Jarrid Cantway

How to Win the Writers of the Future Contest

Writers of the Future Contest

How to Win the Writers of the Future Contest

Advice from 36 Winners

* Edited: 9/29/2022

How do you win the Writers of the Future Contest? Reading the following advice from 36 contest winners might help, but it’s up to you to put their wisdom into practice.

I reached out to many wonderful and supportive authors for this project. After a couple hundred emails and messages, this post contains a whopping sixteen thousand words of advice. My only hope is that the writing community appreciates it.

The best advice I learned through this endeavor is the importance of networking; writers communicating with and supporting each other.

Thank you to all the authors who made this article possible, especially for their patience with my editing and proofs. Special thanks go to Heidi for copy editing and to author Brittany Rainsdon. Brittany gave me the inspiration for this project when she answered my first query in June. Connecting with her gave me the impetus to connect with other writers for this project. Finally, thank you, Alex Fox, a fellow contest entrant who didn’t flinch away from some random newbie asking her for a critique over a year ago.

Some of the contributors may seem like they’re echoing each other, but I think this repetition reinforces the message to new and aspiring writers while also highlighting its importance.

4th in the series

This is the fourth publication in a series focused on advice for the Writers of the Future Contest. Read the previous articles by clicking on the links below.

1. Intro to the Writer of the Future Contest

2. Intro Part 2: Deadlines, Quarterly Announcement Dates, and Awards Event

3. How to Pass the Slush Pile


Desmond Astaire

Website | Twitter | WotF Blog Article | MURDERBIRDS Kickstarter

2022; Vol. 38; Fourth Quarter, First Place, & Golden Pen Award Winner; “Gallows.”

The Writers of the Future Contest is an extraordinary, competitive professional and skill advancement opportunity. With it being free and supported by so many industry professionals, there’s nothing else like it. So, how do you land it? I believe there is some strategy that can help.

Get a copy editor

You need someone who can see and fix the typos and grammatical errors you will inevitably miss because you’ve re-read your story 105 times, whether it’s a reputable paid service or a friend or colleague you trust. The late David Farland, Volume 38’s coordinating judge and editor, recommended using a copy editor as a surefire way to stand out because, in a merit-based competition, your errors will do the opposite.

Be different

One reason my Volume 38 story intrigued the judges is that it differed from what they usually receive. In my opinion, all the winners, finalists, semi-finalists, and silver honorable mentions are talented writers. But there can only be 11 winners, maybe a published finalist or two, and one Golden Pen winner, so you must stand out among your peers. At this time, the Contest receives more fantasy entries than sci-fi entries. When the Marvel Cinematic Universe took off, they got an influx of superhero-based stories. Analyze the market and determine where you have an opportunity to be unique. Submit often and with a variety of stories. 

Enroll in the Writers of the Future Online Workshop

If you don’t, you’re not taking this opportunity seriously enough. This workshop is free, self-paced, and offers next-level training from household names of speculative fiction. Any other organization would charge thousands of dollars for the content you’ll receive. But, as per the will of founder L. Ron Hubbard, Writers of the Future is about enabling new talent and the future of speculative fiction, so it’s no cost, no strings attached. Taking this workshop made the difference from me landing some semi-finalist and below placements to then hitting first place and the Golden Pen Award.


Zack Be

Website | Twitter | Facebook | Instagram | Bandcamp | Youtube | WotF Podcast

2020; Vol. 36; Second Quarter, Second Place Winner; “As Able the Air.”

Ask yourself: why am I submitting to WotF?

The first and most important question to answer is this: why am I submitting to WotF? Another way of asking this question is: What does WotF mean to me?

WotF meant this to me when submitting: It’s a pro-market, like many others. Clarkesworld, Asimov’s/Analog, Uncanny, WotF, etc., and so forth—they’re all venues where you can submit stories and, if selected out of the slush, get a paycheck and get published, building your resume in the process.

Other markets have unique benefits as well.

  • Clarkesworld is free to read and generates a podcast of your work, so the number of people you can reach is hypothetically maximized.
  • Asimov’s puts you in print and on bookstore shelves, with a circulation of about 23k, which brings you many new readers and raises your profile.
  • Uncanny is highly regarded and widely read by Hugo voters, meaning your chances of getting noticed by a vital audience within the SFF community are increased.
  • And WotF? WotF gets you in physical print with an excellent payout and a lovely trip to LA for a workshop and ego-boosting awards ceremony.

The biggest mistake: placing WotF on a pedestal when you can pro-out

The biggest mistake I see writers make is placing WotF on a unique pedestal separate from the others, hamstringing their development in the process. Write and submit, write and submit… if you happen to sell two pro stories before you win WotF … GOOD FOR YOU! Brandon Sanderson never won WotF, and look at him now.

There are two less-than-ideal answers to Why am I submitting to WotF?

I tend to find that the writers who hamstring their development answer that first question—why am I submitting to WotF?—in one of two less-than-ideal ways.

The first less-than-ideal answer: “I want to win WotF for the glory and the riches, to validate that I am indeed the amazing SFF writer I imagine myself to be.”

As is often the case, those who create art in search of glory, recognition, or riches tend to make art that is not very good. If there is a part of you pursuing WotF for that reason, I invite you to take a step back and ask yourself why you write—or why you started writing—at all. If glory, recognition, or riches are your underlying motivations for writing, I might suggest military, politics, or finance as better markets to spend your limited daily potential.

Far too many authors come to posts like this one seeking an angle, a formula, or some secret knowledge that will allow them to win a prize that boosts their ego, missing along the way that the best stories are the ones we write because we want to—or have to—write them.

The chances of being published in any of the above pro-markets are incredibly slim—in most cases, we are talking about less (or WAY less) than 2% of submissions getting published—and therefore, while the glory of getting pro-published feels excellent, the real motivation underneath must be that you love writing stories, and even more importantly, that you are writing stories you love.

WotF winners write because they have to write and tell stories that are authentic to their interests and perspective. Every professional editor I’ve had the privilege of working with (some of whom are the editors of those major markets mentioned above) has said the same thing to me – the stories that stick aren’t the ones trying to follow a formula, but are instead those that bring forth the idiosyncratic voice of the author.

Suppose you stop focusing on the glory of winning WotF and focus instead on continually producing work that you love. In that case, your chances of being published in WotF or any other markets I talked about will increase tremendously.

I won’t lie to you. It’s possible that your interests and perspectives won’t match with the editor of the market that you are submitting to, and that’s OK. That might even mean WotF is not a market you can be published in… AND THAT’S OK.

You’ll still develop much more quickly as an author if you write what you want to write and focus less on trying to determine the future interests of editors and judges via mind reading or magical thinking. If you pursue this path, you will write better fiction, and the right editor will pick it out of the slush. You’ll get a paycheck, a resume boost, and some idiosyncratic market benefits, and then you’ll move on to the next story because there is nothing else you’d rather do. If there is something else, then do that.

The second less-than-ideal answer: “I need to win WotF to start my career.”

This is the ultimate form of hamstringing—as I said above, the likelihood of being published in a pro-market is always slim, and those who see WotF as the step they need to take before submitting to the Asimov’s and Clarkesworlds of the world are limiting themselves unnecessarily. I’d again ask you to take a step back and soak in the breadth of opportunities to write and be read that surround you.

My advice

  • Find a writing group if that suits you (perhaps even through the WotF Forum; personally, I didn’t do this).
  • Resist the urge to write to a specific market unless you’ve been specifically asked (e.g., on spec) or challenged to do so (e.g., themed call-for-submissions, writing group challenges).
  • Always be writing, submitting, and challenging yourself to take advantage of open markets. Take breaks if you need them to recharge.
  • One of the great things about WotF is that it is open four times a year, so submit four times a year.
  • Essentially, Clarkesworld and Asimov’s never close, so submit as often as possible.

Keep track of other pro markets and submit when you can. Again, your breakthrough might not be through WotF, and that’s OK. To go back to the original point, it’s just one market. You don’t need WotF, but you can use WotF to push yourself as a writer.


Lazarus Black

Website | Twitter | Facebook | Instagram | Amazon | WotF Blog Article | Writing Effective Visuals

2022; Vol. 38; Third Quarter, First Place Winner; “Psychic Poker.”

Follow Your Heart but Lead With Your Mind

IMHO, the greatest tool a writer or any creative can have is “self-awareness”

What kind of writer are you? What motivates you? What percolates inside you? What gets put on the page versus what do you WANT to put on the page? And why, why, why, and why?

Craft vs. creativity

I’ve been a professional creative for over 30 years. I’m just new to writing. The reality few writers talk about is that creativity is a separate skill entirely from craft. Both are complex tapestries of influences and expressions that, when working together in harmony, produce art. And every individual has different influences and expressions, and even abilities in each.

So what kind of writer are you? Are you a free-form explorer of ideas or a meticulous crafter of form and prose? Really, you will have to be both to succeed, but every writer leans one way or the other, especially when learning.

What motivates you?

What motivates you to write? Motivation is a need for the art to escape your soul. Do you need to share? Do you need to teach? Do you need to escape the world you currently live in? Do you need to feed your children?

What percolates inside you? What are the concepts, characters, and tropes that sustain you? What are the unifying features of the stories only you can tell?

Objective appraisal

What does your prose look like, objectively, versus what you WANT to put on the page? Are your words in the correct order? Your sentences? Your paragraphs? Your ideas? Your cycles of foreshadowing and closure? Your character arcs of growth and descent? And if you can’t see it objectively—and frankly, if you are still learning, you can’t—you need people you trust to tell you, and you need to listen when they say there is room for improvement and learn how to address them (even if it’s simply nodding and smiling and going your own way).

The market

Having said all of that, publishers are looking for specific qualities in stories that include technical crafting but most often hinge on very personal illusory criteria of “what they can sell” to their readers.

Writers of the Future Contest is different because it’s not just a publication—but also a legacy launching pad for all speculative writers. They want the best story—combining both creativity and craft because L. Ron Hubbard wanted to begin the careers of great new writers in every genre. And they aren’t looking for the single best “sci-fi” and the single best “fantasy” either. Sometimes, there are more winners in one genre than another, and that’s solely because of the quality of the stories.

Synthesize your craft and creativity

To win, you need to put your best forward, combining creativity and craft in the most perfect synthesis that you can. So, figure out who you are as a writer and what holes you have in your skillset that you need to improve, and work on getting better.

Success starts from somewhere, and that somewhere is inside you

I spent most of my life learning character, drama, emotion, pacing, and cycles of foreshadowing. 4 years ago, I sat down to teach myself prose—nose to the grindstone—growling in pain. 3 years in, I won Writers of the Future Contest. I have another short coming out in 2023. I am finishing a novel right now.

Success starts from somewhere, and that somewhere is inside you.


Devon V. Bohm

Website | Facebook | Instagram | Instagram #2 | TikTok | Amazon | Career Highlights

2022; Vol. 39; Second Quarter, First Place Winner; “Kitsune.”

