On Applying for Grants: Part Three

There’s been a bit of a lull between Part Two and this final post in the ‘applying for grants’ series. Sorry about the delay – I’ve been putting my Arts SA funding to use, and have been working on the opening to The Familiar since the New Year (and, might I add, ARRRGH. I could do a whole post on the agony of writing beginnings… But that will have to wait for another day!)

The third thing I want to talk about in terms of improving grant applications is being clear. We’ve already covered the basics – like making sure your project meets the selection criteria, and trying to write an application that is engaging and describes an interesting project – but you also need to explain exactly how you intend to make this intriguing project a reality, and why the folks with the cash should fund you to do so.

The level of detail you put into this information will vary depending on how many pages you are allowed per application. As I’ve mentioned before (and as many of you know) Australia Council grants are a measly two pages long, which means you don’t have any room to waste words. Other funding bodies may give you a bit more breathing room. The Arts SA grant applications, for example, require a one-page description of the project, which seems even more restricted than OzCo, but then it also allows additional pages for descriptions of budgets, synopsis of the book, and a timeline for the project. My recent application to Arts SA was 5 pages long, including a two-page list of publications, so the bulk of my proposal was contained to three pages. Looking back at it now, I probably could’ve trimmed about half a page off of this total by being more concise in the project description. But whether you are permitted two pages or whether you have the luxury of five, there are certain features you need to cover concisely and concretely.

Who, Where, What, When, How

I am not unique in breaking the “be specific” element of grant applications down this way – a couple of years ago, I saw an interview with an OzCo Literature grant recipient which argued much the same thing. That is, break it down to the essentials: the who, where, what, when, why and how of your project (we’ll deal with the ‘why’ separately here).

Who: This, obviously, refers to you – the applicant. Now, I can’t prescribe how much you should talk about yourself in your applications; there is no formula for such things. But you should give the assessors an inkling of your notable past achievements (which will also be demonstrated when you include your list of publications) while showing them why only you can complete this project. Have you published a series of best-sellers? Even if they aren’t bestsellers, have you a track record of publications that shows you can complete big projects? Have you won awards for your work? Have you been recognised in some other way for your writing (guest of honour at conventions, etc)? Have you worked in a field relevant to your project? Have you lived for decades in [exotic location A] or [incredible circumstances B] and so your life experience will feed into this book? Have agents shown interest in your work? Are you just starting out, but your idea is brilliant? (And can you prove this brilliance in your project synopsis?) A few lines to convey this information will help to let the assessors know that you are a professional who is building a career in writing.

Where, What, When, How: These aspects overlap and feed into one another, but you should still try to make sure you’ve addressed them all in your application. What are you going to do, exactly? Is this project writing the first draft of a novel? What is involved in writing a first draft? Is it revising and rewriting a third draft? What will this redrafting process entail? What type of work are you writing? What genre is it? Is it literary fiction, historical fiction, fantasy, creative autobiography, poetry? Is it a novel? A collection of short stories? A book of poems? Do you have to do any research to enhance your work? If so, what type of research? Do you need funding to visit archives, libraries, or to perform interviews? Are you going to attend a writers workshop as part of this experience? Are you going to an exclusive writers’ retreat? Are you going to travel overseas to meet with publishers regarding this book? Have you received funding from any other organisations for this project? (This last is not a bad thing to admit, though it feels counterintuitive to do so. Showing that other people have invested in you and your work is a good thing; it isn’t necessarily something that will deter future funding.) What do you intend to achieve by the time the money runs out?

Unfortunately, it simply isn’t enough to say “I want to write my novel for 8 months” or “I want to swan around Europe for 4 months, soaking up the atmosphere and getting inspired…”

All of the above needs to be thought out carefully so that you can write about it clearly and concisely, in the matter of a paragraph or two. When you figure out the what of the project, you need to then supply the when, where, and how. When will this project take place? Give specific dates. Let’s say, hypothetically, that you are proposing to write a second draft of a novel and you are attending a writers workshop for your project. When will you start? Give a date. When does the workshop begin/end? Where will you do this work? Will you write your novel at home, or are you going to rent a retreat out in the country so that you can ‘get away from it all’? Where will the workshop take place? Who are the instructors at the workshop (i.e. are they famous? Are they editors or publishers? Will you get a chance to network?) How are you going to complete the draft – plan of attack? How will you attend the workshop? It is best if you are already enrolled, which shows you are serious about this project, and that you intend to go through with it even if you don’t receive the grant. For instance, I received a grant to attend Clarion South in 2009 – and I applied for this grant after I’d already been accepted into the workshop. I was going to go to Clarion, one way or another, and I’m sure that worked in my favour when applying for funding. How much money do you need for each thing? OzCo grants don’t give you the space for budgets, but if your project description (the what) mentions living expenses, workshop tuition, overseas flights and accommodation, etc then they’ll get the idea that you have specific uses in mind for the money. State government Arts organisations might allow you to provide a budget – which Arts SA does. I have had excellent feedback on my applications because I give specific budgets. I don’t just say “I need $10,000 for living expenses” – I break it down, item by item, and give exact costs. Of course, at the end of the funding period, it may turn out that some of these numbers have shifted – it’s impossible to predict exactly how every dollar will be spent over the course of a year. But giving specifics in my budgets shows where their money is going, and also shows that I’m serious about this work.


‘Why’ gets its own section because this is in many ways the most important part of the application – and it’s often the hardest part to articulate. What is it that will make your project stand out? Are you working on a collaborative project that will integrate text, music, and technology? If so, why is this relevant in our society or in our reading culture? Are you making something that will be accessible to people all over the world? Again, if so, why? Are you reviving a niche market, or building upon one?Why?

Why does your novel stand out? Situate it within the context of its genre; situate it in literature, past and present. Prove that you are aware of the market, that you don’t think you are the first person to ever write an urban fantasy story, or a story that involves time travel. In other words, show where it fills a gap in existing literature – if you’re writing a vampire novel, you’ll have to prove that you know what other vampire novels are out there, and also show how yours is different. (Note: if you’re writing a vampire novel, you’ll seriously have to show why yours is going to stand out in a market flooded with such books… Flooded to the point of saturation, many would say…)

Why are you doing this project NOW? Are you at a stage in your writing career where you’ve published stories, won awards, made a splash – but need to move on to the next level? Have you written two other books in a series and need to complete the third before a given date? Are you writing a novel about a topical “issue” (such as climate change, or upheaval in the Middle East, or North Korea post-Kim Jong-Il?) which needs to be written now to have the most impact? Are you writing this project now because you’ve been given an opportunity to work overseas, or with a mentor, or with a publishing house that wants you at a specific time? And if you’re going to a workshop, or going to a convention overseas, or going to work with a mentor (or anything along those lines) explain why it is an excellent opportunity; how it will improve you as a writer; how it is a crucial component of your project. There is no room for fluffy points when it comes to explaining why your project is vital enough to be funded. Be specific.

And good luck!



  1. Very interesting reading, Lisa – all 3 posts. Thanks so much for taking the time. Not sure I’ll ever gather myself to actually apply – they all seem so daunting – but it’s very valuable reading thoughts springing from your own experience.

  2. I will definitely refer to these posts, when I have my project all figured out, because you don’t know when you will need to have all of this handy. Thank you so much for this series as it has opened my eyes on a lot of things.

    1. My pleasure, Harry! So glad you’re enjoying it. And you’re so right: it’s great to have this as a collection to refer to when needed, rather than trying to remember everything at once. Having said that, since I’ve recently started work on this novel, I’ve thought about most of these ‘therapy’ sessions at least once! 🙂

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