How Winning Creative, Literary & Small Business Grants Has Helped One Australian Writer & Her Author Business – And How Grants Could Help You Too
Winning a local, state or national writing grant can change the course of an author’s career.
This article is about how grants can create opportunities to improve author confidence, craft, connections, publication potential and business growth. All reasons why applying for a creative, literary, or small business grant for your author business might be the start of something big for you too!
Let’s focus in on Australian author Amra Pajalic’s journey. Amra is the host of Bold Author’s on-demand online course: Grants for Australian Writers, How to Find, Apply & Win Them and after reading this, you’ll understand why. Her understanding of the process as both a writing grant (fiction and non-fiction) recipient AND as a grant assessor makes her the ideal course guide.
Amra, what was the first writing grant you received and what did it lead to?
The first grant I received was for a $12 000 Creative Victoria ‘New Development’ grant. The grant enabled me to take time out to write the sequel to my debut novel, The Good Daughter, which had been shortlisted for the Victorian Premier’s Awards.
Why did you apply for the grant?
The Good Daughter had been published when my daughter was four months old and I found juggling my time and identity, as well as the day-to-day labour of being a mother and an author very difficult. I also suffered from post-natal depression and was in a very dark place. I received the grant to write the sequel when my daughter was 10 months old. It gave me much needed funds to pay for childcare and claim back writing time.
The new development grant helped part-fund the writing of your novel. What happened to the manuscript?
My publisher at the time rejected the sequel as they’d found the sales of my debut novel weren’t high enough for them to pursue the series financially. While this was personally devastating at the time, the process of receiving the grant, the recognition and the writing of the book served its purpose in helping me fight my way out of my depression, find my confidence and improve my craft. I’ve since taken back the rights to The Good Daughter and re-released it as Sabiha’s Dilemma, in the young adult category. I’ve also published the manuscript I worked on with the grant, Alma’s Loyalty, as the second in the Sassy Saints series with my small press fourteen years later. So, as you can see, writing has no expiry date!
What was the next grant you applied for?
It was a $5 000 Creative Victoria grant. I’d had the great experience of editing other people’s memoir pieces for the anthology I co-edited Growing up Muslim in Australia, but I found the writing of my own memoir, Things Nobody Knows but Me (Transit Lounge 2019) incredibly daunting. I applied for the grant to assist with a research trip, but more importantly, to pay for a mentor.
Were you successful with that grant the first time?
No! The first time I hadn’t developed my concept clearly enough or articulated the ‘why me’ and ‘why now’ aspect of my project. The second time I listed a mentor without actually connecting with the author and getting them on board, as this was something I didn’t know I had to do prior to winning the grant. So, the third time, I corrected this mistake and had Alice Pung read my pitch and write a support letter confirming her as my mentor and this finally did the trick.
How did you come to meet and choose Alice Pung as your mentor?
Alice and I had met when we were both shortlisted for the Victorian Premier’s Awards, she was shortlisted for her memoir Unpolished Gem in the non-fiction category and I was for my debut novel The Good Daughter (now re-released as Sabiha’s Dilemma). There aren’t many of us who are authors who come from working class background and are children of migrant parents, so we tend to feel an instant bond and connection, and this is what happened with us. We’ve been friends in the fourteen years since.
What was the single-best thing about winning that grant for you?
One of the things I struggled with was motivation but having Alice as my trusted reader along with the grant obligation of a set deadline to submit to, helped me keep writing at a time in my life when it was a struggle. I was also nervous about writing a true story about my mother’s experience as a bipolar sufferer without exploiting her story. Alice was my trusted advisor in giving me feedback, and she also helped me develop strategies to interview my mother and share her perspective, while making her feel safe in her vulnerability.
How else did you use the grant and the writing process it helped fund to your advantage?
I was able to publish extracts and chapters as stand-alone pieces in anthologies and journals prior to publication. This helped build my confidence as well as broadened my network and opportunities.
I found the memoir and your telling of it so clear, honest and impactful. From ‘Migrant, mother and a mental patient’ to ‘It was ironic that Mum had spent her whole life as an exile from her homeland, and then when the homeland came to her, she was exiled again.’ It was quite a personal experience and subject to tackle.
Initially my mother wanted me to use a pen name, however when she read the draft she said to me, ‘you really love me,’ and told me I could use her actual name. This showed me that I had achieved my purpose in telling her story and honouring her life.
Here’s what Alice Pung said of Things Nobody Knows But Me, a book that would not have come into existence in this form without the help of that writing grant:
‘Brave, compassionate, searingly honest and funny., this is a memoir in a voice like no other. Amra Pajalic’s love letter to her mother is a book that grabs at your heart and doesn’t let go until the final act.’
What’s the latest grant you’ve received?
The latest grant I received was for Export Market Development Grant (EMDG) for my small press, Pishukin Press. It’s really helped me with forging ahead as a small business. Marketing is such a daunting and expensive undertaking that requires money to take risks and experiment. The fact that I will be reimbursed 50 percent of marketing expenses to an international market has helped me launch into this undertaking because I have a soft cushion to catch me.
It has also meant that I have been recognised as an organisational member of the Small Press Network which gives me credibility and confidence. Marketing is difficult as an author because our books are so personal to us and it’s hard to separate and think of them as products, however thinking of myself as a small business owner has made this mindset easier. I’m not promoting my books per se, I’m promoting my small business and therefore the Australian industry and economy. Somehow this takes the personal out of it and it becomes something more than just about me.
NB: There is an entire module all about the EMDG Grant for writers and small publishers in Grants for Australian Writers, How to Find, Apply & Win Them course.
What have you learned from your unsuccessful writing grant applications?
All the unsuccessful grant applications have helped me bolster my writing and develop clarity about my projects. Even when I don’t receive the grants, these books become real and tangible, and I still write them, just at a much slower pace as I juggle writing around my day job. In addition, receiving feedback from industry professionals about why they weren’t funded has also helped me to develop my concepts more. That way they are written to high industry standards, and nothing is wasted. Finally, I’ve learned that being unsuccessful is just part of the writing journey. Being rejected as a writer comes to all of us – it’s what you do with that rejection that matters. That’s one of the reasons I loved putting together the Grants for Australian Writers, How to Find, Apply & Win Them course for Bold Authors and why Dr Helen Edwards’ course The Resilient Writer is also such an important resource for writers and the writing community.
Final comments from Anna
I’ve so enjoyed working with Amra Pajalic on the Grants for Australian Writers: How to Find, Apply & Win Them course for Bold Authors, especially as it’s meant I’ve been reading many of her works! And not just hers, but the works of other Australian writers alongside whose work Amra’s sits in some fantastic anthologies.
Rebellious Daughters: True Stories from Australia’s Finest Writers (Venture Press, edited by Maria Katsonis and Lee Kofman) – introduced me to the sparkling writing of Jamila Rizvi and Silvia Kwan, and I was also left totally compelled and absorbed by the writing of Eliza Henry Jones and others.
I followed that up with Meet Me at the Intersection (Fremantle Press), and the anthology Amra co-edited Growing Up Muslim in Australia (Allen & Unwin). Both such great works and reads.
What I’ve learned from helping Amra develop this course is how important grants can be for writers, not just for the financial aspect, but also the improvement of writing craft, the growing of networks, publicity opportunities, publisher interest, improving confidence and author business skills as well as all round writerly growth.
Here’s to you exploring the course and winning a grant for your writing soon too!