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There’s gold in the hills of grants and fellowships…if you just know how to pan for it.

FIRST OF ALL: ARE YOU QUALIFIED TO PARTICIPATE?

In any competition, it’s important to make sure you meet the prerequisites. Nothing is more wasteful of a judge or committee’s time than to discover that the proposal which won their hearts was submitted by someone who had neither the professional reputation nor the age, gender, or ethnicity to make their entry valid. (A single disqualification can also red-flag future applications!)

Oftentimes, grants and fellowships have been established as the direct result of endowments by wealthy benefactors seeking to ease the journey of struggling young artists with whom they feel a special kinship. Others stem from public or private interest groups seeking to celebrate a specific cause or attract community support of the arts and literature in general by rewarding local talent. Because it is their money to give away, they are within all rights to set certain parameters of participation. Among the most common:

Residency: Applicants need to have resided within a particular district, state, or country for X amount of time in order to be qualified.
Status: Some awards are geared to unpublished beginners, others are targeted to those who have already received a lion’s share of accolades for their scholarly work.
Needs Assessment: Favoritism is sometimes shown to those with financial hardship who would be unable to pursue their writing goals without assistance.
Personal: Preferred applicants are those who best fit the benefactor’s subjective profile.

MAKING A MASTER PLAN

Once you have identified which grants and/or fellowships to apply for, it’s crucial to make your proposal as compelling and complete as possible. Among the elements that judges and committees look for in making their determination are the following:

Resources and Groundwork: Have you already commenced a portion of the project on your own? Are you near completion and now in pursuit of finishing funds (i.e., a film project)? Do you have special access to “inside” information; i.e., a proposed biography on the life and films of Greer Garson will more likely receive support if you have a personal connection to the family as opposed to being someone who simply thinks it would be a fun idea.

Time Commitment: Literary grants and fellowships generally have a time component attached; i.e., one year residency programs. Your chances of locking down funds are much higher if your project can be completed within the specified time frame, the rationale being that the sponsors want to see a substantive end-product for their investment.

Outcome and Impact: Finally, committees smile more favorably on those proposals which will benefit society at large, contrasted to those which will only benefit the applicant; i.e., a dissertation on women’s rights in the Middle East as opposed to a boilerplate romance novel.

DELIVERING WHAT THEY ASK FOR

If the guidelines call for a one-paragraph-only synopsis of your proposed book or script, do not send them the entire manuscript on the assumption it will impress them. Likewise, do not leave out information or supporting documents if they have been requested as part of the review process. Many proposals—which otherwise demonstrate potential and the applicant’s qualifications—have been rejected for the very reason of not following instructions to the letter.

PROFESSIONAL PACKAGING

Just because you may fit the stereotype of a scatterbrained scholar doesn’t mean you have an excuse to submit a sloppy application. Treat your submission package as if it were a written—instead of personal— interview. Do not resort to “gimmicks” to get attention; such bells and whistles are often deemed distractions to mask a weak resume. Competition of this nature is often very clear as to the order in which materials should be assembled, as well as HOW they should be assembled. If the instructions call for a single staple in the upper left corner, do not assume you will get extra points for vinyl covers, spiral-binding, subject dividers, and accompanying 4-color brochures.

CREDIBILITY

Whether you are an amateur or an established author with a long string of credits, a committee will still request some sort of assurance that someone besides your mother thinks you can handle the job. For students, such endorsements take the form of letters of recommendation from professors, outstanding grades, and participation in competitions and civic-oriented programs. For those who have already been in the publishing arena for awhile, supporting documentation would include a list of past credits, literary awards, book reviews, and testimonials from editors, agents and publishers.

Listings of annual grants and fellowship programs can be found in resources such as WRITER’S MARKET, as well as through Internet searches on the topics of universities, overseas studies, corporate donations, and philanthropic institutions.