Funding a book-length project, whether it’s a first book or a fourth, can be challenging—even more so without an advance, or with a nominal one. However, with some research, organization, entrepreneurial spirit, and persistence, a writer at any career stage can find resources to “invent” an advance and obtain the support to complete a manuscript. Below are some options writers can look to.
If you’re working on a first book, the Elizabeth George Foundation provides one-time yearlong grants. Funds may be used for living expenses, travel for research, artistic residencies, writers conferences, necessary enrichment or related coursework, or tuition in accredited MFA programs in the U.S. Short story writers, poets, unpublished novelists, emerging playwrights, and unpublished creative nonfiction writers who are U.S. residents may apply.
The Sustainable Arts Foundation supports writers who are parents by giving unrestricted cash awards to individuals as well as by funding family-friendly artist residencies. Recent individual awardees received $5,000 each.
For creative writing projects with an international focus, the Fulbright Awards considers and funds both teaching/research and research awards. If you have a BA or are a recent graduate, you’ll likely want to apply under the Fulbright Student Program; graduate-degree holders who have been published will likely apply under the Fulbright Scholar Program for midcareer and established professionals. Many countries do not have a foreign language requirement, so you may undertake your book project research in English. For some awards, the Fulbright now offers a “flex option,” which means if you are granted that award (either for a semester or full academic year abroad), you may allocate the research over shorter time periods.
If you’re the adventurous type, perhaps consider volunteering for the Peace Corps. While this experience isn’t for everyone, I’ve met several writers who have mined their experience as Peace Corps volunteers for both fiction and nonfiction books upon their return. Though many perceive the Peace Corps as a venture undertaken in youth, that simply isn’t true—many have volunteered later in life, postretirement, or as a “gap year” after a divorce, loss, or similar reboot. You’ll have to embrace learning a new language and culture for the months you’re deployed, but you won’t have to worry about living expenses or student loan payments for that time—and you might just encounter a gripping story that demands to be told.
If you’re a historical writer working on a subject in America pre-1830, the Hodson Trust-John Carter Brown Library Fellowship supports two months of research and two months of writing. The stipend is $5,000 per month for a total of $20,000, plus housing and university privileges. The research is conducted at the John Carter Brown Library on the campus of Brown University in Providence, R.I. The two-month writing period of the fellowship will be at the Starr Center at Washington College in Chestertown, Md., during the summer following the research term.
If you’re able to work remotely or get away, seek out writing residencies that offer a stipend. The Jack Kerouac Writers-in-Residence Project of Orlando offers a three-month stay in the Florida bungalow where Kerouac wrote The Dharma Bums and includes $1,000. Other residencies offer similar fellowship awards and stipends, such as the Mastheads ($900 stipend), Soaring Gardens/Ora Lerman Trust ($500 stipend), Headlands ($500), Newnan ArtRez (varies), and others. Check the Alliance of Artist Communities database, prioritize your list, and apply.
Crowdfund, crowdfund, crowdfund. Whether one likes it or not, we now live in a Kickstarter, GoFundMe, and Indiegogo world. The great news is that crowdfunding provides a great tool to match funds as you invent your advance. Asking backers to support you for a year to pen your novel would truly be a tough sell, even for a well-respected and popular writer—but if you’ve already secured some funding elsewhere, your crowdfunding “ask” to match funds should be much easier. Since many residencies are unable to provide travel expenses or child care, you might use a crowdfunding platform to fill in the gaps on your invented advance.
No two writers’ circumstances are exactly alike, and some of these avenues may appeal more than others. But by increasing your awareness of the funding options available, the inventiveness you bring to your book project can be applied to raising financial support for its completion, no matter where you are in your literary career. Hopefully you’ll meet your project goals sooner than later—with the focus on your creative vision, independent of a publisher’s advance.
Vanessa Blakeslee’s most recent book, Perfect Conditions, was named the 2018 gold Forward Indies winner for short stories by Foreword Reviews.