There are certain times in one’s life when making a good impression is crucial to your future health and happiness. You get dressed up in some modest, sufficiently flattering (but not too flattering) outfit—a tea length skirt, perhaps. Possibly a sweater set. You sip and nibble, say sir and ma’am, please and thank you. You curb your tongue, mind your manners and say intelligent things. You smile and shake hands.
Job interviews, blind dates, networking events…they all require you to look good, sound good and wherever possible, blister your counterparts with your brilliance. If my first few weeks here at PQL have taught me anything, it’s that grant applications are like written versions of these crucial events—they require information, preparation and a little bit of metaphorical lipstick.
If government grants aren’t exactly the lifeblood of the publishing industry, they’re at least the blood transfusion that keeps the system pumping. In an industry where margins are as thin as the paper you print on—maybe thinner if you print on hardy stock like the antique laid we use at the shop—patronage is a necessary part of not only encouraging new and creative thinking, but also maintaining existing cultural treasures.
But if it’s a handout you’re looking for, move along. It seems to me like you’ve got to work for every penny.
When you start a grant application, you figure you won’t have a problem ticking some boxes and answering a few questions about the press. You figure you’ve done your share of applications and the like to get into a decent undergraduate program, or grad school, or what have you, so it’s the same thing, right?
You quickly learn that there is a fundamental difference between talking about yourself and talking about your company, especially when your company has a particularly rich history stretching back almost 40 years. So you consult past applications and various resources, you talk to your boss and compile several informative and fairly comprehensive paragraphs.
Then you cut about sixty percent of it, because you’ve only got space for about 250 words.
After a quick mental break and a steaming cup of coffee, you go back to it, repeating the process for the next twenty questions. Four hours later, you emerge from a frenzy of typing and cross referencing, wondering absently why your coffee’s so cold, and when did it get so dark? You read back what you’ve done—all 2 pages—and feel the cold hand of panic wrapping its bony fingers around your heart.
Is this what they’re looking for? Did that answer the question? Did I write too much? Too little? What if there’s a typo that my gradually crossing eyes have missed? Did I follow the right format? Does everything look good?
Clearly, grant writing is not for the faint of heart. It takes time, dedication, and yes, skill, to craft a successful grant application. My first experience was a bit rocky, I’ll admit, but I’m still learning. With time and practice, I’ll learn how to efficiently synthesize decades of history. I’ll learn how to communicate our strategies and give long-suffering grant jurors what they want. I might even learn to like the endless crafting and re-crafting that goes into answering questions about marketing and sales.
I’ve got a long way to go, but I’ve got a good teacher, and no shortage of applications on which to practice.