Applying for awards and bursaries
When applying for awards and bursaries…
Read the information that you are sent or the application form very carefully. Administrators of prizes are usually very clear about what kind of work or writers they are interested in supporting. If there is supporting information on the prize or award on the organisation’s website, it’s worth reading closely to see whether it gives clues as to the kind of awards that have been made in the past or outlines anything that isn’t acceptable to the programme.
Consider whether or not this award is suitable for your work and the point that you are at in your career. Don’t enter for anything that is outside your scope of experience. If the award is for a mid-career writer don’t enter if you aren’t published and hope that the judges will take pity on you – you are likely to be weeded out by an administrator before this even happens.
Research. Talk to other writers and Google to find out who has received awards in the past or find out who applied and wasn’t successful. Any background intelligence will help guide you when you are considering your application.
Send the right stuff. Fill in the application form to the letter. Make your application succinct. Draft out some replies first so you can get the feel of how many words you are using and if your answers are going to take up much room. Don’t ignore any questions: if you don’t answer something it will be noticed and the judges will wonder why you didn’t answer the question, or presume that you either couldn’t, or couldn’t be bothered.
Edit yourself. Work out what you need to say in reply to the questions and stick to that – don’t elaborate unnecessarily or drift off the subject. You won’t look like much of a writer if you wander off the track and appear as though you can’t control your writing.
Be honest. Describe clearly how the support would make a difference to you. If you can’t think of anything to say, maybe you should consider your application again? Do you really need the money at this point? This may seem harsh but if money isn’t your main motivation for applying, then say so. There is nothing wrong with saying that you are looking for validation for your work rather than funds to support childcare costs. In my experience, judges often respond well to very honest descriptions of need, whether financial or artistic. If you are applying for a competitive award that is more about acclaim and recognition than financial support, consider how much you want to say about your personal circumstances. Sometimes it’s better to let your work speak for you.
Remember that size isn’t everything. Only send what you are asked for when it comes to sending supplementary information with your application. For most bursaries and awards, you will be asked to submit some examples of your work. Don’t send more than is asked for and be sure to enclose a page that describes what the work is and which section of the manuscript it comes from so that the judges can put your work into context. NEVER send too much (or too little) as the judges will mark you out before they begin reading and forever think of you as ‘the one who sent too many pages’. You also risk being rejected by eagle-eyed administrators before your work even reaches the judges.
Always send a SAE if you want your work back. Make sure that there are enough stamps on the envelope and that your work actually fits inside it. (You’d be surprised how many people send envelopes that are too small!)
Take a novel approach. Applications in verse or written in a bizarre way are extremely likely to be rejected. The judges may have a laugh at your letter but not take your work seriously. If serious money is at stake, take the application seriously.
Beg. Now this is a difficult area. When you are applying for funds or bursaries you will want to show that the money will make a real difference to your circumstances and enable your writing and career to flourish. This is different to tugging at people’s heartstrings. Although this sometimes works, it’s an extremely risky move and not one that I would personally recommend. Be professional with how you present yourself.
Go mad with the packaging. Don’t staple everything together, wrap each page in individual plastic folders and put everything in an A4 binder. An elastic band and a paperclip are probably sufficient so long as you page number your work clearly, or fix the manuscript together with tags. For awards, most work will be photocopied a number of times for judges, so be a friend to the poor admin person whose door this thankless task will fall at, and make your work easy to pull apart. There is something a little suspicious about work that arrives in expensive folders, and more than once I have heard a judge comment that more time should have been taken writing and selecting the work rather than on packaging the application. It’s fine to be proud of your work but don’t overdo things.
Over-egg your CV. If you have to send biographical notes about yourself to support your application, keep it readable and to the point. If you have had poetry published in over 100 little independent magazines, don’t list them all. Edit your biog to show highlights of your work and push the most recent successes. A good CV shouldn’t be more than two pages of A4. It’s also good to include links to your website or blog with your CV. This means that the people reading your application can learn more about you and your work if they find your application particularly interesting.
Be lazy. Don’t write ‘see attached document’ in every box in the application form because you couldn’t be bothered to fill in the questions. Either fill in the form as it is or recreate it on your computer and fill it in. Most people who write ‘see attached’ in boxes and then attach a CV from a previous application don’t realise that they probably aren’t answering the questions that are being asked of them. It’s a lazy way to do it and you risk missing the chance to make your case well.
Stress too much about intellectual property. Sending your ideas out into the world is always nerve-racking but it is part of the process of being a professional writer. Copyright is important and of course sending work out to competitions and schemes carries some risks in relation to this. If you are sending work to respected prizes and awards schemes, the risks are very small, even negligible. Cases of writers’ copyright being compromised are much rarer than you might think.
(Revised August 2010)