Support for the Midlist Author: The SCBWI Jane Yolen Grant
In March I highlighted the Society of Book Writers and Illustrators’ new translation grant, which helps translators with work in progress, much as the various other work in progress awards do for writers of picture books, middle grade, young adult, and nonfiction. My blog post contributed to a large number of entries, which has encouraged the SCBWI to continue offering the grant, which comes with a $500 prize to help the translator finish the project along with the winning project appearing with other work in progress winners in an editors’ showcase.
Alas, my project, a sample translation of a middle grade novel by a Cuban author, did not win, but my friend Kip Wilson did win for her translation of the picture book from Spain Un beso antes de desayunar/A Kiss Before Breakfast. Kip, whose husband is from Spain and who translates both from Spanish and German, says the picture book is one of her children’s favorites and she hopes it will soon be available for English-language readers as well.
The SCBWI grants and awards have a cycle in spring that includes the work in progress awards, and a fall cycle as well. Among the fall grants is the Jane Yolen Mid-List Author Award. According to the SCBWI website
The Mid-List Author grant awards $3,000 to traditionally published authors to help raise awareness about their current works-in-progress, and will be judged by celebrated writer Jane Yolen. Applicants must have published at least two PAL books, but not sold anything for at least five years.
PAL, by the way, stands for Published and Listed, books put out by a vetted list of reputable traditional publishers. And midlist, for those not familiar with publishing industry terminology, refers to authors who receive modest advances and little promotion from their publisher and whose sales may be respectable and don’t lose money from the publisher but also don’t hit the bestseller lists — nor are they expected to. These books typically occupy little space in the publisher’s new titles catalogue and are near the bottom of the marketing department’s email blasts, if they show up there at all. Publishers bring out midlist books because they never know exactly what will hit at a given moment. Few midlist books hit bestseller lists, even with favorable and even some starred reviews, and even with awards. And if the books don’t sell well, their authors may have a hard time selling their next books.
Hence, it’s not uncommon for a midlist author to fall off the publishing career ladder, to write book after book that doesn’t sell, to lose an agent and not be able to find another one. At a Kindling Words retreat for published authors several years ago, Cynthia Leitich Smith said that authors “aren’t normally spun out of the industry, but rather spin themselves out.” I suppose that’s the case if someone quits writing altogether, or continues writing but stops submitting to traditional publishers. The acclaimed and much-published Jane Yolen established her award in 2012 after she experienced a dry spell. She wanted other authors to know that even the most prominent writers have manuscripts they couldn’t place and years that passed without a publishing contract. She wanted writers in extended dry spells not to give up, but to keep growing and trying new things despite repeated disappointment.
The deadline for this year’s Jane Yolen Mid-List Author grant is November 1, 2019. Like the translation work in progress grant, this one needs your entries in order to continue. In fact, in 2017 no award was given because there weren’t enough applicants, and that year’s applicants were rolled over to 2018, when three authors split the grant. The process is simple — basic information about your publishing history and a 500-word artist’s statement. And you have to be a member of SCBWI. The link to apply is here.
While the Jane Yolen grant is designed to get attention for work in progress in order to facilitate a midlist author’s publishing comeback, the funding serves another useful purpose. That money can be used for classes to help the author explore new genres and categories and level up skills. As with any profession, loss of skill often accompanies long periods of “unemployment,” in large part due to fewer opportunities for practice and engagement with other professionals and crises of confidence. In fact, I’m currently taking an online class at The Writing Barn on “Crafting Compelling Emotion” with award-winning author Melanie Crowder. Or the money can pay for conferences or mentorships to learn more about today’s trends and standards and to network with agents and editors.
Midlist books — ones that don’t fit neatly into hotly selling categories and genres — are important to have because not all readers like the same thing. Literature would be boring if we all liked the same thing, and we would be boring too. Three and a half years ago, I wrote a spirited defense of the literary, the quirky, the quiet, the midlist. If you’re a midlist writer writing those books from your heart, take pride in your mission as an artist and take advantage of the opportunities that the Jane Yolen Mid-List Author grant can offer you!