How Eight Days A Week’s Worth of Writing Tips Can Make You Memorable, Fundable and Unique

Do you have a project you  are passionate about?

Chances are you will need other people to fall in love with what you are doing to make your project a success.  You will need a bigger pool of supporters and fans to rally and believe in your work.

How do you convey what you know so well to a prospective patron or supporter?  With so many people competing for funding for their projects, do you ever wonder if your letter of inquiry has a chance?

According to a recent grant panel I participated in, the funder awarded 20 grants out of a pool of 1700 applicants.   Pretty competitive.

Foundations, philanthropies, and government funders are overwhelmed with requests . You probably are just as frustrated by the process.

So how can you make your next letter of inquiry jump out of the slush pile into the yes pile?  Where do you start and is it worth the effort?

You bet it is. And it’s easier than you think.

Chances are, your letter is one of many similar letters that land on the desk of a grant officer slowly drowning in a sea of paper.  Now, if you were that person, what would be the first thing you would want to do to make your life easier?

Here’s a hint:  Hunting for a reason to keep a letter in the slush pile is not the answer.

The truth is, that first thing that reader wants to do is whittle down the pile of letters to consider by eliminating the weak ones.  You don’t want to give them any reason to toss your letter out of the pile.

You work hard for what you love and now you need to that love to come back to you.

8 WAYS TO CLINCH YOUR LETTER OF INQUIRY

I sat on a panel with three very smart people from a foundation, a politician’s office and from the artist community.  After spending time reading drafts of letters of inquiry from attendees seeking financial support, we came away with a handful of advice.

Eight tips, to be precise.  I paired them with some images in this quick little video.  They are also here with some of my thoughts.

The following are eight ways to get Eight Days A Week  worth of love for that project you love.  They are easy to use and can double your letter’s appeal and chances for getting to yes:

 

1.  Be Clear

clarity
Arthur Schopenhauer


Be simple and clear about what you need.  The clarity of your request will be greatly appreciated by people who do not have to go digging through pages of text to find out exactly who you are, what you want and most important of all, how they can be helpful.

Example:

“I respectfully request $10,000  (WHAT)  to support three productions of original plays about seeking identity as second generation immigrants  (WHY and WHY THIS MATTERS)  by emerging Bengali playwrights  (WHO)  to take place in September  (WHEN) at the XYZ Theatre  (WHERE).”

 

2. Be Short & Sweet

 

short and sweet
Franklin Delano Roosevelt

Use short sentences.  Choose simple words, not jargon.

Say:

  • children under 5, not constituent
  • make friends, not outreach
  • work with people, not implement a program
  • understand, not seek common ground
  • see if it works, not assess the metrics

Your writing should follow The Mini Skirt Rule and be:

Long enough to cover the basics and short enough to be enticing.

3. Do Your Homework

do your homeworkSamuel Taylor Coleridge

Nothing is worse than a letter requesting apples from someone that has oranges.

Take the time to find out what projects your local legislator has funded in your district to see if your project is something they would be interested in.

Example:

“Your support of the ABC reading series for seniors at local library branches is a greatly needed and appreciated community program.  Our intergenerational open mic workshop has been carefully designed to build upon this success and to give local seniors more ways to become involved with the rapidly growing literary community in your district.”

 

You have shown your knowledge of a project that has been recently funded.  Rather than duplicate efforts, you are enhancing this  program’s success by collaborating with other local resources.  This shows you understand how to build working partnerships and how to leverage support in a deeper way.

 

4. Update Your Website

TourGuides_1980-2

 

The first place people will go to find out more about you is your website.

Make sure there is fresh content on your homepage and that your contact information is up to date and easy to find.  Add images to make your pages more attractive.

A ghost town website will undermine your credibility.

5. Love Your Layout

written text

Beauty is only skin deep, but ugly goes clean to the bone

Dorothy Parker

Most people skim before they read.  A wall of text is sure to make someone’s eyes glaze over.

Why not break up your text into two or three short paragraphs and add white space to “let your words breathe”?

Use bulleted lists to make it easy for your eyes to focus on important points.

