Tag Archives: rejection

The Dreaded Coverage (or How I learned to Stop Worrying and Love Feedback)

Today’s topic is about one of the most dreaded things a write can encounter: professional feedback, otherwise known as coverage. How to use and deal with feedback is one of the most important skills for a writer. As a screenwriter, that goes double.

WHAT IS COVERAGE?

Coverage is obtained when a writer submits his or her screenplay to an industry professional for written feedback. The professional does not undertake to produce the script, but instead provides a written report listing its strengths and weaknesses.

The difference between professional coverage and feedback from other people, such as the writers in your writers’ group (you do have a writer’s group, right?) is that you pay for the former. But the principles about how to deal with feedback are the same whether you pay or not.

HOW TO GET COVERAGE

There are many ways to get coverage. Websites and screenwriting gurus abound offering consultancy services ranging from around $50 upwards. The sky is the limit. I have seen consultants ask for thousands of dollars. The pros and cons of these services may depend on where you are as a writer, and I won’t go into whether they are worth the fee here.

You can also approach your peers – other writers. I would not suggest using friends and family unless they are also writers.  Your mother will always say your latest torture horror opus is “lovely, dear”. Likewise, friends may not wish to offend you. Those who are not writers may simply lack the skills needed to analyse a script or to tell you whether it is marketable or not. So always go with someone with experience of writing, editing or script reading.

Now let’s dig a little deeper into what coverage means to a writer:

 

Signs of when it's time to move on. (via Bluecat)

Signs that it’s time to move on.

STANDARD COVERAGE FORMAT FOR SCREENPLAYS

In the film industry, coverage consists of 2-3 pages of synopsis, followed by (usually) 2-3 pages of actual analysis, sometimes followed by a score card. The “meat” of coverage is the 2-3 page analysis. The score card illustrates at a glance the strengths and weaknesses of your work according to that script reader.

What is the purpose of the synopsis, you ask? I submitted my script to get an analysis, not to have my own story told back to me! I’ve been swindled!

Well, it’s tempting to consider the fist 2-3 pages as filler and ignore it. But another way to look at it is to consider that your story may not have translated itself into someone else’s head the way you imagined it in your own.

Writing is the art and craft of transferring thoughts from your own head into someone else’s. It is a kind of telepathy. Whether the other person “gets” your scene or not, or has a different impression of what just happened in your story, can be a sign that you were not successful in getting them to imagine everything as you did.

 

HOW TO DEAL WITH COVERAGE

Whenever a writer receives feedback, whether verbal or written, the initial reaction may well be to clench your teeth, dig your nails into the arms of your chair, then launch into a tirade about “idiots not getting it” or accusing the reader of skipping important parts that explained everything.

But remember, as a writer your job is to communicate. Just as the customer is king in the restaurant industry, in the writing world the reader is king. If the reader doesn’t get  what you want them to get, you have only yourself to blame.

Another reaction is panic. Panic at the amount of work that needs doing. Despair at the insurmountable cliff one faces. Did you spend enough time on your script to begin with? Most writers write around ten drafts of a script and at least two drafts of a novel before even showing it to anyone.  Now another rewrite looms. How will you ever get the work done?

Trust me, it’s something everyone dreads.

The way I deal with this is as follows:

Read the feedback all the way through, from start to finish.

Do nothing.

Let it percolate. Don’t be temped to dash off a hasty e-mail cursing the reader for his or her stupidity. If you’re in a writer’s group or face-to-face situation, take the comments with good grace and make a note of them. You will be glad you did. Giving feedback is an art in itself (that’s for another time). Some people are better at it than others. The other person may only wish to help as much as possible. They may think that by being ultra-critical they are only strengthening the material.

Let the dust settle.

After about a week of nursing your feelings by overindulging on cappuccino or another beverage of your choice go back to the feedback. Read it again.

Now that your feelings are out of the way, doesn’t it make more sense? You may even be inspired as you read and gain ideas about how to improve the script. How did you miss that plot point? And of course that character wouldn’t do that!

Maybe the reader knows something after all.

Read it again.

