It’s been said that knowledge is power, but sometimes ignorance can be a writer’s best friend. For example, I didn’t realize until after selling a story to Proctor & Gamble that “everybody knows” it’s near impossible for freelancers to sell to daytime soaps.
It all started with the Romance Writers of America conference which my dear friend Lee Duran and I planned to attend. Since we were both fans of As The World Turns, we figured it would be fun to visit the set while we were in New York. Our husbands laughed. Our children laughed. Everyone laughed. Undaunted, I called CBS and told them that two romance writers who were lifelong fans of ATWT were going to be in NY and wanted to visit the set. The switchboard operator didn’t laugh. I took this as a good sign.
Two days later, I got a call from an ATWT producer and we were in. As we left the hotel for the studio we bumped into our agent and, without thinking, I invited her to join us. While Lee and I toured the set and acted like crazy fans (yep, we met all the stars who are much cuter in real life than on TV), our agent was busy making nice with producers and collecting business cards.
Shortly after the conference, Lee and I came up with a good soapy story idea and decided to pitch it to ATWT. Fagettabout it, everybody said. Crazy idea. Impervious to good advice, we plowed ahead and, for once, luck was on our side. My agent contacted one of the producers who agreed to hear our pitch. A date was set for a conference call.
Since Lee lived in Colorado and I lived in California, we decided to get together to work on our story. With this in mind, we did what any self-respecting soon-to-be soap writers would do; we booked passages on a cruise ship to Mexico dragging our husbands along, poor things.
Every morning without fail, we sacrificed ourselves by sitting in Lee’s cabin and working on our story for four solid hours while our husbands lounged on deck, waited on hand and foot.
Then came P day—the great PITCH--and we were ready. Early that morning Lee and I spoke on the phone and rehearsed our parts. We decided we would take turns reading alternating paragraphs of our synopsis. We even added some tag lines like “Here’s the Friday cliffhanger” and “This is what happens during Sweeps week.” We figured that would prove we knew what we were doing.
We calmly hung up and waited for our respective phones to ring. That’s when panic set in. I called Lee and screamed “I can’t do this.” She screamed back. We were a mess but somehow managed to calm each other down.
Then came the CALL. The producer was very nice and told us to relax. He sounded like my gynecologist which did nothing for my nerves. For one whole torturous hour, we pitched our story. We didn't know you were supposed to pitch a story in 3 minutes or less. “Friday cliffhanger,“ I yelled into the phone. “Sweeps Week,” Lee yelled back.
We were glorious. We did everything but stand on our heads. During the entire time we rambled on, we never heard a peep from the producer. Nada. My mind imagined the worse. I was convinced he’d either hung up or had fallen to the floor, probably dead.
When we finished, there was stone silence. Finally, the producer cleared his throat and said, “I never heard a pitch like that.” I was pretty sure he didn’t mean it as a compliment. He sounded shell-shocked.
Although he was very nice, he rejected our story and that was that. We were disappointed, of course, but at least we got a cruise out of the deal. That’s way more than you get from most rejections. Then an idea occurred to me. Lee and I both had a book coming out and I decided that a little bit of publicity wouldn’t hurt. I wrote up a press release that basically said two romance writers were thisclose to selling to their favorite soap. Apparently, no one had ever seen a press release on a rejection so it was picked up everywhere. I hadn’t just made lemonade out of lemons, I created a whole media blitz.
Then much to our surprise, the producer called to say that he changed his mind. He decided to purchase our story, after all. Naturally we were ecstatic. Now we could legitimately say that watching soaps was work. Of course, now I had the embarrassment of having to retract my press release, which we titled When Is A Rejection Not A Rejection?
Our soap writing days were short lived. Now that we know the rules, our chances of selling another story to the soaps really is near impossible. You can only plead ignorance once and Lee and I are already way past our quota. On the other hand, if one of us gets another “good idea” …
Margaret Brownley has published more than 20 novels and has written for Harlequin, St.Martin’s Press and Penguin. She is currently writing historical novels for Thomas Nelson. Her next book, A Lady Like Sarah will be in bookstores December 2009, followed by A Suitor For Jenny June 2010. Visit Margaret’s homestead:www.margaretbrownley.comFor laughs you won’t want to miss A Lady Like Sarah Presents Stagecoach Etiquette: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=prY2q9Oasp4
Lee Duran has published more than 30 books writing both as Ruth Jean Dale and Lee Duran. A former newspaper reporter, she has written for Harlequin, St. Martin’s Press and Time Warner. She is currently working on a new historical series.