“Rejection is good. It means you’re doing things right.”
-Frank Mazzuca, graphic designer and children’s author
Thank you for your submission, but we regret to inform you that your novel does not suit our needs at this time. Or something like that. Rejection is never easy, but it’s not the dead end it seems like.
First of all, most companies don’t like to take risks on new things. I have personally been told a number of times by various companies that they won’t take anything that’s not a remake or an adaptation of an existing product. The reason for this is companies want an existing audience already willing to watch their show or read their book or what-have-you. That is, your idea wasn’t rejected because it was bad. It was rejected because it was new. Which is good. You just have to find the right place for it.
Even industries that are supposedly creative, like publishing and broadcasting, aren’t all that open. The reasons for this have to do with work volume, complex and sometimes conflicting sets of rules, financial risk, and the miscommunication that can easily occur when companies outsource their departments. In other words, they can only give their stamp of approval to projects that comply with burdensome and sometimes arcane rules, are guaranteed to make money, have already gotten the stamp of approval from somewhere else,* and are not going to overload an already overloaded slush pile.** I can’t tell you how many times my TV shows have been rejected because the company’s “slate was full.” Again, that’s not a problem with me or my idea; just the timing and lack of connections. So, don’t take it personally, and keep moving on.
Maybe your project was rejected because it deviates from rules with which you wouldn’t want to comply anyway. For example, I had a pitch for a kids’ cartoon about an all-girl superhero team that was rejected because it was about girls. It’s an unwritten rule in the industry that if you have an action show, the main character and most of the cast have to be boys. You need one girl to be “the girl” and that’s about it. The reasoning here is that “a girl will watch a boy show but a boy won’t watch a girl show,” and so only a few shows can be about girls (and of those, they have to focus heavily on fashion and hair and makeup). Sad that this is the case in 2012, but if you’ve ever wondered why that’s the overwhelming trope you see out there, that’s why. It’s not that writers aren’t creative. It’s that the gatekeepers see a risk in – *gasp* – humanizing girls.
What’s more, when you’re pitching a TV show to a broadcaster or studio, they can reject you simply on the grounds of not having an agent or not already having another co-producer on board.* There are reasons for this: to cut down on the amount of stuff they have to look at, and to curtail financial risks. Unfortunate for us, but necessary from the corporation’s perspective. There is a way to overcome these loops of not-being-accepted-because-you-haven’t-already-been-accepted. If you can, get a job at one such company. Even if you’re just answering phones, you’re closer to the centre of the company and the people in it, so even if your project is coming out of the blue, you yourself are not. This isn’t guaranteed to work*** but it can improve your chances. And, once again, the rejection doesn’t mean there was anything wrong with you or you project.
So, with all these obstacles, is it possible to get through if you’re “no one”? Yes. J.K. Rowling had no contacts in the publishing industry. “Harry Potter” was rejected 12 times before Bloomsbury published it. If you want more examples, have a look at this:
Always remember that while rejection is disheartening, it is certainly not the kiss of death.
*Chicken, meet egg.
**or whatever that particular industry’s equivalent of the slush pile is called.
***and I don’t mean to imply that it’s easy to get a job anywhere.