So, I've spent the last few months (since March) working on this TV series idea that has gotten me so excited because I've been able to bang out 8 episodes in 7 months with more episode ideas just piling up in my head. But that's not the point of this post. The point is that, for me, it's time to get serious about pitching which is something I haven't engaged in for a long time. So feeling rusty, and being the typical reclusive writer type that I am, I have resorted to taking advantage of the Stage32.com pitch sessions that the organization offers.
Stage32.com is a great access hub for writers who don't otherwise have an in to get people to consider their material, but the focus of this post isn't about them. It's about readers in general, and why every writer should listen to a reader's feedback but also take it with a grain of salt. I have submitted essentially the same written pitch to several industry gatekeepers, and without giving away my concept, or giving away the names of those gatekeepers, I'm going to share what all pitching writers must come to terms with, and that's the diversity of what readers take away from the same pitch. You can't get away from it. You'll even want to point out why your reader is absolutely and totally wrong. But you'll have to take it in stride and learn how to move on.
Reader one: Saw a lot of merit in the potential longevity of my series and in the complexities of the main character arc. BUT the pitch reader didn't think it was a good fit for their company because of its religious/faith inspired concept.
I really appreciate the positive approach that this reader took the time to focus on. But here's the thing. This reader made the assumption that my idea is religious/faith inspired when it isn't... At least not in the way that s/he seems to infer. Religion factors into the series because of the historical setting when people of the time relied on their beliefs to justify their actions. Still, this reader found it easy to lump this pitch into the faith based genre based on the fact that religion in general was mentioned in the pitch. S/he therefore passed.
Reader two: Immediately focused on the fact that a period drama is a hard sell. This is the best kind of feedback to get because whether you like it or not, it gets to the point. This reader is letting you know that s/he isn't in the market for this kind of script regardless of how good it is. But then the reader posed a question that irked me, as all writers probably have had happen. S/he asked if a particular part of the story had a supernatural element to it.
Let me focus on my written pitch at this point, where I wrote, "This [prop within the story] is not some magical element. Rather, it's a catalyst for [the characters of the episode] to either benefit or suffer from based on their belief in it." In other words, no. It doesn't have a supernatural element. I stated that in the written pitch. The prop within the story is not magical. Still, the reader felt compelled to ask the question.
What do I take away from this? Readers miss things all the time. They read a huge amount of material and they tend to gloss over things. As a reader myself, I understand this. As a writer, it still irks me that things that are obviously stated can still be overlooked. What have I learned? Get over it and move on.
Reader three: I didn't get feedback from reader three because s/he requested the script. What does that say? First of all, I love this reader... But seriously, this goes to prove that pitching is a hit and miss endeavor. The religious aspect that scared off reader one and the period drama aspect that scared off reader two was not enough to deter reader three from checking this idea out. A pass is a debilitating thing for a writer. Persistence often prevails.
Reader four: I outlined a unique aspect of my series idea in my pitch, where the nature of the series had the potential to cross the baton from one main character to a new main character at any time, basically highlighting the idea that the show could be carried by a new lead whenever the story allowed us to go in a new direction. I tried to promote how this idea could open up the longevity of the series.
The problem here is that reader four just didn't agree. S/he told me that we should always stay with a character long enough to satisfy their story arc. First of all, this reader made the assumption that a character's story arc couldn't be completed within one season even though I pointed out something like True Detective (season one) as a prime example. Second, this reader based his/her opinion on a particular formula that s/he has seen work and therefore has adhered to that rule in determining salebility. That's alright. That doesn't necessarily make your original take on your material invalid. Readers have opinions. Some of them will mistake opinions for rules. As writers, we need to get past it and move on.
Finally, the biggest thing that I have taken away from this session of pitching the same material in the same way to four different readers is that none of them agreed as to why they passed (or in the case of reader three, why s/he didn't). This is the biggest lesson to be learned, and Stage32.com gives you one of the best opportunities to learn it because the industry execs that you are pitching to are required to give brief feedback.
If you pitch your material to several people, and they all tell you that the same thing is wrong, maybe you should consider their advice. But sometimes the problem isn't that your pitch is bad. The problem is that you don't know the recipient's individual taste. And the best thing to do in that situation is to move on and keep pitching.