 

6. Get Another Set of Eyes

get a second set of eyes

Abraham Lincoln

Not your mom.  She will love you no matter what you write.

Get someone unfamiliar with your field to review your letter and see if your message is clear to them.   Ask a colleague to proofread your work.

Then ask your mom.

7. Make it Easy

make it easy

Zig Ziglar

If you are sending work samples such as a video or an audio recording, make sure everything is clearly marked and cued up ready to go.  This is actual proof that you are an expert in what you love to do and promise of your potential.  A little attention to the technical details will prevent glitches from preventing people from seeing you in action.

Send your letter out as a PDF and as an attachment.

Having your document in both formats makes it easier for people to access no matter how old or temperamental their computer is.  People will appreciate having options.

8. Follow up

follow up

Rose Kennedy

Now that your letter has been sent,  you have an opportunity to check in.  If you are successful, say thank you.  A lot.  You can never express your appreciation enough.

If you are not successful, you can call and say thank you for their consideration.  You can also develop a relationship by asking for panel comments and where you fell short so that you can do a better job the next time.

No is not no.  It is not yet waiting to become a yes.

 


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How To Get A Grant In Literature

lip books

A DAY IN THE LIFE OF A GRANTS PANELIST

Bowed by the heat of August, and somewhat intimidated by the willowy and unspeakably beautiful models wafting into the elevator, matchsticks stemming out of stilettos, maybe a hundred or so per elevator car, I emerged, ego crushed, onto the tenth floor of 300 park avenue south where I would spend the next two days poring over literature grant applications at the New York State Council on the Arts, seeking  coffee and people who looked, and thought and talked more or less like, well, me.

I spend a lot of time around grants, grants panels, grantmakers conferences.  big, small, national, regional, family foundations as well as my own council grantmaking activities. At the end of the day, after every rating has been entered, every comment logged, every cookie eaten, there is always that sigh that rushes through the group that wishes the applicants could have done this better, or avoided doing that, we grumble about the bigger picture, the smaller pool of money, we long for more time to talk about what we just went through, call it a policy discussion, a debriefing or simply going out for drinks around the corner.

For those of you who want to surf on that collective sigh as one of the bright spots, one riding the crest of the next ratings sheet, here are my comments on this panel:

NUTS & BOLTS

To give you an idea of what an actual day of panel is like,  I list a few of my own personal criteria.  Why is this important?  Panelists are human beings too, and the distinction in this case is that we have already spent hours reading and reviewing pages upon pages of grant applications and are about to confer the almighty rating to determine their funding status. Be nice to us.

    1. Care of panelists
      1. food:  Fresh fruit, homemade cookies, lovely berries.  Coffee available upon arrival.
      2. egrant interface:  Wonky at first, who knew you had to send in an affiliation statement?  I would have preferred having all applications and work sample materials available in one place.  Not two screens.  What about prescoring?  That would save some time and provide a place to start from.  It is also really interesting to see if panelists change their scores upon discussion.
      3. panel experience:  In these literature panels, we are daytrippers, dipping our toes into poetry, unleashing flashes of philosophy, self deprecating humor, bookish, fierce, loving.  We opened  our first day with a reading of a poem by Jorge Valente entitled, “Song” followed by a metaphor by one fellow panelist about how being in the lobby of a modeling agency immersed among throngs of the most beautiful people on the planet reminded him of what Billy Joel said as he was standing next to Christie Brinkley, his ex wife and gorgeous person, “I feel like a slab of bacon.”  Another voice piped in quickly, “But people love bacon!”
    2. number of applicants:  27
    3. amount of money to be granted: Unknown, but last year I hear it was about $960,000.00

WHAT CAN HELP YOU GET YOUR NEXT GRANT

The Most Common Mistakes

BUDGET NOTES:

I think most of us are willing to fund an organization showing a deficit, possibly a string of them, as long as there is an explanation about it and they are thoughtful about describing their plans to address it.

SELECTION PROCESS: 

We want to know your strategy for making choices.  How are schools and artists chosen? Can you explain your curation process?

TYPOS:

Are you kidding? This is a literature panel.  You will not be punished for bad grammar, misspelling and typos.  You will be crucified.

