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Grant Writing and Publishing

Dusty Owl did a Grant Writing and Publishing Workshop on November 8th. They had tips and resources for navigating the writers life. For example, Lorraine Filyer recommended the book 78 Reasons Why Your Book May Never Be Published and 14 Reasons Why It Just Might.

They were encouraging to never give up, to work in the writing community among peers, to interact, to not limit oneself to any one kind of writing or expression. Try fiction, non-fiction, long fiction, children’s stories, poetry, plays, and just continue regardless. A writer is someone who writes, which is independent of grants or not.

What does acceptance or refusal of application mean?
The success rate in getting a grant is very small and is, because it is done by humans, subjective. For the Works in Progress provincial program, the acceptance rate is around 13%. That doesn’t mean that those that don’t make the cut aren’t good art. John Degen said that if you don’t get a grant to never take that as indicative of skill or any negative judgement on the quality of your project or you as a person. On the other hand, he quipped, when you do get a grant, take all the encouragement possible from that. It does mean you are great.

He said after every time you put in a grant application, after you get it back you strategize with your peers how you could make it better, and complain about the grant givers. Now he realized, he’s in the odd position of being the one he would complain about.

Grants meaning nothing so far as proof of worth. Like any submission, don’t take it personally, just keep moving. He did grant applications for 20 years to get one successful one, although he kept working and published 2 books of poetry and 1 novel in that time.

He advised – particularly to the repeated questions from the anxious lady in back who tried to hijack the meeting into placating her jitters and getting therapy for her grief – ah public forums – don’t rely on grants for your confidence or validation. Just keep working and keep making proposals to peers and keep going. Disconnect the ego from the game.

Dusty OwlWorkshop
One of the panels included Andrée Laurier of the Canada Council for the Arts, John Degen and Lorraine Filyer of the Ontario Arts Council. They spoke on Grant Writing at Heartwood House for about 2 hours answering questions. Degen is taking over from Filyer after November 24th. She will do a couple weeks more after that in transitioning then it will be his portfolio alone.

What is a grant for?
The economic realities of government priorities mean that funding is not a regular paycheck. What they are looking to support is sustained effort, not in the sense of giving a regular dependable wage to a career artist, but to make up shortfall for special projects, research or time off one’s regular job to concrentrate on a project for a limited time.

What are grant readers looking for?
They are looking for artistic merit and quality and sincerity and some evidence that the person will actually stay committed to the project to see it through to completion. A publishing record gives them security for return on cultural investment. It establishes some credibility that a person is not likely to flake.

What does being published mean?
The basis of the measurement of whether one is a professional writer is based in human capital: are there people (who are not you) backing you. Even writing a letter to the editor of a newspaper and having that published is having the authority of someone else filtering and finding your writing worthy.

Each publication acts as a letter of reference. Being a lone artist writing on the throne suggests a lack of engagement not just with the community support and resources but an immaturity of art. They are looking for someone at a higher stage of development.

If someone else who doesn’t know you makes a financial risk to publish you and respects your intellectual labour by paying you, and this continues to happen, this acts as proof that there is a jury of peers who recognize you. For this reason lulu press or self-published broadsheets don’t count as publishing credit. What they are looking for is some indication of remuneration, even if one is paid in kind, in contributer copies that you can sell, or a bushel of apples.

What to do as more publishing happens on the internet?
When there is free dissemination, there are no contributor copies. As one participant pointed out, there are ways around this free publication quandry, such as sponsorships for websites that pay the online publisher and that money getting passed to contributors, such as happens with Dharma Arts.

There is a trend against paper in worldwide reading so the Councils are trying to adapt in giving grants to those who do spoken word art forms. Measurement of success is different. One doesn’t make money by doing slam poetry the same way. One does performances rather than have curated works in a print publication. By being requested to perform one can prove professionalism.

How does one get one’s work published?
Keep at ‘er.

Degen described it as a high hill. There’s no short cut to the top. It means a lot of secretarial work. If you’re not able to get organized you won’t get to the grant level. You need to keep track of what you have sent where and grow a thick skin to accept all the rejections before you get a match of placement. Writing is a business. Keep on top of potential deadlines of calls.

What Good is it to Send Out & Not have a piece Accepted?
The process of sending out to magazines and to granting agencies is not a loss even if you do not get a placement. Your work is being read. Your name is being put in front of people. Even when the logistics of time demands of a slush pile is too tall to actually give feedback, there is a relationship being built. When you enter things such as the CBC Literary Awards you are presenting your work to professional writers who would not see your writing otherwise. These people are mid-career or top of career writers that you get a personal audience with. It is exposure.

You may get the grant. You may not. By repeatedly sending out, you get your name known. The very process of writing the grant, Laurier pointed out, is a useful one. By thinking about how to sell it to the jury, how to articulate the kernal of the project, helps focus your creative process. Laurier speaks as someone who has published 5 novels in French.

How to shoot yourself in the foot?
(aka: how to annoy those on the receiving end?)
Ignore guidelines for formatting, length and genre. Send it in even if you are not eligible. Make typos. Make it inaccessible or illegible. Make jokes. Be digressive and wordy.

