The Secret to Getting Grants
Recently I attended a session at the Onwords Conference of The Writers’ Union of Canada called “The Desperate People” or “Get that Grant”. The speakers included Marion Vitrac, Program Officer for Canada Council’s Grants to Professional Writers, and novelists (applicants and judges) Denise Chong, Trevor Cole
and Mark Frutkin.
Marion said the CC Applicant success rate is 10 to 20% immediately disputed by author Trevor who felt it was lower. But here’s something she documented that happened to me. First the peer jurors access all the projects and rate them. The highly recommended ones receive grants until the money runs out. This occurs late February.
My project was deemed “highly recommended”, I received the note, no money. This buoyed me up hugely. Despite some many rejections from Canadian publishers who used to embrace my work, I realized my peers still felt I was a good writer. But for the chance of a different wind blowing, I would have had the money and all my financial problems solved.
In April, the fiscal year end for Canada Council, any undersubscribed grants in the other disciplines dump their
funds into the Creative Writing pool and some lucky writers have their projects funded. This wind blew a different way, and I received a nice cheque. This second Christmas is what fills in the difference between Trevor’s perception and the true percentage of grants awarded.
Some of what the panel said seems like basic common sense but I will repeat what I remember in case it’s new to you.
Take time to make a good application. Like most writers I’m afraid to give the grant proposal too much emotional investment as then my heart will break when I don’t get it. Let’s get over ourselves. Treat the application like an article, workshop the project description with your writing group or partner, set the whole thing aside for a few days and read it over against the grant requirements.
The CV Canada Council pays more attention to this than the Ontario Arts Council who asks for “blind” manuscript pages for their competition. I have had much greater luck with Canada Council, 4 for 7 compared to the OAC, 1 for 6, who don’t pass the bio along to the judges. I’ve been writing 25 years with many publications in different countries. Trevor said he likes to see that the writer is not a hobbyist, that there is an apparent devotion to craft. If you’re a full time lawyer or doctor, perhaps you shouldn’t apply.
The Project Description
Some of the projects jump out at the jurors. For nonfiction there’s a sense of enquiry that’s evident. For fiction there’s an apparent effort to grow in the writer’s craft.
Length of proposal The judges are reading tons of applications and really appreciate clear concise proposals. Show confidence and only use one page if offered one to three pages.
If the section you’re submitting doesn’t end on the right note, instead of going longer, rewrite it so that it does. For Canada Council the sample doesn’t have to be from the project you’re proposing it can be from a previously published work. For Trevor that has never worked, but Mark insists it’s a great idea. In my own experience I once submitted a small segment of the project and the balance from a recently published work and the grant was successful. I like to submit from the beginning, let’s face it, that’s the starting point and the perfect introduction to your work.
Finally I hear from applicants who try once and insist they will never apply again. What’s the point? I get it, rejection is painful. Why subject yourself to it?
The point is the next time you may get it. There will be a different set of jurors and applicants with a different set of projects. There may be more money. What I like to tell myself is that it’s an altruistic thing I’m doing for other writers. My project may prove just to be cannon fodder. There needs to be a certain percentage that fails as there needs to be a healthy body of applicants. Otherwise the funding will be cut to match the lesser numbers.
Good luck. Next deadline is October 1. For more information visit:
Writers seem to be of two types: the extreme introverts who hate attending any kind of function or getting together with anyone; and the heavy partying types, Hemingway for example, who crave getting together with other likewise engaged individuals.
Deb Loughead, by her own admission, likes to hole away and just write––while I’m more a party person. CANSCAIP brought us together. One pre-meeting dinner I was lamenting how my son was going away so far to study film at Confederation College in Thunder Bay and Deb told me all about her son Ben, a homebody like Craig, and how he loved the film program there and how great the people were. She made me comfortable with the idea, not an easy task, and we became good friends.
Since then we’ve spent weeks in Sudbury touring schools. We’ve shared agents. We’ve shared heartaches and triumphs. We’ve both been treasurer, vice-president and president of CANSCAIP. I think I talked Deb into those jobs. And we still remain friends!
We continue to discuss our projects and give each other contact information. We’re both published abroad because of our friendship and exchange of information. I feel Crush. Candy. Corpse landed at the perfect publisher, Lorimer, because of Deb and my agent. In fact our socializing could be called networking although we always share lots of laughs and laments when we get together.