Advice is always generic, but the writing can’t be

The funny thing to me about writing is that the advice is always generic—but the writing can’t be. In my opinion, the biggest mistake new writers make is to think that the more universal they make the characters, themes, moralistic leanings, etc., the more appeal they think it will have to a general audience. But the opposite will always be true.

The magic of reading comes from the transformative power of specificity

The magic of reading (and speculative fiction does this to an extreme—in my opinion, it’s why it appeals to so many) comes from the transformative power of specificity. Unique details are what make the world on the page become real to the reader. It sounds so simple, but the choice of detail makes the difference—what can be assumed, and what needs to be said to make this story a unique and thus enlightening experience? A new perspective can only emerge if the writer presents something new to the reader.

That being said, it’s also paramount to remember perhaps the most disheartening thing every writer knows to be true: every story has already been told. The details are dressing the seven or so stories up in different garb—and that’s okay! Why? Because there is only one you. Your word choice, details, and mind—what your stories bring to the table—should always be as much of you as you can give. That’s the place where specificity lives, the place where the magic is. You are enough.

An incredible resource

Writers of the Future Contest is an incredible resource—the workshop, the blog, the forum, et al. They’ve created a place that supports budding writers of a genre I believe is of particular importance in this day and age more than ever. Speculative fiction remains the most open and expansive version of fiction—rather than the mirror of general fiction. It uses a wide variety of funhouse mirrors to show us a world that, while distorted, is emphasized in new ways that allow us to see far more than the expected reflection would allow. Use that aspect. Speculative fiction can be many things—entertaining, surprising, funny, dark—but it is, above all, a genre that exists in service to the writer and, hopefully, if all goes well, the reader.

The real goal will always be creating art

Reading the anthology—learning about the specific market you’re selling to—is fine. But, in my opinion, it shouldn’t be the goal. The goal is the work, and where to sell it should come afterward. The most important writing advice anyone has ever given (in my opinion) is the oft-quoted Toni Morrison adage: “If there’s a book that you want to read, but it hasn’t been written yet, then you must write it.” Write the story. Then write another, and another, and another. Have your writing and non-writing friends give opinions and advice (both are equally important and will zero in on different aspects of the work), and use your instincts to sort through it. Create something you’re at least comfortable living in the world as a separate part of you (no use in waiting until you’re completely happy with something—it won’t happen, and if it does, maybe take another look) and THEN find the best place to submit it. Because the goal of a writer is never really going to be to win a contest or make money. Writers are artists; the real goal will always be creating true art.

Trust yourself enough to keep going, even when it’s hard

Lastly: keep going. Keep trying. My story received an honorable mention a year ago. I worked on it. It won. Sometimes it’s the wrong publication; sometimes, the story still needs work; sometimes, it’s just the wrong timing. Trust yourself. Trust yourself enough to keep going, even when it’s hard. If you had the impulse to write in the first place, you deserve to honor that instinct, and trust me, it will never go away.


Z. T. Bright

Website | Twitter | Facebook | Amazon | WotF Podcast

2022; Vol. 38; Fourth Quarter, Second Place Winner; “The Magic Book of Accidental City Destruction: A Book Wizard’s Guide.”

The Writers of the Future Contest made me a writer

I wanted to be a writer before I knew of the contest. I was writing before I knew of the contest. I was submitting before I knew of the contest. But it wasn’t until I discovered the contest that I feel like I really BECAME a writer.

What struck me about the contest from the beginning was that it seemed both illustrious and attainable at the same time. Was I capable of winning my first several times entering the contest? No. But, the contest made me feel that it wasn’t a matter of IF I would win, but WHEN I would win. I truly believed that, and I believe that of every writer entering the contest. If they want it, it’s just a matter of how long they keep at it, and the effort they’re willing to put in to improve.

My writing metronome

With its regular quarterly schedule and some idea of placement (honorable mentions/silver honorable mentions/semi-finalists/finalists), along with the fact that it was for newer writers—and therefore a (more) level playing field—the contest became my writing metronome through the year. I was always working on my next story, regardless of my results.

Did WotF help my career? Do I recommend it for new writers?

So that was a long way of answering the question of whether WotF helped my career, and whether I’d recommend it. In short, yes!

Find your blind spots

In terms of advice on winning, I’d say this: find your blind spots. I believe Dave Farland had talked a lot about this over the years, but the idea is that every writer is good at some things and bad at others. But once you know what you’re bad at—your blind spot—it’s fixable.

For example, one of my blind spots was telling fun, well-written, well plotted stories that just didn’t SAY anything. They didn’t make the reader FEEL anything. I learned how to focus more on my characters and show what they were passionate about, and how they grew throughout a story. In doing so, I made the reader feel things, due to the deeper storytelling.

It’s not enough to tell a fun story.

If your character has desires that a reader can empathize with, and goes through a painful process to achieve that thing, and grows by the end of the story to realize what they NEED is different from what they WANT, then your reader will have experienced something more than “fun.”


Eneasz Brodski

Blog | Twitter | Facebook | Amazon | What Lies Dreaming| Podcast | Bio | Bio #2

2018; Vol. 34; Second Quarter, Third Place Winner; “Flee, My Pretty One.”

  1. Everyone will tell you to join a critique group; this is good and true. But if at all possible, join an, in real life (IRL), critique group. One that meets face-to-face for critiques. Online critique groups will help you get better fast, yes. In comparison, IRL critique groups are absolute jet fuel for getting better faster. Communication bandwidth is MUCH higher in person. And you can get immediate feedback on follow-up questions you may have. AND you get to hear critiques of other people’s works, which is just as useful. Take notes on all of it, not just critiques of your stuff! The amount of progress you will make in one year is astounding.
  2. Don’t be a coward. Or perhaps less controversially—be brave. Write about what really inspires or inflames you. Don’t censor yourself. Real passion comes through. Be scared of offending others or embarrassing yourself, but do it anyway. Your audience will notice if you’re regurgitating the same stuff everyone else is. Corporate mega-properties can afford to be bland crowd-pleasers. Unknown authors trying to get noticed will wither and die if they don’t take risks. Don’t worry about the Scientologists being super conservative—the contest is judged by outsiders, legit authors with taste and a well-trained eye. They will spotlight good writing regardless of the subjects it tackles. My winning story had anarchist revolutionaries/terrorists (depending on your POV) and kinky sex. Never write for any audience aside from the people you want to let into your soul. Then write to them without any guardrails.

Carrie Callahan

Website | Twitter | Facebook | Instagram | Amazon | WotF Blog Article | WotF Blog Article #2 | WotF Podcast

2019; Vol. 35; Second Quarter, Third Place Winner; “Dirt Road Magic.”

How the Contest helped my career

“The story I wrote for WotF, “Dirt Road Magic,” turned into a collection of short stories that was my MFA thesis. It was one of those stories that won the 2021 BGWS Emerging Writer Awards from Eastern Kentucky University. I also took the general idea of Dirt Spec behind my WotF story (which is speculative fiction about those of the underclasses, like the ex-con living out in the Kuiper belt or the aging waitress who makes ends meet by selling potions on the side) and spun it into the story titled “The Zombie in the Yard,” that won me the 2020 Working Class Writers Grant from the Speculative Literature Foundation. Through WotF, I met the people who continue to help me grow as a writer even today, so I would say it definitely helped my career.”


John M. Campbell

Website | Facebook | Amazon
2021; Vol. 37; Fourth Quarter, First Place Winner; “The Tiger and the Waif.”

To succeed at writing fiction, you need to learn the craft.

Join a critique group and read craft books

I joined the critique group offered by the Rocky Mountain Fiction Writers. There, I could share my stories with other authors and get feedback that would help me improve. Some of that feedback included recommendations of books on the craft of fiction writing. I gained a whole new understanding of the techniques writers used to make their stories compelling to the reader.

Science fiction and exciting ideas

I write stories based on interesting ideas. Growing up, I loved reading science fiction with ideas that postulated something in the future or on another planet and showed us how the idea would come into play for the hero of the story. I loved science, as it explained how the universe works in strange and mysterious ways.

Writers of the Future Online Workshop

The first two stories I submitted to the Writers of the Future Contest were rejected, but I kept learning about the craft. Then I came across the free Online Workshop on the Writers of the Future website. That workshop showed me how all the writing techniques I was learning about meshed together to create a compelling story.

Winning the Contest provides a sense of affirmation

I submitted my third entry to the Writers of the Future Contest a year after my first. I had my critique group review this story, and their suggestions really helped me polish it. A few months later, Joni Labaqui called me to tell me my story was a finalist for the quarter. Then a few weeks later, she called to say it won first place. It was a tremendous affirmation that I was beginning to master the techniques I was learning.

Learn the craft, but always look to improve

In October 2021, I attended the joint writer’s workshop and gala for Volumes 36 and 37 after the regular gala event had to be canceled for Covid. The discussions and exercises we had during that week showed that each of us winning authors had invested the time and effort to learn our craft (but always looked to improve). I think that is a significant step writers must take to break into the winning column; learn the craft but always look to improve. The Writers of the Future website has many resources to share, including the online workshop.

Excellent stories will not always win, but don’t give up

The judges have their own tastes and preferences that your story may not fit. But if you know it is a good story, don’t give up. Send it to the professional markets. In fact, my story was rejected by five professional markets before it won the Writers of the Future Contest. David Farland, the editor of the Writer’s of the Future anthology before his unfortunate death, mentioned that the year my story won, he was looking for more upbeat stories after a year of pandemic. My story just happened to fit that criterion, so maybe it got enough of a boost to make it a finalist that year. I just felt like it was a good story, in spite of the rejections. And I trusted my judgment on the matter because I had spent the time learning the craft.


Elizabeth Chatsworth

Website | Twitter | Facebook | WotF Blog Article | Amazon | The Brass Queen | Bio, Awards, & Publications | Newsletter

2021; Vol. 37; Second Quarter, Third Place Winner; “The Widow’s Might.”

For me, the most important benefit of entering the Writers of the Future (WotF) Contest is the impetus to keep creating new stories.

  • Remember, no one in this world can write the story that you can! 
  • Bring your own hopes, fears, imagination, and creativity to every page. 
  • Write from your heart and draw the reader into a unique world that delights, intrigues, or alarms you.
  • Describe your characters and their problems with precise, vivid language and imagery.
  • Add humor, if appropriate, and start your story with your main character facing a problem.
  • By the end of the story, your character will either solve or fail to solve the initial problem, and could potentially face new challenges. The key is that the character and their world will have changed in some way, and it’s this process of change that draws a reader in and makes your story a page-turner.
  • Add in a few surprises and humor if appropriate, and leave your reader with a desire to read more stories set in your world.
  • And then, write a new story!

Whether you receive an honorable mention or become a finalist in the WotF Contest pales beside the fact that you have become a creative force. You may see your work printed in the WotF anthology, or it may find a home elsewhere. But by taking the time and effort to create art, you’re already a winner!


