My thanks to Daniel Blythe for this piece.
I've applied for four Arts Council England grants in my life—three between 2000-2005 for community-based arts projects (two successful, one not) and one in 2008 for my own writing development (successful).
1. Read everything you can about Arts Council grants on their website.
2. You don't have to be a published writer. What you do need to do is to demonstrate that the project you are undertaking is a "literary" contribution and that it represents a turning-point in your career—that completing this work will enhance your artistic career and take it off in an interesting direction. In my case it was my first novel for children after fifteen years of writing for adults. In the case of a friend who was also awarded a grant, it was his first full poetry collection, for which he already had an offer to publish.
3. Give your local Arts Council office a call and talk through your idea for a project with one of the development workers. They want to help you and should be able to tell you if it sounds viable or not.
4. If they sound at all enthusiastic about it, then go to the "funding" page at the Arts Council website and download their application form and notes.
5. Be absolutely sure you know what the budget for your project is going to be. If this is going to be a book or script you are working on at home, this will include things like what proportion of utility bills you will be using, your stationery costs, etc.
6. You need to find 10% of the cost yourself, and be very clear where this is coming from. I funded mine through my private work teaching and critiquing manuscripts.
7. At some stage, talk to someone else who has done an Arts Council grant application. I found it very valuable to speak to another published writer who had just received notification that his application was successful. He let me look at his application and supporting statement so I could see an example of something which had got the nod.
8. If you want a quick response, go for one of the smaller grants (less than £5,000), as they turn those around within three months. A larger one (£5,000 and over) will take six months.
9. One tricky thing on the application is the question of the numbers of artists, participants and audience. This is easy-ish to answer if you are putting on a play or a community writing project. It's not so easy if you are writing a book and don't even have an offer to publish yet, let alone any idea of the print-run. If you've been published before, then I can only suggest working out the audience from what a reasonable print-run would be based on your previous career. If you haven't, then I'd suggest asking a published writer or the Society of Authors for advice.
10. Sometimes, the Arts Council will come back after the application is in and ask you for more information on your project outside the boundaries of the application form—this is usually a good sign. It happened to me and I ended up writing an extra 1000 words on the project. I was grateful for this opportunity—I thought it could only be a good thing, and I was right.
11. You are more likely to get the award if you seem professional, focused and on top of your material. Woolly, vague applications are no good. Also be able to say exactly how long it will take you and how you will evaluate it at the end.
12. If you are successful, you may be asked to do some publicity. I've not been asked to do an awful lot. I was featured in some local newspaper articles and I have been happy to put an Arts Council Funded logo and link on my website. I wasn't asked to do the latter, but it just seemed polite. And of course I will mention the grant in the Author's Note at the start of the book, if and when it is published.