Thank you so much for rejecting my submission…

I got another rejection letter this morning (long story short but I’ll never be meeting Meryl).  I’m disappointed of course, but “rejected” is the default state for a writer, so I’m used to it.

Since I receive so many rejection emails, I’m in a position to see certain trends and as a service to rejecting parties everywhere, I’d like to offer a few tips.

1) Get to the point. If the first word isn’t “Congratulations”, we know what’s coming. A long preamble about how many submissions you receive, and the thoughtful process you follow when making your decision isn’t necessary. We know you get tons of submissions. We assume you aren’t making choices on whim. You’re probably doing this to “soften the blow”, which leads to…

2) Don’t try to soften the blow. There are two options Yes, or No.  “No with compliments” or “No with apologies” still mean no. Austin Film Festival, which I adore, takes softening the blow to  such extremes that their rejection letters are a full page, in which they assure you that their opinion of your work is probably meaningless anyway, and practically beg you not to take it personally.  The worst kind of “softening” is compliments, because they give false hope but…

3.) Don’t give false hope. I once received a rejection that was chock full of praise:  “Hilarious, I laughed out loud many times”,  “actors would kill for these roles,” “you have a gift for comedy”.  Those seem like good things, right? I couldn’t understand why  a script that garnered those accolades would get a pass, and I wasted a considerable amount of my time trying to find and fix whatever they didn’t like about it so they would change their minds. But they were never going to change their minds. Liking a script and thinking it’s hilarious is not the same thing as wanting to invest millions of dollars in it, or trying to get other people to invest millions of dollars in it.

That has been the hardest lesson for me to learn as a writer; that people can like your work, and think you are talented, and reject you anyway. It seems terribly unfair, because it is unfair.  But people who want a career in  the creative arts are generally prepared to accept this inherent unfairness so…

4.) Don’t tell us not to let your rejection discourage us.  It’s just patronizing. That breezy “Keep writing!” at the end of a rejection email is the worst.

So how should you reject someone?

“Thank you for your submission, but you were not accepted/did not advance/this does not meet our needs.”

Simple, direct, polite.

So, contest organizers, fellowship directors, editors, readers, anyone who is in a position to reject writers, I hope you will take these suggestions in the helpful spirit in which they were given.  I get a lot of rejections, and consider my reaction to rejections very carefully. There is much to be proud of in your current rejections, and I hope you won’t let this blog post discourage you from rejecting in the future.

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The Tarts of Destiny

Today is the last day my “Grapes of Destiny” skits air on the Kidd Kraddick in the Morning show.  Many thanks to the tens of people who responded positively.  The original scripts will be posted, with links to the performances, on the “Grapes of Destiny” tab.

And, the many lives and adventures of Destiny, Bitsy, Brock, Smilin’ Joe, Phoxie, Gary/Lorenzo, the twins, and Field Reporter Paige Austen will continue here on this blog, in the form of flash fiction.

What is flash fiction?

Flash fiction is  a very short story, 300-1000 words. No promises as to how often I will be able to post. A writer lives in an ever-hopeful state of Maybe Having a Real, Paying Gig Someday and that may actually happen to me.

But I will make every effort to do it once  a week, and tag it properly.

In the meantime, just pop open a can of wine and imagine Destiny clutching a wad of pastry dough, looking up at the sky, and declaring, “As God as my witness, I will never be bankrupt after losing my company to a bitter ex-boyfriend who manipulated my daughter into shooting me and putting me in a coma while his niece seduced my son, again!”

I Was Almost A Hashtag

This past week, my work has appeared (well, aheard, I suppose) on the Kidd Kraddick in the Morning Show, a nationally syndicated morning program. The Grapes of Destiny is a soap opera parody; part Carol Burnett Show, part Saturday Night Live. The 3-4 minute skits are performed daily by the show’s cast.

