Monday, December 12, 2016

NEA Fellowship in Literature: Prose guidelines up

The guidelines for the National Endowment for the Arts Fellowship in Literature for prose are now up with a deadline of March 8, 2017. The fellowships are simultaneously easy to apply for but a little intensive to get through the bureaucratic hurdles, compared to other grants and applications one might run into. Fellowships are currently expected to be about $25,000.

You can apply IF you have a book, such as a novel, novella, a book of creative non-fiction, OR at least five different short stories, works of short fiction, excerpts from novels or memoirs, or creative essays (or any combination thereof) in two or more literary journals, anthologies, or publications that regularly include fiction and/or creative nonfiction as a portion of their format.

They lay it out in the guidelines, but I'm going to highlight what I think are the most important things to remember as you prepare your work sample, because somehow people often skim over them and disqualify themselves before they even get started.

If you apply, you're going to attach a single work sample in the form of a pdf that is a minimum of 20 to a maximum of 25 typescript, double-spaced pages of: Fiction (e.g., short story, flash fiction, novel excerpt) and/or Creative nonfiction (e.g., essay, memoir, literary journalism) If any portion of your manuscript is creative nonfiction, it must be labeled.

Please note that you CAN submit one or more writing samples as their manuscript, but the total cannot exceed 25 pages. So, you can submit multiple excerpts or stories, but they must be combined into one PDF document.

Your manuscript sample must be from work that you have written in the time period that establishes your eligibility, and for which you have sole artistic responsibility.

For the work sample, you may submit published work, unpublished work, or work in progress. Do not indicate whether or not the material has been published.

The work sample must be COMPLETELY free of your name, initials, address, or any other marks that could identify you, personally. I can't stress that enough. It would be terrible for you to get through the application process only to find out you put in a character that refers to you by last name or your first name in some form in one line or in the title of your otherwise great sample.  If your name appears in your manuscript or in your header, your application will be deemed ineligible.

The sample needs to be labeled to indicate title and genre(s) of the sample. At the top of every page, include the page number in the upper right corner and state the title of the manuscript. In the top right corner of the first page, state whether it is complete or an excerpt. This information should remain within the required one-inch margin.

Use a 12 point font and margins of at least one inch at the top, bottom, and sides of all pages. No matter how great your work sample is, this isn't the time to get cute with your formatting or trying to skirt the rules, hoping for an exception.

Do not submit more than the maximum number of pages that are allowed; excess pages will be removed and not reviewed.

Do not create PDFs of your electronic documents by scanning.

I have my own personal and unofficial opinions on what types of writing I suspect will be good to include in a work sample that would be competitive, but I’ve only received a Fellowship in Literature in poetry, and the principles may be somewhat different in that field. Obviously, use your very best grammar, punctuation and style, however. And try not to sound like a blitzed-out Charlie Manson rewriting a William S. Burroughs biography by Snooki, amusing as it might be to you.

Historically, the judges will be reviewing well over 300 manuscripts each, among 1,800 to 2,000+ in any given year. They can only move forward a very small number of candidates among the great writers who've submitted work. So you're going to want to do your best to reduce the barriers to them passing over your work. To do that, you'll need to submit a work sample that's clear, distinctive, compelling. It should be good throughout the entire manuscript, but I would advise sending in tightly edited pieces. I personally would not send in stories that meander for six pages before getting to the heart of the plot, or works that assume the reader has an encyclopedic familiarity with particular minutiae.  But your mileage may vary.

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