Grants Are Your Friend: Building Your Artist Portfolio

Written by A Guest Author

By Patrick Parr

From the years 2002-2013, I’d published a dozen stories in various genres. The amount of money I’d earned from them turns out to be a whopping 370 dollars. That’s around 30 dollars a year. Now, perhaps you think that should be expected. After all, pay rates and the short story market, particularly in fiction, have mainly dwindled into nothingness. I should also mention that one of my stories, a 6,500 word mystery that was published by a fledgling magazine that quickly went under after realizing it couldn’t support professional pay rates, was 320 dollars of that money.

That means, not counting that random mini-burst of income, I made 50 dollars publishing 12 stories. The math there is not even worth computing, but lattes come to mind.

It wasn’t as if the stories I’d published were inferior. After being rejected for years by the New Yorkers and Missouri Reviews of the world, I decided to stop believing I’d be plucked from massive slush piles and retargeted my stories toward magazines with names like Every Day Fiction, BULL: Men’s Fiction, and quiet Shorts. (Compensation from each? 3 dollars per story from EDF—donated back to them; two CC’s and unique coasters from BULL, and 15 dollars from quiet Shorts).

And yet, the most wonderful thing occurred, particularly at BULL—I worked with incredible editors. The BULL editor, Jarrett Haley, saw something visionary in my story that I had not yet made clear. The result was by far the best piece of fiction I’d ever written.

The success of that story helped clarify a certain voice in my writing, and allowed me to experiment with a tone in another work of fiction. Although it was not published (and still is not; it’s tough out there, folks), it did nab an honorable mention honor from Glimmer Train. Not too shabby.

So here I was, with two stories that equaled around 15 pages. I was nowhere near a short story collection, since most of my published work was flash fiction. Also I am a genre dabbler, often going into the world of screenplays, nonfiction and poetry. But after hearing the news of a colleague who’d won a grant for her poetry, I leaned back in my work chair and thought. Hmm…grants. What are these things? And what’s the catch?

It turns out…none. I decided to go for a state-restricted grant called an Artist Trust Fellowship. My competition would turn out to be over 500 other creative artists from the state of Washington. The prize was 7,500 dollars and a required ‘Artist Event’ to be put on away from the comforts of home. The application took a few hours, but after using the two works of fiction I mentioned earlier as my writing sample, I sent it off and forgot about it entirely.

A few months went by, and rejections, as always, soared through my emails, and through the post, via SASE, which I now call Self-Addressed Stamped Endings. I wrote other stories, taught classes at the university, and allowed life to go on for the most part. Then, I received a phone call. My wife and I were home in our small apartment, and when the man (I think he was a man, but I knew for sure that the voice came from a human being) told me I’d won the fellowship, I fell to the floor. Seven…thousand…five-hundred dollars? It felt unreal. My wife and I walked around the trail at the local park, speechless. We had money…from art.

It was only later that I discovered how impressed they were with how I’d manage to publish in a variety of genres, but, more importantly, it was my writing sample that sent me toward the top of the heap. Jarrett Haley’s editing and belief in my story had just helped me win close to three months of salary.

In case you’re wondering, my wife and I still use the BULL coasters.

I highly suggest giving smaller literary and online markets a try. This way you can build up a portfolio, work with excellent editors, and have a better chance of nabbing a grant—an honor well-loved by agents and publishers.


Bio: Patrick Parr is the author of The Seminarian: Martin Luther King Jr. Comes of Age. He used his Artist Trust Fellowship to continue what has been a five-year research journey into MLK’s life. Website: www.patrickparr.com/bio

 

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