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.

Sample Submission 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:



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