This time, break it down into the things that don’t work. Also make a note of the things the reader liked. Don’t change these. These are your story’s strengths.

I always copy the feedback into another document, then edit it down so that I just have the reader’s criticisms  bullet-pointed in a list.

Still looks like an awful lot of wok, doesn’t it?

Here’s a secret tip.

Do the easy stuff first!

Did you use the wrong word somewhere? Commit a typo? Attribute dialogue to the wrong character. Go and change that sucker now. Each time you do, remove that point from your document.

Feels good, right?

You’re making progress!

NOW FOR THE REAL WORK

At this point, go back over your shortened document. Now separate the points out into things like “STORY”, “CHARACTER”,  and “DIALOGUE”.

I now go through the script one time for each of these things. Take another pass for story problems, then another for character and dialogue etc. I recommend Paul Chitlik’s excellent book “Rewrite” for a structured approach. If you already did this, now’s the time to do it again.

By taking a structured, methodical approach to addressing feedback, you can make the process of rewriting much less painful.

If you find yourself unwilling to throw out a cherished scene or piece of dialogue, simply save another version of your novel or screenplay file. You can always go back to it. And you may find that without the psychological crutch of having it there you’ll find a much better way to write that scene or show that character’s journey.

Feedback is painful. It’s painful because we writers like to believe that what’s on the page is a little bit of our soul. And rejection hurts. But that’s not how it is. Rare is the script that cannot be improved, even Oscar-winning screenplays. Henry James, the great American novelist, used to return to his stories and tinker with them ad infinitum.

By taking time to let your wounded pride recover, you can approach feedback with a clear head. By breaking it down into small tasks, you can make rewriting seem less daunting. If you do these things, receiving feedback may become less like a chore.

As always, if you think I’ve missed anything, or disagree with me, let me know. I welcome the feedback!

Happy (re)writing!

 

POSTSCRIPT:

There will come a time when you cannot rewrite any more. Recognising this is just as important as knowing the script needs improvement. When you reach this stage, don’t delay. Get it out there! Form a marketing plan and execute it. Don’t let someone else beat you to the punch. This has happened to me several times. There’s nothing worse than seeing someone sell your idea to a studio when your script is sitting on a shelf waiting to be marketed!

 

 

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How to get your short story published!

By way of an update about the Revolutions Anthology I am editing (along with my fellow members of the Manchester Speculative Fiction Group), I thought I would share some insights about how to submit a story to an editor.

The reason I’m doing this is that I have been surprised by how many people don’t know the best way to do this. So here are some tips about sending out your short stories if you’re a fledgling writer (or even if you’re not).

Submissions are closed now for the anthology, and myself and my fellow editors are busy reading through a small mountain of stories. But I have noticed some simple errors that will stop you from being published. 

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Except for a word limit of 6,000 words we only had two rules for the Revolutions Anthology. One, stories had to be speculative (science-fiction, fantasy, horror or slipstream). Two, they had to be connected in some way to Greater Manchester, England.

That was it.

First of all, here’s what NOT to do.

– Send things the publisher doesn’t publish. We would love to have published a novel, but that wasn’t what we set out to do. We wanted short stories. Period. So sending us anything else is just a waste of your (and our) time.

– Send us a long list of stories we might like and ask us to pick one. Sorry, but it’s up to you to decide which story to submit.

Here’s what you should really do:

– Be professional.

That’s it.

The general public often see writing as a strange profession, part shaman, part celebrity. You sit down and magically produce a novel or short story which a publisher then falls in love with. And lo, a legend is born!

Alas, not so.

Writers are just like anyone else. They have to work.

If you want to submit a short story you have already written to a publisher (for instance, an anthology or magazine editor) check first to see if it’s the kind of thing they would want. FOLLOW THE GUIDELINES!

This is so important, I’ll say it again: FOLLOW THE GUIDELINES!

Editors are busy. They set guidelines because it helps them save time. We all want to save time. So save yours and theirs by FOLLOWING THE GUIDELINES (there, I said it again).

So what should you send?

1) Your story, either attached or emebedded in the e-mail as per their GUIDELINES (!).

