Posted by: Kathy Temean | August 22, 2013

Grants Are G-r-r-reat!

GUEST POST:   Grants Are G-r-r-reat!
Author/Illustrator Vesper Stamper and Author David Amaditz talk about their experiences in using grants to further their projects and answer some of the questions I had about grants.

Vesper: At the NJ SCBWI Conference in June, I met writer David Amaditz, and learned that his YA novel, Dirty Secrets, had been the recipient of the 2012 SCBWI Work-In-Progress Grant for Contemporary Novel. I had just returned from a fellowship research trip myself, and we thought we’d write a post to help others who might be thinking about applying for grants.

The first part of this post contains my answers to David’s questions about the grant writing process, as well as some of my experiences, while the second part explains in part why David chose to apply, what was involved in the process, and how he used the award.

We are both thrilled we applied, so our advice to you is—go for it! You truly never know what doors may open.

vesperrabbits

Can you explain a little bit about your grant? I’d never heard of it before.

Absolutely! The Lincoln City Fellowship is given by the Speranza Foundation http://speranzafoundation.com/ to artists in any discipline. The Fellowship aids artists in completing a work for which fiscal considerations hinder completion.

I applied for the grant to fund a trip to the Outer Hebrides islands, off the west coast of Scotland. For about three years I have been working on an illustrated MG novel called The Sea-King’s Children, the story of a neglected girl who finds a magical swan’s egg and discovers profound secrets about her family and her identity. It became apparent right away that I would have to travel to the place where I had set the book (exactly why I set it there is a story for another time!). This past April, I spent three weeks on the wild, windy, barren (ah…but is it?) Isle of Lewis, living in a stone-and-earth house, burning peat for warmth and staring at the sea. Oh, yes, and writing my book, of course. And eating far too much Millionaire’s Shortbread.

vespercowstarlings4

Why did you seek out the specific grant you did?

I had heard about the grant through a fellow musician friend, Jason Harrod (http://www.jasonharrod.com), who won it in a previous year. He used it to produce an album (see my artwork for that new album below). The parameters seemed open-ended enough that it felt safe to give it a shot. I had no idea how much competition there was for it, so I was not intimidated, and I felt that my idea was solid and my need for the grant was not vague. Since it was not specifically an illustration- or children’s book-based grant, I didn’t feel pressure to fit it into that medium, but could let the work speak to me on its own terms. And it did!

vesperhighlinercover

What was the best part of the process?

Winning the grant! Opening the envelope with the check! Buying new art supplies and books! Teaching myself Scottish Gaelic (weakly)! Going to Scotland and being quite literally in my book’s world! Also, having to write the proposal forced me to cohere my vision, and made me feel even more grounded in the work. Because I was able to do the on-the-ground research, my book’s world is one hundred percent part of me, and my vision for it is crystal clear—and yet, always beautifully unfolding.

The other thing the grant did for me was boost my confidence about a thousand percent. I’ve only ever written picture books, not novels. To have someone trust your project and vision enough to give you a check is a huge vote, and a push to keep going. I feel like Speranza is in my corner, rooting for The Sea-King’s Children, and for me.

vespergatheringmussels

What was the worst part of the process?

The worst part had nothing to do with the grant. I was rear ended in a car accident about a month after winning the grant. Wouldn’t you know it, it was my neck and working arm that sustained nerve damage. During the trip, my arm was impaired and I did not get to paint as much as I wanted to. I’m still quite upset that another person’s awful judgment cost me so much, but I’m forgiving her and learning a lot about my own workaholism! However, I did finish the first draft of my book, which was the reasonable goal I set for myself. I also took over two thousand photographs so that I can refer to them as I’m able to work. I am still pushing through that injury to maintain dexterity. Children’s books (especially The Sea-King’s Children) are my life’s passion, and nothing will stop me from doing what I love!

vesperattacking

Are there any potential drawbacks to applying for a grant?

Artists applying for grants should beware of not asking for enough money. The exchange rate in the UK caused my expenses to be almost double, and I didn’t take that into consideration. I came home with about $13 in my pocket! But thank God, it was exactly enough. I trust that was exactly what it needed to be, no more, no less. I’d counsel people applying for grants to be ruthlessly organized and cut no corners when planning, and pad the grant request with some wiggle room, even adding your own money to it if possible. I was very organized, detailing my purchases in a spreadsheet, etc.—but there are always unforseen circumstances.

