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Screenplay Submissions: How to Handle "No"

Anne Kleinman is a marketing expert at Ad Infinitum.

Earlier this week I was speaking with a friend and colleague, who at one time trained comediennes and today, is a sales trainer. The irony in that is for another post. During the course of our conversation we were speaking about effective responses in a sales setting when the prospect says “no.” One possible reaction is “No? No? Really? You are going to tell me no after all of the facts that we just agreed on?”

While this can be extremely effective in a standard sales situation, it is not a reaction that you can take when your screenplay, novel, TV series pilot, short story or even magazine article is rejected.

screenplay submissions

Pitching your writing is not a standard sales situation. There are many similarities, after all you are selling something, your writing, but there is much more at stake than whether or not the person sitting across from you buys your widgets or not. After all, this piece of writing that you have just shared is more than just writing, it is a part of you. That is why hearing the word “no” gets difficult. The widgets are not a part of you, but your writing is. It is easy to distance yourself from the widgets, and not take the “no” as a rejection of you the person. However, when you are trying to sell your writing or for that matter any other piece of art, it is hard not to take the “no” as a personal rejection of you.

If you want to succeed as a writer, just as if you want to succeed in any other sales endeavor, you have to learn to take the no and move on in a positive way. Stories abound of how persistence has paid off for people who just kept pitching their writing until they got someone to say “yes.”

Here are a few ways that you can take the no and move on while turning the whole experience into a positive one, and one that may lead to selling a piece down the road.

Since you can’t use my colleague’s come back, what can you say? Just say “thank you.” It lets the other person know that you value them and their time. There are many ways to say thank you for rejecting me. An easy first step in a face-to-face situation, such as at a Pitch Festival like Screenwriter’s World, is to look the person in the eye, smile and just say those two words: Thank You.

If the person who said no is someone that you would like to connect with on a longer term basis, get their contact information. Many of these people will give you a business card if asked, and by the way, you should have business cards available as well, preferably with your picture on it (a proper professional picture).

Once you have their contact information, take a moment, and write them a personal Thank You note. It sounds basic but since most people do not do this you will stand out. Don’t send an email, take an actual piece of stationery, or a note card, and, you are a write after all, so put pen to paper and say Thank You. You might write something like: Thank You for taking the time to listen to my pitch. I appreciate your feedback. Certainly you can embellish on the thought a bit, but remember, keep it about them and the thank you.

That is it Thank You – no next time, no look forward to pitching to you again, take it away from being about you and your work and make it about them. When you make it about the person to whom you have pitched and you thank them, you stand out and when they hear your name or see it on a submission on the next go around, you will have already made a positive impression and be starting with a half-step up. Of course no one is going to buy your material if they have no current need for what you are selling. Each time you show the next piece of work, (and the more feedback that you get and take to heart in a positive way), the better your chances become of getting something sold.

Also, by making it about the thank you and the other person after you are told no, it will make it easier for you to accept the no, the criticism, and the feedback and move on. Moving on can be to the next potential buyer or the next piece of writing, but either way if you have made it about the other person and not let the “no” sink you into a funk the better your chances become.

Remember, people like to be around upbeat, positive people. Take the “no” and let it propel you to the next step with graciousness and style.

Get more advice on selling your script in Susan Kougell's webinar
The Essential Elements that Make a Screenplay Sell