Tag Archives: how to become a grant writer

What to do when you become a spontaneous grant writer

Susan wants to know:

I am being told that I must become a “grant writer” for my law enforcement agency within a month or so. There is not enough time to apprentice so they want me to learn everything I need to know in a 2 day workshop!!! Any suggestions?

Suggestions! I’m filled with ’em. Especially for someone who has transformed, like one of the X-Men, into a grant-writing superhero. Again like the X-Men, I replied via e-mail:

The self-serving but accurate answer to your quandary is “hire us.” Note that we also edit proposals, although about 60 – 70% of the organizations that hire us to edit their proposal would have been better off simply hiring us for the full monty. If that’s not going to happen, I’d say this:

1) Read all of Grant Writing Confidential; I should turn it into an ebook, but I haven’t had time, and making this blog into a cohesive book will probably never be worth it from a pure cost/benefit analysis. Still, I want to anyway—especially after reading “Practical Tips on Writing a Book from 23 Brilliant Authors.” What I wrote in “Why You’re Unlikely to see ‘Seliger and Associates Presents Grant Writing Confidential: The Book and Musical’ Anytime Soon” is still accurate, but the possibilities opened up by self-publishing have exploded in the last year.

2) Does your agency have a particular program to which it wants to apply? If so, which one? Assuming the agency does have a specific program in mind, write as much as you can of the proposal draft before you go to the workshop. Take the draft with you and try to discuss it with whoever is teaching it. Then you’ll basically be turning that person into an editor / professor; it’s much easier to discuss writing, or almost any other “making thing” discipline, in the concrete than in the abstract.

Taking an infinite number of workshops is not going to make the blank page any easier. Having something, anything, on the blank page is better than having nothing. Isaac likes to say, “Something can be edited. Write something.”

3) If you have anyone you know who’s a decent writer and can be pressed into service as an editor, warn and beg them in advance that you need their help. Every writer needs an editor.

4) Start writing as soon as you can. Leave blanks. Get to the end. I’m repeating what I said in number four, but something cannot be edited if it hasn’t been written. I suspect this fundamental fact scuppers as many would-be grant writers as any other.

5) Good luck.

6) GWC readers: you have any other advice for Susan?

Why You’re Unlikely to see “Seliger and Associates Presents Grant Writing Confidential: The Book and Musical” Anytime Soon

A recent commenter told us, “You should write a book, if you haven’t already.” We’ve thought idly about doing a book and then gone back to drinking Aviations, admiring the sunset, and writing proposals.

But we might eventually write a book if the conditions are right. The main reason I haven’t spent a lot of time on a potential book project is because we can make far more money with far less aggravation as consultants than we can trying to get a book published. To learn why, see Philip Greenspun’s essay “The book behind the book behind the book…,” where he describes how he wrote a computer book, why most computer books are so bad, and points out the sheer amount of time he had spend not consulting for real money but instead working with publishers who removed his biting, appropriate commentary and instead insert happy-talk pablum of the kind that will be incredibly familiar to anyone who has picked up a commercial computer book. Alas, my short description doesn’t convey how hilarious and accurate his essay is; it should be mandatory reading for anyone who thinks they want to publish a book.*

In our case, we can say as much as we want about grant writing and the grant writing process on our blog without having to muck around with publishers. GWC is now sufficiently well developed that I can say to anyone who wants to learn about grant writing, “Read the archives.”

Still, if a publisher or agent came to us and said, “Organize your blog posts into book form and we’ll give you some money,” I’d probably do it because this would make me feel warm and fuzzy inside. That, and I have a compulsive desire to communicate. But I’ve been a would-be novelist for longer than I care to think about (see here for more) and don’t think much of trying to get into publishing because I’ve already been trying to do so for so long. Trying to get in without being invited is tough, tedious, and not all that rewarding even if/when you do get in.

It’s still tempting, though, because so much of the nominal competition is so bad. Most of what people know or think they know about grant writing is wrong. Most of it is based on limited impressions or single projects or single agencies. Most people don’t really know how the grant process works because you just have to have been around long enough to understand it. Very few people have. There are all kinds of things people don’t understand. No one else has simply said, “Seeking grants is also a treasure hunt.” We’ve never seen anyone else point out that just because you get the most points doesn’t mean you’ll get funded. RFPs never convey how to write to them in plain English. We’re trying to put as much plain English into grant writing as possible.

A lot of grant writing books are deficient and almost every grant writing book fails to explain how grants actually work. They haven’t been written by people who have worked across the nonprofit sector. As is often the case, we’ve seen the competition and thought, “We could do better than that.”

But the gap between “could do better” and “your local bookstore” is wide. Books usually get sold by writing an outline, then finding an agent, who pitches a publisher, who buys your book, edits it as you write it, then distributes it to someone who sells it. Each of those stages can be pretty arduous; you don’t climb a mountain just by hitting the first easy patch after a technical climb, and you can fall off a cliff and plummet, screaming, to the bottom at any time during the ascent (this metaphor sums up how people who experience the publishing industry feel about the publishing industry). At the moment, we haven’t overcome inertia to the point we want to begin the ascent. That, and we’ve got lots of work writing proposals down here in base camp.

Anyway, if think we’re awesome and you know someone who works in publishing, tell them to call us at 800.540.8906. Better yet, if you know someone who needs a technically accurate and well-written proposal completed on time, tell them to call us, because that’s still our main business. We wouldn’t mind being in the book business but aren’t likely to get there in the immediate future, unless someone in the know invites us to start the climb.


* When you’re done with it, read “Why I’m not a Writer:” “I’m not a writer. Sometimes I write, but I don’t define myself as a career writer. And that isn’t because I couldn’t tolerate the garret lifestyle of an obscure writer. It is because I couldn’t tolerate the garret lifestyle of a successful writer.”