2) A short covering letter (short being the operative word). This should tell them the following:

– Who you are

– What you are submitting (How long it is. What genre it is. It’s title)

– If necessary, a short one paragraph biography detailing any relevant publishing credits you have, or any relevant experience you have. Note the word RELEVANT. If you’re a palaeontologist and your story is about fossils, that MIGHT be relevant. If you’re a divorce lawyer and your story is about a wertiger, it probably is going to be less relevant. Use common sense.

 

DO try to address the letter to the editor by name. It’s not always possible. Some are shy about putting their names on their wesbites. But “Dear Bob” always sounds better than “Dear editors” or “Dear Sir/Madam”.

DO NOT spell the editors names incorrectly.

DO NOT assume that anyone who uses their initials only is a man (or woman). A good tip for this is to address them by their initials, e.g. “Dear T.J.”

A good letter should also include a good-bye. Something simple like “I hope you enjoy the story and look forward to hearing from you in due course, Yours sincerely, Eric.” is enough.

That’s it.

After that, send your shiny e-mail off into the ether and wait. Wait again. Then wait a bit more.

DO NOT pester the editor with e-mails every few weeks asking if they’ve read your story. I  myself only ever chase up a submission if it’s something I’ve personally been asked to submit. It’s a sad fact that some publishers never reply to you. Take that as a rejection.

Once you’ve done all that, either:

a) REJOICE! Your submission was successful. You are now a published author!

or

b) REPEAT the above.

Nobody ever said being a writer would be easy! Writing requires persistence, patience, and above all, a thick skin. Not everyone will appreciate your genius right off the bat. Don’t let that deter you. Get back in their champ and keep swinging!

Following the above will not guarantee that your story will ever see the light of day. However, it will guarantee that the editor does not immediately burn your submission (hopefully). Doing these simple things will ensure that you come across as a professional rather than an amateur. And, sometimes, that makes all the difference.

 

 

The Importance of Being Persistent

You wouldn't want to be this guy. Unless you were a writer.

You wouldn’t want to be this guy. Unless you were a writer.

As you go through this journey to reach your writing goals, there is one thing I cannot stress enough.

You must persist.

Of all the people I know who have become writers, they all share one thing in common. They did not give up. And out of all the people I know who did not become writers, they too had one thing in common. At some point, they did.

It’s easy to give in to the voice inside your head that tells you you’re not good enough, that you never will be good enough, that you’re wasting your life, that becoming a professional writer is just an impossible dream…

But are you wasting your life following a dream?

I would argue that those who go through life without dreams are truly the ones wasting theirs.

It may be that you have financial pressures urging you to get a steady job. It may be you have a family, or one on the way. It may be you are surrounded with unsupportive people who laugh and sneer whenever you mention your latest project.

Eddie Murphy has said on the Actors’ Studio that he only surrounds himself with positive people, because negative people wear you down.

You will encounter a lot of jealousy in your quest to be a writer. People will laugh at your dreams. Some will give you harsh, unconstructive feedback. Others will simply ignore you.

You must learn to overcome this. Because this is a form of rejection, and rejection is the writer’s shadow. It follows him wherever he or she goes, threatening to obscure him or her from view.

One way to beat rejection is to reframe the statistics. If you only get one script request out of a hundred submissions, well then surely that means that every submission will get you closer to reaching one hundred and getting that script request!

Being positive is sometimes the hardest part of writing. But if you can master it, you will eventually succeed. Even if it happens in a way you never expected…

Confessions of a British Screenwriter – Recycled

Today, I thought I would share a link to an embarassingly old and badly written article I did for Moviebytes.com when I had my first screenplay sale. So without further ado…

http://moviebytes.com/NewsStory.cfm?StoryID=3899

Guns, girls, and robots. What's not to like?

Guns, girls, and robots. What’s not to like?

My Name is ‘Err’: A Screenwriters Journey

By Eric Steele

It was a blisteringly hot day in Hollywood. My writing partner and I had been worn down by a punishing heatwave that pushed temperatures up to a hideous 120 degrees. As we both came from Manchester, England – a city renowned for precipitation in a country where summer just means that the rain gets warmer – for us this was the equivalent to walking on the planet Mercury. If Mercury had been filled with dangerous-looking winos and suicidal motorists.

