On Writing

Applying for Writing Grants – A Shields Guide!

I’ve had many folks request that I write a post about applying for literary grants. In my writing career, I’ve applied to many. What I can offer you is a list of steps that I take to research, write, send and receive grants. Take note that granting bodies typically have ‘how-to’ information on their sites and real-life people you can talk to who are there to help you fill out the application properly and answer all your questions. My list will be subjective and honest, and it is by no means the only list to follow, but it’s thorough and, I hope helpful, if you’re on the fence about whether or not to apply for a grant.

Also, make note that applying for grants is different than applying for awards/contests. They are two different beasts (and both beasts are they). Typically the award process is the same in that there are forms to fill out and writing to send, deadlines to reach and questions you’ll have about ‘how-to’ do them. They differ majorly, however, on the back-end: if you win an award, especially the big-money awards – there are fancy dinner events, media mayhem and a sky-rocket in book sales. People (press/other writers) care if/when you win a major writing award especially because there is system that helps promote it. If/when you get a grant, the people who will know are the people you will tell – your family/friends, but there isn’t (always) a fancy event to celebrate you, and the press won’t do a story on you – unless of course, you go out for a celebratory meal on your own dime (of which you’ll have a bit more in your pocket!) and you write a post on your blog/facebook (the artist’s ‘press’) and people ‘like’ it and join in the celebration even if only virtually. So there’s that.

Wikipedia offers a pretty good list of major Canadian literary awards. If you’re interested…do the research and see what you can apply to enter. *Note* Some awards the publisher must apply for – not the writer. (That means you’ll have to have a book published by a publishing house – which in itself is a major feat, is it not! We should get an award for getting published, am I right?!) As of yet, and you may correct me if I’m wrong, there are no major Canadian literary awards for self-published books. I’m sure they’re coming, however, with the major shift in the literary landscape that has self-published authors doing extremely well. Ahem. That’s a whole other post though…

Over the years, I’ve applied to grants from the following granting bodies:

Ontario Arts Council

Canada Council for the Arts

Windsor Endowment for the Arts


There are many grants available to writers in all different ‘states’ of their writing career. Take the time to search the internet and reputable sites (like the Writers’ Union of Canada and the sites I’ve linked to above) to find out what grant most suits where you’re at in your writing career, and to see how the application suits your needs/time.

*Eligibility* – be sure to first check the eligibility of each grant to see if it applies to you. Each grant application is clear and concise. If you have any questions though, don’t hesitate to call or email the contact listed on the application.

*Guidelines* – if the eligibility suits you – where you’re at in your career and your ‘financial need’, then make sure you read the guidelines next to ensure that you have the time and energy to fill out and send the application.

*Support Material* – this is the guts of the application and it includes everything from your writing and your contact information to bio and work descriptions and letters of support. The support materials vary with each grant. This is the part of the grant application that is ‘work’ – the part that will take time to actually do.

Will these cost you? As far as my experience has shown, it doesn’t cost anything to apply for the grant itself, however, you will incur costs if you snail-mail your package (postage), and if you have to pay to print copies of your application and support materials.

*Submission deadlines vs Submission Are Open* – If a grant has a solid deadline, that means that you have to have your application package sent by the deadline. The guidelines will say whether or not this deadline date is the ‘postmarked date’ or ‘the received by date’. The difference: so long as the postage stamp on the package is the date of the deadline (even if the granters receive it after the date), you are good. If the ‘received by date’ is listed, then you have to make sure you send your application early enough that the granter will actually have it in her hands by that date.

Many granting bodies allow/offer electronic submissions now. This is great because you don’t have to pay postage and you can send it on/by the deadline date. You have to read each guideline to see which bodies accept which form of submission.

If a grant is ‘open’ between two dates that means that you have to wait until the ‘open’ date begins to send in your application, and you have until the close date to submit. Details for the grant won’t be available until the open date arrives. Example: For the Writers’ Reserve grant, the list of publishers you can send your application to is not available until the ‘open’ date arrives. (And you need this list to submit!)

Be honest with yourself in terms of whether or not you have the time, energy and *THE WORK* to submit to these grants. It can get stressful if you let it, and if you don’t give yourself the time and patience you need to write and get the application completed.

