How To Build Your Rejection Armor

Last weekend I was looking through old journals, searching for something that I’m pretty sure I wrote about years ago. If I find it, I’m going to share it here. No luck so far, but man was I sad/depressed/angry/resentful in 2002! Yikes. Glad that’s over.

During my search I came across some things I wrote when I really started working on writing. I wrote about the essays and short stories I was working on, where I was going to pitch them, who I was talking with about my work, and basically, for the first time in my life, was completely serious and dedicated to what I wanted for myself. I was finally ready to put my work out there. At first it was scary to put something I wrote into an envelope, seal it up, and send it out. And why didn’t people just use email, anyway? It was there. When I started sending out script pitches I still had to FAX them to producers!

I wasn’t super afraid to send stuff out, not enough to actually stop me from trying. But when the rejection letters started pouring in, sometimes it was tough to keep going. It’s funny, but there’s this thing in writing called the “good rejection letter.” If an editor actually takes the time to write you a personal note and encourages you to keep submitting your work, that’s almost as good as getting your article accepted. I got some of those from national magazine editors which helped take the edge off every time I received an unsigned form letter.

When you submit screenplays you send a logline – one (to two at most) sentence that boils down the essence of your plot in an engaging, sellable way. You have no idea how hard it is to take a 100 page screenplay down to one sentence. O…M…G. It’s crazy making. But it’s also a great exercise in getting your point across succinctly. If a producer, agent, or manager is interested in reading your script, they’ll ask for it based on the logline and your less than one-page query.

I sent close to 100 queries for my romantic comedy screenplay. One. Hundred. Queries.

Of those 100 queries, I think I got three script requests. THREE. Out of 100 faxes. In addition to the three requests I got on my own, I also got my script read by four producers and one agent through friends who knew them. One person of the three script requests that I got on my own optioned my screenplay. Everyone else rejected it. Most without even reading it. The rejection came in different forms – letters, talks, or being completely ignored and receiving no response at all.

One of my favorite rejection letters was from William Morris. I was living in Seattle, before I moved to L.A. the first time. I can’t remember if it came from UPS or FedEx or a mail carrier, but it was a letter I had to sign for. “OMG, certified mail from William Morris? They TOTALLY want to read my script.” Wrong. They TOTALLY didn’t want me to send them any more pitches. Some of the fun hoops that you get to go through in Hollywood: Many producers won’t read unagented scripts, but an agent won’t read an unagented screenwriter unless a producer is interested in the script. That’s why the knowing so-and-so who knows so-and-so who knows so-and-so style of networking is even more important than normal in this relatively small industry. 

So, that’s at least 90 rejections for one piece of work that I did. Add that to any negative feedback I got when I workshopped the script online  and any notes that I got during the development period after the option. Plus, there was all my other work I submitted before the screenwriting started – poems, essays, and short fiction. So that’s a ton of people telling me in some way (some nicer than others) that what I put out there wasn’t for them.

At some point, actually pretty early on during all of this, I formed my rough, lizard-like rejection skin. I built a wall with no ceiling so I could still throw stuff out there, but no one could get in and bug me while I was doing my work. There was an open window that allowed constructive criticism to flow through and help refine the work that I continued to make, but non-helpful mean-spirited jabs just stopped getting through.

Fact: If you don’t put yourself out there, it’s NEVER going to happen.

Whatever it is – writing, creating art, making a movie, opening a shop, leaving your job, planning a trip around the world, learning how to accept rejection and keep on making stuff – it’s not going to happen unless you just freaking go for it and put yourself and your work out there for the world to see.

And if “they” say no? So what? Who cares? You just keep on going.

You can move past your fear and put yourself on the path to getting what you want. I did it. I know you can do it too. xo