This is another installment in our “financial tips for writers” series. You can read our last post on crowdfunding here. This post features practical tips for winning grants and writer-in-residency scholarships.
There are few revenue streams open to unpublished writers. Grants and fee wavers should be one of the first lines of inquiry for struggling writers. Are art grants easy to get? No! However, some major authors have used them as a springboard to writing careers. Most notably J.K. Rowling, who received a grant from The Scottish Arts Council to finish the first Harry Potter book.
Finding a prospective granting agency is only half the battle. You need to win the grant, and that means completing against thousands of other writers.
The good news is, writing a grant or project proposal application isn’t hard; it’s more or less just common sense.
Read the directions.
Wow, you would think that one needs no mentioning, but trustees of some major foundations have confided in me just how many grants are rejected because of this single factor. The directions are not guidelines. You can’t submit late, forget to include requested documents, or get letters of recommendation from your mom. How awful would you feel knowing some simple mistake, like signing in blue ink and not black ink, cost you that grant? Read each page carefully.
Answer every question.
Again you might wonder why this needs to be said, but people miss things. Also some people don’t feel comfortable giving out too much personal data. I understand the concerns, but if you’re applying to a credible organization (something to research first) you need to put those fears behind you.
Don’t fudge the numbers.
Mistakes make you look careless with money, or dishonest. Both are huge red flags for any funding agency. The group offering the cash worked hard to earn that money, and there’s a good chance they’ll want a closing financial report detailing how you spent the money. How can they expect someone to create an accurate closing report if they can’t be bothered to find a calculator while applying for the grant in the first place? They can’t, so they will pass you over for the next application.
Don’t propose anything you don’t plan to deliver.
Sometimes people think they can outsmart the grant process, and they will customize a proposal to fit the grant perfectly. The problem is many grants can’t be changed, they come with what are called restricted funds. If you use the money for another purpose you will need to pay the money back, with a penalty at best, or with potential jail time at worst. Find a grant that fits your project, don’t change your project to fit the grant.
Line up the best references you can find.
You are much better off with a pleasant letter from a recognized authority, then a gushing letter from a nobody. Sure this sounds unfair, but it’s true. Grants are competitive. You’re trying to stand out from a crowd, and you need to give yourself every advantage. Talk to old university professors or track down some well-known writers to sponsor you. Find someone who sponsored a previous winner and ask them to endorse you.
Don’t get creative with your writing.
I know you’re a writer, so when the grant asks for a personal statement your suppressed Tolstoy bubbles to the surface. You want to write about your personal demons and love of the color green. In rhyming couplets! Well, don’t. After looking over fifty or sixty application packages in one day, those poor readers don’t have braincells to decipher your prose. Be clear, be forthright and use normal language. Remember I’m talking about documents here, letters of intent, bios, etc. If you need to submit a writing sample that’s different – submit a well-proofed example of your normal writing style.
Hand a copy (never the original) of your documents package to an editor, or two.
Make sure every bit of the grant is legible, clean and correct. Do this early so if someone catches a mistake you have time to fix it. Never make a correction on your paperwork, create a fresh application. You should always ask for two sets of the funding forms for just this specifically. If you can’t get a spare set of forms, make your own working copies of the forms and transfer the information to the real forms at the end.
Never spontaneously fill out online proposals.
If online is the only filing option, print out the forms and work over the copies first. Once you have your answers figured out, log on and fill out the application. Have a friend standing by to watch for errors while you’re entering the data. Never fill out online forms at the last moments on the filing clock. You will mess up.
Navigate the process correctly or don’t do it at all.
You’re better off missing the filing window and applying the next time than you are submitting something full of mistakes, or so ill-conceived that you find yourself on the group’s automatic rejection list. Yes, they have those, and you don’t want to be on that list.
Once you file, don’t pester them.
It’s hard waiting for news, but you need to. The person making the decisions might have thousands (if not tens of thousands) of applications to process. They want to find the best person to give their money to, but they also want someone they’ll find easy to work with. If you come off like a pushy, rude, know-it-all they will throw your file away and never lose a wink of sleep over it. They don’t need you. You need them. Stay professional even in the face of rejection and there is a much better chance you and your fantastic project will get noticed by the right people.
I hope these tips help you put together a nice clean funding package.Good luck and please let me know if you found funding. I’ll keep my fingers crossed for you.
For more information on writer funding programs: