Not Hear Anything Back?
We all know rejection is a big fat NO, but very often writers don’t hear anything back at all. It shouldn’t happen, but it does. Here’s the mysterious Red Baron, who emailed me with this yesterday …
I’m new to the scriptwriting business and I was wondering whether you could give me some advice. Last April I sent a script to a production company. They replied back positively in May, asking for a series treatment, character biographies etc. Since June, I haven’t heard anything back from them.
From your experience, how long does it take for production companies to reply back and do you think I should ask them for an update, or by asking them would I be jeopardising my chances?
First off, I’m happy to offer my experiences, but they’re obviously just mine. Others will have different outlooks and opinions, even of the same prodcos and people I’ve dealt with.
Secondly, I think only stalking producers, sending them a dozen dead roses and killing their pets, friends and family jeopardises a writer’s chances. Asking for updates (as long as it’s not a barrage, but a politely worded email or phone call) is not unreasonable. It should never cause a decent prodco to chuck you in the rejection pile. If it does, you’re probably better off without them!
If it’s a VERY big prodco, agent or publisher, very often it takes a LONG time to hear back. Four to six months seems average. The BBC have taken anything up to 8 months with me, as have ITV and Granada. With one company, I waited a whole year only to be told in no uncertain terms to get lost: damn!
Middle-sized companies may take less time. This can be good OR bad. One prodco asked me to write some pitches and responded favourably … Then they talked to me on the phone for a WHOLE HOUR, asked me to call back on the Friday. No problem, except they then dodged my call and never spoke to me again. That was really annoying. I’d have rather had radio silence before I did all that work! Oh, well.
Small companies I’ve found either respond IMMEDIATELY (literally within days) or never speak to you.
Basically – C’est la vie!
Sometimes, you don’t hear back because the person you were dealing with has moved on or been fired. That can also be annoying, ‘cos the replacement does not always want to follow up what their predeccessor was doing. Some even make a point of starting with a completely new list of potential projects.
When this happens, a politely worded query will tell you what you want to know. I find usually they will often reply in a very polite manner wishing you ‘all the best for your future’ or similar. In other words, get lost.
Other times, unexpected things happen. I had a great meeting with a producer once. He followed it up with several emails, really enthusiastic … Then complete radio silence. I was miffed but moved on … Only to hear about a month after that! He said he had been REALLY ILL, but was okay now. Could we pick up where we left off? Okay!
Also, very early in my career I was talking to an agent who seemed to love my work. Abruptly, he disappeared off the face of the planet. It was only a couple of years ago I discovered the poor man had actually DIED very suddenly. Yikes.
Radio Silence = Rejection
So try not worry about getting radio silence. It happens. It shouldn’t, but it’s a lot easier to say nothing than NO. Sadly, too many writers have made epic nuisances of themselves over the years when they get rejected. Harsh but true.
Only worry if you get CONSISTENT radio silence (ie. no one ever replies and you never hear ANYTHING). That means you probably need to do something about your querying/writing.
Also, don’t worry about following up on the progress of your submissions. It is your right to do this. I find phone calls work better than emails. Write a phone script if you feel nervous. Chances are someone’s assistant will just take a message anyway (remember to leave your email address or phone number so they can get back to you). If no one gets back to you, there’s your answer.
I wouldn’t phone more than twice and I wouldn’t email more than about twice either. I usually phone once and email once and then let it go.
Having said that, some of my best opportunities have come from NOT letting it go for one reason or another … just don’t bombard them with demands! Leave plenty of time between communications, else you run the risk of said person opening their inbox and going, “Them AGAIN!” Not good.
One Last Point
BY THE WAY – Just because you’ve been rejected once, doesn’t mean you can’t approach that person again. Some of my best contacts now have come from my repeated approaches! Something like:
“Hi, you may remember my script [blah] last year/ six months ago/etc, it was about [blah]. You passed, but you said [blah] about it. I was wondering if you’d like to read another script of mine?”
I find they will often say yes. That doesn’t mean they’ll take the next send of course, but you’re building up a profile in their head. This IS good, because you are creating a relationship!