Freelance Friday 13: Applying for Opportunities

Happy Friday! After a couple of weeks of practical posts, we’re back to something a little more article-y, though as with the last couple, this one is courtesy of things I’m thinking about this week.

I’ve started my research and planning to apply for a grant for a project, after lots of back-and-forth dithering over which avenue would best be tried first. And of course, who knows if I’ll get it. So I thought I’d write a post today about weighing the opportunities and risks of the things we apply for.


First, I want to be clear that when I refer to opportunities I’m not talking about ones of the “draw our comic for exposure!” sort. I mean all the various things like grants, residencies, professional competitions, quality anthologies, etc. Things that would have definite benefits if your application/submission was successful – but also involve an investment or risk, even if only of your time.

Applying to all the interesting things out there could honestly be a full-time job, so although a “go for everything” approach (which I certainly did in the past) seems like it’s really going for it, and grabbing your career by both hands, it can actually take a lot away from making real progress in a clear direction (yes, also talking from experience there!), and can also wipe you out. “The worst that can happen is they can say no” isn’t quite accurate. There are risks and investments involved, time is precious, and a little pickiness can be a very good thing.

It’s always worth keeping your eyes and ears open. You never know when something really interesting will come along, that’s worth that time or risk to you. But when it does, here are a couple of ideas to help you consider:

a) develop a clear idea of what’s important to you, and what you value highly enough to invest in.

That may be “opportunities that involve a chance to travel”, “opportunities that buy time”, “opportunities that genuinely get your work out to new audiences”, or even just “opportunities that can be wholly done with existing work and require very little extra time and effort”.

b) develop a clear idea of what you want or need to avoid, at least at the moment.

That may be “anything that requires me to writer/draw something specifically for it”, “anything with an entrance fee, or at least one above x”, “anything that requires lots of projects research/planning for the application”, etc. And I’d venture to add that anything that requires any kind of rights over your entry just by entering should be avoided, or at least weighed very carefully.

If something does catch your eye,

c) do a sort of cost-benefit analysis on it.

So basically, just apply/weight up where it falls on those “worth it/not worth it” priorities of yours.


-Is there a financial cost to applying? Entry fee? A stack of copies of your book? Will there be a financial cost to you if you’re accepted, even if that is loss of income due to time being spent at a residency or similar? Is that something you can/are willing to manage?

-What is the time cost of applying? Does it require you to write/create something new especially for it? Is if a long, involved application form, which requires a lot of planning or research? Is there a time cost if you’re accepted – doing a new comic for an anthology, spending time in residence – and is that something you can manage at this time?

-What is the potential emotional cost? This won’t be a factor for everybody, and we all know we need to have a thick skin and not let our fear of rejection affect what we go for, or we’ll never get anywhere. But I do think sometimes it’s an appropriate thing to consider, especially as funding options begin to include very public ones like crowdfunding campaigns. A polite and private rejection letter from a grant organization will probably not be nearly the emotional drain of an unsuccessful crowdfunding campaign. And likewise, a rejection on something you applied for with existing work will probably be less of an emotional drain than something which you created something specifically for.

-What rights and uses are you granting or losing? Of course, check the t&c carefully on what they can do with your application material. And also consider if it affects future use of the work, and – especially if creating work specially for it – if there is any life afterwards for that work if unsuccessful.


-What is the real benefit to you and your work if you are successful? This is purely subjective, based on your priorities of what you’re hoping to get out of it. But weigh up the money/time/audience/whatever benefit against the cost/risk you put in for a chance at it. Ask yourself, “if my application’s not successful, will I feel it was worth the investment to try, or will I feel it was a waste?”

-Consider the actual likely audience footfall/readership/prestige/CV value, etc, as it may be smaller than you want – and while there are many brilliant events and initiatives that are small but beautiful, with time as hard to come by as it is, I’ve realised I need to factor that in to my considerations.

-Even in cases where the benefits are clear, and totally worth the investment you make in applying, consider also if it’s the right time. Sometimes, for example, things I’d consider worth it come in batches, and I need to pick which one is the most valuable to me if I got it, and balances reasonably with what its application requires.

-If creating a new piece of work for it, is it a piece of work you’ll be able to do something with if unsuccessful? Will it make a great new print, or is it a short you can use elsewhere?


-This is a tough one, because it’s so hard to objectively evaluate our own art. But considering my likelihood of success does sometimes help me make decisions, and avoid wasting time on super long shots.

One thing to consider is the odds. A grant organization that grants one in four applications, versus a residency competition that receives a 15:1 ration of applications to places, versus a competition with a handful of prizes and 400 entries…even without considering the type and quality of my work, those odds are clearly different, and probably warrant different levels of time investment to enter.

Another is appropriateness of work. There are illustration competitions which, looking at past winners (always worth checking if you can!) are more editorial, or more fantasy, or more xyz than the bulk of my portfolio…and while I may feel my work in a general sense is up to scratch, I may not have anything outstanding that really lines up with what they’re after. That doesn’t mean there isn’t room for surprises. But it’s worth considering when you’re weighing up what to try.

Quality. Truly the most difficult, so one I don’t fret over too much. But I will say that I applied to things earlier on – when my art was, looking back, not so good really – that I would look at now and go “I’m not quite there yet, maybe further a bit down the line”. I think the longer we work the better sense we get of where we’re really at and how far we have to go, and get better at holding our work up against others and seeing a more true comparison. That said, if you think you work is almost-but-not-quite up to scratch vs past successes in a particular program or competition, and you otherwise want to enter, maybe enter anyway – you may be wrong about the difference, especially given how hard we all are on our own work.


Right! Hope that was at least a tiny bit helpful or thought provoking to someone out there, and best of luck to us all in our various applications. And hey, if you’re looking for a cartoonist/artist/writer in residence and have some funding, drop me a line ^_~

See you next week!