Intro to Writers of The Future Contest

Like other toilers in the science fiction and fantasy field, new writers often get their start by winning a contest in the genre. The Writer’s of the Future Contest tops most writing competitions lists. The contest was set up for new writers to learn the craft, get recognized, network, and break in to the publishing world.

I’ve been submitting to Writers of the Future Contest for a year, recently winning a Silver Honorable Mention award for the first time. I received a certificate and a personalized email. A silver mention is enough to put you in the top 150 contestants for the year according to the email I received from Joni Labaqui, the longtime Contest Director.

What I wish I would’ve known before entering Writer’s of the Future Contest

This series of articles featuring the Writer’s of the Future Contest contains information I wish I’d known before my first submission. As such, It’s going to be as comprehensive as I can make it, and is geared toward helping other writers reach their goals. Of course, by researching and writing about the contest, I hope to also gain more of an edge as well.

How do you win?

I intend to either win the contest or pro-out of it. There are two ways to win: make the top 12 finalist winners for the year, or “pro-out” by making professional sales (determined by how many copies you sell of pro-paying work per the contest rules).

If you pay close attention and heed the information in these articles, I guarantee you’ll have a higher chance of earning at least an Honorable Mention award from the contest. Even though an Honorable Mention is a form of polite rejection, it is still a signed certificate award. For some, it may be their first validation as a writer.

Writers of the Future provides hope

L. Ron Hubbard founded the Writers of the Future Writing Contest in 1983 as a means for aspiring writers to have a chance for their creative efforts to be seen and acknowledged.

For a new writer’s career, it’s clear the contest has a positive impact. Consider that “40% of the past writer winners and published finalists (Labaqui 2018)” go on to publish consistently and have produced over 1,900 novels, 6,000 short stories, and 36 New York Times bestsellers. (See 2020 WotF article of some past winners who went on to publish.)


With any statistic, it can be significant to note distribution. For example, I suspect the contest judges account for most of the 36 New York Times bestsellers, particularly the judges who also won the contest previously or those who participated at some point but “pro-out” and have best sellers, such as Brandon Sanderson. Either way, it’s likely that a relatively few authors account for the 36 New York Times bestsellers.

Contest Director Joni Labaqui and First Reader Kary English, among others, have implied in interviews and blogs that there are multiple thousands of entries each year. However, Writers of the Future does not officially disclose the number of submitted stories so as not to discourage entries. Still, knowing the odds elevates the achievement of published winners who go on to successful careers.

Less than a 1.3% chance of publication
  • Between 1984 and 2018, 34 volumes averaged 14 published stories each, accounting for 484 writer winners and published finalists in the contest’s history.
  • Thousands of stories were submitted, somewhere between 34,000 and 340,000 total. The estimated chance of getting published by the contest in any given year is less than 1.3%. If there are more than 1,000 entries per year, as is likely, this number will be dramatically lower.
  • Of the 484 total published writers, 192 or 40% went on to publish consistently, meaning there was a 60% chance of career failure even after publication by the contest.
  • Further, there was less than a 0.56% chance that any given submission led to a successful career.
Hope, read, study, write, and repeat

It’s up to you to decide whether the contest is worth your time, especially after the presentation of these dramatic stats. Even if there’s a low chance that Writer’s of the Future can serve as a career launchpad, there’s still hope. Plus, if a writer keeps learning, reads this series of articles, and studies the resources introduced—the odds will significantly increase.

How is Writers of the Future Contest different?

The international L. Ron Hubbard’s Writers and Illustrators of the Future Contest is one of the largest, most prestigious merit contests for new talent in speculative fiction. Speculative fiction includes, but is not limited to, science fiction, fantasy, horror, superhero fiction, alternate history, utopian and dystopian fiction, and supernatural fiction. To learn of other contests, check out the article: 26 Best Short Story Contests for Speculative Fiction.

  • The contest is free to enter and offers some of the best prize money and professional pay rate for any writing competition.
  • Writers keep all rights to their story. All entries are anonymous, so ethnicity, color, and gender play no part in the judge’s selection of who wins. It has one of the highest word count limits for any short story contest: 17K words.
  • The quarterly deadlines give writers an achievable goal to aim toward. Writers can submit every three months, and even edit and resubmit the same piece (at least until it makes Finalist). Finalists typically receive feedback, which is priceless. Prizes of $1000, $750, and $500 are awarded every three months to the top three quarterly winners.
  • The thirteen writers are published in the award-winning yearly anthology. There have been four instances where the published anthology made Publishers Weekly’s Sci-Fi bestseller list, making 52 writer winners national bestsellers. In addition, Volume 35 won four awards: Benjamin Franklin Gold Award, Critters Annual Readers Poll, NYC Big Book Award, and Foreword Reviews INDIES Book of the Year Silver Award.
  • Even if you’re not a finalist, honorable mentions winners get certificates and their names published on the Writers of the Future blog.
  • The contest flies all winners to Los Angeles for an expense-paid, weeklong workshop given by contest judges and culminates in an invitation-only, black-tie gala award.
  • From the 1st place quarterly winners of the year, a panel of judges selects one story as the grand prize winner. The grand prize winner is revealed at the annual achievement awards gala, where they receive the Golden Pen Award and an additional $5,000.
  • Each Golden Pen Award is a pyramidal trophy individually made with a silver star-and-plume ornament handcrafted by a silversmith without a mold. Each is one-of-a-kind, reflective of the unique individualism of the new authors and their works.
How I heard of the contest

I first heard of the contest because I’m a fan of author Brandon Sanderson, and I learned Brandon was a contest judge (since 2015). Not only is he a judge, but—before his first published novel Elantris (2005) was sold, disqualifying him from further entries—“Brandon had entered the contest himself with one of the three short stories he had ever written and was awarded finalist” (Labaqui 2015).

