Twice a year, I volunteer as a judge and grants administrator for the Speculative Literature Foundation and its Older Writers and Gulliver Travel Research grants. It's a good gig; I get to read some good spec fic and provide constructive, honest feedback to applicants.
Over the years (five, to be exact), I've seen some very good applications. I've also seen applications that needed a lot of work.
Make no mistake about it; good writing wins grants. But the judges won't read your good writing if your app is crap.
Here are three tips to ensure your app is flawless and your writing sample will be in consideration for the grant you're applying for:
1. Read and adhere to the guidelines
If the guidelines ask for a writing sample of no more than 10,000 words, don't submit a sample of 12,000 words. During some application cycles, the Older Writers grant can receive 100-plus applications. Those 12,000 word writing samples? We stopped reading them at 10,000 words.The guidelines are there for a reason. Follow them.
2. Submit your best work
Let me say that again: submit your best work. It's frustrating to read a cool-as-hell synopsis for a novel excerpt writing sample (it's required in the Older Writers guidelines), only to get none of that cool stuff in the first three chapters submitted. We don't mind getting chapters 8, 9 and 11, especially if they make us wanna show our mamas (don't worry, we won't show our mamas). You've given us context with your synopsis. Give the judges what they want: your best writing. You just might win the grant if you do.
3. Submit an application next year, especially if they tell you, 'We truly enjoyed your writing very much'
As I said earlier, one of the things I enjoy about being a grant administrator is the honest feedback I give applicants. We're not blowing smoke up your butt when we tell you we truly enjoyed your writing sample. We mean it. It's why we gave you an Honorable Mention. That means you almost won the grant. Submit a high quality sample again the following year, and you just might win the grant. Or you may not. The competition is sure to be just as tough. But you'll never know if you don't submit again.