David Cleden

Website | Twitter | Facebook | Amazon

2019; Vol. 35; Second Quarter, First Place Winner; “Dark Equations of the Heart.”

Join the WotF Forum

The WotF forum is a very supportive environment, and it’s valuable to share experiences among writers and motivate each other. I can attest to the all-around awesomeness that is Wulf Moon, having spent a week in his company a few years back. Paying attention to his writing advice is a brilliant thing to do!

Submit every quarter

For me, one of the most significant benefits of the WotF contest was the quarterly ticking clock. I couldn’t bear the idea of missing a quarterly submission to the competition. Hence, the next deadline was always in the back of my mind, which drove me on and forced me to produce material when I might have let things slide. Good discipline is a vital writing skill.

The porpoise approach

Not to undermine the point about surrounding oneself with good people—preferably at different stages in their writing careers because each has something different to teach you—I think there can also be times when it’s okay to pull the shutters down and focus on your writing. Following many other writers on social media is often inspirational. Still, I can drown in the writing-related feeds. It’s good to celebrate the success of other writers, but when you’re struggling to make progress yourself, the relentless good news contrasting with one’s endless stream of rejections can be crushing.

It feeds a downward spiral of doubt and undermines confidence. Sometimes (perhaps always), you have to write for yourself: get pleasure and fulfillment from the process, and tell yourself that even if no other person in the world will ever see or appreciate your work, it has still been worth it. Call it the porpoise approach. Sometimes you must dive deep into the ocean and swim alone in the dark. Then when you surface, the air tastes all the sweeter.

What works for one writer won’t automatically work for another

The very best writing advice: Don’t place your automatic trust in any piece of writing advice. Everyone’s different. Listen critically to all advice. If it feels right or sounds interesting, consider it seriously, but remember that what works for one writer won’t automatically work for another. Choose wisely!


Preston E. Dennett

Website | Twitter | Facebook | YouTube | WotF Blog Article | Podcast | Bio & Awards

2019; Vol. 35; First Quarter, Second Place Winner; “A Certain Slant of Light.”

How to Win the Writers of the Future Contest

“Our judges often pick the lighter tales as winners…Write an excellent story… We’re looking for stories that stand out…we seldom get as much humor as we’d like, and we don’t get many stories with upbeat endings…We also don’t get as much high fantasy as we’d like.”—Dave Wolverton

I entered forty-seven times before I won. Come hell or high water; I was going to win the contest. I knew I was going to win it. The question was when. I knew what it took to win for a long time, but I couldn’t pull it off. While there may be other writers and readers out there who know more about the contest and the WotF books than I do, there aren’t many.

  • I studied each volume in detail. Was it first person or third? How long was it? What was its theme, its genre? Why did this one win first place and another second?
  • I’ve been a member of the WotF forum since 2010.
  • I’ve read every volume multiple times. Some of the stories I’ve read probably ten or twenty times.

For me, winning was a pivotal moment in my career. To say that it helped propel it forward would be an understatement. Now that I’ve won, I feel like I am now qualified to give some advice.

Six things you can do to dramatically increase your chances of winning:

ONE: SUBMIT

It’s the number one rule. You can’t win if you don’t submit. How serious are you about winning? You must submit every quarter, with no exceptions, period. I don’t care how horrible you think your story is, your lack of confidence, or the type of story it is, enter! Please, don’t self-reject. That’s the editor’s job. Write, complete, submit, and repeat. Heinlein revealed this secret long ago. And he is one of the most successful SF writers ever.

TWO: KNOW YOUR MARKET

The WotF books will tell you all you need to know about how to win the contest. As a loser, I’d receive my rejection and wonder, why didn’t it win? All the time, the answer was right in front of me. Read the books.

Like every market, the WotF has filled a niche. It’s not only a market for amateur writers. The anthologies have a unique, delicious flavor that’s different from Analog, Asimov’s, F&SF, and the other markets. The WotF volumes contain winning stories that are quirkier and unique, a bit more inventive and fresh. If you want to win, read the books. It’s that simple.

Each book also contains writing essays by the contest judges themselves. These nuggets of wisdom on how to win are there in black and white…what are you waiting for? Read the essays by Karen Joy Fowler, Octavia Butler, Jack Williamson, Roger Zelazny, and many other greats in the field. I love just going through the books and reading these essays. The essays and the stories tell you all you need to know to win.

Please, read the contest rules. Remove the name from the manuscript. Follow the correct format. Submit speculative fiction only. Don’t go over the word limit. Simple stuff, but they rejected stories each quarter for these reasons. Also, revealing a speculative element as early as possible in the story is a good idea.

THREE: STUDY THE WOTF STORIES

I studied all the stories and came up with a list of eight things they have in common

  1. Inventive, unique, creative trope. This is the most important. Remember, the contest receives several thousand entries per quarter. It would be best if you did everything possible to stand out from the crowd. The judges have said that a poorly executed story with a unique idea will fare better than a well-executed story with a cliché over-used trope.
  2. Polished prose. Know your tools. Have proper grammar. Hunt out those pesky typos.
  3. Well-structured plot. Make sure something happens. Readers want suspense, try/fail structures, and movement.
  4. Strong hook. A hook starts with your title, then the first paragraph, then the next. Immediately introduce conflict, character & setting. Look up “en media res.” Your story must start with the action. Make your story interesting!
  5. A satisfying ending. Tie up those loose ends. Make sure the character has a revelation in the end or changes and grows in some way.
  6. Vivid and interesting setting. The WotF stories have some of the most marvelous, vividly described, and fantastic settings. Use all senses. Transport the reader.
  7. Strong characters and dialogue. The WotF contest loves unique characters (a cat, a robot, a phoenix, a dryad, an AI bomb, an alien…). Put emotion in your story. Nothing is more boring than a dry, emotionless story.
  8. POV and Voice. Work hard at this! The writing, setting, dialogue—everything in the story should reflect the character.

These are basic writing elements that the pros know very well. Not all WotF-winning stories contain all these elements. Still, in examining the stories, you’ll see that the majority of stories contain most of these elements.

FOUR: KNOW YOUR JUDGE

The contest has had only four principal editors. Algis Budrys, KD Wentworth, Dave Wolverton, and Jody Lynn Nye. Currently, Kary English is the first reader and culls the best and forwards them to the coordinating judge. Nye reads all these entries and decides on eight finalists, eight semi-finalists, a handful of silver HMs, and anywhere from 100 to 300 HMs.

The judges have clearly explained how to win the contest and have been very open about the process. They have explained why they reject stories, why they award HMs, why they give some HMs a silver, and why they kick up stories to semi-finalist status. They have explained why semis didn’t make finalists and, of course, the qualities they look for in a finalist. Look up the blogs from the judges. They will tell you what you need to do to increase your chances of winning.

FIVE: THE WOTF FORUM

Join the WotF Forum and start interacting with the other entrants and winners who are there to help, encourage, give advice, swap stories, and share their results. I learned more on the forum about writing than in four years at college; no kidding. They are the friendliest group of writers you will ever meet. Trust me: it’s a fantastic resource if you want to win.

SIX: TELL A STORY

Now, disregard everything I’ve written and tell your story. Break the rules! Don’t worry about showing versus telling. Some stories have won with no dialogue at all. Some have zero try/fail plot structures. What they do have is an interesting story. It’s the single most crucial element. Also, keep your story as short as possible. There are outliers, but WotF-winning stories tend to fall between 1000-7000 words. Twenty to twenty-five pages is the sweet spot. Don’t give up; if you are getting at least HMs or higher, you’re in the running.

The best advice I can give is:

Don’t give up! Ever! You can do it! Good luck!


Andy Dibble

Website | Twitter | Facebook | Amazon | Strange Religion: Speculative Fiction of Spirituality, Belief, & Practice | WotF Podcast

2020; Vol. 36; First Quarter, First Place Winner; “A Word that Means Everything.”

Make sure you get the beginning right—start with a conflict, establish your characters and world, and ensure readers know it’s SFF—all within the first few pages. I changed a rejection to a first-place story, primarily because I cut 2k words from the beginning.

Also, it’s much easier for your story to stand out if it has a novel premise, ideally something that hasn’t been done before. If the idea isn’t new, your execution has to be astonishing.

Remember, WotF is for readers all over the world; this means that Jody Lynn Nye and the other judges are looking for stories that connect to human themes, not ideas that only interest an audience with a specialized background.


Jonathan Ficke

Website | Twitter | Facebook | Amazon

2018; Vol. 36; Four Quarter, Third Place Winner; “The Howler on the Sales Floor.”

Write and submit a lot of stories

If the question is: “How do you win WotF?” Then I’m afraid my advice will be helpful and probably not very insightful: Write and submit a lot of stories.

Think of WotF as a professional market with some relatively well-known tastes and preferences (PG-13, put the speculative aspect on the first page or first paragraph, etc.)

Many people submit. Fewer of those people are doing so seriously. Dave Farland used to remark that some measurable percentage of their submissions were screenplays, poems, or something else that’s an auto rejection. However, many serious writers submit quality stories, thousands each quarter.

Simply put, the odds—and this is true for all professional short and long fiction markets—are not in the submitters’ favor.

A million and one vagaries for rejection

Jody is an editor putting together an anthology besides running a contest and operating as an educator. A million and one vagaries could take a publishable story and find it rejected. If you write a heart-stopping time travel paradox thriller in Q2 and another time travel paradox story already won in Q1, you might get rejected… which is just the same as how an editor in a “regular” market has to balance their publication.

Take rejections in stride and keep submitting

Don’t take your rejections hard. Or in terms of the contest, don’t take your “R, HM, SHM, SF, or F” hard (FWIW, I went HM-R-R-R-R-Win). The best way to increase your odds of winning is to increase your shots on goal, which means submitting every quarter and continuing to write for other markets. What doesn’t work at F&SF might win at WotF, and what doesn’t work at WotF might sell at Clarkesworld. Write. Submit. Repeat.

Find a community of writers

The last piece of advice I’d give to anyone serious about WotF or writing, in general, is to find a community of travelers with the same level of dedication as you have. The real value of WotF—more than the workshop, the forum, the pay, or the publication credit—is the potential to find a cohort of writers to befriend. There’s something about shared trauma as a means of bonding and something about WotF that sorts serious people at similar points in their careers. I emerged from my workshop with dear friends and an invaluable community of beta readers, collaborators, and creative people who can be a sounding board on a plot hole and commiserate with the difficulties of moving from WotF winner to future success together. Find a community; treasure your community.

Win or pro-out; don’t stop writing

To the WotF writers and entrants: Good luck. Keep writing. And remember, if you pro-out, you’ve done something incredibly correct.


Sara Fox

Website | Twitter | Facebook | Amazon

2021; Vol. 37; First Quarter, Second Place Winner; “Death of a Time Traveler.”