We’d decided to visit an eatery in televisionland known as Roscoe’s Chicken and Waffles. The guide book assured us it was a good place to spot the stars. Taking our place in line, we sizzled on the sidewalk like a couple of English poached eggs. After an eternity of this torture, the Emcee asked us what our names were. “Err,” I began. But before I could use my best Hugh Grant impression, he disappeared back inside the tempting darkness of the doorway.

“Table for Mister Errrr…” he intoned.

Of course, I couldn’t correct him without opening up a whole new can of worms. I might as well have been speaking Portugese for all the good it did. Obviously a case of “You say tomayto, I say tomahto”.

We seated ourselves in a booth and soon learned why it was called “chicken and waffles.” As I dug into my plate of fried chicken at ten o’clock in the morning, I chose to reflect upon how much this reminded me of our whole screenwriting experience so far.

It seemed a far cry from how I had started out – tinkering away in my bedroom in Manchester, reading as many free articles as I could on a then-fledgling Internet, buying whatever books the local stores had in stock (not many), in my impossible quest to somehow get involved in this magical form of storytelling.

The trip to LA proved eye-opening in more ways than one. As we attended meetings without success, we both sank into a kind of delirious despair. Getting lost on foot in Downtown LA or being rear-ended by the daughter of a movie-star on Sunset Boulevard one Saturday night only added to the sense of unreality. Maybe we were just depressed from days spent foot-slogging through graveyards, staring at epitaphs of our long-departed screen idols.

Two years later, we had still to sell a script. Sure, there had been options, near misses. One producer kept us hanging on for over a year until we got an e-mail saying he had decided to work with Paris Hilton instead.

During this time my writing partner and I went our separate ways. He had a young family, and in the end, I guess he decided that “real life” was more important. I soldiered on, until one day I decided to throw caution to the winds, forget about the market, and write the kind of story I would like to see onscreen. The result was my first option with a big production company in LA.

Still nothing happened. I had listed the script with InkTip.com, and they helped me out with a press release. After a few months, I received a phone call from my soon-to-be agent, who had read several scripts and was sufficiently impressed to sign me up.

She told me she wanted to see more family-friendly stuff. I immediately scoured through what passed for my filing system until I found something that would fit the bill…

Among my various screenplays, I’d written a sci-fi television pilot called “Clonehunter”. On a whim, I’d entered it into Scriptapalooza. Although the script didn’t place, they were kind enough to provide me feedback. I scanned the feedback, read the script. Hmm, not exactly Orson Welles, but it was salvageable enough.

Over the next few months I rewrote the script, developing themes and characters, until I had an honest-to-goodness movie script. However, experience had taught me that what seems like Shakespeare to you can seem like Dr. Seuss to someone else, so I workshopped the script at zoetrope.com, where other writers could sling mud at it with impunity. Some of those reviews were gut-wrenching in their honesty, but the script came out a lot better for it. More importantly, it was free.

Some of the scenes I’d written would give James Cameron a headache. Pursuits on hoverbikes, floating casinos, talking gorillas – no sane individual would even think of tackling such a project without a studio budget. But it was just crazy enough to succeed. Besides, I loved the character – David Cain, an intergalactic bounty-hunter who would put Harrison Ford to shame. Not only was Cain’s work questionable, but the more we heard about him, the more we suspected that he might not be a very nice guy either. This was someone who had a history so long he kept secrets from everyone – including his attractive young cyborg partner. And he had an intelligent cat.

I wasn’t expecting anything, so I was truly surprised when I received an e-mail from director Andrew Bellware. He had seen my script on InkTip and wanted to shoot it, using his production company in New York. I was aghast – did he really think he could do it? Well, it might need a little tweaking. I would never see my floating casino (sob). However it would be an outright sale.

My agent hammered out the agreement and Drew then began the looooong process of filmmaking.

