My History of Rejection

crop380w_istock_000012132005xsmallI have been at this writing thing for a long time. I wrote my first long-form project in 1991. It was a screenplay that has long since been lost to the inaccessibility of something called a floppy disk – Ask your parents. I actually first wrote it on an old Brother electronic typewriter, and then ambitiously retyped it into a computer that took three people to lift. The screenplay  was titled “Life Just Happened,” and it was as misguided as the name suggests. I don’t have to read it today to know that it was bad.  Still, at the time, I was convinced, simply because I had completed an entire screenplay, that it was worthy of a deal. It was not. And the agents, production companies, and studios all let me know with form rejections.

Some rejections were so short they didn’t even bother using an entire sheet of paper to tell me no. They sent a strip of paper slightly bigger than you would find in a fortune cookie, and it read something like “Thanks for sending us your screenplay. Unfortunately it’s not right for our company.” That was it. Each rejection hurt. How could it not?

I coped by writing another bad screenplay that was rejected just as unceremoniously.  Two of my screenplays and no bites. I wrote a third to see if I could figure out what I was doing wrong. Rejected. What? I wrote a fourth, and fifth.  Rejected. Rejected. Insanity. What the hell was wrong with these people? I started reading books on Hollywood and tried to figure out if it was run by lunatics with no eye for talent. It was. Just as I suspected.

In my research, I read an article by a screenwriter who said that he didn’t make a sale until his ninth screenplay. Ninth? I was no math wiz but even I could figure out I was more than half way to the magic number. I could write four more if it meant a deal was on the horizon. So, I wrote screenplay number six, and I started getting more encouraging rejections. Agents and producers even scribbled some positive comments in the margins of form rejections.

I carried on, unfulfilled by my day job, but totally pumped to get to write in my off hours. Then eventually came screenplay number nine. What didn’t come was the deal. More encouraging words accompanied the stack of rejections. I even talked to an agent by phone, but that was it. By now, I had developed the unfortunate habit of writing, so I had no choice but to carry on. In addition to screenplays, I started writing novels, and I ran into the same rejection pattern.

My 12th screenplay came with some excitement. I reached the semi-finals of the Nicholl Fellowship, a competition held by the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences, the friggin’ Oscar’s people. I was jacked! I didn’t make it to the next round, but I did spend the next two weeks or so talking to some Hollywood folks and independent filmmakers. I was too stupid to know how to proceed, so interest quickly died.

I wrote my fourth novel The Takers in 2004, and started sending out the normal inquiries with agents, but by now I was losing interest in the rejection game. It was the only way I knew, so I kept at it. Until, that is, I got a rejection from an agent that literally made me LOL.  She turned me down because my thirteen-year-old protagonist didn’t have a “sexy” enough disease. He only had mono, and she felt like kids today were too sophisticated to connect with someone who just had mono. She actually floated the idea that I should consider something like cancer or HIV.

That’s when I decided to go the indie route. As a result, I won a few awards, got some decent buzz, and  by 2008, I had an agent. By 2015, I had a publishing deal. Just like that. All it took was a mere 24 years of rejection to get to this point.

I bring all this up because The Independent has an article titled Rude rejection letters could cost you the next JK Rowling or George Orwell, publishers warnedRude rejections were never my experience. Years of rejections were my only obstacle. The point is to not let rejections or bad reviews derail you from doing what you love. Find a way to endure and keep writing or acting or telling jokes or designing buildings, whatever. No one is owed a career or respect. There’s going to be a lot of bullshit along the way. You deal with it by focusing on your craft. If you do that, the career and respect will follow. If it hasn’t yet, it will – as long as you don’t let the rejections stop you.

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