Can the Government Pay You To Write a Book?

Writers are constantly looking for sources of income. Book publication, hosting writing workshops, and article and blog post writing are common sources. But what about less well-known sources, such as the government?

The government cannot pay you to write a book except in limited circumstances. Most governmental writing is related to an agency’s needs. However, federal and state governments provide grants that writers can use to write a book. Federal grants are both more generous and more competitive.

Not only are governmental funds for writers limited, but finding the sources for the money requires research. This article outlines several opportunities that will provide you with funds for completing a book and resources for finding those opportunities.

Government Writing Jobs

Writers can find jobs in government. 

For example, governmental technical writers are responsible for writing manuals, instructions, reports, and other documents as needed, primarily in scientific and technology-related fields, such as healthcare and computer systems. Those positions include writing reports, instruction manuals, or publications for the public. 

A writer might also do interviews, help with layout and graphic design, and edit and proofread documents. Additionally, writers would be responsible for maintaining style guidelines for the agency.  

For example, a position as a Supervisory Research Grade Scientist includes research in the field of that organization and writing papers for inclusion in peer-reviewed journals. If this type of work interests you, then you could the USAJobs website and search for “writer” jobs.  

Although these positions pay well, they rarely become available because they most likely pay well. And unless your definition of a book is a guide to filling out supplementary income tax forms, you won’t be writing books for the government.

So the government won’t pay you directly to write books, but you can get paid to write books indirectly if you know where to look. Let’s explore that. 

Get Paid Writing Grants

To get paid indirectly, writers often turn to writing grants, which can be federal, state, or in rare cases, at the local county or city level. Most writing grants expect that the writer will use the money to create a final product, so a writer uses the money to find time to write.

The grant process has three overall phases for a writer:

  • Applying for a grant
  • Waiting for a decision
  • Implementing the award

The grantor has additional steps, such as developing the grant opportunity, reviewing the applications, and awarding the funds.

Federal Grants

Since the federal government has the largest grants, you can start searching for federal grants using the Grants.Gov site to find grant opportunities for writers. Enter a keyword into the bar, and you’ll get a list of results. 

Not every opportunity applies directly to writers since the key “word” writer brings up all listings that mention a writer.

The National Endowment for the Humanities

The National Endowment for the Humanities (NEH) has an active Fellowship program. The program’s goal is to aid individual writers in their pursuit of projects that relate to the humanities, such as art, history, and philosophy, for example. 

Fellowships provide recipients time to research and write.

The NEH is the largest humanities fellowship, with 80 awards as high as $6,000 a month for 6 to 12 months paid out yearly. It’s also a discretionary grant, meaning that a writer has flexibility on how to spend the money. 

However, due to the size of the grant, it is a highly competitive grant, and the majority of recipients are in academic fields.

More information on the NEH Grant can be found on the NEH Fellowships page, including information about a smaller Summer Stipends program that awards $6,000 for work over the summer.

The National Endowment for the Arts

The National Endowment for the Arts Literature Fellowships program provides established creative authors with a $25,000 grant in fiction, creative nonfiction, and poetry. Most writers use the grant to take a sabbatical from work to write full-time.

The NEA does not fund, among other things:

  • Scholarly writing
  • Work devoted to earning an academic degree
  • Individuals who have already received a grant

Eligibility for consideration includes a substantial publication record from publications that are either print or online. But there is a competitive submission process. Blogs, self-published work, or scholarly writing are not eligible.

Because of the prestige of an NEA grant and the large amount, competition for an NEA grant is rigorous. More than 1,600 people apply yearly, and less than 3% receive a fellowship.

State, Nonprofits, and Local Government Grants

The NEH gives grants (the Public Humanities Projects) to state, local, and nonprofits, so this is another avenue for writing grants. But instead of applying directly to the NEH, you would apply to the entity that received the grant.

Locating the grant providers at the statewide level can seem overwhelming. The page offers links to two resources, which include Candid and Community Foundation Locator, but these resources are limited.

Start off looking for resources at the state at The National Assembly of State Arts Agencies. The mission of NASAA is to provide support for state arts agencies. 

The site contains a link to a national map. Click on your state and follow the link to the primary agency in your state. Although not comprehensive, this is a good starting point for locating statewide grants.

Keep in mind that the size of grants will be much smaller, typically $500 to $2,000. You will also be competing against artists and musicians for many statewide grants.

Government Funding and Grants for Creative Writing: Five Things to Consider

1. It’s Tax Payer’s Money! 

The most important thing to keep in mind, that leads to all the other points below, is that they are handing out tax payers money! This usually means that the decision maker needs to have each grant approved by the relevant minister. So imagine someone putting your application on a desk in front of the Minister of the Arts and asking them to sign off on giving you the money you have asked for. Below I explore some implications of this reality. 

2. Diversity and Inclusion

Diversity and inclusion are important because certain communities have been marginalised for far too long in the arts! Ministers handing out tax money generally want to ensure that as many tax payers as possible are served by those tax payer dollars. For creative writers, this means diversity and inclusion. The more communities your project depicts, the larger the potential audience you may attract, and the more your project will service the entire community rather than a subsection! 

3. Areas of Priority

Government funding agencies will usually have areas of priority funding. This will often include communities who have been under represented in the past. They will be very open about their priority areas generally! They may include rural communities, certain ethnicities, certain age groups, LGBTQI+ communities, and many other areas! If you are part of these communities make sure to flag it with them, and if you can find a way to serve these communities in your project this might be a good idea to consider! Keep in mind that it’s probably best to employ a cultural consultant if writing outside your area of expertise! 

4. Assemble a Good Team! 

If you can attach a great team to your application this might help to give the funding body confidence in you and your project. If you’re applying for film funding, perhaps attach a great director or producer with some excellent credits. If you’re a writer perhaps note that you are working with a great agent to find a place in the market for your work, or a great editor or publisher has come on board! 

5. Don’t be Disheartened!

The final thing is not to get disheartened at rejection! They will receive a vast number of applications, and will only be able to fund a tiny fraction of what comes in. Remember, if they had more funding, they’d get more applications! Always try to follow up and seek advice about how to improve your application in future. But remember, it’s better to make no impression at all than to make a bad impression! Be as polite as possible!

Bottom Line

Governmental agencies provide several opportunities for writers. Federal opportunities pay more but are also highly competitive. State and local opportunities are less competitive, but the grant amount is lower. 

The application process can be confusing and convoluted. Add to that the wait time until a decision is made and earning a state or local grant seems like less of a financial reward and more of a reputation-builder. 

It won’t pay the bills this month, but the credibility can be a springboard to future opportunities.