*Jury vs. Publisher-Driven Grants*

Some grants are gifted based on a jury of ‘peers’ (writers) that read your work and get together to discuss it – and in the end, vote on who gets the grant. I’ve been a part of a jury for the Works-In-Progress grants that the Ontario Arts Council offers. It was one of the toughest jobs I’ve ever had. Not only did I read hundreds of submissions (which took hours and hours and hours), I was then a part of a small group of writers with extremely varied backgrounds who had to narrow down who would get the grants. There is only so much money and only so many folks who can get a grant. From a stack of hundreds of manuscripts, the grant may only be offered to 10-12 writers. YOWZA and OUCH combined, let me tell you.

I can tell you that the process is fair – we fight for what we like and we all wish that more folks could get the grants…Choosing is the hardest part. These jury-driven grants are daunting – as both a jury member and a submitting writer. They are ‘blind’ which means that the jury has no idea who the writer is or where they’re from. You can research the lists of winners to see who has won and where they’re from –  keeping in mind that cities with higher populations (like Toronto) tend to receive more of the grants. And, also keeping in mind that, in the end, it’s the writing that sets you apart. So it doesn’t matter where you’re from, if the writing is great, you’ve got a great chance. (If only it was so easy to ‘define’ and ‘write’ GREAT things, right?!)

Publisher-Driven Grants, like the Writers’ Reserve grant, are such that your work goes directly to the publisher. Read the list of publishers, find out what type of work they publish (this is KEY, folks. You don’t want to submit poetry about dogs to a publishing house that only takes poetry about horses. You’re setting yourself up for rejection – and no one likes that – not dogs, horses or humans, am I right?), and send away if your work fits their publication. The publisher  has money to give to writers like yourself, they are allotted a certain amount to give away through grants they get. It is the publisher who reads your work – and/or a capable member of the team. If they like it, they can give you money. They are not obligated to publish your work – know that! But they are being honest with you about liking your work if you do get a grant from them…so you may want to submit to them at some point, right?

*Is This Work Regional* – what does this mean? There’s a box in the Writers’ Reserve grant that asks if your work is regional. What this means is does your postal code not start with ‘M’ (which is generally all postal codes in the Toronto/GTA). If your postal code does not start with an M then you qualify as a ‘regional’ writer.

*How Much Do I Apply For?* Some grants have a box that asks you to fill out ‘up to’ a certain amount for the grant. For example, you can receive ‘up to $5,000′ for each individual grant – so you can apply for any amount up to that range maximum – including the full amount. I’ve never applied for the full amount…I don’t know why. I think it’s a mixture of self-confidence issues and the amount of publishers I’m sending my work to. As well, there is total maximum that each writer can get. I’m not sure how much it is…I believe it’s $10,000 (for Writers’ Reserve). I did some research and found out that rarely does a writer ever get that full amount – whether it’s based on two grants of $5,000 or any combination that equals $10,000. The granters (in this case, the publishers), I believe, want to spread the wealth, so they give smaller amounts to more writers. It’s up to you how much  you want to apply for for each grant.

Still, there are other grants that ask you to fill out a budget. In this case, you fill it out and see where your total lands. If you have questions about how to fill it out – just call or email the contact on the grant. I would suggest you always be honest when filling these out. If you get a total that is less than the grant total, that’s fine. In my experience, my totals have varied each time I submit.

*How Many Publishers Should I Submit To?*

Again, be sure to read the guidelines and get this answer. For the Writers’ Reserve grant, there is no limit. I typically submit 10-14 applications, with small variations in the writing that suit the publisher. What is my acceptance rate, you wonder? It is 10%-14%. For every ten I submit to – I get one grant. Is the math right on this? Mama fills her rejection book come granting seasons…but I don’t care. I take what I get gladly and gratefully. And, the more I submit, the more money I have the potential of receiving.

*About the grant money*

Be sure to also read the ‘fine print’ information about how the money part works. For some grants the money is granted to you without strings – you get a cheque, you use the money as outlined in the guidelines, and you don’t need to send receipts, etc., while others, you have to gather and send receipts, and how you spend the money is monitored. And, very importantly, note that NO TAXES ARE TAKEN OFF THIS GRANT MONEY, so as far as the government knows come tax time, this amount of money is *income* and will be taxed. (This is a hot topic of frustration for writers as it means that we either have to keep a percentage of the grant for potential taxes-to-pay-on-it-later, it means that it might bump us into a different tax bracket, again causing a back-end tax-payment later, and that, in the end, we don’t actually get the ‘full amount’ if we have to pay taxes on it later. I believe the Writers’ Union of Canada has been working on changing this structure for some time…)

For me, I still apply for the grant because I can always use the money – even if  I have to put some of it in my ‘potential taxes’ account. It’s still worth it for me to apply for and *hopefully* get the grant.

