Here's another post by Kelley Coyner, a regular contributor here at First Person Plural. Last week she described her experiences at the Compleat Biographer Conference. Today she provides some helpful tips, gleaned from conference panels, on how to fund your work.
Insights from the recent Compleat Biographer Conference (iFAQs? Infrequently (provided) Answers (to your) Questions.)
iFAQ 1: Where can independent scholars find funds for nonfiction, especially biography?
Louise Knight, author of 2 biographies of Jane Addams, highlighted the National Endowment for Humanities for projects related to American History. The deadline for their summer stipend to individuals for 2012 is September 29, 2011.
The John Simon Guggenheim Foundation, awards fellowships nonfiction and, according to Andre Bernard, Guggenheim’s V.P, they typically fund 2 to 4 biographers a year. Deadline: September 1.
Leslie Brody (Irrepressible: The Life and Times of Jessica Mitford) promoted the creative use of residencies and travel grants to fund research and time to write (Editor’s note: The Poets and Writers website list residencies for nonfiction writers. Mira’s List is more ad hoc but includes finds such as the Margolis Award at Blue Mountain Center. Next Deadline: July 1.)
iFAQ 2: How do I find other grants?
The panelists and audience said “Head to the library” and look for the five inch thick Directory of Foundations, a list of most foundations which provide financial assistance to individuals through fellowships, residencies, and travel programs.” Better yet, head to the local Foundation Center, Washington’s is on K Street, or to one of dozens of locations across the country for free access to Online Foundation Grants to Individuals.
iFAQ 3: How do I persuade an anonymous review panel to fund me?
There is money for the asking, but you have to ask well. Knight and Bernard stressed the three keys to success:Follow the directions especially with respect to eligibility. Tailor your proposal to the culture of the group. And don’t get discouraged. Follow the directions. Knight—a winner of NEH grants, a reviewer of applications to NEH, and a former research funding specialist at a university, recommends reading and following the grant guidance closely. If you cannot meet the requisites, don’t submit. Flag additional optional criteria and try to meet those as they may tip the scales in deciding to fund you versus another worthy applicant. (KC Comment: As a reader of many proposals, I can tell you many proposers omit the most basic information. Others hold out the hope the requisites will be waived in their special case. I have never seen that happen.)
Tailor your proposal. The Guggenheim’s Bernard said that the personal narrative is critical to show what is interesting about the topic and demonstrate the person’s ability to write. Don’t send your editor or relatives as references; do list people who know your writing.
The personal narrative appears to be the places where applicants most frequently stall in preparing the process. Now that all applications are completed online, online applications, the Guggenheim Foundation can monitor who opens, but does not complete the application and where the candidate stopped. (Bernard recently pulled a fiction application from decades ago which had a very sketchy notion of a former basketball player in a small town in Pennsylvania, some poems, and an interesting and well written personal narrative. Updike got the fellowship. And in 2010 Adam Begley was granted a fellowship to work on Updike’s biography With no previous biography under his belt, it looks like Begley persuaded the adjudicators on the basis of his narrative and topic of interest.) Don’t get discouraged.
Should I ask why my proposal was turned down? Yes. No. Maybe. How many times is too many times to apply?
The Guggenheim Foundation will not tell you why you did not receive a fellowship, because often there is often no helpful reason. They received more than three thousand applications last year and awarded 180 grants. Many good ones just did not get the nod. NEH does provide a debrief on applications. With other funders, it does not hurt to ask.
If at first you don’t succeed, apply, apply again. The Guggenhiem Foundation made an award recently to someone who had applied more than 40 times. (But don’t apply to Guggenheim again if you have been a Fellow in the past. See, Follow the directions.)
Kelley Coyner’s nonfiction writing includes The Viva List Latin America: 333 Places and Experiences People Love (contributing writer and editor), and articles in Americas, Mothering, Library Sparks, and Comet magazine. She served as the (nonfiction) Writer in Residence at the American school in LaPaz. (By day she writes strategic plans, policy briefs and blog posts for public policy blogs.)