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: