Category Archives: business of writing

AWP Dispatch: NEA Grant Apps

At nine a.m. on the first day of AWP, informational sessions already provided the practical advice sought by conference attendees. Much of what was reviewed during this morning’s panel on “Applying to the National Endowment for the Arts: Helpful Hints for Arts Organizations” is readily available at www.nea.gov and www.grants.gov, but John Parrish Peede, Director of Literature: Grants Programs for the NEA, did provide these helpful hints:

  • Read the grant guidelines.
  • Flesh out your project.
  • Review grants that have been previously granted by the NEA.
  • Decide the appropriate category and guideline for your project.
  • Contact discipline specialist and director for support.
  • Double-check your math.
  • Enclose an appropriate work sample.
  • Include the earliest start date.
  • Fill out the application checklist.
  • Apply online and apply early. Peede recommends applying ten days before the deadline. The only exceptions to online applications are extreme—for those who are disabled or who aren’t within thirty miles of an Internet connection—so make sure to get a head start in chase you hit any cyber snags.

In addition, during the post-presentation Q&A, Peede addressed some issues not expressly covered in his PowerPoint or online:

  • The grant narrative: “Apply as if you are a panelist,” Peede said. Think about the thousand pages of application materials they have to read. Make a “succinct, cogent argument,” no more than three pages, and break it down into subheads.
  • Prior grants: Previous support is not grounds for receiving or not receiving funding. However, “one of the most important thing is the ability to pull off a project,” Peede said. The NEA doesn’t reward—or punish, for that matter—based on the past. It’s always about the project, but history does matter, so demonstrate the means to complete the project.
  • Panel notes: Ask for notes from the panel’s discussion, even if you receive the grant, as these can be helpful in identifying where your application was strong and weak.
  • Matching funds: The NEA requires that any grants it awards be matched one-to-one by the recipient organization. In order to achieve this, get creative and apply for consortium grants with organizations who already do this well.
  • The fifty-percent question: “Do no harm,” Peede said, so when the grant application asks you what your organization would do if awarded less than fifty percent of the requested funding, say you’ll find the funding somewhere else, or you’ll scale back the project. Don’t say you’ll cut back on marketing costs, and, whatever you do, don’t say you’ll walk away from the project—the money you’d be giving up goes back to the Treasury, not the NEA, effectively cheating fellow applicants of funds.
  • Theme: Although it isn’t necessary for your project to have a theme, it does provide an easy shorthand for panelists. “Theme is a useful organization principle,” Peede said. “You can build a better case” for your project.
  • “Give us your best.” If Peede had one piece of advice to offer, this would be it.

Caught in the ’Net

The 25 Random Things meme on Facebook inspired this “25 Non-Random Things About Writing Short.”

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Book Review: From Pitch to Publication

As I’ve mentioned before on Mots Justes, I spent three weeks at Cambridge University this summer studying creative writing. Prior to arrival, we were given reading lists, both required and recommended, and this guide to publication by British literary agent Carol Blake was among the former. I would not have picked it up otherwise: on the very first page she writes, “This book is entirely about commercial fiction … many of the processes of publishing and selling it (and therefore much of the advice) is so different from literary fiction.” a) I’m an American writer of b) literary fiction. I actually wrote in the margin, “So then why am I reading this?”

Ultimately, though, I’m glad I did.

In a friendly, candid voice, Blake offers an insider’s view of the publishing industry from the nuts and bolts of the industry—describing specifically what agents, editors, and publishers do and demystifying rights, contracts, and royalty statements—to the politics of getting (and getting rid of) agents and incorporating editorial suggestions.

I now have a better feel for standard operating procedure at all levels, and a reference to refer back to (hopefully) when these issues arise in the future. Although not all of the advice is perhaps applicable to an American literary writer, at least now I know what questions to ask.

From Pitch to Publication: Everything You Need to Know to Get Your Novel Published. By Carol Blake. 402 pages. MacMillan, 1999, £14.99.