While it’s not the first time I’ve had my work produced, this was the first time it’s reached a large audience, one that could provide instant feedback via social media. I braced myself for the likelihood that there would be some negative comments – after all, nothing is universally liked, except perhaps My Favorite Year which has 100% fresh rating on Rotten Tomatoes (and is awesome,rent it!).

Before the skits began airing, I told myself I was not going to listen to it, or seek out any feedback about it. After all, the sketches were done, turned into the station long ago, and I couldn’t change them. I don’t have any control over the cast’s performances. And if listeners didn’t think it was funny – well, they aren’t going to change their minds if I explain why it was supposed to be funny.

But look – writers have egos. You have to have a certain amount of ego to walk into a room and ask people to spend many years and millions of dollars bringing a story you made up to life. We want the audience to like our work and what lunatic doesn’t enjoy hearing compliments about themselves? And so, I peeked.

Happily, there were only a few unflattering remarks. Of course this doesn’t mean that thousands of people didn’t hate it and lunge for their radio dials the instant it came on, but at least they didn’t hate it so much they felt the need to pull over and tweet about it. (Or maybe they all died in horrific traffic accidents caused by the lunging in which case, I’m really sorry.)

Most of the feedback was positive (and I am counting “The first episode was awful but it got better” as positive) There was even an attempt to get #grapesofdestiny going. I did wish that at least one of the comments would be “hey, this is really funny, why don’t you hire that woman to write for you full time” but maybe those folks are sending emails. (Or letters. I can give you the address).

In all, my Week of Minor Local Awareness was a success. This is certainly the most interesting thing that has happened to me so far as a writer and,  if I never get a chance to pitch Dustin Hoffman the script I wrote just for him, it will absolutely be the thing that leads off my obituary.

If you are not in the Kidd Kraddick in the Morning listening area, the skits can be heard here:

http://www.kiddnation.com/grapes-of-destiny-ep-5-only-the-strong-survive-video/

The Road to Nowhere

Earlier this week, I shared the exciting news that I will be writing comedy sketches for the nationally syndicated radio show, Kidd Kraddick in the Morning.  Most of my writer friends congratulated me and left it at that but a couple of them felt it necessary to point out that while this assignment might be fun, I shouldn’t expect it to “lead to anything”.

It’s a common attitude, unfortunately. I participate in a writer’s forum online and when a new member asked about getting a short script produced, there were multiple replies saying some version of “don’t bother, short films don’t lead to anything for the writer.”

Starting a podcast? Don’t fool yourself into thinking that’s going to lead to anything. Blogging? That’s certainly not going to lead to anything. Queries don’t lead to anything, contests don’t lead to anything, e-publishing doesn’t lead to anything.

I get that for some writers, success = selling a script and anything that doesn’t further that goal is a waste of time and effort.

But good lord I do not understand the sneering, superior attitude toward writers who make other choices.

I Gave My Credit Card Number to Someone I’ve Never Met

Never met in person, anyway.

May 20 was the deadline for the Austin Film Festival Screenplay Competition. I had taken my laptop to work with me that day, intended to proofread my scripts and submit them during my lunch hour. But complications, as they say, ensued.

Cut to – ten o’clock that night, entries have not been submitted and I am entirely without a computer. First, I was angry at the series of unfortunate events that had led me to this situation. Later, I indulged in an extended period of self;pity and comfort eating.  Finally, I rationalized that this was some Higher Power’s way of telling me that these scripts weren’t ready Then I remembered that I don’t believe in higher powers, so I pulled myself together and messaged my writer friend (and known late owl) Kevin Morales.

I told Kevin I needed a huge favor and of course he immediately said “just tell me where the body is”.  That’s what friends are for. Even friends you’ve not yet met in person but have exchanged reads and Skype calls and shared story ideas.  I was able to access my email on my phone, located emails in which I’d sent these scripts to other online writer friends, and forwarded those to Kevin. Then I texted him my credit card info and he entered the scripts for me. Yes, it takes a great deal of trust to give someone your credit card number, but that is nothing compared to the level of trust needed to let someone read your first draft.