Advice for winning

I submitted one time and won. My story was a fictionalization of my dad’s traumatic death. While writing stories to analyze trauma can be very cathartic, I would highly recommend making sure you are ready to have many repeat conversations about the trauma after before publishing.


Amy Henrie Gillett

Website | Facebook | WotF Blog Article | Amazon

2018; Vol. 34; Second Quarter, Second Place Winner; “All Light and Darkness.”

Write and study… A LOT

I think the most important preparation is to study and write… A LOT. I find I instinctively apply what I’ve been studying as I write so my writing inevitably improves as long as I practice frequently, meaning at least a scene a week. And by study, I don’t just mean How-To books and blogs. Reading—regardless of its genre or quality—can also teach. I learned an incredible amount when I reviewed others’ submissions to WotF and analyzed them according to Dave Wolverton’s “Story Doctor” tips (click here to see the complete analysis). So, if you’re serious about the Contest, be diligent and persevere. There’s a certain amount of luck involved with getting selected by an editor. Still, without diligence and perseverance, you’ve got no luck at all.


John Haas

Website | Twitter | Facebook | Amazon | Cults of Death and Madness | WotF Blog Articles | YouTube Interviews [#1], [#2], [#3] | WotF Podcasts [#1], [#2]

2019; Vol. 35; Fourth Quarter, Third Place Winner; “The Damned Voyage.”

This is not all of my advice, but it’s what has come to mind first, and I always try to go with first impressions.

1. Have a thick skin

Don’t be insulted by a rejection, whether it comes from WotF or any other market. Rejection is part of this industry. Keep in mind that every rejection is one step closer to your goal.

2. Listen to advice

If a more established writer gives you free advice, listen. That advice may not be suitable for you, or perhaps it just isn’t right at the moment. Put it in your back pocket until it’s time to take it out and give it another look.

3. Get a critiquing group

In my opinion, this is the best way to improve a story. Get other writers to read it and give feedback (remember points 1 & 2 above while you do). I was in a group of about eight writers. Some of us were better at research, some at punctuation, and others at story structure. Without these people to hone my stories, The Damned Voyage might not have been in WotF Volume 35.

4. Win or pro-out, don’t quit

Get started and don’t quit. Submit every quarter. If the story doesn’t win, find another market for it and send WotF a new one. Keep sending those stories out until you win the contest or pro-out. Either way, it’s a win.


David Hankins

Website | Twitter | Facebook | Amazon | MURDERBIRDS Kickstarter | Interview | Wulf Pack Blog

2022; Vol. 39; Second Quarter, Third Place Winner; “Death and the Taxman.”

If aspiring writers want to grow and level up, they should delve deep into everything Writers of the Future has to offer. I haven’t found a better resource for writing advice and training than WotF. Yet, as with every asset or capability, the value comes from how you use it.

  • Listen to the podcasts and take notes.
  • Take the FREE online workshop, and don’t just skim it like a textbook before an exam. Study it. Do the exercises. The workshop provides building blocks for writing a good story.
  • The Forum provides the tools to shape those blocks into beautiful art. If you’re willing to dig for the gold, there’s a wealth of advice and tools in the WotF Forum. And if you can’t find the gold? Ask your fellow prospectors for help. The forumites are a friendly bunch. Join the Forum and become part of the conversation.

Wulf Moon’s Super Secrets

Wulf Moon’s Super Secrets Workshop thread was the most valuable and powerful tool I found in the Writers of the Future Forum. I read the whole thing—three and a half years of posts—and my writing changed forever.

The Super Secrets are simple and easy to follow, and Moon presents them in a fun and engaging manner. My writing leveled up as I worked through them, striving to apply each. But again, those level-up moments didn’t come like magic. They came through hard work and smart practice.


N.V. Haskell

Website | Twitter | Facebook | Amazon | WotF Blog Article | WotF Podcast | Interview

2022; Vol. 38; Third Quarter, Third Place Winner; “The Mystical Farrago.”

1) Read the WotF Anthologies

The first thing to do, no matter where you are or how long you’ve been writing, is to read the WotF Anthologies, as they will give you an idea of what they are looking for. Before I was familiar with the contest, I thought it leaned toward YA voices, but I was wrong. They have a wide breadth and range of stories and narrator voices. Granted, the stories need to be on the ‘clean’ side for marketability, but the depth of the work they publish is astounding.

2) Focus on the writing and take risks

Focus on the quality of your writing by building unique characters, conflict, and resolutions to make it interesting. Don’t be afraid to take risks. After all, what is art without risk? It’s boring, and no one remembers it. Be brave with your writing; if your story makes you feel something or makes someone else look at something from a fresh perspective, you’ve got something good.

3) Complete the free online workshop and evaluate your writing

Taking the course through the WotF website improved my writing a lot. After, my submissions to the contest were consistently Honorable Mentions or higher. Then you must keep working on it. Try to write new things that will push you out of your comfort zone. Diligence, perseverance, and being honest with yourself about where your writing needs improvement are critical to moving forward.

4) Get critiques

No matter how scary it is, get your work in front of people who will be honest with you. Only three other people (my spouse, best friend, and brother—none of whom are writers) read my winning story before I submitted it. It was only after I developed some relationships through the forum that I started getting feedback from other writers.

5) Join the WotF Forum and connect with other writers

Join the forum, or find another way to establish relationships with other writers. I know writers who build amazing worlds but struggle with dialogue. Others are fantastic at creating tension and pacing, but they spend too long getting you to the story. The point is, we learn from each other. By reading each other’s work and providing respectful critiques, you are given the opportunity to see what others get right and learn how to improve your own craft.

6) Be patient, resilient, and trust yourself

Be patient. With yourself. With your craft. With others in the industry. Writing is hard. Getting published is more challenging and takes a resilient spirit. Accept that being a writer means you will experience a disproportionate amount of rejection, but do what you can to keep faith in yourself. Keep going.

7) Stay grounded and meet interesting people

Most important, in my opinion, don’t forget to experience life outside of writing and stay grounded. It is easy as a writer, or any artist, to get lost in the worlds you are building and lose perspective of what is real, but having varied life experiences makes you a better writer. Meeting interesting people from different backgrounds helps you create memorable characters and might make you a better person.

9) Like all advice, choose wisely

If you ask me again in six months, I might add a few more things to this. I hope this was helpful and, like all advice, take only what feels relevant to you.


Sean Patrick Hazlett

Website | Twitter | Facebook | Amazon | YouTube Channel: Through A Glass Darkly | Weird World War III | Weird World War IV | WotF Blog Article | WotF Podcast

2017; Vol. 33; First Quarter, Second Place Winner; “Adramelech.”

The Contest is one of the best and quickest ways to improve your writing craft. With its quarterly deadlines, the Contest provides budding writers with an external impetus to produce their very best story every ninety days. The Contest’s tiered feedback system also provides the encouragement that new writers need to constantly improve their writing. And with its anonymous entry process, the Contest selects winners solely based on the strength of their story, not on how popular they are or what views they espouse. I highly recommend it to new writers. It’s a fantastic way to launch a writing career.


Jim C. Hines

Website | Bio | Twitter | Facebook | Amazon

1999; Vol. 15; First Quarter, First Place Winner; “Blade of the Bunny.”

For me, the story that won came about when I stopped worrying about what I “should” be writing and just relaxed and had fun with the story. Let yourself have your own unique voice and style.


Storm Humbert

Website | Twitter | Facebook | Amazon | WotF Podcast| The Science Fiction Tarot Kickstarter

2020; Vol. 36; Third Quarter, Third Place Winner; “Stolen Sky.”

If you want to win the contest, ensure you submit every quarter

One of the most valuable things the contest provides is a quarterly deadline. Deadlines are an author’s best friend. They back us into corners and make us produce. Use the deadline. Don’t let yourself off the hook. Enter, enter, enter, and always do it with a new story.

Take advantage of the WotF website or other educational resources

I didn’t come up using the WotF Workshop or Forum, but I know a few writers who did, so it’s clear they’re valuable tools. I got most of my writing education in undergrad and through my fiction MFA, but I think the important thing to realize with both is that a writing education must be undertaken. Find any educational writing materials, tools, or programs you can, try them out, and see what works for you.

Study the craft and write like mad

So, I guess the takeaway is that no matter how you do it, study your craft (read widely) and practice it (write like mad). The forum and workshops are accessible for reading and practicing, so check them out to see if they work for you.

The WotF grading system

Another thing the contest provides is a helpful grading system (Rejection, Honorable Mention, Silver Honorable Mention, Semi-Finalist, Finalist, and Winner). Progressing in it is a way to see yourself getting better.

Get honest perspectives on your writing from like-minded people

Contest judges and slush readers at major markets shouldn’t be the only people reading your stories. Find writers as serious as you are and exchange work with them. Get honest perspectives on your writing, and let other people make you better as you make them better. I know a banjo player who likes to talk about rising tides lifting all boats, so find a like-minded flotilla and see each other through.


Mica Scotti Kole

Website | Developmental Editing Services | Twitter | Facebook | Amazon | WotF Blog Article | Recommended Reading: Among Thieves by M. J. Kuhn

2019; Vol. 35; Third Quarter, Third Place Winner; “Are You the Life of the Party?”

Join a writer’s group

The forums are a great resource, but if forums aren’t your jam (I’m not a fan myself): join a writer’s group with supportive SFF writers who are as good or better than you are at the craft. You can’t learn as much if you are the best writer in your group, nor can you learn as much from writers of non-SFF genres. There is nothing better for your writing skills than to acquire constructive criticism from others and apply it. That said, trust yourself. Even incredible writers might not be your target audience, and not every piece of advice needs to be taken. Make use of the feedback that resonates with you.

Write a book in 2000 words

I’m one of those people who doesn’t read as many shorts as I should—I am more of a novel person—and I agree it puts me at a disadvantage. I am trying to rectify that, but being in a writer’s group has helped a lot in exposing me to more stories, as well as reading stories published by my friends or published alongside my stuff. Writing what could be a complete book, and breaking it all down into 2000 words, is another way to write a good story. The trick is being economical and thus as brief as possible, a whole other skill set worth learning in novels or stories.

Hard work and practice will lead to success

You can read all the advice you like, but if you aren’t actually writing stories or novels, getting feedback on them, revising them, and then writing new ones, you will not get anywhere in the contest or traditional publishing business. (Indie and small-press publications follow completely different rules, depending.) All that said, about half of my fellow winners spent little or no time on the WotF forums or blog pages; there are other paths to getting there. We all have different journeys to go on. The main thing is to write, keep writing, and never stop improving. Don’t get sidetracked!

Write, submit, repeat—and get better

I write in a style and word count that appeals to a specific editor. I have sold 4 or 5 stories to her because of this—stories that were rejected elsewhere. All you can do to combat this is to write, submit, repeat—and get better. Sometimes you might write a story you know has no merit, and you can toss it. But most times, you will benefit by taking a subpar rough draft and making it the best it can be (novel, story, or otherwise) before you submit it. You’ll still be rejected most times, but the revision process makes you better with time.