 

THINGS THAT MAKE A PANEL LOVE YOU

UNABASHED COMMITMENT:

Care and feeding of writers and all their needs including laundering their linen.  This is the philosophy of a small and dedicated organization, passionate to its dyed hair roots, serving up literature, at its very, loving best.

 

HONESTY:

Be fearless and honest about stating your challenges.  We will sooner sympathize and rally around a sinner than a whitewashed prayer. We appreciate honesty and actually see glimpses of growth in your challenge areas.

 

RAPID RE-INVENTION:

Project funding is rapidly sinking in the rearview mirror of the program funding roadster hugging the curves of economic development.  I love how some groups embrace the new reality by being proactive in working with the big guns in establishing their internal capitalization structure, creating risk capital and pointing their navigators forward into a wider range of future partnerships.

Hmmm, that sounded really clunky, way too much jargon.

Let me say that in English:  Be creative about making the new economic realities work for your bottom line.

 

SOLVE A REAL PROBLEM

Seize a problem and do something about it.  Like a project that seeds a group of diverse interns in the white publishing industry.  (Grumbling point:  This application could have been more specific about the backgrounds of the interns).

What a political statement, an unapologetic shot across the bow of the publishing industry!

FROM THE WATERCOOLER

Looking back over my notes, these are the topics that kept coming up throughout our review. I think they are illuminating and can help guide your thinking as you write your next grant.

    1. EXPECTATIONS, UNEXPLORED POTENTIAL & INNOVATION:  Expectations shift with every group. What is acceptable for a small group in a remote rural area is not acceptable for an organization immersed in urban density because of the difference in  unexplored potential. So, is potential, unexplored or not, a criteria on the list?  Going forward, what are you doing that is new and innovative?  This is a benchmark question that only two or three groups answered successfully by stepping into the discomfort of being different and defining what success looks like, talks like and behaves like in their own particular universes.  The key here is to create a set of finite local successes that not only address immediate problems but resonate deeply in the universe of human experience.
    2. MULTIYEAR FUNDING:  How do you give and manage multiyear funding to organizations in flux and change?
    3. DIVERSITY, RACE & THE UNDERSERVED:  This goes beyond the easily pencilled in categroies of white, black, hispanic and asian.  How do you define these in your practice and community?  Are the developmentally disabled, queer, aging, youth at risk, jail spouses, foster children, migrant workers, deaf and refugee populations included in your definition of diversity or underserved?  aAre the underserved the same as marginalized?  Is it about access and opportunity?  Who are the gatekeepers?

 TWO PERSONAL OBSERVATIONS

    1. There is great interest in the idea of reinvention. For example, Joyce Carol Oates reclaiming the gothic novel as a feminist novel, a feminist press reconfiguring women in pulp novels from the 50’s that were originally anti feminist in tone, indie presses reinventing the independent book store as an Amazon model of niche, curated ebook sites.   This lead to the the question:  How hard is it to reinvent oneself, to keep the verve and vibrant energy of more youthful years, in an organization for so many years?
    2. Great panelist comment about an idiosyncratic, yet successful, applicant: “They will never be world class, but they will be classy in their own world”

I think that people who need to have their passion for literature funded should start asking themselves it the things they do really, I mean really, deserve to exist.  Clearly, people want literature to make life unapologetically rich, full and open to unexpected fullness.

Who doesn’t want that?

I hope that my punch list of observations, tips, hints at greatness and fiercely held preferences guide you in writing the great american novel of grant applications.

To your success!

What My Jewish Mother-in-Law Can Teach You About Writing Headlines

Mildred

Mildred

The Truth About Being A Great Writer

While standing on line at the local butcher, Mildred, my mother-in-law, leaned over the counter and said softly, “So Bernie, how does Mrs. Fisch do her pot roast?”

His answer changed my life.

 

Bernie bellied up to the counter, his heavy lidded eyes rolling sideways before pushing over a scribbled piece of butcher paper with his grubby finger.  “What do you think of that, Mrs. K?”  Mildred adjusted her glasses and peered keenly at the note before her.  With a dismissive sniff, she slid the paper into her purse and smiled innocently.

