Why You Should Apply for a Canada Council Grant Every Year until You Die.—By Sherwin Tjia

It is a truth universally acknowledged, that a writer in possession of a good idea, must be in want of a grant. Last year I was on a Canada Council granting jury, and it not only enlightened me as to how the whole process works, it also renewed my faith in the Canada Council in general, and in the granting process in particular.

Over the years some of my writer friends had gotten the distinct impression that the Canada Council was this edifice of insiders. Those who got grants kept getting them, and those on the juries awarded grants to their writer friends. And this bitter conviction stopped many of them from applying. “I’m not going to win anyway, so why try?” It doesn’t help that by default, a writer’s life is an incessant litany of rejection.

But after having been on the jury, I’m now convinced we all should apply annually. The truth is that just by applying you help all writers because the Council takes those numbers and brings them to the government to ask for more funding for future years. Even if unsuccessful, those applications demonstrate a clear need.

Though I’ve applied and been rejected in the past, the biggest eye-opener for me was seeing just how high my chances of getting a grant had always been. Out of the 150 applications my jury read (including fiction, poetry, graphic novels, short stories, literary non-fiction, YA and kid’s books), fully forty writers, give or take, got grants. That’s a win rate of around twenty-six percent, or one in four. No lottery has ever been so generous.

And that’s the thing. It is a lottery. You can’t control who’s on the jury. If their tastes don’t align with your proposal one year, you’ll just have to apply again the next. I’ve now seen firsthand how jurors agonize over their decisions. We champion the diamonds that are rough, hopeful that grant-sponsored time can polish a great idea. We eloquently counterpoint prevailing opinions. Various members bring unique insight from their respective specialties. And though we were all quite diverse (in terms of geography, language, gender, race, sexual orientation, and writing genres), more often than not I was surprised to discover how much we concurred on our final assessments.

So take it from a fellow writer who is deeply skeptical and always expecting rejection: the Canada Council has your best interests at heart, and every year runs a lottery that you are uniquely qualified to enter. So enter!

To help you, I have some advice to offer:

DO START EARLY. The application is almost its own writing genre. It needs time to simmer. Go through at least several drafts. A friend should read it over. Any initial questions they have should be answered, because it’s likely the jury will harbour those same questions. Similarly, anything confusing should be re-written to be clear.

DO BE STARTLINGLY ORIGINAL. Easier said than done, of course, but it pays to go far afield with your concept. If you have the misfortune to be the fourth applicant with a post-apocalyptic road trip underpinning your plot, the jury may be inclined to favour the best of the bunch.

DON’T GET TUNNEL VISION ABOUT PITCHING JUST YOUR STORY. Discuss the larger impact of it on you and on the society it will go on to live in. Why does it matter to you? Is it personal? Will it matter to other people? Are there themes that will resonate in the larger world?

If rejected, DO CALL THE CANADA COUNCIL. The program officer takes notes during the jury discussion of your project, and they’ll relay these to you. But only if you call them for feedback.

If rejected, DO RE-APPLY the very next year. You may want to tweak the same application, or apply with a whole new project. But don’t not apply.

If successful (yay!), APPLY THE VERY NEXT YEAR WITH ANOTHER PROJECT. Now, in the past, if you got a grant, you were prevented from applying again until your final report for that grant was submitted. But in the current system, you can apply every single year, even if you already got a grant and are currently working on something, as long as it’s for a new project, and there’s no overlap in the project dates you’re proposing.

DO ALWAYS INCLUDE A SAMPLE FROM YOUR PROPOSED PROJECT. Even if you have a more refined short story that you think will show off your writing chops from a couple years back, take the time to also write up a small sample of the actual thing you’re pitching. It helps the jury see it. Juries are unkind to sample-less applications.

And that’s it! Vow to apply every year. Think of it like voting, but you’re the candidate. It’s your civic duty to your art! The world needs all the odd and diverse projects it can get! Be the strange you want to see in the world.


