Today I put the finishing touches on CavanKerry Press’ application for a $15,000 “Art Works” grant from the National Endowment for the Arts. These are, no surprise here, very competitive grants. In the 2012 grant cycle only 49 “Art Works” grants were awarded in Literature and only 21 of those went to small presses. Most of the presses that received grants publish more than our 5-7 books per year and most publish translations, which we don’t. Although our 2012 application was rejected, the feedback on it was overall positive: in brief, the application was a near miss, which was good news-bad news. Although I had the primary responsibility for the application, every CKP staff person helped out by providing information whenever I asked and, considering there were nine required attachments, I asked a lot. But the panel did find one opportunity for improvement, which we set about correcting right away in the hope of turning our 2012 near miss into a 2013 bull’s-eye.
Tomorrow I will brave grants.gov, which is the labyrinthine system through which you apply for federal government grants—not just for the arts, but for all grant programs. In order to apply CKP must have a “Data Universal Number System” (DUNS) number, must be registered with the “Central Contractor Registration” (CCR), must identify at least one “Authorized Organization Representative” (AOR) and must designate a “E-Business Point of Contact” (E-Biz POC). I must change my password in grants.gov every three months. I must update the CCR registration every year.
The NEA publishes a “How to Prepare and Submit an Application” document, which I print out because I want to read and re-read its numerous and detailed directions. I don’t want to miss out on a grant because of an undotted “i” or an uncrossed “t.” One of the most difficult aspects of writing NEA grant application is its limit on the length of narratives. For example, I have to describe CKP—its past, its mission, its programs, and its “special efforts to reach a broad segment of the community”—in one page.
As you can tell, there are a lot of places where things can go wrong with this application. Therefore working on it takes a big chunk of my time in February and March. And, as we all know, time is money. So why bother? Why take the time to apply for an NEA grant? Or any grant for that matter? Doesn’t CavanKerry Press make tons of money from the sale of its books?
Okay, firstly, if you think there are huge profits associated with the sale of poetry books then I have a bridge to sell you. Secondly, CavanKerry Press is a non-profit organization and, as such, relies on government grants and contributions from individuals, foundations and businesses to fund its programs. What are our programs? Books. Well, you might say, publishing a book can’t cost THAT much so $15,000 should cover everything for the next year, right?
Ah, if the expense of the printing were the one and only expense then you would only be 80% wrong in your assumption about a book not costing THAT much to publish. But it isn’t the one and only expense and you’re more like 100% off the mark. In fact, the expenses associated with the publication of a book begin over a year before it gets sent to the printer. There are design costs, editing costs, copyediting costs, press release costs, marketing and promotion costs. There are staff salaries. What? Staff salaries? Well, you might say, there’s a place where you can cut some of the expense fat. Let me explain. CKP has a staff of five and none of us work full-time. Each of us has a main job assignment (e.g. Development Director) and about twenty other jobs; we’re quite skilled at multi-tasking. We do rely on contractors to help with specialized tasks—such as e-marketing and book design—because that’s more economical in the long run. Believe me, working at a small literary press is fun and rewarding but it is not a cushy six-figure job.
But the bottom line is this: even if we don’t receive an NEA grant for 2013, we’ll publish the books on our schedule; after all, we’ve made commitments to the writers of those books. We’ll be able to keep our commitments because we have strong financial support from the New Jersey State Council on the Arts, from a loyal group of individuals and from three private foundations. But there are many more things we could do for our books and our writers if we had more available funds. Please consider making a contribution to CavanKerry Press. We’re a 501-C3 so all contributions are tax deductible.
You can use the “Donate Now” button on our website (www.cavankerrypress.org) or send a check to CavanKerry Press, 6 Horizon Road, #2901, Fort Lee, NJ 07024.