How to make a good package?
Consider the reader. You are talking shop with a peer with a foot high or few-foot-high pile to go through. Make their job easier. You are talking to a peer. Have a friend or friends review what you wrote. Set it aside. Chop a grant application blurb in half. Keep it simple, even visually. And remember to give feedback after you receive one or you will never get another yes.

Filyer broke it down this way: People don’t know you. In plain words: What do you want to do? Why do you want to do it? Why is it interesting and useful? For who? How are you going to do it? Why are you the person who needs to do it?

That said, there are 3 deadlines a year for the Ontario Arts Council which are anonymous. One sends in 40 pages of prose or 15 of poetry and it is judged blind. It is project specific and, in Toronto you can apply to 3 levels of government with the same project. To win the nod from the Canada Council, Ontario Arts Council and the City of Toronto is called the “triple crown.” (Considering that Ottawa is considering cutting all municipal level individual artist grants, it might not be possible to do an equivalent here in 2009.)

With the Ontario Arts Council you can’t double dip. You can’t accept more than one category of grant any given year. Even if you are the representative of an organization that applied for a grant, you can accept only one if offered: an individual, a project or organizational grant. The same doesn’t hold for the national level.

The Ontario Arts Council also organizes the Writers Reserve. For this you apply through publishers directly for a particular project, such as writing a children’s book, or introduction to an anthology.

Dec 1st is the deadline for the Word of mouth program for creation grants to develop a project, make a master CD or tour Ontario to promote.

Define “Professional”
To be eligible under the OAC you have to be a professional writer defined as having been published in a trade book where there is a contract, you are chosen to be published, have been through a selection and editing process and there is royalties or some remuneration or three separately chosen curated places if remunerated and published. It doesn’t have to be a literary publication but it can’t be part of your line of work such as briefing notes or brochures you made in your line or work as an engineer. If you are journalist, however, those publications count.

“Professional writer” according to the Canada Council means having 1 book published that went through a selection process, or 4 short stories or 10 poems in at least 2 instances of professionally recognized journal. The aspect of curation proves serious intent and effort.

Publishing Environment Economics
David and Christine
David and Christine of St. John Publicity and Marketing were on the second panel that spoke on publishing to the Dusty Owl Workshop. They started off by playing the video short of Dylan Moran Rejection.

They reiterated the advise to writers: never give up. Organize and try again. There are surprise success stories out of no where such as Anthony de Sa’s Barnacle Love, which went directly to Random House and then the Giller Prize nominee list as a first book, most books don’t come quickly nor go to big presses. The general market has been amalgamating with buyouts and closures.

The corporate concentration has meant that what sells is a very narrow range of titles. 45% of books sold in Canada are now sold in chain stores (the mega company of Prospero, Indigo, Cole, Chapters). Indie stores are only 20% now and the majority of remaining retail market is reduced price bulk general places like Costco, Walmart and Zellers. Of the 2000 indie book stores left in Canada, less than half are general stores.

What this means for the author is that the market is extremely price-conscious. The shelf value of the book is kind. It doesn’t matter what the production cost is, the consumer has a price point and it is low. If you pitch a book above that cost, it doesn’t matter how good it is, it won’t leave the shelf.

Tracking Money from Books
40%-48% go to the bookseller for his bricks and mortar inventory and staff costs
10% – author royalty
10% – sales rep
15% fulfilment distribution, boxes
8% printing
9% publisher

There’s now a system in Canada to track where books are in the system. Before this was in place Maeve Binchy‘s publishers believed that a print run was almost entirely sold. They did another edition to realize in the process that books were in warehouses. 2000 or 3000 books went directly from the printer to the pulper. Always good business to know where you are at.

In the U.S. 1.1 million titles are tracked. Does this mean these all sell equally? Of course not. For example the top 500 titles published [in UK. US or Canada; missed that] represent 22% of sales. For the top 10,000 titles, 64% of sales are covered. That leaves tens of thousands of titles with a very small sliver of the market.

Most of the books sold in Canada (about 70%) are sold in the Quebec-Windsor corridor. If it doesn’t sell there, the yield anywhere else is apt to be low.

There was a handout of print guides for writers, and organizations for writers where one can gain connections with peers including: The Writers Union of Canada, League of Canadian Poets, Canadian Society of Children’s Authors, Illustrators and Performers, Professional Writers Association of Canada

Quote: “Did I think publishers drove round in special ‘detector’ vans, just searching for pining would-be authors to help out? Did they have special listening devices to pick up on the agonised groans of despair peculiar to writers who have just reached 10,000 words and run out of steam?” – John Mayhem

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One Response

  1. Awesome!

    Nice report on the workshop, Pearl. You rock. And thanks for giving all that background info and all the links (for those of us that had to work and couldn’t be there, sob.) Here’s hoping Dusty Owl can keep doing these great projects.

    AnonymousNovember 21, 2008 @ 9:01 pm

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