Lastly

Diverse stories, stories about family, and stories that make the reader cry are good bets in the WotF Contest.


Corry L. Lee

Website | Twitter | Facebook | Amazon | WotF Podcast

2012; Vol. 28; Second Quarter, Third Place Winner; “Shutdown.”

Keep writing! Write new things, find peers to read them, keep submitting!


Barbara Lund

Website | Twitter | Facebook | Amazon | WotF Podcast | Platform 8 | Dragonscale Throne | Blood Descendant | Sixers (WotF vol. 37) | The Space Between

2021; Vol. 37; First Quarter, First Place Winner, & Golden Pen Award Winner; “Sixers.”

I … may have done it all wrong <grin>. I didn’t join the WotF Forum (I didn’t know it existed!). I didn’t read any WotF Anthologies until after I won (it just… never occurred to me?). Still, I wrote, revised, and submitted over and over for a couple of years. I learned to write from Holly Lisle—(HollysWritingClasses.com)—everything from flash to short stories to novels to revision to the business of writing. That’s my community—they’re supportive, amazing people. Once I found the WotF contest, I subscribed to Dave Farland’s email tips (before he passed), which were very helpful—I got a feel for what he liked in a story and tried to incorporate that into my writing.

Writing short stories helped me with writing novels, and writing novels helped me with short stories—it’s been said that to become good at something, you must spend 10,000 hours on it; I did that! For those aspiring to win WotF, don’t give up! I swore I was going to stop submitting two stories before the one that won the Golden Pen, and I’m so glad I kept going! The WotF conference was amazing—I’m not a crier, but for the big red trophy… I cried.


Jake Marley

Website | Facebook | Amazon | Unnerving Magazine: Issue #5 | Acquisitions (WotF Vol. 33) | WotF Blog Articles [#1], [#2], [#3], [#4]

2017; Vol. 33; Third Quarter, First Place Winner, & Golden Pen Award Winner; “Acquisitions.”

Read short stories

Not just the old WotF Anthologies, either (although reading a few of them will never hurt!). I wanted to become a writer when I picked up Stephen King’s SKELETON CREW. I wanted to be a horror/fantasy writer when I read the Best of the Year anthologies, particularly those edited by Ellen Datlow. I added the names of editors into my personal data bank of writing heroes. John Joseph Adams, Ann VanderMeer, Paula Guran, Charles Coleman Finlay (and dozens of others). It was less about trying to find a market and more about trying to find someone who was buying and publishing the kinds of stories I liked to read. And man, I DEVOURED short stories! I still do, but to a lesser degree now. Short stories are an elegant form of magic, concise and powerful. Fall in deep and enjoy the swim.

Write short stories

And finish what you write, even if you don’t like where it went. If it’s worth revising, put in the work. If it isn’t, put it away and throw those ideas back into the mill. Many writers I’ve talked with have years of notebooks filled with characters, world-building, and magic systems—enough to fuel a dozen doorstop novels! That’s the macro … but short stories are micro. Don’t waste time in your story explaining every detail of the world; just make it real. Make it breathe. I don’t care what the political system is (unless it’s a political story!); I want to be there. David Farland told me once that most of the stories he read that were set in the woods seemed to have been written by people who didn’t understand the woods at all. Where were all of these flat, open spaces between the trees for horse and carriage chases? Or for outrunning orcs? Personally, I can’t walk ten feet into the wild without tripping on a root or scratching my eyes on a branch.

My personal pet peeve lies in sci-fi

I have no idea what it feels like to be on a gigantic space station, and most writers don’t fill in those blanks, so I immediately try to create a sympathetic environment in my mind. The best I can come up with is that being in a space station feels just as claustrophobic and awkward as being on a long elevator ride with a stranger. That’s not a fun time for me, so I look for something else to read.

Be yourself!

The only thing I can find connecting every winner of the WotF contest is that we’re all unique writers. All of us. You can’t hope to win if you’re generic. Now, that’s not to say you can’t write a generic first draft to make sure the mechanics of the plot and pacing work for you, but you’ve got to add the greebles of your life to your fiction. Have something to say, or have a unique way to say something relatable. Open a vein. Be vulnerable. Be fearless. Write something you’d be nervous about if someone read it, even if you’ve hidden it in a character’s dialogue. That’s the way you’ll stand out. The contest is not Stories of the Future; it’s Writers of the Future. The winners are there because they wrote something they wanted to read, which wasn’t in the world, so they made it happen. You add your unique personality—the stranger, the better!—and shape your story into YOUR story.

The secret ingredient to winning

And here’s the secret ingredient to writing winning stories right here. Are you ready? Make sure your story is ABOUT something. This means that things must CHANGE! That’s another reason I tell aspiring writers to put their epic novels on the shelves for a bit and create something new. A character will come into the lives of the reader just after the title of their story, and they’ll stay in the reader’s mind FOREVER because something actually happened in that story. That character changed. Avoid perfection. Embrace the mess. And think broadly when it comes to change. Bad to good, sad to happy, lost to found, dissatisfied to content. This is the backbone of a short story—everything else is window dressing. At least, in my opinion.

WotF provides the perfect formula

If you want to win the contest—or just get published in general—then the WotF contest provides a perfect formula. Write a new story every three months. A new character has a new problem, tries and fails a few times trying to solve it, and finally realizes the only way to solve it (or get the treasure or the new love or the sword of mighty awesomeness or whatever) is to fundamentally change, to become better, to sacrifice who they were to become who they must be. Do it over and over. Submit what you finish. Make sure that you’ve put YOURSELF into your stories.

Have fun with it

If you’re entertaining yourself with your story, there’s a good chance you’ll be able to entertain the reader, too. Make it worth a reader’s time to jump into your world.

It’s always good to read more writing advice.


Wulf Moon

Website | The Super Secrets | Editing Services | Twitter | Facebook | Amazon |Fyrecon Workshop | WotF Blog Articles | WotF Guest Blog | The Super Secrets WotF Forum Thread | WotF Podcast [#1], [#2]

2019; Vol. 35; Fourth Quarter, Second Place Winner; “Super-Duper Moongirl and the Amazing Moon Dawdler.”

The Writers of the Future Contest trains writers to write to a deadline, and when writers commit to entering every quarter, they actually commit to a writing schedule. Having a schedule and a commitment to create new stories and to send them out to a market makes all the difference for aspiring writers. You cannot be a writer if you’re not writing regularly. Without focused practice, you will not master your craft to a level that it will win contests or sell to other markets. And if you’re not sending your stories out, you will not have the chance to sell those stories and be read by a wider audience than your friends and family. Whether you win Writers of the Future or not, entering the Contest and doing so with fresh stories each quarter teaches you the skills you need to move from amateur writer to professional writer. This commitment is how I won the Contest and now have a professional career in writing, teaching, and editing.

After I won the Contest, I turned around and gave back by helping writers in the Writers of the Future Forum—a most important group that provides encouragement and shares knowledge to help members win. I also created a topic there called Wulf Moon’s Super Secrets Workshop and Challenge—I’m in the fourth year of teaching it, and many Contest winners have come from it. The exercises I give writers that sign up for the free annual program are training models based on principles I learned from Contest judges that I knew would help these writers to advance. Learning the principles of writing provides the aspiring writer with a foundation to craft working stories that sell. Rules can be broken; principles cannot. They are the things that make stories work in our culture. Ignoring the principles will make a story fail.

I go by the words of the master Picasso, but with a twist. You see, Picasso studied every “rule” of art before he created cubism. He knew every underlying principle that makes art “work” for the majority of people in our culture, and indeed, the world’s. And then he twisted, bent, and distorted all those “rules.” But they’re still there, underpinning all he created. Here’s my own take, based on Picasso’s words. “Learn the principles like a pro, so you can twist them like an artist.”

I recently listened to Orson Scott Card speak along similar lines. He said, “You can break the rules, but recognize you will always pay a price for doing so.” You can break rules. You cannot break principles. The price of breaking a principle is failure.

I encourage all to take the Writers of the Future Online Workshop. It is a rare opportunity to learn from NYT bestselling writers. They know the path, and they’re sharing it with you. For free. And by all means, listen to every one of the Writers of the Future Podcasts. John Goodwin is bringing you the best names in the industry to share their knowledge to help you succeed. All one has to do is drink from the fountain.


Brittany Rainsdon

Website | Twitter | Facebook | Amazon | Baen Fantasy Adventure Award | WotF Blog Articles | WotF Guest Blog | WotF Podcast [#1], [#2]

2022; Vol. 38; First Quarter, Second Place Winner; “The Last Dying Season.” 2021; Vol. 37; Published Finalist; “Half-Breed.”

I have had a very positive experience with WotF.

I would love to share what Sharon Joss (past golden pen winner) sent me. Alas, I’ve long since lost that specific email. From what I recall, a lot of it was encouragement to keep writing and not give up, but the best advice was to join the Writers of the Future Forum.

I did find this: “I took a class on writing/submissions (not sure I mentioned this), and one assignment was to interview an author. I emailed Sharon Joss and asked for her advice on this contest—she said to get on the forum, make friends, and exchange: everything you need to win is there. Pretty sure she knows what she’s talking about, and I’ve been pleasantly surprised at how helpful everyone is.”

I still stand by that as the best writing advice—even beyond trying to win the contest. Because it’s basically this: Surround yourself with good people, make friends, and exchange with them. In the case of the contest, though, I believe the forum is the absolute best place for finding friends and exchanging. The moderators work hard to keep it safe and positive there. It’s just a good environment—AND people on the forum are zeroing in on this specific market with their advice. That’s valuable information because WotF IS a different market than the speculative fiction market in general (you should only submit work around PG-13 or cleaner because WotF markets their anthology to high schools).

I’d also recommend looking through all of Wulf Moon’s super secrets on the forum via his free online workshop tab (he’s no longer running it, from what I understand, but there is so much advice still on there). His workshops helped make writing story structure much clearer and helped me to see flaws that were fixable (and some that weren’t) in my various stories.

But above all else, go introduce yourself and start making friends. They’ll help keep you sane 🙂 I’ve recently had another baby (number five), and since this latest pregnancy, I’ve run into multiple health issues. I’ve unfortunately not been very active since then in my writing communities. Hoping to change that, but it’s taking much longer to slip into a new normal this go around. I suppose that’s another piece of advice too. Write and push yourself when you can and be kind to yourself when you can’t. Stay healthy and make healthy goals. You got this!


Matthew S. Rotundo

Website | Twitter | Facebook | Amazon | Newsletter

2009; Vol. 25; First Quarter, First Place Winner; “Gone Black.”

Here’s my advice:

One

Never, ever, ever give up. Persist, even when it no longer seems reasonable to do so. Keep submitting to the contest until you either win or are no longer eligible due to too many pro sales. Either outcome is good for you. Never, ever, ever give up.