“The best cooks are thieves,” he winked at me.  “Julia Child stole her sauce recipes from the French, Martha Stewart practically copied her Christmas cookie book from Good Housekeeping and Mrs. Krakauer here, let’s just say she borrows from everyone.  And so should you.”

 

Me?

I was stunned.  From the very first time I sat down to dinner cooked by my mother-in-law, I believed she was making everything from time honored, secretly guarded recipes handed down from generation to generation.  Someone else with a better recipe for brisket?  Are you meshugah or what?

Yet, here before my eyes was Bernie, the butcher, telling Mildred  that the key to great cooking is grand larceny.  And from what it sounds like, she has some pretty fancy partners in crime.

 

Who benefits from all this stealing?

I certainly do, as well as the rest of the Krakauer family.  Our dinners are exquisite culinary experiences.  I suppose dinners are just as fabulous at Mrs. Fisch’s, at Mrs. Murray’s, at Mrs. Cohen’s as well as every house in Rockaway that participates in this ecosystem of theft.  Or borrowing, as Mildred would quickly say.  Like a Robin Hood and his Merry Men, there goes Mildred, borrowing from the rich to give to the poor, only in her case, all of Bernie’s loyal customers are swooping down from the trees in Belle Harbor to fatten their recipe files and to share the wealth with their hungry families.
No easy task to keep knocking out great dinners night after night for these ladies.  No wonder they flock to Bernie for a tip or two, an unexpected ingredient, a twist to make their husbands turn their heads and say, “Wow, honey!  I love your kashe varnishes!”

If you have to turn out momentous meals every day, coming up with your own unique original ideas is gehackte tsuris – who needs it!

And its not because Mildred is lazy, she’s busy.

The only way to survive, look fabulous and stay in control is to steal a secret from Julia Child, Martha Stewart and Mildred P. Krakauer.

 

Copy from others knowing that true genius stands on the shoulder pads of others

What About Writing?

I couldn’t help but wonder, “Could it be possible I am needlessly killing myself trying to be original all the time?”  Of course  I am.  And so are you.  We are stressing, worrying and inwardly freaking out each time we come face to face with the blank page because we want so badly to write something fabulous, something that will transform a reader by the simple experience of reading our words.

OK, here is what I think, after being in the trenches for twelve years as a professional author & illustrator, grantwriter and blogger:

You can mistakenly believe you are the most original, prolific and constantly amazing writer in the world and sputter into a fit of depression when it becomes impossible to maintain these high standards for yourself.

Or,

You can steal.

Why am I telling you to do this?

Because I know that if you are serious about your writing, you will see very quickly that there are better ways to write better and more efficiently.  Many successful writers like, Shakespeare, Jefferson and Wilde have perfected the art of copying, or as Bernie would say, “borrowing”, from others because they quickly understood that true creativity is seizing the genius in the ideas of others and making it your own.

 

Let’s Look At Headlines

“Attention is the rarest and purest form of generosity”

A great quote from Simone Weil.

How do you attract and earn someone’s attention?

Let me borrow a great word from Mark Ragan, the force at Ragan Communications: Cosmotize.

I just adore that!

When you are standing on line at the supermarket, you know your eyes go right to those riveting covers of Cosmopolitan Magazine, Vogue and GQ.

Did you know those headlines are over half a century old?  The ideas behind them are basically the same, the wording or the language changed over time, and yours to steal for your next piece.  The raison d’etre for a headline is to get you, the reader, to read the first sentence.  And then the next sentence, and so on.  If you can’t get someone to read your headline, you can forget about them reading your article.

Everything starts with the headline.

Look at any great headline carefully and you can see its bones, its architecture, its template that will work for any topic.  Just like the recipes in Mildred’s trusty collection, I am building a swipe file with hundreds of headline templates on my computer where I can scan them whenever I need to craft a killer headline of my own.

 

A Shortcut To List Headlines – Snack Size Content that Readers Will Eat Up

Everywhere you look,  there’s a headline like this, “43 Ways To Drive Your Man Crazy In Bed.  Be Sure to Check Out #7”, or “101 Killer Resources To Make Money As A Mommyblogger”.  You see them on magazine covers, on the blogs you follow and on morning and evening news shows.