Drew kept me informed at every stage of the process. I was flattered that anyone would even care what I thought. Each week he would send me another video of the shoot. Nothing could have prepared me for the sensation of watching the script come alive onscreen. Sometimes I was surprised, sometimes I laughed out loud as an actor said a line in a way I had not expected and turned a boring piece of exposition into something dramatic or even comedic. Most of all, I was amazed that this was actually being pulled off. Even the hoverbike sequence was there! Eat your heart out, Lucas!

The whole experience reminded me that moviemaking is a team sport. Everybody has an input, no matter how small. I felt privileged to have given my contribution. Suddenly, all those years of slaving away over a hot keyboard in a cramped office seemed worthwhile, all those moments of self-doubt as I wondered whether I should be doing this at all dissipated.

Yet, afterwards, here I am again, sat in the same office typing away (admittedly I bought myself a new computer), churning out page after page and knowing that whatever I write will in no way by anything near as good as the movie unfolding in my head – the one nobody will ever see. In a way it’s like starting out all over again. And if it ever does get made, it will take a whole bunch of people to make it happen, not just the director and actors, but set decorators, editors, and everyone else down to whoever buys in the sandwiches.

So is it worth it? Of course. Because that’s the magic of motion pictures – that someone in a tiny suburb of Manchester, a couple of thousand miles away from New York and even further away from Los Angeles, could one day contribute to a movie. If I’ve learned one thing on my ragtag journey, it’s that you should try everything – every angle, every means at your disposal – to market your script. The Internet has revolutionized the world of media. Contests, feedback sites, listing sites – all of these are equally valid ways to get your script produced.

Who knows, we might be able to meet up one day for chicken and waffles!

A New Hope…

When I was sixteen years old, I wrote my first “serious” short story.

I had written a lot before then, of course, but I had never tried to structure anything or to create real, believable characters. The story I wrote was called “The Musical Box”. It was about a women with psychiatric problems and her husband who move to the coastal town of Whitby, England to rebuild their lives. But  as the woman’s psychosis deepens, she becomes fixated with a porcelain dancer atop a musical box. In the end, she literally becomes the dancer, frozen forever like a beautiful image.

The story sat forgotten in my drawer for many years. A few years back I got it out and polished it. The story was published.

About ten years ago, I wrote a television pilot episode for a show I would like to see. It was about a bounty hunter in the future who pertended to do the dirty work of  various intergalactic tyrants, hunting down wayward clones who’d escaped before their creators could use their bodies to achieve everlastic life. But our hero is really a force for good, playing the bad guys off against each other to achieve a fair result.

I gave up on it for years, thinking it was just an experiment that would never get made because it was too big budget. Until I dug it out and started work on it again.

That script eventually became the movie “Clonehunter”:

Clonehunter - sci-fi film noir.

Clonehunter – sci-fi film noir.

My point is, many British would-be screenwriters will be thinking, “How the hell can I ever get anything made into a movie?”. I believe this only because it’s what I think on a daily basis.

The answer?

Tenacity.

Oer the years I’ve come to believe that this is the main thing that the high achievers possess (not that I would put myself into that category, but from reading many interviews with screenwriters and their peers). So for what’s it’s worth, here are my top ten rules for surviving as a screenwriter:

1. Learn to love rejection. Treat each rejection as a step forward.

2. Don’t discuss your goals with anyone except the people you want to help you succeed.

3. Work on improving your craft as much as possible.

4. Be open to criticism, both positive and negative.

5. Know when to ignore said criticism.

6. Listen to your instincts.

7. Don’t be crazy. Be professional.

8. Ignore trends. Instead focus on creating something you love. Chances are, opther people will love it too.

9. Really really love rejection.

10. Don’t despair. Never despair. Desperation is unattractive. It stinks. It’s like blood in the water. And big fish can smell that blood from miles off. Desperation will force you to write stupid e-mails, it will make you say dumb things, it will make you harass people to get your script read. It will destroy any chance you have at coming across like a normal, intelligent person.

If I had to add another tip to this list, it would be a quote from Winston Churchill that goes something like: “Never never never never never give up.”

I have seen people give up. Those people do not sell screenplays. If you carry on, you just might.