The other drawback would be not having a backup plan to complete your work in case you don’t win it, or to think that the grant is the only way you can complete the work—that if you don’t win, your work will never see the light of day. In my case, my backup plan was my jar of loose change! But I knew that whether it took me months or years, this book would come to fruition. I’m just glad it was able to get done so soon.

vesperseascape5

How do you know a grant is legitimate?

Having not applied for many, I wouldn’t really know, but in my case, since someone I knew had won, I felt it was trustworthy. (Do you know, Dave? Obviously, yours was from SCBWI, so you can’t get more reputable than that!)

vesperseascape4

Were there any restrictions on the use of money?

Not especially, except that it obviously had to relate to the project, of course. I wasn’t required to give detailed receipts, but I did have to account for the money overall. I am required to write an end-of-grant review, so I’m working on a nice print-on-demand coffee table book for the grant board that will contain some of the art, poetry, excerpts and a review.

How long did it take you to fill out the application?

I had already tried raising money through IndieGoGo.com, which was not very successful (though I’m grateful to those who donated!) because I had used that platform for other projects and tapped out my donor base. Because of that, I had already written the proposal in a preliminary form. I think it took me about two days to write the proposal in grant form, collect all of my assets (illustrations, sketches, writing samples, budget, etc.) and proofread the heck out of it.

vesperhoration

Had you ever applied for grants before? If so, what were the results?

I’ve entered—and not won—many competitions. (Most recently, some good news—I was named a semi-finalist in the Lilla Rogers Global Talent Search!) I’ve submitted to the Tomie dePaola Award, Communication Arts, Creative Quarterly and others, but this was my first grant application. I have done crowdfunding, but I think there’s a limit to how much you can use that. I mean, I only have so many Facebook friends to pitch to. Just kidding. Or not.

Interestingly, when I got back, my ten-year-old son was really broken up because he didn’t win an art contest he entered through school. I’m thinking about writing a picture book about losing art contests!

vesperlanding-rev bigger

Do you know of any websites you could recommend for researching available grants for writers? (Can you tap your state resources, local community resources, library, businesses etc.)

I don’t know of any, but let me know if you do! I’d love to be able to get another grant for the next illustrated novel I’m writing, which also deals with magical creatures, childhood trauma, UK myth and history. I’m also revising two of my picture book manuscripts and looking for an agent! Right now I’m considering pursuing my MFA in Illustration, so I’m researching graduate fellowships and scholarships, but mostly I’ve got a lot of work ahead of me just revising The Sea-King’s Children so I can follow up on all of my NJ SCBWI conference connections—which were so positive! And I credit the Speranza Foundation and the Lincoln City Fellowship with that. The grant enabled me to bring the book to a higher level than I ever imagined.

***
Vesper Stamper is an illustrator living in Jersey City with her husband, filmmaker Ben Stamper and her two fairy children. She is the recipient of the 2012 Lincoln City Fellowship, which currently has her in the Outer Hebrides producing her graphic novel, The Sea-King’s Children, about a girl whose life changes when she finds a swan’s egg. Her new picture book, In the Hall of the Mountain King (Samizdat, 2013) is a children’s retelling of Ibsen and Grieg’s Peer Gynt. She was recently named a semi-finalist in the Lilla Rogers Global Talent Search.

***
David Amaditz: The article below is adapted from a blog post, http://www.rt19writers.blogspot.com, I wrote approximately a year ago about SCBWI and applying for grants.

How many of you have applied, or have ever thought about applying for a grant? Or should I say, how many of you have decided not to apply for a grant because you thought the chances of being selected were so slim it wasn’t worth your time?

I suspect most of you would fall in the latter category. I say that, because I, too, have often had that thought cross my mind. If you’ve ever read Route 19 Writer’s blog you may have noticed a post from July 27, 2012 titled,  Winner – SCBWI Work-in-Progress Grant For a Contemporary Novel  – Dirty Secrets, YA- Persistence Pays. If not, follow the link and check it out. http://rt19writers.blogspot.com/2012/07/2012-winner-scbwi-work-in-progress.html

I am the beneficiary of the SCBWI grant, and to say the least, I’m glad I applied.

However, life almost made it so it didn’t happen.

I was busy with rewriting my story, work, family, and other things that make the hours and days pass too quickly. The deadline to apply for the grant was March 15, 2012. In late February or early March, while perusing the SCBWI website, I came across the link announcing the grants available to all members. Should I give it a try, I thought? Not much time left. Would I be able to pull it together… especially something that had a legitimate chance?

