I’m having a pretty good week.
Actually, the last week or so, not just this calendar week, has been really rather excellent. In that time I managed to finally secure an apartment, got a story longlisted in Ellen Datlow’s Best Horror of the Year: Volume Seven (see last post), and early (what is now) yesterday morning I got notification that my application for a Level One Toronto Arts Council Grants to Writers grant had been approved!
I’ve already shouted about it on Facebook and Twitter, and after a full day spent running around getting paperwork in order in relation to the grant, writing book reviews, answering e-mails, and working on freelance projects, I’m finally getting around to blogging about this here.
The breakdown of the announcement for the 2015 TAC grant recipients can be found here. (I’ve uploaded a copy since I could only access it through my TAC submission account, It may be available somewhere online, I just couldn’t find it elsewhere earlier when looking.) It includes a list of recipients at both Level One and Level Two (covering both writers and playwrights – the grants for which are judged and awarded separately), as well as judges at both levels.
I suspect part of the reason that there are so many more grants awarded to Level Two applicants (see the results breakdown above) is the restructuring of the Grants to Writers that — If I’m recalling correctly — was just implemented last grant deadline. Specifically, the one that upped the grant amounts (from $2,000 to $4,000 at Level One, and from $8,000 to $10,000 at Level Two), but that more importantly changed the rules so that anyone who had published one or more books was now required to apply for a Level Two grant.
Formerly, regardless of how many books you had published, you could apply for a Level One grant if you wished to. But if you did not have a book out you could only apply for a Level Two grant if you had the requisite number of printed pages of short fiction/poetry/non-fiction. Under the new guidelines you can still apply for a Level Two grant if you’ve not published a book/collection as long as you meet the total number of pages published in short format, prose, poetry, or non-fiction. But restricting the lower tier to newer/short form writers changes the playing field rather radically. Primarily by forcing writers with books published who have in past vied for Level One grants to compete elsewhere.
It’s an interesting effect to observe, and I’ll be watching how this plays out in years to come with some little interest. The provincial grants structure for the Ontario Arts Council’s Literary grant program has been shifting over the last few years, and the Canada Council for the Arts’ structure is set to see a radical overhaul by 2017 — an overhaul being gradually introduced between now and then.
Getting grants is as much as about luck as everything else you do to vie for them. A set of judges who love the work you are submitting depends entirely on what style/genre you are working in, and on who gets the nod for judging in any given year. It’s an act of confluence. And that’s just for the basic types of grant, nevermind something like the OAC’s Writers’ Reserve grants (which are currently open, by the way, and will be until January 29th, 2016) where you are applying directly to individual recommenders who then recommend you, or not, to the OAC as worthy of receiving funds for a project. The Writers’ Reserve requires you to think very carefully about what publisher/recommender will be interested in what kind of work. Especially since you are not required to submit the same project to every recommender you send an application to.
And even there I think I’ve been lucky.
Over the last three years (2013 through now) I’ve received five literary grants. One OAC Writers’ Works in Progress grant, three OAC Writers’ Reserve grants (one a year over the last three years, and each time the recommendation came from a different publisher/magazine), and now a TAC Grants to Writers grant. The amounts vary, and in every single case those amounts have been astonishingly timely.
I sometimes joke that I make my living through freelancing and grants. But it’s true. The collective amount of those five grants is $20,500. (That includes the funds from the TAC grant that I won’t actually receive until October.) That’s no small sum. And grants are in so many ways, for writers and for publishers, the lifeblood of Canadian publishing.
They keep us going in an industry where advances and royalties can be pitiful. They keep the lights on for various publishers. They can be a bridge between paycheques. And they can provide a modicum of financial stability, even if only for the matter of months over which most grants are meant to tide one while working on the project(s) put forward.
They supplement an industry where money is incredibly unevenly distributed.
And grants are accessible to a wide range of writers.
Now, I will admit that I’m also lucky enough to be writing at the intersection of surrealism, Weird fiction, and realist fiction that appeals to a surprisingly wide range of potential jurors. It doesn’t hurt that one of my strengths as a writer is my prose, the focus on which is also appealing to most Canadian jurors. And that most of my writing is focused on Queer and POC narratives, in Canadian context.
But here’s the thing I do, to the best of my ability, on top of all that, that everyone applying for Canadian grants should be doing: I outline what my work is adding to Canadian storytelling, where it fits in that landscape, and how my work is widening the discussion in Canadian fiction.
Fiction does not exist in isolation — it creates conversation and engages in dialogue with the reader or it fails on a fundamental level. An internally conversant narrative is a perfectly acceptable method of storytelling, but it still has to be externally conversant as well in order to have any impact, lasting or otherwise.
The point of all this is this:
If you’re a Canadian writer, and you meet the eligibility requirements at any level available to you (municipal, provincial, or federal), apply. You may not get the grants on your first go round (it took me two tries each to get the OAC Writers’ Works in Progress and TAC Grants to Writers grants, and I haven’t yet managed to get a Canada Council grant), but it is worth continuing to apply. The TAC and CCA have taken their applications online, making it easier and more cost effective to submit grants. And the OAC may do likewise at some point down the line. Though in the meantime they’re still highly accessible by phone and e-mail for guidance and aid, and I have always found them immensely responsive and decidedly pleasant to deal with. Which makes this entire process so much simpler.
It can be daunting. It can be frustrating. It can be brutal. Especially if you are financially constrained and a grant is the thing that might help you dig out of whatever financial hole you are in.
And keep applying.
Eventually you find your year, and you get better with each application. Each one teaches you how to refine the way you discuss and think about your work. Each year makes you strive to be a better writer. Depending on where you live across the country, you may be able to apply for various personal literary grants multiple times throughout the year (municipal, provincial, and federal granting bodies all have different literary grant deadlines, and each provincial arts council has different grants and guidelines).
In the end, you have to keep writing. And you have to keep applying.
You can’t get a grant if you don’t apply.
And now if you’ll all excuse me, I’m going to go back to work and let the fact that I just got a very timely grant sink in.