Being a writer means maintaining a weird ego balance between, “I am the smartest person on the planet, my 170,000 word Guardians Of The Galaxy fanfic is better than the movie,” and “My editor is smarter than me and I should accept their very good advice that my Guardians Of The Galaxy fanfic is not better than the movie.” You have to learn not just to take rejection but to learn from it and let it make you better. However, that doesn’t mean you have to take every editors opinion as gospel.
Recently I got a rejection that didn’t sit right with me. It wasn’t from someone I typically work for and it wasn’t the type of writing that I normally do, so for a while I wrote it off as probably all my fault. I was pitching a horror Novella to a company that said it really wanted to hear from female authors. In fact at the time they were only taking pitches from female authors.
I have an old screenplay about a brain slug that comes to earth to try and enslave humanity but ends up falling in love with country music and decides to try and use its evil powers to become the next Dolly Parton. Light horror, lots of camp. I thought I could rework it into a Novella and it would be a fun project.
They didn’t like the pitch, which was fine. The thing that bothered me was that in his response the editor said one of my main characters; a detective out to keep the brain slug from eating anyone, was “just being nosy.”
Wondering if I was overreacting I floated the offensive note to a friend who is also an author. “Ugh, it’s like, would he have said that if it was a male character though?” She instantly replied. Good question.
I got curious and decided to take a look at this publishers back catalogue. There were some female authors in there, two out of ten. Guess how many of them wrote stories with a male main character? All of them.
The other day I sent a television pilot I wrote to a friend. “Um, did you realize there are no men in this?” He said as if he was pointing out a critical error. I did realize, because I wrote it.
A while ago I decided that in my stories men get to do what women have been doing in stories since the beginning of time, which is die or be hot. Or be hot while dying, or die in a hot way. So, if I think of a character and he’s not a love interest or monster food he’s getting gender swapped and the story literally never suffers. In the case of the brain slug story the main characters were three women (one of whom is a very nosy detective) and a non-gender identifying brain slug that mainly takes female hosts.
I can’t say for sure that this was the main reason they rejected my idea. Like I said, I don’t usually write horror and they felt the pitch was a little light on gore, and a little too funny. They said that they wanted it to be less about female friendship and more about a brain slug feeding on people, which, fair.
It just made me really consider the fact that there’s a difference between wanting a female writer and wanting a female perspective. We’re in a time right now where companies know they’re supposed to want female writers but, I think, rarely want a female perspective.
Change is a scary thing in any industry and inclusivity is a BIG change for the media industry. When you’re pitching a project, you’re supposed to compare it to other shows that were already made in the past. It’s Ghostbusters meets Field Of Dreams! So if you’re doing something that’s maybe a little weirder and harder to define that’s always going to be difficult for any writer, but I think more so for women, and also people of color, that might be telling stories companies aren’t going to take as seriously for a bevy of reasons they won’t advertise.
This is all to say, when a company says they’re seeking female writers it’s ok to be skeptical. Look at their backlog; don’t just take them at their word. Time is the most important resource for a freelancer and don’t waste yours pitching to a company that says it wants to work with women when what it means is it wants to work with women who write like men.