SherwinTjia_PLZdontcrop

Sherwin Tjia is a Montreal-based writer and illustrator. Their latest book PLUMMET is a graphic novel about a woman who wakes up one day to find herself in freefall forever. It was named one of CBC Book’s 20 Best Graphic Novels of 2019. Their Choose-Your-Own-Adventure style book from the POV of a housecat, You Are a Cat!, published in 2011, was the winner of that year’s Expozine Award for best English Book, and has never been out of print. Their collection of 1,300 haikus, The World Is a Heartbreaker, was a finalist for the 2006 A.M. Klein Poetry Award. And their first graphic novel, The Hipless Boy, was a finalist for the Doug Wright Award for Best Emerging Talent, and also nominated for four Ignatz Awards.

Photo credits: Sherwin Tija (header image & headshot)

14 thoughts on “Why You Should Apply for a Canada Council Grant Every Year until You Die.—By Sherwin Tjia

    1. There are a few sections you have to fill out. You need to talk about what you want to do and why you’re the person to do it. You need to discuss its impact on your career and how it might impact the larger literary community, as well as the audience who might read it. You need to submit a detailed plan and timeline. And then, I suggest you submit your outline and a sample. You can also submit other supporting documents like things you’ve written before. So, yes, an outline is certainly PART of your application, but there’s other things too. And of course you need to make sure that you have the prerequisites to apply in the first place. Usually that’s a number of things published in edited magazines, or books. Good luck!

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  1. This is wonderful. Thank you so much. It’s nice to have the practical advice added in at the bottom, but honestly, I think that the most compelling thing is the humanizing of the process. Reminding folks that there are real people working hard to make difficult choices.

    I think the thing that struck home for me the most was the reminder that the jury will be different year to year, art of any kind is so subjective and different people will connect to it in different ways. What doesn’t land with this year’s group may next year. It’s okay to continue to build and refine the same application year over year.

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    1. That’s it! I think the problem is – and I’m totally guilty of this too – sometimes you get rejected twice, and then you decide never to apply again. And I totally understand, because it’s not charming to keep getting turned away, but once you have your grant written, you just have to tweak it every year. And I have often found that the time away from the thing gives you a lot of perspective on it when you look at it again a year later. There’s also that funny thing that happens when you work on something – how your subconscious is working on it all the time too. And who knows? You might have a new idea for a new project and you scrap the old application because you were inspired to put a twist on it.

      But the main thing I thin is to be engaged in the process. Sending in an application is like showing up to a friend’s annual picnic. You never know who you’l meet. Maybe a new best friend. But you’ll never meet anyone if you stay at home. Sometimes writers SHOULD be all introverty and reclusive – when they’re working on something – but there’s a time to take chances, and let loose lanterns into the world, and that’s for applying for grants.

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    1. There are pre-requisites to apply. If i recall right, it’s about 4 pages in a lit magazine of some kind, or a book that goes thru a traditional publisher. You have to investigate that. They basically want to make sure that you don’t brag on your CV that you have 2 books published by “Adelaide York Books”, for example, and then after they google you, it turns out that Adelaide York was your dog, and you are the actual owner of the publishing house. HOWEVER, there is a new thing that you can apply to if you don’t have many traditional published credits. This thing. I pasted it. Good luck!

      New/Early Career Artist

      The New/Early Career Artist profile is for artists who are entering or who are in the early stages of their professional career in one or more fields of practice recognized by the Canada Council. This profile welcomes artists who are new to Canada and may have received training or begun a career in their country of origin.

      To be eligible as a New/Early Career Artist, you:

      have no other approved applicant profiles with the Canada Council
      have not previously received a grant from the Canada Council
      are at least 18 years old
      are either a Canadian citizen or a permanent resident of Canada
      have some training, experience or accomplishments in one or more of the following fields of practice: Circus Arts, Dance, Deaf and Disability Arts, Digital Arts, Inter-Arts, Literature, Media Arts, Music and Sound, Theatre or Visual Arts. Past training could include mentorship, self-study, workshops, etc. Training in an academic institution is not mandatory. Training, experience or accomplishments that took place outside of Canada are recognized
      are committed to the ongoing development of your skills and artistic practice

      Note:

      Your CV must demonstrate that you meet the eligibility criteria stated above.

      You can only have 1 New/Early Career Artist profile. If you work in more than 1 field of practice, create your New/Early Career Artist profile in the field of practice that you are most active in. You can use this applicant profile to apply in any of your fields of practice.