Here we are sharing a great signing together. We each sold about 20 books at Chapters Queensway. I expected to split our buyers in half but I remember one moment when I was introducing my new historical fiction Revenge on the Fly to a mom and her young reader, when Deb spontaneously interjected, as though she had just thought of it, that she bet this new book would win an award. Sale made.
I would talk about her books after, before or between my own and say how much I enjoyed them. (I wrote an endorsement for the back blurb of Time and Again). The truth is we met lots of book lovers and they could easily buy one of each of our titles. So they did.
We spent a whole Sunday afternoon talking up our titles together in between exchanging shop and family tidbits.
Signings can be painful for the sole author with having to explain plots and inspirations for our books and where the bathroom is. Deb and I had a great time.
Thank your Kristin Knowles at Chapters, Queensway. And thank you CANSCAIP!
Disclaimer: I’ve written about Timothy Findley (I apologize Tiff that I never sent you a copy of the article. The Post editor switched my photo of you with someone else, so how could I? I know you’re laughing on a cloud somewhere) Jill Downie, Estelle Salata, Fred Kerner, Alan Cumyn, Eric Walters, Arthur Slade, Sharon McKay, David Poulsen, most recently Anita Daher, Hugh Brewster and Sarah Harvey. None of this pertains to you guys, it’s about those other writers. Don’t be an over sensitive artist!
First problem, writers are all over sensitive artists. That’s how they are able to convey an amazing range of emotions with words.
Secondly, they know good writing and grammar and while they probably spell as badly as I do, we can all spot spelling errors in other people’s work, especially in our own names.
Thirdly, they, of course, know the subject matter better than you do and they’re probably slightly if not overwhelmingly bored with the topic.
Fourthly they wish they were raised by wolves or grew up in a more exciting place or played extreme sports or won a Governor General–in short they long for a more scintillating curriculum vitae. They want you to give them one. Okay, maybe this is just me.
They don’t like to see themselves in the mirror, metaphorically speaking. Writers are often unaware of the image they project, whiny, braggy, grumpy, sappy, sardonic, name another couple dwarves. Perhaps they’re annoyed because they’re not more widely read and celebrated. If they’re celebrated award winners, they wish they were better known or wrote more. If they’re popular writers they wish they were recognized with awards and celebrations. (Writers do love to party.) Your article should project the image they want to see in the mirror rather than the true reflection.
Finally there’s the work involved. In order to know a writer well enough to write about them, I read some of their latest books and that involves finding them somewhere. Actually I have to say that’s the fun part. Publishers often email pdfs of stories instantly. It’s one of the few times I use my ereader. Then I get to read and it’s all part of my job. “Leave me alone, can’t you see I’m working!”
I also stalk the author on the internet, reading other articles about him, reading her blog and checking out his website. Next I must disturb the writer at work to interview her. No getting around it. I like meeting writers in person but most often the interview is by telephone; if I’m lucky Skype. Then I look at all the details I’ve assembled and panic about slant and email for clarification on details. This goes on throughout the process.
Lastly I write. Six months later the article comes out and….
I’ve gotten to know another writer better.
Before my pilgrimage to Ernest Hemingway’s house, I wanted to re-read some of his work. I picked up The complete Short Stories of Ernest Hemingway and learned he doesn’t use a lot of commas, just like me. He has a fairly bare bones style of writing. He doesn’t tell you how to feel or how the characters feel, he lets you do the emoting. But he writes a compelling read anyway.
During my visit ( listening to the tour guide), I also realized he never earned big money or fame till a couple of his novels were turned into films. Rather his first two wives supported him. Okay I don’t feel so bad about taking Canada and/or Ontario Arts Council grants any more.
Tourists from all over traipsed through his house in Key West today, but
he’s lived in a kazillion places. They seemed more interested in his cats than his books.
Hemingway got into trouble with For Whom The Bell Tolls, it was banned for years, delaying his winning of the Nobel Prize for Literature.
Hemingway indirectly showed me the impact art can have on a community. The bar he frequented is famous, the boat he used is famous, his house and his cats and his marriages and death also. There’s an industry of t-shirts based on his image. Key West is known for all the writers and artists who live there.
Now lets just think about Toronto and Burlington even…