Funding your writing: Q&A with C. Hope Clark

November 15, 2010 · 4 comments

I love sharing fabulous resources on this blog. I enjoyed bringing you Mira’s List. And Marian Schembari. And The Creative Penn. Today we’re adding another to the ranks: C. Hope Clark and her FundsforWriters.

C. Hope Clark, founder of Funds for Writers

Through her popular newsletter, website and blog, Hope helps writers find grants, contests, freelance gigs and other resources that can help fund their writing. Hope is a writer herself, so she understands how difficult it can be to make a living in this industry. Today she’s here to share tips and ideas on making money as a writer, as well as how she grew her newsletter to 35,000 subscribers.

Thanks for joining us, Hope! Can you give us an intro to FundsforWriters?

FundsforWriters is a family of resources that provide grants, contests, markets, publishers, agents and jobs for writers. We excel in educating writers not only about grant opportunities, but also in combining all writing resources into streams to feed a writer’s career. FFW is quite motivational as well, and the editorials draw readers as much or more than the resources themselves. You’ll find a huge, informative website, four newsletters, over a dozen ebooks, something I’ve tongue-in-cheek named Tweetebooks, and my own paperback, The Shy Writer: An Introvert’s Guide to Writing Success. Of course, FFW is into social media with a blog, Facebook page and active Twitter account. FFW has been around for eleven years now, which is hard for me to believe.

Your newsletters has 35,000 subscribers! How did you manage that? What information do you include that’s so valuable to writers?

Slow and steady wins the race. Consistency is number one in attracting readers. Consistency in delivering newsletters, providing current material, writing relevant copy. Putting the readers first means a lot to the public, and they can tell when an entity is just trying to make money or in the business for a serious purpose. Fake it until you make it only goes so far these days.

I believe grants catapulted FFW into the limelight. That and Writer’s Digest finding FFW and bestowing the honor of 101 Best Websites for Writers on it in 2001. Writing newsletters consisted primarily of Jenna Glatzer’s Absolute Write (since sold), Angela Hoy’s WritersWeekly, Jade Walker’s Inscriptions. I was a distant fourth. Today Absolute Write belongs to someone else and isn’t the same entity. Angela is still going strong. Jade closed and moved on. And I’m at 35,000 readers. It stuns me at times to fathom that number, but I never tire of seeing someone’s eyes open when I mention it.

What makes FFW so appealing? A knowledge of grants, contests that aren’t scams (I screen), markets that aren’t writing mills or click through ad deals, and strictly traditional publishing opps. Even the ads are screened. I think FFW is a place where writers can feel safe that no one is trying to snare them. I guess I deliver what I’d like to find online myself.

What are your top three tips for writers looking for funding?

First and foremost, know your project. Grants are given more for projects than pure need. Have a plan developed that shows you know what you are doing. If you lead with wanting money yet cannot specifically state (in detail) what the money is for, you sound money-hungry and not devoted to your craft. There are a lot of greedy people out there, and grantors want to sift through and find the gems that will represent them well. Grant money is designed to make a difference and match the mission statement of the grantor. Understand how your project falls in line with that mission statement.

Second, match your project to your grant. When writers pitch publishers, agents or magazines, they’ve done their homework to insure their writing matches the needs of the publisher, agent or magazine. We hear these entities complain all the time about writers pitching the wrong material to the wrong market. A gardening magazine doesn’t need a piece on raising a family. A nonfiction publisher doesn’t want a novel. An agent specializing in children’s writing doesn’t want a true crime manuscript. Same goes for grants. Match your needs to their needs.

Finally, be able to convince a grant reviewer/judge that your project will make a difference to people. Be so passionate about it that the energy spills onto the reader of the grant application. Make the grant provider wish he/she were in your shoes, and therefore, anxious to fund your dreams.

You advise writers to diversify their income sources and think outside the box when it comes to earning a living. Can you explain that a bit and give some examples?

For example, let’s take a budding novelist who’s writing historical fiction. He won’t see money for that book for a couple of years. In the interim, his career is stagnant unless he does something about that. Some options are:

  • Write articles for magazines and online venues about history, writing, and travel. Earn money with those pieces while building a clip file of bylines.
  • Develop a blog with income-earning capacity, specializing on his niche of history, writing and/or travel, demonstrating he is an expert in his niche.
  • Submit his opening chapters to contests. Not only can he attempt to grab prize money, but he also garners the attention of judges who might be agents, publishers and editors. He might also gain valuable feedback on the quality of his writing to enable him to improve and advance in his novel project.
  • Request a grant from an arts council or humanities council to do research. While these are highly competitive, they are geographically limited. He has to demonstrate that his talent benefits the community in some manner.
  • Request a grant from a retreat. He can get away and write, introducing him to others like him with similar visions and enable him to focus intently on his project.
  • Request an arts-in-education grant. He can make presentations, again on any of his speciality topics, to schools and receive compensation while spreading interest for his work.
  • Contact a nonprofit with like interests. For instance, I saw an author pen a book on Washington’s US Marshalls and obtain a grant through the Daughters of the American Revolution to self-publish the book and offer it to educational programs through the DAR. It was a partnership arrangement. Again, this goes back to matching your needs with those of the grant provider/nonprofit.

