Thursday, November 17, 2011


If you're a writer or an actor, or anything at all, in any profession, you've probably been rejected many times, so I think it's important to tell you that THE BURNING BED, which ended up as the highest-rated TV movie ever, was turned down in its time by all three networks.

The script was commissioned by Arnold Shapiro and Anne Carlucci, who  worked for Norma Lear, one of the most powerful producers in the business, and when we submitted the first draft to CBS, the word came back that it was "perfect".

I had no idea what bad news that was.

The way the business worked then, and probably still works, experienced writers liked to leave a few holes in their script so the Powers That Be could discover them and make some suggestions of their own -- "give notes".  That way they have an emotional stake in the script, and if the writer could incorporate the notes without doing harm to the work, things usually moved forward.

But a "perfect" script has no holes.  And THE BURNING BED explored a topic most people thought they knew all about: battered wives, and why they stay -- or kill.  The comments on the script were mostly 'We like it but other people won't."
I was shocked.  The producers were shocked.  My play about Sylvia Plath and her mother, LETTERS HOME, was opening in Melbourne, Australia, and I retreated there.  Months passed, and I submitted the script over and over as an example of my work and usually got the job.

And then, like a fairy tale, a producer, who had worked with me on other projects, and the agent who represented Farrah Fawcett, called in the same week to ask, "What ever happened to THE BURNING BED?"  In a matter of weeks it was set up at NBC, and aired the following May to glowing reviews, Emmy nominations, a Writers Guild Award, over-the-top numbers, and a kind of immortality.  Oh, yes -- I also got a few notes from the people who had turned it down, saying, basically "We're sorry."

Why do I tell all this?  Because it's something to remember when good work gets rejected over and over with: "Other people won't like it." 

Nobody knows what other people like.  Few people know what they themselves like.   Even fewer know what's good.  

I try to remember that now, when my latest novel is being read by agents who are quick to tell me I can write -- but slow, agonizing months and months slow, to tell me "I like it but other people, publishers, public..they might not like it."

So, writers, friends, anybody...I live for the day when -- like THE HELP (rejected, its author said, by multiple agents), like THE BURNING BED, like GONE WITH THE WIND, rejected, too, until it wasn't -- my new novel, THE WAY IT HAPPENED, will ultimately get out into the world and surprise and delight a huge audience who seems to have been waiting for it all along.

Don't be discouraged.  I wish the same for you.

1 comment:

Dennis said...

So true! The Examiner has an article about 30 famous authors who had masterpieces rejected (accompanied by withering rejection slips). Harry Potter only made it to print because the publisher's eight-year-old daughter would not stop pestering her father (he had her read the book instead of reading it himself - smart move!).