monica byrne

My anti-resumé.

Within an hour of our IndieGogo campaign meeting its goal, I got a call telling me I’d been awarded a North Carolina Arts Council Artist Fellowship. It’s a huge, huge honor. It’s also the fourth time I’ve applied for it, and to me, that’s part of why it’s an honor.

A couple years ago I was having dinner with a playwright, Bekah Brunstetter, and her director David Shmidt Chapman. We talked about how rejection is just part of the landscape for all beginning artists, no matter how talented or hardworking they might be or how successful they might appear. David said he’d love to publish his “anti-résumé” someday—a list of all the things he didn’t get.

Ever since, I’ve wanted to publish my own. So I’ve gone through the last six years’ worth of spreadsheets in both prose and playwriting, to literary journals, workshops, conferences, theaters, graduate schools, play groups, grants, fellowships, residencies, and prizes. My purpose in naming them is not to somehow fault them for rejecting my work. Selection committees and artistic directors have a really hard job—so many talented artists apply for so few opportunities, and decisions often come down to impersonal factors. (Also, as my mother loved to say, de gustibus non disputandum est—“on matters of taste, there can be no argument.”) So this is just my attempt at stating, as plainly as possible, that rejection is the typical landscape of an emerging artist. Or of any artist, period. Some think that there are just some pre-ordained Golden Children who Get Everything, and that’s really not the case—at least, it hasn’t been mine.

Methodology: All formal creative submissions were included, whether cold or by invitation. Works are named in various stages of development (for example, The Girl in the Road was just a proposal in 2008). For the novel, agents were not named (for reasons of sensitivity) and publishing houses not included (for reasons that such information tends to remain private). “Personal rejections” include all rejections that came with a handwritten note, personalized feedback, and/or encouragement to submit again.

Here is the list: Anti-Resume 081913. And here are a few notable data:

  1. Of all the things I’ve ever submitted to or applied for, I’ve gotten 3% of them.
  2. I’ve been rejected before being accepted. See: FringeNYC, Millay Colony for the Arts, Shimmer, Impact Theatre, North Carolina Arts Council Fellowship.
  3. I’ve been rejected after being accepted. See: Durham Emerging Artist Grant.
  4. A work’s rejection rate has no clear relationship to its eventual success. In various guises, The Girl in the Road and What Every Girl Should Know have each been rejected 67 times.
  5. Of all submissions I made to theaters that accepted unsolicited submissions, 68% never replied at all.
  6. My personal rejection rate is 17%, which kept me afloat a number of times. (Thank you, anyone who ever took the time to write me.)
  7. Yes, I’ve written exactly one erotica story. It’s about a trip to the ophthalmologist. It’s great.
  8. The same week my huge publishing deal went down, I was rejected from the third of three MFA programs I’d applied to. C’est la vie!

The overall lesson is this—and it’s not necessarily how I think the world should be, or wish the world would be. It’s purely practical: that if you’re a writer, even a very talented and hardworking writer, writing must be its own reward, or you’re going to have a rough time. Recently a friend ask me if my novel publication date now felt like the proverbial apple in the Tantalus myth and immediately I was like, “No, I get the apple every day, because I write every day.”

I’d like to think that no amount of failure (or success) will change that, but I can’t say that for sure. I can only say I’ve found it to be true so far.

~

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