      New/Early Career Artists will have access to the following funding components:

      Explore and Create: Professional Development for Artists
      Explore and Create: Research and Creation
      Explore and Create: Concept to Realization
      Strategic Funds and Initiatives: Frankfurt 2020: Canada Guest of Honour Special Initiative for Canadian Artists
      Strategic Funds and Initiatives: The Creation Accelerator

      This profile is open to young practicing artists. However, if you are currently enrolled in artistic studies or training, you must demonstrate that you have previous artistic experience and are engaged in an independent artistic practice. The Canada Council does not fund activities that are carried out to satisfy course requirements. Funded activities must be independent from your program of study.

      The New/Early Career Artist profile is a pilot project that will be in place for a two-year trial period until March 31, 2021.

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  2. I have so many questions:
    1- Are there courses one can take on how to make a proper resumé for a Canada Council Grant application?
    2- Given that I self-published my first book, would I still be able to apply?
    3- I studied in translation (Bachelors degree at the University of Montreal). Does that qualify in any way to ‘New/Early Career artist’?
    4- I am 37-years-old and have only learned from this today. Does my age handicap my chances?

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    1. Hi Sebastien!

      1. Not sure. I don’t know of them. But the resume you send in is just a CV that emphasizes your literary accomplishments. If you are asking if there are courses that help you write an application that maximizes your chances, I am sure they exist. Probably someone at the QWF does workshops on this. You should ask them.

      2. Self-publishing is problematic. I’ll just be honest with you. For Literary Writers, these are the pre-requisites to apply for grants:

      “””””””””””””””””””””””””””””””

      Literary Writer
      Literature / Individual
      A literary writer must have a professional literature practice, specifically writing
      literary works.
      To be eligible as a literary writer, you must:
      • have specialized training or a combination of experience in the field of literature
      • be recognized as a professional by peers working in the same literary artistic tradition
      • have a history of publications in a professional context, implying an editorial selection process, with remuneration
      • have a commitment to devoting more time to artistic activity, if possible financially
      • have published a minimum of 1 eligible title or:
      • for fiction, have published a minimum of 4 texts of creative literary fiction (e.g. short stories or excerpts from novels) published on 2 separate occasions in eligible literary magazines, periodicals or anthologies published by a literary book publisher
      • for poetry, have a minimum of 10 poems published in literary magazines, periodicals or anthologies that are published by literary book publishers
      • for literary non-fiction, have a minimum of 40 pages of literary articles published in literary magazines, periodicals or anthologies that are published by literary book publishers

      “”””””””””””””””””””””””””

      3. That said, having self-published a book and taken translation DOES show that you are committed to becoming a literary writer. Look – I’m no expert here. I was just on the jury once. I’m doing my best to answer these questions, but many of them should really be directed to the people at the Canada Council. I DO recommend you apply to be a new/early career artist. But I also recommend you call them and see where you stand. Now, when you call them, you’ll probably have to leave a message. But they WILL get back to you in a day or so. Or they always have with me.

      So, under the early/new career artist guidelines they say this:

      “””””””””””
      • have some training, experience or accomplishment in one or more of the following fields of practice: Circus Arts, Dance, Deaf and Disability Arts, Digital Arts, Inter-Arts, Literature, Media Arts, Music and Sound, Theatre or Visual Arts. Past training could include mentorship, self-study, workshops, etc. Training in an academic institution is not mandatory. Training, experience or accomplishments that took place outside of Canada are recognized.
      • be committed to the ongoing development of your skills and artistic practice.
      “””””””””””””

      Emphasize your past training. Did you take a creative writing course? Engage in a casual writing group? Take any QWF workshops? How many books have you written, even if they’re unpublished? Did you enter writing contests? Have you written articles? Have you translated works that you love? Are you in the process of writing something now? All this will help you. And even if you don’t get into the early/career area, work to get enough credits that you can apply to the mainstream Literary Writer grants that I mentioned above.

      4. Age doesn’t seem to matter. I know that on the jury, we never really looked at someone’s age. You can be a new and emerging artist at 37. Some people don’t start writing until they are 40.

      Good luck!

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