Typically, the bigger the grant pay-out, the more work there is to be done in terms of the writing. Ex. Where you can get up to a maximum of $5,000 for the Writers’ Reserve Grant – you need to submit 10 pages of work – but for the Works-in-Progress Grant, where you can get $12,000, you need to submit 40 pages of work. More money = more writing to submit. Makes sense to me.

*The Project Report*

Some grants include a post-grant-received report that you have to write that simply updates the granting body on how receiving the grant has affected your writing life. It’s not a lengthy report and it’s completely subjective, but it should include you telling them that your manuscript was actually published by a publisher if this happened since receiving the grant. If not, there’s still much to say about how ‘being paid to write’ affected your writing process/life.

In the end, I believe that the granting bodies/government does care about and want to support Canadian writers. The system is by no means perfect, but it exists, and there are financial opportunities that can really benefit a writer.


Okay, so you’ve done your research. You know who you’re sending your work to. You know the deadlines and you’ve figured out what amount of writing you need to have to submit.

If you’re writing new work to suit the publishers, be sure to give yourself the time to write and edit before the deadline.


You must give yourself the time, space and discipline for this writing, like you do when you write anything. And make sure that someone reads over your work to catch grammar/typo/etc. mistakes you may have. If you’re submitting poetry, read it out loud before you send it – this will help you find grammar/typo/cadence/energy issues.

If you already have work ready to go, then I would still edit/revise it one more time to be sure it’s the best it can be.

This is what my office looks like when I’m in the thick of writing and prepping grants. 

Make sure you SIGN THE FORMS. I’ve submitted before and forgotten to sign them – YIKES – and this makes the application incomplete.

Quadruple check the support guidelines and make sure you don’t go over or under the amount of writing you need to submit – and get it in ON TIME.

If you have any trouble understanding anything about the submission process, call or email the contact on the grant application and he/she will help you.

I kiss each submission (literally) before I mail it out. Just a thing I do…so it’s sent with love and hope.


Here are some photos of my ‘mailing’ experience. From prepping envelopes to photocopying…this can take up a chunk of time and money so be prepared for it.

I get my envelopes at the Dollarama because they are the cheapest there.

I do my photocopying at Staples. It’s not too busy there, and there is ample space to lay everything out and organize it.

After getting all the applications ready, you still have to go to a post office and mail them. Be sure to get each package stamped with the date on or before the deadline. And keep the receipt, you can write this off if you claim your ‘writing’ as your job. 🙂 *I would not recommend doing this part of the process with your kids if they are under the age of 8. They won’t have the staying power…and you’ll already be stressed and rushed (if you’re like me!)…just sayin’.


Well, I wish I could say that this is a part we will all experience. GAH. As I mentioned earlier, I have received many rejections. When it comes to Writers’ Reserve grants, the publisher are good at sending their responses out quickly. And since you have to include a  self-addressed-stamped-envelope (SASE), you’ll recognize the mail as ‘something from the granter’ because it’ll be your  hand-writing. What I do to make the mail part more fun is decorate the SASE for myself. This way, at least the outside looks pretty!

If you do receive a grant – CELEBRATE! On some level, celebrate. You did the work, put in the time and someone(S) out there in granting world believes in your abilities and words. That’s an amazing feeling!!

I wish you all the sweet success when it comes to applying for grants…and awards and contests for that matter. Know that I’m doing it too – so you’re not alone – and WHEN you receive a grant – LET ME KNOW – so I can celebrate you too!

If you have any questions, please post them in in the comments and I’ll be sure to respond.


3 thoughts on “Applying for Writing Grants – A Shields Guide!

  1. Hi there, thanks very much for the in-depth post on writing grants. I had a couple of additional specific questions. Could I zap you an email? Thanks again for the helpful post!


  2. Vanessa, Thanks for sharing your insight and experience on the granting systems. This was a real eye opener and very detailed. Thank you. I did receive a $1500 Writer’s reserve grant this year from OAC. My first ever. So I was very glad to spend some time in the Toronto and Niagara Falls area during the March Break to do some writing. I’m presently working on my next project. The Narrative of the Body. Wish me luck!


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