Grant writing and fiction–there’s a difference?

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My day job is a grant writer for a large community college, and you might think there’s very little in my work at the college that relates to my work as a fiction writer, but you’d be surprised. For those of you who have never been involved in writing a grant, here’s a very brief primer, just so you can see where I’m going with this train of thought.

First, as the grant writer you must interpret all the various, elaborate edicts handed down from the grantor (i.e., folks holding the bag ‘o cash). Sometimes, we grant writers daydream about what it must be like to work for the U.S. Department of Labor–are their lives so horrible that they’ve turned to sadism as a way to make themselves feel better? Possible. Are they so bored that they just throw in demented criteria to entertain themselves, sniggering like middle-school boys who’ve put a catsup packet on the teachers chair as they publish the 107 page Solicitation for Grant Applications? Likely.

Well, I find myself asking similar questions as I send my book manuscript to potential publishers. “Email only a query letter” “Email only a query letter and the first chapter–but cut and paste it only into the body of the email.” “No email submissions accepted.” “Attach the full manuscript as a Word document.” “Never send attachments as they won’t be opened”. “Print and mail your full manuscript [never to be seen again] even if it costs you $50 to print it and another $50 to ship it and we’ll likely throw it straight in the toilet” (And people wonder why the traditional publishing companies are struggling right now. Here’s a link to an article that has some other theories about that too).

Though I’ve decided to go the self-publishing route after much research, I’m finding Smashwords’ style guide to be nearly as convoluted as a Department of Education Request for Proposals and publisher’s submission criteria–but let me repeat, nearly. Nothing can really compete with the Dept. of Ed, unless it’s the Dept. of Labor (see above). Here’s a few of the first steps for formatting a manuscript for ebook publication. “First, select your whole manuscript. Then, cut and paste into Wordpad. Then select and copy it from Wordpad, and paste back into Microsoft Word. All those tabs you put in? Take ’em out. You did a .5 indent? Make it .3″. You get the idea.

And when it comes to content in a grant, one would think that it is supplied entirely by the content expert (faculty, dean, staff in the given department). But I find I use my skills as a fiction writer much more than I would have imagined, despite my blood oath when I first started that I would NEVER do such a thing. Well, when you have a deadline looming, and your content experts are too busy to supply you with facts about their program, you might find yourself making up objectives.

I always hope they can meet them, of course, and would never put in something they can’t deliver…”We will increase enrollment of underserved populations by 500% in the first year.” “We will serve 3000 students for the total budget of $3 by leveraging existing resources [grant speak for doing what you already do but just doing it with the grant project too].” “By the end of year two, all Republicans will have become Democrats, and vice versa, and Libertarians will have created a book-club with the Communists.”

See what I mean? My day job supports my night job, and the other way ’round, to the benefit of all (except the poor Communists who are stuck discussing 50 Shades of Grey with the Libertarians…they’d have to have some pretty good snacks to make that worth while).

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