Two

There is no secret handshake. Stop looking for it. There is no winning “formula.” I won with a 16,000-word novelette about an alien prisoner of war. In the same year, Jordan Lapp won with a short fantasy about a demigod who is reborn every morning. If you can find the same formula in those two stories, you’re a sharper observer than me. Anyone telling you there is one particular way to write a winning entry is doing you a disservice. The contest has many judges with many different points of view on the craft of writing good fiction. A story that blew the judges away in one quarter might very well have been turned down by the judges in a different quarter. The secret ingredient in Secret Ingredient Soup is (spoiler alert) nothing. So relax and see item 

Three

Write the best story you can. Submit it. Then write the next story. There is no other way.


M. Elizabeth Ticknor

Website | Twitter | Amazon | 3rd and Starlight | Bibliography | 2021 Baen Fantasy Adventure Award Grand Prize Winner | WotF Blog Article | WotF Podcast

2022; Vol. 38; Second Quarter, First Place Winner, “The Phantom Carnival.”

The Barbossa Philosophy

There’s a lot of writing advice in this world—more than any one person can absorb

New writers often run themselves ragged trying to figure out which advice is correct. (I know I certainly did!) Worse, some might try to follow all of it simultaneously. That will never work because writing advice is often contradictory: Show, don’t tell! (Except that telling is good under certain circumstances, actually.) Use the seven point plot outline! (Except that’s super Eurocentric, and there are tons of other story structures from across the globe, all of which have unique benefits and disadvantages.) Write in third person past tense! (Except that stories have sold in everything from first person present to second person future, so clearly, that rule isn’t applicable all the time.)

Let me tell you a secret:

There is no set of “writing rules” that will work for everyone. Everyone who gives out writing advice is really explaining what worked for them—and what worked before may not work again in the future! The biggest reason I’ve been wary of giving out generalized writing advice in the past is because I have yet to find a single method for completing a first draft that works for me 100% of the time. For years, I thought that not having a consistent method meant I wasn’t a Good Writer. However, as time goes on, I’ve learned that it doesn’t matter what method I use to finish a draft—just that I get it done.

I should also note that, about a year ago, I was diagnosed with Inattentive Type ADHD. It really helped to explain why I had such a hard time sticking to one consistent writing method (not to mention a good number of my other struggles in life). My brain is wired to prefer novelty, and it’s almost impossible for me to focus on something if I’m bored—boredom can literally be agonizing. I literally can’t write the same way every time.

Experiment!

So, if no one set of writing advice works for everybody, how do you find out what works for you? Give yourself permission to try new things, to do things wrong, and to make mistakes—it’s a lot easier to fix something that’s broken than to fix something that doesn’t exist.

Here’s a list of things that have helped me finish stories I was struggling with (although it is by no means exhaustive):

Outlining if pantsing doesn’t work

This is most helpful to me with longer stories, but that won’t necessarily be true for everyone.

Pantsing if outlining doesn’t work

This is most helpful to me with shorter stories—but, again, that won’t necessarily be true for everyone.

Switching perspectives or tenses

For a long time, I thought I should only write in third person past tense because I was informed that was An Important Rule when I first started trying to write competitively. Thing is, when I started experimenting with first person again—and even with second person, in a couple cases—I started having more fun. The same thing goes for past tense versus present tense. While I haven’t sold many of my second person stories, I’ve sold multiple stories in first person present tense, and it’s possible I just haven’t found the right editor for my second person stories yet.

Writing a different scene

Sometimes I’m stuck on one scene because I really want to be writing another. There’s nothing wrong with writing a story in order—but there’s also nothing wrong with writing it out of order because you can always go back and edit for consistency later.

Literally drafting in a different style

When I’m struggling with perfectionism in my prose because I’m having a hard time with things like getting the internals right, it can be easier for me to chuck that out the window in the rough draft and write in screenplay format because it’s all actions and dialogue and I can fill in the internal psychology of things when I convert to prose format (which usually involves a heavy rewrite, anyway—my screenplay format rough drafts are essentially very detailed present tense outlines, and I consider nothing in them to be sacred). When neither screenplay nor prose format works, it’s probably got to do with the fact that I’m writing on my computer, in which case I switch to writing the rough draft in long hand. It’s also important to note that I mix and match as necessary—I’ve got some stories where I wrote one scene of the rough draft in prose and another in screenplay format, or I drafted some scenes on the computer and others long hand. (I was going to say I have yet to do all three, but then I remembered my novel-in-progress. While I eventually settled on screenplay format for my rough draft, I tried all three options before I found my stride—four, really, because I wrote a screenplay format scene in long hand at one point.)

Remember: The code is more what you’d call guidelines than actual rules

If there’s anything I want you to take away from this, it’s that Pirates of the Caribbean quote from the beginning of this article. There will always be people who tell you how to write. There will always be people who swear that Their Way is the Only Way. And maybe it is—for them. But that doesn’t mean it has to be for you.


Rebecca Treasure Schibler

Website | Editing Services | Patreon | Twitter | Facebook | Instagram | Publications | Amazon | WotF Blog Articles | WotF Podcast | WotF Interview

2022, Vol. 38, Published Finalist, “Tsuu, Tsuu, Kasva Suuremasse.”

Give yourself grace, trust in your words, and stay humble

The best writing advice I can give, whether you’re writing for Writers of the Future or other professional markets, is to give yourself grace, trust in your words, and stay humble. Writing is intensely personal, but the goal is public; it’s very competitive but largely subjective, and it is as much luck based as skill. So we need to remember why we started, what our goals are, and that we’re doing our best. Struggling on the journey is not failure.

Voice

Secondly, the most important thing about us as writers is the same thing that makes us wonderful as people–our differences, our uniquenesses. While it’s important to study and read other writers, to read widely, trust in your words and your ideas. The particular way someone views something, or phrases something, is exactly the thing that makes your voice stand out.

Critiques

Trust your voice, yes, and give yourself grace, of course, but also be willing to learn from others and to listen to their wisdom. Learn when to take critiques and when to reject them. When you accept critiques, be willing to hear that your writing needs work.

Communicate

Writing is a conversation between author and reader, but more, it is a conversation between stories and ideas. Our primary job is to communicate. If you can do that, you can succeed.

Keeping growing

For Writers of the Future specifically, I highly encourage finding peers to swap with, doing as many critiques as possible, and entering every quarter. Grow community, grow your ability, grow your consistency.


Martin L. Shoemaker

Website | Twitter | Facebook | Amazon | How I Got Published and What I Learned Along the Way | On Being a Dictator: Using Dictation to Be a Better Writer | Nine and Sixty Ways | Fyrecon Workshop

2015; Vol. 31; First Quarter, Third Place Winner, “Unrefined.”

How Heinlein’s Rules Helped Me Win Writers of the Future

Heinlein’s Business Rules for Writing (colloquially shortened to “Heinlein’s Rules”) are controversial within the writing community. Some will insist the rules cannot work, and it’s dangerous even to discuss them.

Others will say that the rules have worked for them, so insisting that they can’t work is denying reality.

And one of that latter group is me.

I have had significant success by following Heinlein’s rules, and in fact, I won 3rd place in Writers of the Future Volume 31 by following Heinlein’s Rules. That doesn’t mean they’ll work for every writer and every story, but it categorically proves they can work. (Also, keep in mind that these are business rules intended to help you maximize income from your fiction. There are other reasons why writers write besides money.)

Rule 1

The first rule is simple and uncontroversial: You must write. You might think this is obvious, but it eliminates a very large number of people who say they want to write but never get around to it. One advantage of Writers of the Future is it encourages you to follow rule 1, to write at least four stories per year. (You can do more. Trust me, you can. You just may not have built that habit yet.)

Rule 2

The second rule is usually uncontroversial, but I’m actually going to argue with it. The rule is: You must finish what you write. And I just can’t agree! You must finish some of what you write. If the story isn’t working, if your heart just isn’t in it, then stop! Heinlein’s Rules are for producing publishable fiction. If your project is heading in a direction you don’t believe in, sometimes the best answer is to pick up a different project.

Contest judge Dean Wesley Smith, who teaches about Heinlein’s Rules and many other topics, teaches a technique he calls redrafting: if a story doesn’t work, but you like the idea, don’t try to “fix” it. Start over, tell it again from scratch. You’ll tell it better having learned what wasn’t working. (We’ll talk more about this when we get to rule 3.)

My winning story, “Unrefined,” opened with an engineer searching a space station for a saboteur. It was full of intricate zero-gravity exploration and challenges. I love zero gravity; it’s my favorite place to set a story. I love getting all the details right and making the reader feel freefall. I was having a fantastic time.

And suddenly, I found myself 5,000 words in, and I hadn’t even gotten to the saboteur yet. I was at the opposite end of a very long station, and there was a long way to go. And I knew that the real conflict started when the engineer found the sabotage. I was never going to get to it in 17,000 words, the limit for the Contest.

The story wasn’t working, so I stopped writing it and started redrafting with the engineer starting at the opposite end of the station. Suddenly pieces started falling into place, and the action took off. And eventually, I won third place.

You must finish something that you write. That doesn’t mean you have to finish everything.

Rule 3

Now rule 3 is where the controversy starts: You must refrain from rewriting except to editorial order. And “editorial order” doesn’t mean your writing group, writing teacher, etc. It means someone who can pay you for the work and who says, “I could buy this if…” (Harlan Ellison vehemently added: “And then only if you agree.”)

People hate this rule. Hate it. They’re sure to spout the platitude: “Writing is rewriting.” That’s a favorite of English teachers. (Question: How many stories has your English teacher sold to professional markets for professional money?)

People will likely say that this rule can’t work. But the problem is that it ignores the fact that it worked for Heinlein. It works for Dean. It worked for Harlan Ellison, who famously wrote stories in bookstore windows based on prompts from the customer, and then sold those stories as is, often winning awards. And it has worked for me. So “It can’t work” is disproven.

Now it’s also important to understand what Heinlein didn’t mean. He didn’t mean: don’t fix typos, spelling errors, etc. He didn’t mean: don’t fix consistency errors, like a blonde character at the start of the book and a red-haired one at the end. He didn’t mean: don’t fix logic errors like the spaceship is broken in chapter 3 so it can’t fly past in chapter 4 without an explanation.

What he did mean was don’t try to make drastic, wholesale changes to “fix” a story. Small touches are good; major changes are a time suck. Where’s that line? Only experience and judgment can answer that. My award-winning story “Today I Am Paul” appeared exactly as I dictated, except my first readers suggested that the last two paragraphs were weaker than the rest of the story. I agreed, replaced them with three new paragraphs, and won a Nebula nomination. Was that a revision? Or a touch-up? It felt like a touch-up to me.