After carefully reading all the requirements, I decided it might be worth my while to apply.

The application consisted of three major parts: the writing sample, in which I had to include a synopsis of my work, a biography, and planned use of grant money. I thought I had a pretty good start on things because both my writing sample and synopsis were polished. (At least I’d hoped they were polished, and if they weren’t, this was the chance to see what others outside my writing circle thought.) The second and third parts required a bit of work… only five or six or seven drafts or more compared to the thirty or so I’d put into my writing sample. In the end, I thought, even if I didn’t win, the process would be great preparation for when I finally decided to send to an editor or agent.

To me, the exercise was worthwhile, and not only because I was awarded the grant. Win or lose, it would have given me a chance to see where I stacked among my peers. (Lose; back to the drawing board. Win; bask in a bit of glory.) On top of that, the whole process let me focus on my writing by putting together a professional package I hoped worthy of publication.

Part of the application for the SCBWI grant dealt with how I planned to use the money. My most important concern, because of the extra assistance in need with my personal cares because of my spinal cord injury, was to use to the funds to have an attendant travel with me, which is what much of the money was used for. Initially, I planned to travel to the yearly winter SCBWI conference in New York because of access to more editors and agents. However, friends from my writing group traveled to the New Jersey SCBWI conference in 2012. They raved about their experiences, from access to top-notch editors and agents, to excellent classes geared for the advanced writer, to the friendly and helpful New Jersey SCBWI leaders and membership.

This is what led me to choose to attend the New Jersey conference in June, 2013. Needless to say, I was not disappointed, and wrote a blog post for my blog titled, Thank You New Jersey SCBWI – – 19 Reasons to Attend the New Jersey SCBWI Annual Conference, which you can find by clicking here.

http://www.rt19writers.blogspot.com/2013/06/thank-you-new-jersey-scbwi-19-reasons.html

A small portion of the funds still remain and my hope is to use any remaining money as a down payment toward another trip to the New Jersey SCBWI conference in 2014!

I highly recommend everyone who is an SCBWI member look into the grants available (there are many at the following link)  http://www.scbwi.org/  For those of you not members, I recommend you look into joining, because the grant process is but one small benefit of being a member.

Thank you Vesper and David. I am sure you have answer a lot of grant questions that people have.

Talk tomorrow,

Kathy


Responses

  1. Vesper, I’m so sorry you were so injured in that accident 😦 You may have wanted to paint while you were there, but perhaps the timing of it helped you focus much more on your writing rather than having been distracted by painting. That’s how I’ve come to look at things, in retrospect, when I see how so many things didn’t go the way I want to or planned and turned out to be for my benefit 🙂 You have a wonderful attitude. I agree that we must focus on what we can do instead of what we can’t. Dexterity or not—you won a grant, went to the UK and finished your first draft! 😀

    David, yours is a great story and I have to tell you, along with “Congratulations!”—hearing your words about our NJ conference, it helps make we who have worked so hard on them feel it’s worth it. Good for you that you sucked it up and crunched to get your submission in!

    Yay for you both, and thanks so much for sharing!

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  2. I agree that it’s always worthwhile to apply for grants, because even the process of applying and looking at your work critically can be crucial in helping to improve the work.
    On another note: I remember seeing Vesper’s work at the 2012 NJSCBWI conference, and I took a postcard of a little red riding hood character for my daughter (which she still keeps on her bulletin board). I ran into her sometime during the conference, and mentioned how much I loved her art. I’ll have to seek out the books now!

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  3. What a wonderful post! Informative, inspiring, and motivating.The grant process of having everything organized and to be as specific as possible as to what and how the money will be used is indeed a great reminder.
    — Vesper – so, so sorry to hear about your accident. I hope your recovery proceeds by leaps and bounds.
    — David – your process and why you picked our NJ conference is also so helpful – because it lets us see a specific reason and the needs you have. Your 19 reasons to attend blog post following our June conference was inspiring and humbling. I, like Donna, do appreciate your kind words for all the volunteers who try and make our conference a great for everyone. We look forward to seeing you next year!
    Kathy – This is in my top ten posts on your blog!
    Kim P

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  4. Kathy,
    thank you for allowing us to share our story. I hope, at the very least, this will inspire others, who may like me, be on the fence about applying for grants, to push aside their doubts and go for it. There is nothing to lose, and absolutely everything to gain.
    Also, to Kim, Tracey and Donna: thank you for your kind comments. I did very much enjoy the New Jersey SCBWI conference.
    Dave Amaditz

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