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Literary Journal Submissions: Don’ts

Yesterday Mots Justes shared some tips on how to put together a submission that will endear you to the editors and staff of a literary journal. Here’s what not to do:

  • Don’t use fancy letterhead. Readers are interested only in the content of the cover letter and especially the submission. And don’t package your submission in an elaborate folder system—your submission will just get separated from it unceremoniously and the folder co-opted for office supplies.
  • Don’t submit handwritten material, and don’t send correspondence on scraps of paper. Even typewritten submissions feel unprofessional these days.
  • Don’t address your cover letter to another literary journal. I’m not picky about correct editor names or spelling—there are too many opportunities for error in my name to be touchy about it—but at least get the title right.
  • Don’t tell us in the cover letter what the story is about. Let us discover that for ourselves. Doing so is especially detrimental if the story doesn’t deliver on the cover letter’s promise.
  • Don’t lie. You never know who is processing or reading your submission, and Google makes it easy to verify or debunk claims.
  • Don’t tell us you’re a long-time reader if you’re not. At our publication, I ship the books to subscribers myself, and I know what stores they’re sold in. In other words, you’ll be found out, and false flattery will get you nowhere.
  • Don’t send cash in lieu of postage. This is a pain for the staff to deal with and may delay response time.
  • Don’t let stray material slip into your submission envelope. SCR once received a form thank-you for donating $8 to a Lutheran organization.
  • Don’t take it personally if a literary journal sends your cover letter back to you. If you’re submitting several poems or stories to several titles, this is our way of letting you know what submission we’re passing on.
  • Don’t hesitate to share any additional advice on submitting to literary journals.

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Literary Journal Submissions: Do’s

One of the advantages of working on a literary journal is that you learn pretty quickly how to submit your own work. Having just processed two contests at Southern California Review, I can attest how a simple thing like a SASE with correct postage makes the job of journal editors and staff so much easier. Besides, it just shows that you are a pro.

Here are some simple things you can do to endear your submission to literary journal readers:

  • Do follow all instructions. I know it’s a pain to tailor each submission to the demands of every literary journal, but it really makes the job easier on our end.
  • Do include any previous publications, your educational background, and legitimate recommendations in your cover letter. The quality of your work is the most important part of your submission, but we do enjoy learning a little about the author.
  • Do fill out your SASE correctly, right side up, with the address, return address, and stamp all in the correct places. (Yes, in my experience, this does need to be pointed out.)
  • Do use business-size envelopes. Please avoid smaller envelopes or card envelopes or envelopes with address windows—it slows down our processing.
  • Do include correct postage. Because some journals may take several months to get back to you about your submission, try to anticipate postage rate hikes that may take place during their reading period. (If they take longer than their posted response time, though, any difference in postage rates is on their dime.) Better yet, use Forever stamps. Oh, and this means you should be including postage on your SASE in the first place.
  • Do fill in the return address on your SASE with either the literary journal’s or your own.
  • Do use your return address label to address your SASE to yourself, but make sure you put it in the right place—i.e., don’t put an address label in the upper-left-hand corner of the envelope and then leave the address blank.
  • Do write a note to yourself on your SASE so that if you receive a form rejection letter, you’ll know what poem or story it is for. I ran across one SASE that had this information penciled on the inside of the envelope and thought it very clever.
  • Do share with Mots Justes any additional tips on literary journal submissions.

On tomorrow’s agenda: what not to do when submitting your writing to literary journals.

Caught in the ’Net

Time reports on the recent Twitter-inspired trend in micro-writing. Relatedly, check out text-message poetry.

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Letters to the Editor

One of the things I do in my spare time—which I have more of since I left my magazine editorship—is serve as (volunteer) editor-in-chief of Southern California Review (SCR), the literary journal published by the Master of Professional Writing Program at the University of Southern California. So, even though I’m in Cambridge for three weeks studying fiction and screenwriting, I spent an afternoon last week taking care of some SCR business—namely, sending out the press release announcing the winner of our annual poetry prize.

I sent out hundreds of emails to readers and writers who had entered the contest, submitted material for publication, signed up for more information about the magazine, etc. A few then took the opportunity to get in touch.

I got a couple of requests to “please remove me from your mailing list.” Fair enough.

I also got an inquiry from a submitter who took offense that we had passed on one of his stories without including a form rejection. After I assured him that it must have been an oversight, however, he seemed satisfied.

And then there are the outright hostile emails that engender responses such as Fence‘s earlier this year.

I haven’t decided yet how I feel about the publication of correspondence that might be assumed by the author to be private (cover letters, email exchanges, internal comments on submissions, etc.). I’m certainly not in a position to do so on my private blog-we’re not the scrappy independent publication we’d probably like to be but have a faculty adviser and program director as well as the university itself to answer to.

But I can say that I have received some angry, accusatory, completely unfounded complaints—all of which I responded to politely and professionally. In every case, one of two things has happened: I never heard from the letter writer again, or they were pleased to have received a reply and respond in kind. The situation has never escalated to personal attacks.

Not that I don’t feel frustrated, as I’m sure the writers do. It’s just that a little restraint on both sides would be well-served.

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