Between applying for the SCBWI Work-In-Progress Grant for 2012 and elbow surgery, it’s been some time since I’ve posted. My application was submitted in plenty of time despite being hopped up on painkillers and antibiotics, and my recovery is progressing nicely. I am especially grateful for my new, ergonomically correct desk chair with arms, which allows me to write in far more comfort than before. (Did you know that writers are especially prone to tennis elbow? Check your chair!)
Kathy Temean graciously commented on a previous post, suggesting that I consider writing about the grant process. Now that I’ve successfully submitted my application, I’d like to take her up on that. Many writers are intimidated by the process of applying for a grant or award, but really, it’s not that different from submitting work for publication. Too, while winning an award or grant is fabulous, the process of applying itself can improve your writing and bring it to a new level.
Step 1: Research.
Just like submitting to an agent, editor, or publisher, do your homework. Carefully read the application announcement, and make sure your writing fits the requirements for the grant. Check out previous winners’ work when possible. Add the application deadline to your calendar and see how it fits into your usual schedule. Most importantly, take the risk! Don’t talk yourself out of applying. A good friend pushed me to apply for a scholarship to the Highlights Foundation Children’s Writers Workshop in Chautauqua, NY last year whenI felt that others might be more economically deserving. Well, we were both right. I didn’t win a full scholarship – but I did win a partial grant. And I had an amazing workshop experience that has profoundly affected my writing!
Step 2: Choose your piece.
Nearly all grants require a writing sample. Make sure your piece fits the purposes of the grant and its requirements, such as word count, genre, etc. You may find you need to rework a piece or even write something new. Give yourself plenty of time to get feedback and critiques – both on the sample itself and on the application. As with all writing, revision is the name of the game.
Your critique group is a great place to start to get help. I have a few trusted colleagues and friends that I like to ask, outside of my critique group. Often they have a different viewpoint, being less familiar with my current work. Remember, being eternally grateful for help is good, but returning the favor is even better.
Step 3: Practice makes perfect.
It’s tempting to reuse a biographical note or a writing sample, especially if it’s worked before. But this is a great opportunity to practice those marketing skills: writing a synopsis, creating a pitch, developing your profile. Even if you don’t start from scratch, see if you can surprise yourself. Many applications require you to answer specific questions; you can use those as a starting point just as you would a writing prompt.
Step 4: Follow the directions.
Before you begin filling out an actual application, read the directions. Several times. If you’ve questions, contact the the sponsoring organization and get answers or ask a fellow writer who’s applied for the same grant. Make sure every piece of your application fits the requirements. This is not the time to get creative with fonts, spacing, margins, etc. If submission requirements aren’t specified, format your writing as you would a piece for publication: double-spacing, Times New Roman (preferably 12 point), at least one inch margins.
Make sure that when you put your application together that you’ve followed all instructions correctly, including the order in which items are collated, how many copies to be submitted, whether your name appears on the sample or not. Ask a close friend who’s not already familiar with your application to check it – they’ll be less concerned with the quality of your writing and more likely to notice the tiny details, such as whether your pages are numbered correctly, if your synopsis agrees with your sample, etc.
Step number 5: Submit on time.
If the deadline for submission is, say, April 15th, don’t wait until the last minute. (Unlike filing your taxes.) While you don’t need to submit your application at the first available moment, leave yourself a comfortable margin of time. If submitting a hard copy application, spend the extra for confirmation of delivery and priority service. If permitted, always include an SASE or stamped postcard to confirm receipt of your application. Finally, if submitting via email, make sure all attachments (if permitted) are able to be opened and read. Send a blind copy to yourself or a friend so you can see how the recipient will view your email.
Step 6: Wait.
Again, just like submitting work for publication, the last step is to wait. While you don’t need to follow up as you would with an agent or editor, keep track of your applications and their award announcement dates. Even if you don’t win, check to see who has. That brings you back to step 1 – research. Keeping up with professional literature such as the SCBWI Bulletin, Writer’s Digest, Children’s Writer, Publisher’s Weekly and other newsletters is a great way to find out about grants and awards. Following children’s writing blogs and websites will definitely keep you well-informed (especially Mira’s List, created by National Book Critics Circle Award-winner Mira Bartok). But if you’re serious about applying for grant money to fund your professional development and writing, check out The Foundation Center. The online version of the Foundation Directory, it’s a great place to find money from smaller or less well-known organizations.
Applying for grants can seem like more work than it’s worth. Having won one – and hoping to win more – I can tell you it’s worth every minute. Not just because of the money or recognition – but because of the benefit to your writing. Each minute spent focusing on a sample, synopsis, pitch or bio is another minute invested in you. Good luck!