With patience and commitment, you can find funding for your book. Here is some advice on how to pursue grants, crowdfund, enter contests, and freelance your way to funding your book.
Self-publishing is empowering. You are the boss, your book is yours to do with as you wish. That said, one of your biggest challenges, and one big difference between self-publishing and traditional publishing, is you are paying for publication and promotion.
I hate to burst your bubble, but if you are like many authors, you might be seeking a simple grant in the hopes that philanthropic gods abound, doling out money to unknown writers. Sorry, that’s not the way it works. I don’t know of any grant that pays new or part-time independent writers to publish books. But don’t let that take the wind out of your sails. It’s not the end of the world – you can still find money to make your book dream come true.
It does require patience and commitment – no money source happens quickly. Just like writing your story, finding money takes thought and planning. Don’t finish writing then scramble for the money thinking it will only take a couple weeks. You need to plan in advance.
You should also understand that any money you acquire to publish – grant, contest winnings, crowdfunding – is taxable. However, you’ll have plenty you can write off, too.
I know I said grants aren’t available for new writers, but you should understand them because occasionally one arises, especially once you publish a few books and build a brand and author platform.
A grant is money given – with no expectation of repayment – for a specific purpose. Most grants come from government agencies or nonprofits, often known as foundations. These foundations and agencies typically give grants to other organizations or nonprofits, rather than to individuals, because of the US tax code.
But some groups do offer individual grants, including:
- State Arts Commissions. Go to the National Association of State Arts Agencies to find yours.
- Local arts councils. Do an Internet search for your town or county for the local “arts council.”
- Local governments. Contact the government websites for your area and do a search for grants.
I’d love to tell you how to apply to each one and advise how to win one of these grants, but every organization has different standards and rules for how they select grant recipients. The best way to learn about a specific grant structure is to:
- Call a representative and ask for details and expectations
- Subscribe to receive their newsletter or email updates
- Serve on a grant panel
The last option sounds ambitious, but these organizations need a diversity of minds to make their grant selections. By being involved, you’ll not only learn how the process works, but you’ll see which applicants win selection. You’ll also get to know the people who manage the grants, so when you apply, your name will ring a bell.
If you do the work and are awarded a grant, expect the amount to be anywhere from a few hundred dollars to a few thousand. There are rare occurrences where a grant of $10,000 is awarded to an author who can prove him or herself with a body of work.
Crowdfunding for authors
When someone asks me about acquiring a grant, I usually recommend considering crowdfunding instead. There are many online crowdfunding platforms, including Kickstarter, Indiegogo, Unbound, Rockethub, Patreon, and many more.
If you are not familiar with the concept, it’s pretty basic on the surface: you are pitching your product/idea to the public, asking for people to pledge money to support you. You’re given a page on the crowdfunding platform’s site to pitch your campaign, where you explain your project and the funds you need for your stated purpose (research, travel, publishing, editing, promotion, etc.). You set a funding goal and deadline, and build your campaign.
Success hinges on many things, not the least of which are the rewards you promise in exchange for a donation. It can be as simple as an eBook for a $10 donation, or a paperback copy for $25. $100 might get the donor’s name in the book, and for a $1,000 donation, perhaps you’ll have dinner with your patron’s book club. There are no rules or limitations, and creativity is paramount to enticing participation.
There’s no better way to learn how to develop a successful crowdfunding campaign than to study the successful ones. Campaigns stay up on the platforms for a long while after the deadline. It’s also worth donating to a current campaign or two to get a feel for how the process works.
When determining how much money you need, take into account the cost of running the campaign. Costs include the administrative fees that the sites will deduct, the cost of whatever devices you use in your promotion (i.e., video, slideshow), the cost of the rewards you give to your supporters (including mailing and production), and any tax liabilities you incur from the money you earn.
Administrative fees vary from platform to platform. Some require you meet your monetary goal or receive nothing, while others will pass on whatever is pledged, regardless if you’ve meet your goal.
If crowdfunding is more empowering than grants, freelancing is even more empowering, because more of your success is in your control.
