The perks of applying for funding

Monday, December 21, 2015
Amra Pajalic interviewed by Alex Fairhill

A portrait of Amra Pajalic
Amra Pajalic

Applying for funding for your writing can be a mammoth task but your application could result in much more than just receiving the money. Amra Pajalic shared her thoughts about why funding applications are worth the slog with Writers Victoria's Alex Fairhill in preparation for her workshop on How to Write a Successful Arts Funding Application in September, 2016.

Funding for the arts has been taking hit after hit recently. What impact has this had on the availability of grants and funding opportunities for writers?

Grant funding was always a competitive field, but now that there is less money to go around this has impact on the funding amounts available, as well as the way that grants are organised. In Creative Victoria for example writers are applying to the  Creative Development category for new works, and this covers the areas of visual art, literature, cross-disciplinary practice  and performance (including but not limited to dance, theatre, cabaret, opera and music). So not only are you competing against other writers, but also against other disciplines, as well as organisations. The other difference is that the amount that you apply for might not be what you are offered. In an effort to spread the money around, sometimes funding bodies identify who they want to fund and then have to split the money into smaller amounts to get more artists funded.

What’s the hardest question you’ve come across on an application, and how did you answer it?

The questions I find the hardest to answer are the ones that are basically asking you to justify the importance of your new work. For example in Creative Victoria the question is what does this work contribute “to the quality and reputation of the Victorian arts sector” or in Australia Council it is to justify the “artistic merit,” of the work. I always grappled with the idea of how do I articulate the ways in which this book I want to write is important to the world. Then I realised that I needed to think about my funding proposal as a publishing proposal and the same principles apply.  How is this work different and unique to others out there? How does it add onto other works out there?

How valuable are business skills such as the ability to write funding applications?

As a writer we always talk about the creative skills that we need to develop and the ways we need to improve and grow, but we often overlook all the business writing skills that are involved in being a successful writer. We need to be able to write funding applications, publishing proposals, query letters, synopsis of our books, blurbs, promotional material… and the list goes on. In my journey I have found that all these skills are translatable. What all of these types of writing have in common is being able to be objective about the marketability of your book, ie how to sell yourself. This is a very hard ask for writers because our writing is an extension of us, so that objectivity is very hard to come by, but once we can do it then there are a lot more opportunities for writers. I have been able to translate my successful funding application skills to other areas and written a publishing proposal for the anthology I co-edited, 'Coming of Age: Growing up Muslim in Australia'.

What are the advantages of applying for grants?

The advantage of applying for grants means that you have the opportunity to think about your writing career in objective terms, as well as think about the literary landscape and your place in it. It took me many attempts to be successful with grant funding and with each attempt I honed my skills so even if you’re unsuccessful you are still gaining a benefit. When you’re successful the obvious advantage is that you have some time to exclusively be a writer, something that is a luxury in today’s publishing industry where most writers have to have a day job (myself included), and have to pursue their writing in short snatches of time. Then there is the fact that if you are successful at gaining a funding application this helps gain publisher attention—if you’re able to convince a literature panel about the merit of your book, then this argument will appeal to publishers too.

You received an Arts Victoria grant, including a mentorship, for your memoir-in-progress. What impact has this had on the way you’ve approached the work?

Two years ago I began my new career as an English and Humanities high school teacher, while I had also started my current work in progress a memoir titled 'Things Nobody Knows But Me'. I was feeling nervous about working full time in a new field and how the demands of teaching would impact on my writing. Through co-editing the anthology I had also seen how important it was to have an objective eye when developing a memoir and determined that I would benefit from a mentor. I applied for a grant for mentorship and was unsuccessful the first time. I sought feedback from the Project Officer and determined I would try again. The second time I was successful and I have had Alice Pung as a mentor while I’m developing my draft. Having a mentor has meant that I was accountable to maintaining deadlines and had some feedback to keep me motivated. I have now completed my memoir and will be submitting it to my agent in the New Year while without the grant I believe I would be still attempting to finish as the demands of a day job took their toll.

About Amra Pajalic

Amra Pajalic is an award-winning author, editor and teacher. She is a three time Artists in Schools funding recipient, has received two new development grants from Arts Victoria, and was successful in receiving funding from a State government department for a community arts project. Amra has also been an assessor on the Creative Victoria Literature Panel.

About Alex Fairhill

Alex Fairhill is an emerging children’s and YA author. She posts reviews and other writing-related thoughts on her blog and Twitter (@AlexFairhill).