Monday, 03 March 2008

Obtaining funding for a publication

While digital printing has considerably reduced the cost of producing books, this does not mean that the costs are negligible. Depending on how much work publishers are prepared or able to undertake themselves, the costs can vary from hundreds to thousands of rands. Even if publishers are able to do typesetting, layout, design and proofreading, the printing of a book can still be a financial stumbling block.

There is also the risk – especially in an unpredictable and fickle reading market – that the book will not sell, and thus publishers will battle to recover the production costs, never mind make a profit.

It is for this reason that many independent publishers, who do not have the same ready access to capital as commercial publishers, strive to obtain funding for their publications. Not only does funding assist their being able to meet the financial requirements of producing a book, but it can also remove, or at least minimise, the risk of financial loss.

In fact, even large publishers these days are beginning to require funding, usually from the author, to publish certain books. This is not, however, to be confused with vanity publishing.

It goes without saying, however, that obtaining funding is not always an easy task. After all, no one is going to hand over a relatively huge sum of money to just anybody, and the number of funding bodies are usually limited, especially in South Africa. As a publisher, you will also be competing with other applicants and will have to strongly motivate why you should be a recipient.

In South Africa, the two main bodies that fund publications are the National Arts Council ( and the Arts & Culture Trust of the President

Funding bodies generally have criteria to be met, so check whether your project meets the criteria before applying. Funding bodies also usually issue grants once or twice a year, so be sure you submit your application before the deadline.

Application forms for funding can usually be mailed to you, collected from the fund’s offices, or downloaded from its website.

An application form will require information such as:

· Details of yourself, or the publishing body requiring the funding. Private individuals may be required to submit a personal CV
· Details of the project involved. It is best if the manuscript is ready for production; a book that has still to be written is not a solid possibility
· Details of previous projects completed and their success rates
· Details of previous funding obtained from the body or from other bodies
· Details of any previous applications for funding that were declined
· A detailed costing of the project. This will justify the amount of funding that you are applying for and prove that you have thought the production out carefully. It is also a reflection of your credibility and ability to complete the project. Most importantly, ensure that your costing is correct, taking additional costs, such as distribution and promotion, into account. You will not look too credible if you go back to the funder asking for more money because your calculations were incorrect
· About three quotes from printers and/or designers
· About three character references on your ability to carry out the project
· The social benefit of the project. In South Africa, this is becoming increasingly important, especially with the current emphasis on social investment and the need to develop a book reading culture

Depending on the nature of the publication involved, it may be possible to obtain sponsorship from a corporate’s social investment or marketing division. While corporates are more likely to sponsor a publication with a direct social benefit – such as a book on how to start up a small business and create jobs – one large corporate in South Africa has sponsored anthologies of short fiction.

In the case of corporate sponsorship, you will probably have to draw up your own proposal for funding and meet with the respective manager. The proposal should contain similar information to that stated above, but you will also need to show what benefit the corporate itself will derive from the project. After all, why should it spend, for example, R20 000 on your project, as opposed to placing an advert in a national newspaper?

If you go the corporate sponsorship route, it is also worthwhile to ensure your editorial independence is safeguarded – after all, the last thing you want is for your project to be effectively hijacked and turned into a purely marketing tool.

Should your application for funding or corporate sponsorship be successful, you may be disappointed to find that you have not received the full amount that you requested. This may result in your having to absorb some of the costs yourself or to seek additional funding from another body.

You will, of course, be required to sign a contract with the funding body, which will usually stipulate a deadline for the project to be completed. You will be required to acknowledge the funding assistance on the imprint page of your book (including the funding body’s logo, if required) and submit a small number of copies to its archives. Should the funding body’s conditions not be met, you will be in breach of contract and will be required to return the funds.

Sponsorship may also be obtained in the form of services such as free design, printing or the provision of paper. Again, this requires strong motivation, as the service providers will want to know what benefit they will derive from the project.

Also be aware that simply because you have received funding from a particular body once, it does not follow that you will automatically receive support from it again. And while your having been funded once does act as a reference, it does not mean that another funder will necessarily be generous towards you.

(Originally published as Dye Hard Press Newsletter 5)

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