Why are they so popular?

They work.

 

After attending the Boot Camp for Nonprofits!  Power of Giving Forum an exclusive event for Con Edison partners presented by Ragan Communications as well as the Corporate Writers and Editors Conference  (hashtag #raganCWE) the following day, I have a new respect for the power of headlines.

To help you write something that has the power to be a transformative experience, like Mildred’s pot roast, let me square my shoulders and become one with Bernie, the butcher.  I will share what I learned in a roomful of PR and marketing professionals from experts in their industry that earns its right to exist by how well their communications can create profit from attention.

Mark opened the session by inviting us to ask ourselves, “would I pick this up at the newsstand?”,  or “will people want to read this and do I love producing this?”.  At the top of his list of tips was this: List story.

List story: organized thought with a teaser title.  This is hands down the most popular and most powerful headline and story one two punch combo in the history of writing.

 

Here’s What I Have For You:

 

I did a little research project in the magazine section of my local bookstore and analyzed the most frequently used list headlines into a short list of templates.  These templates are shortcuts that you can use to fill in the blanks and jumpstart your writing with a great headline.

1. 5 Ways to (do something)

Give people a little selection, not too much, and some meat on the bones for each way so that they feel they can make an informed choice.

Example:  7 Ways to Write a Better Grant

 

 

2. 52 Killer Resources for (audience)

This is a great way to dominate a narrow subject with a long list of bullet points.  Readers will shake their heads in amazement, “Wow!  There’s so much I didn’t know!”

Example:  101 Dumpling Ideas For Your Next Party

 

 

3. The Top 10 (techniques, resources, tips, you name it)

People love this.  They want their options reduced, reviewed, rated and presented to them in a tidy list.

Example:  The Top 10 Holiday Offers Your Customers Will Love

 

4. 11 (topic) Secrets Every (audience) Should Know

Curious about what secrets you are missing?  Your readers will be too.  This is one of the most effective and irresistible Cosmo headlines.

6 Sexy Secrets Every Cosmo Girl Should Know About Her Man

 

 

5.  7 Surprising Reasons (topic)

Instead of creating curiosity, tap into the curiosity that is already in your reader with this provoking headline.

Example:  15 Surprising Reasons Why You You Need Memory Boosters

 

 

6.  The 9 Laws for (topic)

Some people love being told the rules of the game.  Others want to study the law, figure out how to get around it and rebel against it.  For both, they will still want to read  what those rules are.

Example:  The 5 No Nonsense Laws of Nonprofit Fundraising

 

 

7. 5  Things your (audience) Needs to Hear You Say

If you are like me, you wonder a lot about if you said the right thing or if you just put your foot in your mouth.  Pick someone important to your audience to make the headline even more compelling.

Example:  Want a Raise?  7 Things Your Boss Needs to Hear You Say

 

 

Why kill yourself?

Mildred pulled a stubby pencil out of her purse, scribbled something on the butcher paper and pushed it back over the counter to Bernie.   She smiled.  He winked.  Then he looked up at me and said, “And what can I help you with today?”

I thought for a moment.

“I’ll have what Mrs. Krakauer is having,”  I held his gaze and said, “Theft and pot roast.”

 

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Hoong Yee

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Can a Poem Save the World?

 

We are all in love with the written word

The annual LitTAP convening draws people out of their insular silos and into a space where we are startled by the presence of so many others just like us – lovers of the written word.

Actually, I am hopping around in the space where text, image and  restless thought live at the center of the Venn diagram of my life.  I wrestle with each demon that fights for center stage.

 

It is a stage as gracious as the head of a pin.

This recent convening took place on another kind of stage. A sound stage at Kaufman Astoria Studios at the intersection of creative industry, Queens Council on the Arts, fabulous food, the Museum of the Moving Image and the flagship performing high school created by the Sinatra family and Tony Bennett, Astoria’s home boy.