And recall Dean’s practice of redrafting. That’s far more than a revision; that’s a completely new story. But it also raises the difference between creative voice and critical voice, the two contending forces in your writing brain. Dean argues strongly that your best work comes from creative voice, while critical voice is best for small technical nits like spelling and punctuation. Revisions are done in critical voice, the voice of your English teacher. Redrafting is telling a whole new story. It’s pure creative voice, the voice of story. When I redrafted “Unrefined,” I learned 5,000 words of facts about the world of my story. Those facts were all embedded in my brain. When I started redrafting, telling the story from a new place and a modified premise, I had all those facts right where my creative brain needed them. The redraft was better in part because I learned from the first version.

Rule 4

To get back to Heinlein’s Rules, rule 4 is: You must put the work on the market. Writers of the Future encourages this rule, too. Send a story every quarter. Don’t worry if it’s good enough. Seriously, don’t worry! The Writers of the Future Story Police aren’t going to come to your house and arrest you if the story isn’t good enough. No one will even know! The Contest is anonymous! Other than hopes, you have nothing to lose by sending a story into the Contest. Never self-reject! Sometimes you don’t realize how good your own story is. I sent “Today I Am Paul” to Clarkesworld, a market I was sure would never accept it. Neil Clarke bought it almost immediately and rushed it to the start of the next issue. Contest judge Nina Kiriki Hoffman coined the phrase “Dare to be bad.” It’s better to submit than to wait for perfect. Perfect never happens. As long as I was eligible, every story I wrote went straight to Writers of the Future—unless I already had a story in that quarter.

Rule 5

And rule 5 is: You must keep the work on the market until it is sold. If one market rejects a story, it means that story doesn’t work for that market at that time. A different market or a different time might yield different results. So if a story is rejected, send it to another market. During my Writers of the Future career, every rejected story went straight to the next market. And that’s still the rule: If it comes back in, send it back out.

I can hear some of you objecting right now: “OK, it worked for you, but it won’t work for me. I’m not you.” To that, I can only answer: “Maybe you are me. Have you tried?”

That was Dean’s challenge to me. When I took up his challenge, I started selling. Now it’s my challenge to you. You should always experiment with new methods. Try Heinlein’s Rules. Don’t just dabble. Make a serious effort—for six months at least. What do you have to lose?


Elise Stephens

Website | Twitter | Facebook | Amazon | Patreon | WotF Blog Articles | WotF Podcast | WotF Interview | Newsletter

2019; Vol. 35; Third Quarter, First Place Winner; “Untrained Luck.”

Read the winning stories. Study the anthologies

For the contest specifics, if you want to know what the WotF contest judges are looking for, read the winning stories. Study the anthologies. Make a list of the themes the stories focus on, the way the stories end, and the way the characters face down their obstacles. Get a sense of the average word count of each story (an easy way to do this is to count the number of words on a page and then multiply it by the number of pages the story uses in the print edition). After reading several volumes, I noticed many of the first-place stories for the quarter were over 10k words or more, but not all of them.

Ask yourself, as a writer and as a person, what themes or ideas you’re most passionate about

In my case, at the time I was prepping stories for WotF, I was a mother with two young kids. My world had been turned upside down with hormones, sleepless nights, a huge life transition, lots of anxiety, and many thoughts on parenting, sacrifice, and fiercely protective affection for my children. I didn’t see those themes in the WotF stories I’d read. So I wrote an SF piece that included them.

Find like-minded people

Find your writing tribe—whether that’s people who read voraciously and also have a good insight on what a story needs or, more likely, a group of other writers who also want to publish in SFF or win WotF, you need to be regularly bringing your work to them and striving to give and receive constructive, professional feedback. If something doesn’t work for you in a piece of fiction, you and your critique partners should be able to say why it doesn’t work and then ideally be able to offer suggestions for how to correct the issue. Always strive to help authors write the story that *they* want to write, not the story that you or anyone else wants.

Finish every story you start

It won’t always be fun, but your brain can’t start sorting through solutions or breakthroughs if it doesn’t have a completed draft to work with. Finishing is more important than you might realize.


Eric James Stone

Website | Twitter | Facebook | Amazon | Unforgettable | WotF Blog Article | WotF Guest Blog | WotF Blog Darci | WotF Podcast

2005; Vol. 21; First Quarter, Second Place Winner; “Betrayer of Trees.” 2004; Vol. 20 ; Published Finalist; “In Memory.”

Your stories will tend to be more powerful if you draw on your passions. I’m using “passions” in the generic sense of strong emotions. Write about what you love, what you hate, what you enjoy, and what you fear. If you worry that your story may expose too much about your inner self, then you’re probably on the right track.


Mike Jack Stoumbos

Website | Twitter | Facebook | Amazon | WotF Blog Article | MURDERBIRDS: An Avian Anthology | MUDERBIRDS Kickstarter

2022; Vol. 38; First Quarter, First Place Winner; “The Squid Is My Brother.”

I could probably go down a few rabbit holes of commentary, but I tend to lean toward some general advice for writing short stories.

One

I believe you have to read and enjoy short, speculative fiction to really develop the skills and instincts to write it. I have known a shockingly large number of prospective Writers of the Future who say they just don’t read short stories. Simply reading short stories on a regular basis is a fast change to put in place to get better at writing short fiction. And if you don’t like reading on paper, there are excellent audio collections and even TV anthologies like Love, Death, and Robots—check out “The Very Pulse of the Machine” in season 3. I got started with The Twilight Zone and Star Trek TNG as a kid and then gravitated towards Asimov and other SF collections, and I found what I loved.

Two

This may sound obvious, but it bears repeating: Writers should write the kinds of stories they love writing and love reading. The odds of getting any story published at the pro level are low, so you might as well get joy out of it. If you laugh, cry, or gasp when rereading your own work, chances are that readers will too. One way to approach writing a short story is to write the piece you would most want to read (or see brought to life in 10-40 minutes on a streaming service); if you write the story you need to experience, once again, chances are that someone else out there needs that story too.

Three

I think if you try to write WotF submissions to a formula, especially one that tries to please everyone, you’re unlikely to reach Semi-Finalist or above. The winners I’ve read mostly do something weird or jarring at some point in the story, something jagged that snags the reader, that might jar the sensibilities or even offend (without exceeding a PG13 rating), and which some readers won’t like. But if you file down all of the sharp edges, the story becomes more generic and more forgettable. The story I won with, “The Squid is My Brother,” apparently broke all kinds of advice regarding the POV, “found text artifacts,” one particular (deliberate but persistent) word echo—to the extent that a writing group I was in told me not to send it. Heck, a critique circle also called my first pro sale “unpublishable” because of the weird boxes it ticked.

Shift your mindset for long-term growth

I am a teacher who has worked in traditional public school classrooms as well as in online private academies, so I’ll admit that I draw on a range of training and technique, and I’ve built up a lot of practice hours and instincts. None of the above steps are easy or quick fixes, but I find these mindset shifts invaluable for long-term growth. Similarly, I prefer to look at any goal, including Writers of the Future, as a step in a longer journey rather than a final finish line.

“Yes, and…”

Should you write and submit stories for Writers of the Future? Yes! And you should write a bunch of stories to send elsewhere as well. And you should work on your novel. And so on. Yes, winning Writers of the Future gave me a great deal of momentum. And I was aiming at pro, whether or not I won, so I had several other stories in consideration and a couple of novels ready to pitch. In short, I was ready to do something with that momentum. I have had 3 novels come out since the win was announced, the fourth will go live this October, and I am editing an anthology of stories from people in writers support communities, scheduled to go live by next April’s awards gala.


Luke Wildman

Website | Blog | Twitter | Facebook | Amazon | WotF Podcast | WotF Blog Article | YouTube Channel | Newsletter

2021; Vol. 37; Third Quarter, Second Place Winner; “How to Steal the Plot Armor.”

WotF Forum

There are great resources on the WotF Forum, but I didn’t use any of them (and, to be fair, it took me fourteen submissions to win. Not uncommon, but still). Those are good resources, but they’re just that: resources. People should use or discard whatever jives with their creative process.

My main advice

Treat the submission process as a learning opportunity. I was intentional about changing up the stories I wrote. I submitted every single quarter for three-and-a-half years and alternated between experimental pieces that stretched my abilities and more workmanlike pieces that doubled down on the fundamentals of craft. In the beginning, most of my experimental efforts were outright rejected; by the end, they were getting honorable mentions, while the workmanlike ones were becoming finalists or winning silver honorable mentions.

More advice on submitting

The following sections are from my blog and YouTube Q&A article, Finding Success in the Writers of the Future Contest. Also, I wrote a series of posts on attending the Workshop.

Use the Contest to grow as a writer

So often, submitting to magazines feels like praying to the ceiling, hoping someone is listening. Sometimes you lose faith you’re even headed in the right direction. But thanks to this ranking system, I could use WotF as a test market, seeing what did and didn’t work. Rather than restrict my creativity, this allowed me to try new things: every other submission, I wrote something experimental, playing with out-there concepts and unconventional narrative styles that pushed the bounds of my abilities. The rest of the time, I focused on story types that had proved successful in the past (nudge-wink: the judges never get enough comedy).

How to write an award-winning story

Right now, you might be thinking, “Gee, that’s great, Luke. I’m glad the Contest helped you grow, but I want to win.” Right you are!

There are a few obvious things you can do to improve your chances. First, follow the submission guidelines. Stick to proper manuscript format as closely as possible. (But don’t put your name on the manuscript!) Make sure your writing is polished.

Second, read past volumes of the anthology. There are frequent deals on WotF book bundles—and the anthologies also feature essays on craft, and stories from bestselling novelists like Brandon Sanderson. Reading past winners will give you a feel for the tone, length, and style.

Based on my observations of the winning works, here are some points to consider as you choose things to write about:

  • Humorous stories have a better-than-average chance of placing, though not necessarily of winning first prize.
  • Grand-prize winners tend to be high-concept and are often hard science fiction (but plenty of space opera and fantasy gets into the anthology, too).
  • The judges like to see a clear three-act structure, but winning stories often have an atypical narrative style or point-of-view, such as the perspective of an alien or mythic monster.
  • WotF submissions are judged blind, but many editors still want to see work from historically underrepresented voices. Some of my favorite stories from past anthologies were set within and inspired by the traditions of non-western cultures.

Click here to see a YouTube video I created with answers to some frequent questions about the Contest.

Seek other resources

If you want to speed up the process of growing as a writer and breaking into the industry, listen to the pros. I’ve learned a ton from Dave Farland’s Writing blog. I’ve also gotten lots out of the Writing Excuses podcast, the scriptwriting books of Robert McKee, and other writing guides by both genre and literary authors. WotF itself has a blog and podcast featuring interviews with many industry professionals—be sure to check those out.

Read widely, experiment with your fiction, and force yourself to submit regularly. There’s no magic formula to this, but don’t get discouraged: grit and self-reflection are two of the most important traits for finding success in this Contest, along with the ability to read.


