Let me put this into context. This morning, my script editor at Doctors emails to say that one of my recent pitch-outlines has been rejected. Fine. No problem. Except the email is the first in my inbox, received before 9am even, and signs off with a merry: “have a good day”. Well, I was having a good day, thank you, until your email came along. Rejection is par for the course, we writers have learned to develop a thick skin, but when you get a rebuff without any kind of explanation before you’ve had your snap, crackle and pop, then it’s a bit of a psychological blow.
A couple of weeks ago, I received a rejection at 8.30pm on Friday night with the cheerful salute of: “have a great weekend”. After I read the email, all hope of having a good weekend evaporated because the rejection stewed in my brain for the entirety.
And then, there’s the huge gap of response where months go by without any contact. The writer is waiting on tenterhooks for a significant decision on their work (we care about our scripts and we want you to like them, we even think that you might). In quiet desperation, a few polite nudge-emails are sent. Still nothing. And then, a couple of weeks later, a response to your nudge-email, a brief apology for not getting back to you sooner, and a rather bland: “thanks for letting us read it…but it’s not for us. Good luck with setting it up elsewhere.”
“Good luck with setting it up elsewhere” is particularly annoying. Even more maddening is “you’ll have no problem setting this up elsewhere.” Execs and editors take note: despite the well-meaning and soft-cushion intention, the standard phrases for rejection are predictable, generic and frustrating.
When’s a good time for rejection? After lunch is my suggestion. We’ve got the afternoon to digest and accept the decision. Then, we can put it aside and try to focus on something else. Basically, get some more work done before clocking-off; the rejection being part of the day rather than a lingering criticism that niggles throughout the evening.
What about communication? If you haven’t replied to us within a month, send us an email to give us an idea when we might hear from you. Try to be as specific as possible (“I’m filming for the next three months so won’t be able to get back to you until Christmas, at the earliest”). This helps us understand your workload, and give you the time and space to assess our work without feeling that a commission, email, phone call is coming… any, day, now.
And the choice of phrase? Using snippets of the coverage is good, or if you’ve read it yourself, even better: tell us what you think. We know you’re trying to be constructive and genial, but if you thought the script was a stinker, then feel free to tell us why. You can do this without us thinking you’re the devil. And giving us a lot of positives about the script without counterbalancing it with why you’ve rejected it leaves us confused. If you loved the characters, thought the dialogue was funny and the writing was visual and evocative, then why did you pass?
Don’t get me wrong. I’m not having a go. I know your workload is heavy and the demand on your time is constant. But spare a little thought for the timing and effect of your rejection on the beleaguered writer. We know rejections are coming, we’ve learned to live with them, but sometimes they pinch or confuse more than usual when they are seemingly ill-timed or poorly phrased (bad grammar and spelling mistakes a particular aggravation).
One of the producers I met in Cannes has been an absolute powerhouse of professionalism and courtesy. He’s kept in contact, apologised for delays (with reasoning), and even phoned ‘from his cell in LA’ to keep me up-to-date. I know he’s kept a similar line of communication with a few other writers too. I don’t care if he rejects my scripts now. All I know is that I want to work with this guy. His polite and considered response is the communication-nirvana that writers only dream about. And this guy’s a Hollywood high roller.
So, dear script editors, producers and execs, spare a few more thoughts about your contact and approach. We know you don’t have to give extra consideration to what you’ve already decided is a rejection (and may not have the time), but it certainly helps if you do…