When I started writing, many years ago, I’d regularly go to talks with industry folk. One particular bit of advice stuck with me over the years, because I heard it many times. And that was this: as soon as you finish one script (or novel), start working on the next one. That way, when the rejections start coming in, as they inevitably will, it won’t feel as painful, because you’ll already have fallen in love with your next idea.
This made complete sense to me. To succeed as writers, we need to be productive and prolific. And to keep going, we need to shield ourselves from the pain of rejection.
But what if this advice is wrong?
It’s not just about the writing!
Both writing and ‘selling’ are extremely time consuming, what’s more, they usually have to be slotted in and around a day job, family and friends, and many other commitments too. As we writers generally love the writing and hate the selling, there’s a high chance that if we start working on the next idea, all thoughts of marketing will go out of the window, and we’ll simply become too busy. Half a dozen rejections will dribble in, confirming our belief that it wasn’t really good enough. But never mind, the next one will be better. And so we carry on scribbling.
Can you see the paradox here?
To get anywhere as a writer, you need to dedicate a decent chunk of time to marketing. As a rule of thumb, let’s call that chunk 50%. That’s right, 50% of your time should be spent on marketing. That’s a really BIG part of the process! Think seriously about how you’re going to fit that into your day.
If you’re good at switching from one task to the next, you could make a plan to spend your mornings writing, and your afternoons marketing yourself. And continue with this forever!
However, if, like me, you struggle with switching from one task to the next, here’s what I recommend instead:
That’s 4 weeks where you spend big chunks of time researching and reaching out to people about yourself and your work. That’s agents, publishers or producers, and anyone else who you think might be able to help. And after that 4-6 weeks of full time marketing, keep up this work at least once a week. Don’t just let it slide.
Learning to handle rejection
But there’s still the question of how to keep going in the face of painful rejection.
Rejection can feel overwhelming. Our brains are often quick to tell us it’s time to give up. So my tip here is to set yourself a target. How many people should you contact before you even dare think about giving up? I’d suggest something in the region of 100 people. A target means you have a goal to work towards. It will stop you giving up too soon.
Another industry talk I went to years ago, was with film producer Tim Bevan. Despite the fact that he runs one of the most successful British production companies – Working Title Films – he still said that producing a film was like climbing a mountain. He has to overcome rejection after rejection in order to get a film made. The way he handles this is to remind himself that every film involves a 1000 nos. Nos from co-producers, nos from investors, nos from actors and directors. So as soon as he receives his first ‘no’, he has a little celebration. He’s on his way. Only another 999 to go!
I think this is brilliant. It means that each rejection isn’t personal, it’s another step towards his goal. It makes the process anonymous.
So next time you finish a piece of work, don’t jump straight into writing the next idea. Instead, dedicate 4 weeks to marketing your completed work. Challenge yourself to contact 100 people. And don’t take the rejections personally. Instead, think like top film producer Tim Bevan: each ‘no’ is just another step closer to getting a ‘yes’.
[A quick caveat here: when I say ‘finish’ I’m assuming that you’ve been through multiple drafts and received plenty of feedback. I’m not advising you to try to sell a first draft.]
I hope you find this useful. Do let me know how you get on with your own marketing. By the way, is there anything in your writing that you’re struggling with? If so, get in touch as I might be able to address your issue in a future email.
Finally, if you find my posts helpful, you can sign up for my weekly newsletter where I share tips on all aspects of writing, productivity, habits and different ways of marketing yourself and your work.