf to how the audience would react to this repetitive messaging. I vowed that if I ever needed a plumber or an accountant, the last place I would look is My Favourite Directories.

Yet you don’t have to go far to find writers who employ the same tactics, seemingly unaware of how it comes across.

I’m in a popular writers’ page where one particular member has posted almost every day like clockwork for the last month to promote her books. The text reads like marketing copy rather than an attempt to engage the other page users.

And that shows in the responses. Over the course of the month, hardly anyone has engaged meaningfully with these posts with written responses. It feels like we’re being talked at, not talked to, so these daily updates have effectively become background noise. One saving grace, however, is that this author has a good seven or eight books, so the marketing copy does change daily.

When I’m announcing my monthly open-mike, one of the groups it’s promoted in has a rule: each member can self-promote a maximum of once a week.

In practice, I usually update every fortnight, but I make a conscious effort to differentiate each post from the last. They all contain the same basic information such as the date, the time and the format, but I’ll sometimes start off with a joke or make reference to a big news story.

If humour isn’t your style, even switching the order of the paragraphs or refreshing some of the phrasing can work. It shows you’ve made an effort to engage with your audience and aren’t simply feeding them an advertising line.

Look at My Favourite Directories. They haven’t existed for some time now, and I like to imagine that’s because everyone boycotted them after their blanket coverage.

Packed Up and Sent Away

About a week before the deadline, I learnt that the Traverse Theatre in Glasgow and had an open call for stage play submissions of at least 50 minutes. I already had a piece that fitted the criteria and was in a nearly-finished state, but I hadn’t touched it for many months.

So I hurriedly began work, giving it a once-over for any obvious errors, then restructuring where necessary. My usual way of approaching this is to read the entire script out loud, as this highlights any flaws more clearly than simply reading it over. There were parts that I felt could be beefed up, events that could be clarified or simplified, and even some instances when a character’s former name had accidentally been retained.

As much as I wanted to send it off straight away, I left it for a day or two. Coming back to it after that period lets you more easily spot mistakes that slipped past the first time. Once I was satisfied that the script was as ship-shape as it could be within the timescale available, I sent it in.

This is the first piece of work I’ve submitted for a long time. It’s been such a while that I’ve cleared the rest of my submissions tracker on the assumption that if I haven’t heard back from the listed publishers by now, I never will. It’ll be a nine-month wait before I hear back about this play, during which time I can’t send it anywhere else.

I stopped submitting short stories and poems to allow me to work on longer-form pieces, but now I’ve been working on these longer ones, it’s time to start finding a home for them.

Lots of Words, Little Payoff

A long time ago on this blog, we explored what to look out for when submitting your work. I’d never had a particularly bad experience until recently.

But first, let me take you back 2½ years. I’d entered a short piece to be included in a charity anthology, along with a number of local writers. The book would then be sold to raise funds for the cause.

The process was long and slow. Months after my submission was accepted, I remember going to one meeting, which I found to be an unstructured and unproductive discussion about the form this book should take. As such, I didn’t attend another meeting, although I’d cut the committee a little slack because it was clear they were learning as they went along.

We then received sporadic updates about its progress, and just over a week ago, we heard confirmation that the book was finally ready. All we had to do was send our postal addresses to receive a contributor’s copy.

At this point, it transpired that the contributors would not receive complimentary or even reduced-price copies. This came as news to us as much as it did to the writer who had been liaising with the charity committee. We were instead invited to buy a copy for £19.99.

It’s considered bad form in the publishing world to charge contributors to see their own work in print. Some presses do operate like this, using a business model called vanity publishing, but that’s looked down upon in the industry, even by self-publishers. In this case, I’m satisfied it wasn’t the committee’s intention to act like a vanity publisher, but a case of not understanding the conventions of publishing.

None of the contributors want it to reflect badly on the charity or its purpose; indeed, that’s why we supported it with our words. Nonetheless, a number of us feel shortchanged. If we had been advised at the start we would be expected to buy a copy, we would have at least made an informed choice. Even for those who might choose to buy this volume, it’s currently only available in person and on a certain day of the week, which further restricts its availability.

The contributors have now opened discussions with the committee in the hope that a deal or a compromise can be reached.