I now know that Brandon’s mentor was Dave Wolverton (aka David Farland), who had taught Brandon at BYU. Dave was also the longtime Editor and Coordinating Judge for the Writers of the Future Contest before he passed on January 14th, 2022, to be replaced by Jody Lynn Nye.

If you’ve read Brandon’s work, there are definite similarities to Dave’s Runelords series. For example, the magic system in the Runelords series and Brandon’s Mistborn books both include a metal that instills magic, with clear ties between Dave’s “bloodmetal” and Brandon’s “hemalurgy.” A more evident example is the similarity between The Runelords series and Brandon’s Stormlight Archive. Here’s a list:

The Runlords series by David Farland (aka Dave Wolverton)
  • Backstory features recurring disasters where monsters ravage the world, and human survival hangs in the balance
  • Backstory features multiple worlds/alternate dimensions
  • Features subterranean animal life based on crustaceans, including an antagonist species, the vast, crab-like Reavers, who, at one point, march in a formation called warform
  • Power-giving, telepathic spirit entities called Glories
  • Storm powers and superhumans
  • Gems that are used for magic and light
  • The protagonist belongs to a feudal, armor-wearing culture
  • A Muslim-based antagonistic culture, the Indhopal
  • Weaves in concepts of honor into the fabric of the story
The Stormlight Archive series by Brandon Sanderson
  • Backstory features recurring disasters where monsters ravage the world, and human survival hangs in the balance
  • Backstory features multiple worlds/alternate dimensions
  • Most animal life is based on crustaceans, including giant monsters and an antagonist species called Parshendi, who have a state called warform and who can communicate telepathically
  • Power-giving spirit entities called spren, one of which is introduced as a Gloryspren
  • Storm powers and superhumans
  • Gems that are used for magic and light
  • The protagonist belongs to a feudal, armor-wearing culture
  • A Muslim-based antagonistic culture, the Shin
  • Weaves in concepts of honor into the fabric of the story
Mentors & mentees

To me, it’s interesting but not surprising that Brandon was obviously inspired by Dave’s work. Dave was a creative writing instructor for Brandon at BYU. Brandon now teaches the same 318R course at BYU. Dave became Brandon’s close mentor and friend, to the point where they went on book tours with each other. Both are Mormons.

More about Brandon

Brandon Sanderson has posted invaluable recordings of his 2016 BYU lectures on YouTube, utilizing Dave’s teachings. You can find further advice from Brandon on his website and the Hugo Award-winning podcast, Writing Excuses. Writing Excuses also hosts exclusive workshops.

Algris Budrys and Dave Wolverton

As a Writers of the Future Contest judge since 1991, Dave was mentored by Algris Budrysthe first Contest Director who helped establish the Writers of the Future Contest in 1983. Algris’s out-of-print book, Writing to the Point: A Complete Guide to Selling fictionis often recommended to writers entering the contest as Dave referenced him frequently (find it here or contact me).

“You can write. You can. Almost any damned fool can, and many of them do. If I can do it, believe me, you can, too.” —Algis Budrys

More About Dave Wolverton (aka David Farland)

Though Dave has passed, realize that many of his lectures and teachings have been recorded by his team at Story Doctors, in his books on writing, and on the Writers of the Future’s website. So, it’s not too late to learn valuable advice from a master in the field, especially regarding the Writers of the Future Contest (WotF). Make sure to sign up for the Story Doctors newsletter to download 100 Daily Meditations for free and to receive valuable insights into WotF.

“I feel this is the most important thing I could be doing with all the things I’ve learned in my life.” —Algis Budrys on mentoring for Writers of the Future Contest.

Final thoughts

L. Ron Hubbard created the contest as a means for new and budding writers to have a chance for their creative efforts to be seen and acknowledged. Towards that goal, the contest has a free online workshop taught by Orson Scott Card and Tim Powers, a writer’s discussion forum, a blog, and even a podcast, all with amazing life stories and proven tips from contest judges, winners, and industry pros.

The contest is designed to instill the idea of professionalism being a lifelong attitude. It can help start a career, possibly the first to publish a new writer’s work, but also teach much about writing from the workshop. At the very least, it helps improve a new writer’s skills in a significant way.

If you’re interested in submitting your story to the competition, check out the submission guidelines and enter the contest.

“If you write, you are a writer – hopefully, a professional writer – and if you do not, you are not … no matter what you say.” — Algis Budrys

Other excellent introductions to the contest

Tomeo, Marissa. “Winners Announced for L. Ron Hubbard Achievement Awards Gala.” Apr. 11, 2022.

Labaqui, Joni. “Some Important Facts You Should Know About Writers & Illustrators of the Future.” June 29, 2018.

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Next week I’ll share an article featuring advice for submitting to the Writers of the Future Contest.


Jarrid Cantway

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Author Jarrid Cantway


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