The list goes on and on. The grand thing about this “funding streams” concept is that with each effort, he develops a platform, building a following so that one day, when his book comes out, he has people who recognize his name and want to make a purchase. I love enabling people to think along these lines of thinking outside the box.

How do you hear about grants and other funding opportunities?

I spent 25 years with the federal government, some of it in grants and nonprofits. While I didn’t know all the grants available in the world, I had a keen understanding where to look. Since FundsforWriters has evolved, some grant providers send their calls for submissions to me for posting. But I also subscribe to the newsletters of almost all the arts commissions in the country. I sign up for every newsletter and public announcement service that grant providers offer. Most of these grants are annual.

On another level, I know to search a website for fellowship/scholarship opportunities when I hear of a conference or retreat. Most writers wait for announcements of same, but I realize that these entities can’t afford to give many grants, so they aren’t enticed to advertise them far and wide. So I seek them out and post them in FFW. I have a sharp eye for these opps, plus I still have a residual interest in the nonprofit and government arenas, where most grants originate.

What’s your background? What’d you do before FundsforWriters took off?

I served as an Administrative Director of a small federal agency in South Carolina. We handled grants and low-interest loans for rural enterprises from small homes to farms to schools and businesses. Therefore, I understood income projections, balance sheets and the art of a keen proposal. However, I reached a level where politics played a heavy hand in my duties, and I tired of the games, deals and back-door agreements. People lost the vision of assisting others. I researched the opportunity to retire early, negotiated a deal, and left at age 46. By that time, FFW had been in place for almost four years. I knew it had income earning ability as did I as a freelancer, so I took the leap.

You blogged recently about how readers want more than a book – they want a personality. How have you implemented that into your own writing?

I write in first person. Over the years, I’ve gradually inserted snippets of my life into my editorials. I started out simply trying to take a real-life moment and spin it into a writing lesson. People became interested in my personal life and private take on how to overcome stumbles in this roller coaster career. When I started putting a different picture in each week’s newsletter, people loved putting a face with a name. There’s something about instilling a little of yourself in your work. Your work becomes more genuine, maybe more credible because you’re risking more of yourself in the public’s eye. A big smile helps. People relate, and smiles hide lots of wrinkles!

Would you mind cuing us into a few of your favorite grants and contests? What about for travel writers? For memoir writers?

Travel writers:

  • Know that most major libraries, museums and presidential libraries have research grants available.

Memoir writers:

I know of no memoir grants. But as I teach readers, you have to think wider than memoir. Think history, travel, and genealogy.

Also, consider retreats to get away and write:

Contests:

I just cannot pick a special contest. I have more contest postings than anything else. They cover essays, poetry, scripts, short stories, flash fiction, novels, creative nonfiction — the works! Most of the ones I post are annual, therefore, established and recurring. Every publication I post has contests in it. I keep a contest page available at the FFW website, though. It’s updated every two weeks.

Tell us about your annual contest!

This is the 9th year for the FundsforWriters Essay Contest. There aren’t many essay contests, and I love reading and writing them. It’s themed each year, and this year’s topic is “Writing That Made a Difference.” I’ll take any spin on that subject. I always have an entry fee and a no entry fee category. This year the first place for the entry fee category is $300. The no entry fee first prize is $50. Word limit 750 words. Deadline just passed: October 31, 2010. The winners and runners up will be posted on the website when selected December 1, 2010. It’s always fun reading the entries. Some are just so darn smart!

Do you have any other gems of advice or ideas for writers?

Nothing I can preach more to writers than to write daily, write consistently, and take the craft seriously. Success doesn’t fall in your lap in this profession. It’s hard earned, and daily diligence is absolutely key. Same goes for self-promotion and searching for markets. Stick to it, especially when you don’t feel like it.

I wrote The Shy Writer in 2004, and the demand was so great that I updated it. While it’s geared toward shy people, it’s message addresses self-promotion — how to take yourself seriously, how to reach out without undermining your natural self, and how to feel absolutely satisfied with yourself as you attempt to make a living at a career that attracts reclusive personalities. I invite your readers to consider it as a motivational kick in the pants for feeling good about their chosen profession.

Thanks so much, Hope! Readers, I hope you’ll subscribe to her newsletter or check out her blog. It’s well worth it.

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{ 4 comments… read them below or add one }

Kim Kircher November 15, 2010 at 9:06 am

Thanks for this great interview. I appreciate all the information about keeping the money stream from running dry before the book comes out. I will definitely be adding myself to Hope’s list of 35,000 readers.
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Lanham True November 15, 2010 at 10:46 am

Thanks so much for all the meaty info!

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Peggy November 15, 2010 at 10:57 am

Thanks for the great interview Lexi. I’ve often wondered what kind of grants are available, I’ll definitely go check out the site.
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Andi November 15, 2010 at 11:14 pm

Definitely subscribing! What an awesome and helpful interview.
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