If I win, this is a great story. If I don’t even make it out of the second round, this was a colossal waste of his time.  But either way, it’s a reminder that the community of writers is a kind and generous one and I am terribly grateful to have found writer friends who are endlessly supportive, genuinely happy for each other in times of success, full of sympathy in times of struggle, and full of righteous indignation on those occasions when something Totally Not Cool has happened (You know who you are and you know what I mean).

Thanks Mom!

My mother was my first reader, most fervent cheerleader, and is still the first person I call to share my good news and commiserate with me over disappointments.

In most of my scripts, there is a female character named “Jane” in her honor and when I finally won an award for my writing in 2013, she was the one I wanted sitting in the front row.  (Although I quickly reminded her that this award was not a big deal, so if she thought it was okay to die now, having seen me succeed, it wasn’t.)

My mom is also closely connected to my relationship with movies.  When I was very young, I saw the movies she liked, and fortunately she had good taste. Young Frankenstein, Murder by Death, Foul Play and Little Big Man form the basis of my comedic sensibilities to this day.  She would sometimes come to the movies with me – falling asleep during Dirty Dancing and becoming so engaged in ET that she stood up and cried out “Make them fly, ET!” during the bicycle chase.  When she didn’t want to see movies with me (who wouldn’t want to see Top Gun five times?!) she was happy to drop me off at MetroCenter or Valley West Mall. And in high school,  when I got a job at the AMC, she picked me up at midnight, 1am, 2am, and patiently listened to me complain about the people spilling popcorn and bodily fluids all over the theater floor.

Back then, my writing aspirations were more along the lines of poetry or possible investigative journalism (a wide berth, I know). For several years, I didn’t want to write anything. When I started writing screenplays, I asked my mom what she thought about my chances and she said what she always says when I have some harebrained notion. “Well, why not?”

And it’s her voice I hear whenever I have doubts. Should I query this manager? Should I enter the Nicholl? Should I try to shoot this short script myself?

Thanks, Mom. (And you still can’t die yet).

What’s Your Reader Thinking? (Possibly Not What You are Thinking)

Recently, a professional writer offered to read one of my scripts and provide feedback. The notes were comprehensive and insightful (you know you’ve gotten good notes when they make you say “Of course!”) and I continue to be amazed at the kindness and generosity of pro writers who offer their advice and guidance for no other reason than wanting more good work out there in the universe.

A there’s a scene in this script in which the female protagonist has just put on a new outfit. She looks at her reflection in a full-body mirror, sucks in her stomach, and tugs at the garment.   And this writer who was reading my script – let’s call him “Steve” –  interpreted that scene to mean that the character was overweight.   That is not what it meant, actually.  My intention was to show that the character is insecure about her appearance.  I was genuinely surprised that Steve misunderstood.

For women, looking at yourself in a mirror and sucking in your stomach is a pretty universal experience, even among women with flat stomachs. Even among women with concave stomachs. Put a woman of any size and level of objective attractiveness, and she will start evaluating her appearance and probably finding fault with it.  Apparently men don’t do that (at least not on the scale that women do) and so Steve assumed that if my character was unhappy with her appearance, she must actually have something to be unhappy about.

At this juncture I could mention that this constant self-loathing and internal criticism is the result of a society that values a woman’s appearance above any other quality she may possess. But I won’t. 

Anyway, the point is, Steve misunderstood that scene because his life experiences are different from mine. And – lightbulb moment – every reader’s life experience is going to be different from yours. Even if you think it is beyond obvious what your script or scene or line of dialogue means, you may need to find a way to make it more obvious. Maybe get some eyes on it that do not share your background and sensibilities.

At this juncture, I could mention that this is another argument for diversity at every level, to widen the range of experiences and perspectives not just among the people writing screenplays, but the gatekeepers reading them. But I won’t.