A few months before publishing my memoir, I was drowning in book-related expenses. And while some of them were discretionary—contests, book marks and cards, shipping of the paperbacks I wanted to sell directly during events, and website upgrades, to name a few—they seemed important to my book’s success. I considered a second job, but didn’t know when I’d have time to ever promote my book or write. It had been years since I felt that broke.
Bestselling author Patrick Wensink once said, “There’s a reason many authors drive dented cars… It’s not because we’ve chosen a life of poverty. It’s that poverty has chosen our profession.”
Indeed it has. While it’s difficult to say for sure how much indie authors average on their first book, it’s clear that the majority of authors don’t earn enough to pay their expenses by relying solely on their writing. I myself have not been able to fund my coffee habit with past freelance efforts.
Enter the important role of grants. Grants for writers provide an opportunity for free money. Money that doesn’t need to be repaid. Yipee! And while grants aren’t designed to provide a living, they cushion writers as they move through their creative process.
I’ve applied for grants for the past three years. I’ve been rejected twice and accepted twice. But I’ve benefited from the application process every single time.
During the application process, I was forced to take a look at my current body of work and defend its worthiness. I’m no Hemingway, but I lived a compelling story and told it pretty well. Twinges of pride replaced some pangs of insecurity. A much needed confidence boost.
Then I created a writer’s resume, inventorying the workshops, retreats, and writing communities I’ve been involved in throughout the years. The places where I’ve volunteered my time to support other writers. And it was an awakening. Writing is much more than a hobby as I’d previously claimed. It is both a passion and a priority. I’ve spent my time and money on it, and have every intention of continuing to do so for the foreseeable future.
Crafting a budget and creating a wish list helped me clarify further what my goals are. I didn’t apply for much. I wanted a new laptop, the chance to attend a writer’s retreat, and an updated author website.
I applied for a mini-grant at the Alaska Humanities Forum last summer. I did it quickly and neglected to ask for help from their staff when I didn’t understand the forms.
My application was rejected just as quickly. It stung. But eventually I realized that if a grant for under $5,000 would have rocked my world, surely there were other ways to find the resources and achieve my now-clearer goals. Like buying a laptop on an installment plan, or applying for a scholarship directly from the writer’s retreat I’d hoped to attend. And by selecting a group of local teens at the Alaska Teen Media to pretty-up my website for a reasonable cost, my needs would be met and they in turn would get high school credit and job experience for their time.
The second time I applied, I reached out and grabbed the hand Humanities Forum staff extended. Their process forced me to solidify community partnerships and to create a plan of how to reach my audience with a dialogue about intergenerational patterns of domestic violence my memoir addressed. When I got the mini-grant, it increased my accountability to achieve my stated goals, and to be intentional along the way. My audience needed an opportunity to be heard.
Emboldened by receiving the mini-grant, I applied for and received the Lin Halterman Memorial Grant through the Alaska Writers Guild. Again, it was not simply a financial lift, but it gave me incentive to expand my audience of readers, and provided even more accountability buddies. Because when an organization funds your writing in ways great or small, they’re investing in you, the writer, and your vision for your work.
Pieces of Me: Rescuing My Kidnapped Daughters was released eight months ago, and I’ve done nearly 50 events to promote it thus far. I’ve traveled around Alaska first and was later welcomed by audiences in Seattle, Ohio, and Michigan. I’ll be in Portland soon, and will eventually come full circle to my birth place of Kentucky in June for a book event. Without the less than $4,000 total I’ve received in grants, I believe my book would have done alright, but I can say for a fact that with them, I’ve enjoyed expanded reach and a sense of partnership during my journey to becoming an author. And for all of that, I’m incredibly grateful.
To find out more about grants available to you, put Grants for Writers in your computer search engine and find a match for your work. In Alaska, the Alaska Humanities Forum, the Rasmuson Foundation, the Alaska State Council on the Arts, and the Lin Halterman Memorial Grant are just some of the options worth pursuing.
Lizbeth Meredith is a writer based in Alaska with a bachelor’s degree in journalism and a master’s degree in psychology. She has worked as a domestic violence advocate and a child abuse investigator, and works with at-risk teens as a juvenile probation supervisor since 2000. Her memoir, Pieces of Me: Rescuing My Kidnapped Daughters, was a silver medalist in the 2017 IPPY Awards. Lizbeth also published When Push Comes to Shove: How to Help When Someone You Love is Being Abused and is a contributor to A Girl’s Guide to Travelling Alone by Gemma Thompson. She can be reached at lameredith.com or on Facebook and Twitter.
Roundup Redux: Lizbeth will join Carmen Davis, David Onofrychuck, and Carmen Davis for the Alaska Writers Guild’s May program at Barnes & Noble on Wednesday, May 17, 2017 at Barnes & Noble in Anchorage. The panel discussion and Q&A will focus on grants for writers.