A perfect place to make visual how one board member’s passion for the work of the Queens Council on the Arts became the site of a statewide discussion on how we and our board members can be better champions of the literary world. H

Here are some things I heard that stuck with me:

  • Mission gives you the power to say no.
  • Don’t be afraid to make the ask. Think of it as a chance for someone to invest in something they care about.
  • “No” is often code for “not yet”.
  • Say “Thank you” a lot.
  • I don’t know what to do first. Maybe I should eat this cookie.

 

Love those Poets in Unexpected Places!

I captured what I could with my Flip video camera.  Watch the magic here!

 

Subscribe and get a little Wow! every day

Check out Getting to Wow! to feel good, do good and look good

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Hoong Yee

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An Arts Career Without Paper Or Pen

purple me

What to do when you are at a loss for words

Today was the first day I realized that my obsession with paper is over.

Now think about that.

How can you claim to be an artist or have an arts career if you don’t use paper?

I was raised in a papered world where writing meant one thing: putting a pencil or a pen to paper. Reading was an activity that involved books, newspapers, magazine that were printed on paper. Writing and illustrating my picture book, “Rabbit Mooncakes” was a daily dance with paper, ink and gouache. My ancestors invented paper way back across the ocean in China – what is going on?

Loss sharpens priorities

Huuricane Sandy wiped out twelve cartons of my books which we had to unearth from a waterlogged basement in Rockaway, Queens. The only thing heavier than those endless ruined stacks of books was my heart. The superstorm also swept away many of my photos and sketchbooks. Once we were able to focus on saving what photos we could, I promised myself they would be scanned, restored as best as possible and sent upwards into the cloud.

Perhaps it is that fear of losing perishable things that has inspired my determination to master the art of creating text and image digitally.

Easier said than done.

How many of you love freshly sharpened pencils and brand new notebooks in September? And what about that box of Crayola crayons that greeted you on the first day of school? Oh, and the pictures we would carry home for the refrigerator gallery…

But where are you going to put all of that at the end of the year? What are you going to keep? I know. You do the same thing I do – you just keep stashing the paper away in a box, why? Just because. Because you don’t want to throw your past away or admit that you really don’t want to keep the stuff in the first place.

New baby photos

When we realized all of our photo albums were gone, my wise third child said, “Don’t feel bad, mom. We needed new baby photos anyway. I looked terrible in the old ones.”

Well, that inspired me to start looking good for my new baby photos. I am watching what I eat, running everyday and making new memories that we snap with our phone cameras, write on our computers and me, I am loving my simple sketch program on my iPad. People cannot help but smile and peek over my shoulder to watch me doodle and draw. Sometimes we get into friendly conversations and I actually email them the sketch.

I suppose I could have had a similar experience with an actual sketchpad and pencil but to be quite honest about it, I don’t miss it. I really like working on my iPad.

 

A Twelve Step Guide

Maybe you need a little help?

Here’s what worked for me in kicking the paper habit.

1.  Give yourself a gift.  I got myself a drawing program for my iPad and phone called SketchBook Pro which I used to create the image for this post.  It has a text function that I like.  I also have Art Set – they have cool paper choices and their paint really looks like paint.

2. Treat yourself to a nice stylus.  Most come with a spongy tip that, to me, feel a little weird when you drag it across the screen.  I admit, I haven’t found my dream stylus but I am doing OK with one that actually has a brush tip that you can adjust.  It makes me feel a little better when I am using paint.

3. Keep your iPad and stylus handy.  You will be surprised how quickly you will begin to grab them to write or sketch something.

4. Save your best sketch of the day as your desktop image.  It is a great visual reminder of what you drew or wrote yesterday and that you should be doing more of it today.

5. Send emails to your friends with a sketch.

6. Post a sketch to Facebook.

7. Tweet a sketch.

8. If you have a blog, create a post with one of your sketches.

9.  If you don’t have a blog, offer to guest post for a blog you like with one of your sketches.

10. Do a self portrait and assign it to your contact so it pops up when someone calls you.

11. Add the self portrait to your email signature.

12.  If your mother wants a copy, you can always print one for her.

 

 

So, yes. I confess. I am putting away paper and pen and I am fine without them.

Fine, and you?