Any writer can write for a magazine, business, newspaper, newsletter, or blog in exchange for compensation. For the most part, magazines will pay five to fifty cents per word for articles. If you are seeking funding for your book, avoid any publication that wants you to write for free – income is key. Pitch to as many magazines or publishing opportunities as you can every week. Prepare to be rejected until you get the gist of it, but you might just land several gigs. That puts money in your coffers, and it doesn’t take many $100 pieces to build the funds you need to publish your book.
In addition to the income, a great side effect of this effort is that you’re getting your name out there in front the public. Chances are your byline on a magazine article or blog site will reach more people in a weekend than your new book will reach in a year, building credibility and name recognition for you as a writer. Each published piece builds your ladder, and when you publish your book, you have readers in tow.
To take best advantage of that, have a personal blog or website that promotes your successes and links to where you are published. Another goal should to be increasing the results when someone does an Internet search for you. The more articles you have published online and on your website, the more easily readers will find you.
Finally, make sure your freelancing money goes into your savings account for the book. And don’t forget your freelancing expenses are tax write-offs, too.
This is a combination of a grant and sponsorship with a dash of crowdfunding.
First, find a nonprofit that is willing to apply for a grant on your behalf. You only have access to individual funding, but they have access to group funding. In a best-case scenario, they get the grant and keep an administrative fee (which varies, but is typically 10 percent), and you get the rest to pursue your project.
Before this can work, you have to show that your book somehow goes along with the nonprofit’s mission. The nonprofit has two reasons to consider doing this: the first is the administrative fee, the second is for promotion. An animal shelter, for instance, may be willing to be your fiscal agent for your cozy mystery about a dog. You promote them for being your agent in press and in an acknowledgement in the book, and they get the administrative fee to help run their organization.
No, they won’t get part of your royalties, but you need to turn in evidence of your success for their records so they can document you used the money properly. For more information on how a fiscal agent works, see these sites:
New York Foundation for the Arts
Grantspace (Foundation Center)
On its face this might sound akin to buying lottery tickets, but writing contests are much more than playing a game of chance.
While you are writing your book, enter chapters, short stories, poetry, or other portions of your work into contests that pay. The competition is fierce, which is a motivator, because competition makes you write your best. Contests can also serve as great barometers for you to judge how well you are writing. I didn’t publish my first novel until I’d placed or won in several contests for its opening line, first chapter, and entire unpublished manuscript.
Be prepared: there will be fees involved. Some writers assume that when a contest charges a fee, it has to be a scam. To be honest, I wonder about any contest that doesn’t charge an entry fee. How else is the prize money, advertising, and honorariums to the judges paid for?
That’s not to say there aren’t scams out there. A rule of thumb to use in paying a fee is this: it should be no more than five percent of the first-prize award. If you are compelled to enter a writing contest that exceeds this, I strongly advise you draw a line at ten percent of the first-prize money.
Some writing contests might also offer some sort of publishing deal as part of the award, which is what you want, right? But wait… maybe this is a traditional publishing deal and you want to remain independent, or perhaps the publishing deal limits you in ways you’d rather not agree to. I’d likely still make the argument that winning a contest, receiving funds, and acquiring a traditional publishing contract is worth the sacrifice of some royalties or independence as the win could be a huge shot in the arm and launch your career as an author.
How do you find a credible writing contest? FundsForWriters (where I work as the editor) is known for vetting contests. We’ve been watching and screening contests for nearly two decades. Poets & Writers magazine also lists writing contests, and New Pages is another internationally reputable site with a contest list.
There’s plenty more you can do
There are other options. I haven’t mentioned charging your credit cards, teaching writing classes, speaking fees, or selling advertising on your website. Finding money for your book project requires you to think like an entrepreneur. How can you raise money? It doesn’t have to be linear, where someone just hands you money to write and publish a book.
Use the same brain power you use to make up stories and paint beautiful words to think of ways to earn money for your book. Create a one-year business plan on how you will write, produce, and earn the money to bring your story to life – and print.
Have you considered entering a writing contest?
Crowdfunding For Authors
How to Use Social Media to Grow Your Author Platform and Sell Your Book
Author-powered Self Publishing
It’s time to publish your love story – or the story you love
How To Make Time For Fiction When Nonfiction Writing Pays the Bills