Several people have written to ask for input on applying for an SCBWI Work-In-Progress Grant, so I will try to post some helpful hints. First, there are four categories:
* General Work-In-Progress Grant
* Grant for a Contemporary Novel for Young People
* Nonfiction Research Grant
* Grant for a Work Whose Author Has Never Had a Book Published (you can't apply for this one - it's an automatic entry for the unpublished)
The application requires a writing sample of no more than 2,500 words, the grant application, and a synopsis of no more than 750 words. I applied for the Contemporary Novel for Young People grant, so my tips pretty much focus on that category.
Which 2,500 words should you submit?
At the time I applied for the grant, I had bits and pieces of a novel with roughly a first chapter and a bunch of floating parts. I cleaned up and sent the first 2,500 words (about 10 pages) of my manuscript – plus a one-page synopsis. Part of those 2,500 words ended up being the fifth or sixth chapter in the submission-ready manuscript – basically, plot point one (the end of Act I). So I ended with a big reveal, on a (gasp!) kind of note.
Try to get your sample down to the leanest, meanest version of 2,500 words that you possibly can. You want to hook them with your stellar idea, impress them with your writing, and make them want more (i.e. they will give you money to finish it).
What about your synopsis?
Well, I'm not really the girl to ask on this point. If I had it to do over again, I would send the short, back cover-style blurb that later hooked the interest of several editors versus the longer, more detailed (boring) one. So I direct you to the synopsis series from Molly Blaisdell, synopsis-writer extraordinaire, who likens a good synopsis to a piece of fine chocolate. She has my attention already.
As far as the application goes, make your answers as exciting and compelling as the best nonfiction you've ever read. Tell your story. Believe in the truth of your project. Make the judges love it, too. And be sure to thank them profusely if you win. (That's me on the right behind Judy Blume, being all flustered and thankful.)
Besides, it's also an excuse to introduce yourself at conferences to the judges (often editors) without feeling like a dork.
Oh, and be sure to follow the rules. Good luck, and let me know if you apply!