C. Winspear

Website | Instagram | Amazon | Nights Under The Sun Kickstarter

2020; Vol. 36; Fourth Quarter, First Place Winner, & Golden Pen Award Winner; “The Trade.”

Stay true to yourself

Your goal, of course, is to become a better writer and eventually a writer people want to read. If you read and produce short stories, the WotF contest is an extremely encouraging place to submit because of the incremental prizes and the huge community in the forums, all leading up to the day when they fly you to LA for one of the best weeks of your life. However, the real prize is to get to a place where you’re enjoying your stories and improving your art, and people love your work. Stay true to yourself and this goal, and ironically this will give you the best odds of success anyway.


Alex Fox

Twitter | Facebook | Amazon | 2022 Baen Fantasy Adventure Award Finalist “All the Colors of Everything”

2023, Vol 39, First & Second Quarter, Silver Honorable Mention

WotF is a market like any other. I think it’s helpful to familiarize yourself with it and read as many volumes as possible. However, the longtime WotF Coordinating Judge David Farland recently passed away (may he rest in peace), and Jody Lynn Nye has stepped into his role. It will be interesting to see the next volume (coming in 2023) to study her tastes. That said, studying the judge’s tastes will only give you some guidelines.

Write stories you want to write, stories you want to read, stories that excite you, that appeal to you. Personally, I love to write more grimdark tales, but I know that isn’t generally a great fit for WotF. So be sensible in your approach—they are a market, yes, but the winning stories always read as unique to me versus falling into specific formulas.

As for submitting—try to submit every quarter. It can be difficult, especially when starting out; I’ve missed quarters and have always regretted not trying to throw together something worth submitting when I miss those deadlines. Try to submit a new, fresh story every quarter. Writing more stories will hone your craft; quantity helps breed quality. And then, if you don’t win, you’ll have more stories to submit to other markets and can slowly grow your right-of-passage collection of rejections! (and hopefully, among them, some acceptances).

Take advantage of the official WotF Forum. Form writing circles. Seek out people whose work think you can learn from or whom you admire. Engage in smart practice. Read lots of short stories (from all markets). Get a feel for what resonates with you and why—how is an author able to pull XYZ off, and how might you try a similar approach with your own story?

As with every writing endeavor, persistence is key. Never give up. I haven’t won WotF (yet!), but I’ll keep trying ‘til the wheels fall off, and so should you! I’ve seen it written on the forum that you either win, pro out, or give up. Two of those options sound far more preferable, don’t you think?

Don’t forget to be kind to yourself. Ultimately, whatever keeps you writing is the most important! If that means taking a quarter off, focusing on other markets, or honing an HM you’re excited about instead of submitting a new story—all are valid approaches. There’s no winning formula for success except to keep trying.

GOOD LUCK, YOU GOT THIS!


Brandon Case

Website | Twitter | Facebook | Instagram | Amazon

2023, Vol 39, Second Quarter, Finalist

Enter every quarter

Aside from general advice about reading broadly and learning the market’s tastes, my main suggestion for Writers of the Future is to commit to entering every quarter.

Apart from providing the opportunity to win, such a regular yet achievable deadline adds a layer of scaffolding and structure for amateur writers. It can be tough to create a polished piece every few months until your writing muscles build to accommodate the work, but soon you’ll find yourself writing that quarterly story in addition to calls from other markets that capture your creative interests.

Acknowledgment

In addition, with WotF’s tiered honors system, you’ll start receiving little bursts of acknowledgment as you get your first Honorable Mention, then Silver Honorable Mention, Semi-Finalist, and Finalist.

That first finalist call from Joni is a rush like no other, followed by weeks of agonized waiting while a panel of judges decides whether to elevate you from Top 8 to one of the three winners. Being told you weren’t selected can be devastating (I did quite a bit of moping after my recent near-miss), but there’s a deeper feeling of achievement and possibility, knowing you’ve broken into that final bracket where selection truly becomes subjective.

Keep submitting

And with the structure of WotF’s quarterly routine in place, you’ll soon be back to crafting the next entry—easing the sting of defeat through the wonder of your newest story.


Conclusion

If you’ve made it this far, there is one remaining piece of advice, and it’s possibly the most important one I’ve come across.

“Stop looking for advice and just keep putting words on paper. Why bother if you’re not actually writing and finishing things?”

—Orson Scott Card

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Weekly Update

Writers of the Future Contest

Weekly Update

EDITOR & FIRST LINE READER

September has been busy for me! Over the past month, I’ve connected with several past winners of the Writers of the Future Contest, networking, emailing, and asking for their knowledge. Last week, I finished the WotF Slush Pile Article with Kary English.

This week I hope to finish the How to Win the WotF Contest Article. My soft deadline is Saturday, the 23rd, 2022, but I will publish it ASAP. I’m approximately 50% finished. 36 writers have contributed over 16,000 words of advice. This means I’m also compiling around 200 website links.

On Sep. 21st, I became a First Line Reader for DreamForge Magazine. Currently, DreamForge is open to speculative fiction short story submissions from 09/22/2022 to 10/15/22. I have 34 days to slush through at least 25 stories for the submission period.

DreamForge Magazine publishes two print issues per year from stories compiled from the quarterly online/digital issues of DreamForge Anvil (online and digital eBook version of DreamForge Magazine). DreamForge Anvil delivers guest articles on writing by author Wulf Moon, and goes behind the scenes with line edits of select stories, showing how tales go from the first to the last draft!

I can now add “Editor” and “First Line Reader” to my bio.


Preview of contributors:
  1. Desmond Astaire
  2. Zack Be
  3. Lazarus Black
  4. Devon V. Bohm
  5. Z. T. Bright
  6. Eneasz Brodski
  7. Carrie Callahan
  8. John M Campbell
  9. Elizabeth Chatsworth
  10. David Cleden
  11. Vida Cruz
  12. Preston Dennett
  13. Andy Dibble
  14. Jonathan Ficke
  15. Sara Fox
  16. Amy Henrie Gillett
  17. David Hankins
  18. N.V. Haskell
  19. John Haas
  20. Jim C. Hines
  21. Storm Humbert
  22. Mica S. Kole
  23. Corry L. Lee
  24. Barbara Lund
  25. Jake Marley
  26. Wulf Moon
  27. Brittany Rainsdon
  28. Matthew S. Rotundo
  29. Rebecca Treasure Schibler
  30. Martin L. Shoemaker
  31. Elise Stephens
  32. Eric James Stone
  33. Mike Jack Stoumbos
  34. Luke Wildman
  35. Chris Winspear
  36. Brandon Case
  37. Alex Fox

As a reminder, the 4th and final quarter of the Writers of the Future Contest (#WotF) Vol. 39 ends on 30 September 2022.

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Cheers,

Jarrid Cantway

Oh, I wouldn’t mind if you shared the article on social media.

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How to Pass the Slush Pile: Writers of the Future Contest

Slush Pile

How to Pass the Slush Pile: Writers of the Future Contest

With Kary English

How do you pass the slush pile of one of the most known and respected vehicles for supporting new writers called L. Ron Hubbard’s Writers of the Future Contest? The answer is simple, study this article and its resources, then put your story in front of the discerning eyes of First Reader Kary English. Make sure to read and follow the Contest’s submission guidelines carefully before entering.

“There are three ways to get out of the Contest: pro-out, win, or quit. Keep submitting, and don’t quit.”

—Kary English
Who is Kary English?

Kary English has been the First Reader for the Writers of the Future Contest (WotF) since Aug. 2, 2018. Her story, Poseidon’s Eyes, won first place in quarter two in 2014 and was published in L. Ron Hubbard presents Writers of the Future Anthology Volume 31. She is also a moderator for the WotF Forum.

Kary’s fiction has appeared in Galaxy’s Edge, Grantville Gazette’s Universe Annex, Undercurrents, Daily Science Fiction, Far Fetched Fables, TorNightfire, and the Hugo-winning podcast StarShipSofa. Her stories have been nominated for the Hugo, Astounding, and Campbell awards and long-listed for the Bram Stoker Award. She has been a finalist in the Screencraft Cinematic Short Story Competition for the last two years.

Find Kary at:

Amazon | Poseidon’s Eyes | Website | Facebook | Twitter | WotF Forum Profile

Do’s, Don’ts, and WTF

First up is a review of the WotF podcast titled 155. Kary English Do’s, Dont’s, and WTF on submitting to Writers of the Future, which aims to cut down on Contest rejections. Also listed are some types of stories they want to see and ones they don’t. Click here to listen to the original version.

Basic Do’s
1. Read the submission guidelines and follow them.
  • Stories need to be formatted in certain ways, e.g., in Standard Manuscript Format (see Shunn’s Proper Manuscript Format). The further a manuscript deviates from Standard Manuscript Format, the more likely it is to be rejected without being read at all.
  • There are types of stories they don’t accept. (They are a speculative fiction contest, including, but not limited to, science fiction, fantasy, horror, superhero fiction, alternate history, utopian and dystopian fiction, and supernatural fiction.)
2. You will do your best if you read stories from the most recent volumes, e.g., Vol 29 and above, before submitting.
  • It will help you to learn the tastes of Kary English and Jody Lynn Nye.
  • Jody Lynn Nye, Coordinating Judge for the Writer Contest, is the person who selects finalists even though Kary English is the first reader.
  • Pick and choose the stories that interest you the most; they will give you an idea of what they are looking for.
  • Reading the anthology will give you a better feel for what is acceptable and let you better target the market.
3. A first reader typically only reads the first 2-4 pages before deciding whether to pass it up or reject it.

Kary wants to see the following:

  • An interesting character
  • An interesting setting
  • An interesting problem
  • Is it clear it is a speculative fiction story?

The faster you do it, the better. Some people can do it in one page, but you have 2-4 pages to get it all in (interesting character, setting, problem, and it’s clearly a speculative fiction story).

4. Stories need to stay in a PG-13 rating if they were a movie, e.g., for libraries, middle-schoolers, and up.

[“We won’t print explicit sex. Fade to black is fine. Some sensuality is fine, but no sex on the page.” (https://www.writersofthefuture.com/forum/postid/47091/)].

5. Stick the landing (the ending).
  • Beyond a good opening, you need a good ending that suits the story, e.g., a rousing conclusion after a low point.
  • The ending doesn’t need to be predictable (Dave Farland, the former contest judge, actually preferred that they are not), but it does need to be a clear ending that ties off all the story elements in a conclusive way.
  • They prefer upbeat endings, you don’t have to, but they prefer them.
6. Utilize hooks in the opening line.

These are little clues that tell the reader what your story will be about, which creates curiosity in the reader.

7. Start your story close to the inciting incident.
8. Send something original.

[“Don’t be afraid to experiment. The unusual stories stand out. Yes, you need to stay within the content guidelines, and it’s important to get the spec (speculative element) in upfront, etc., but you’ve still got lots of room to innovate.” (https://www.writersofthefuture.com/forum/postid/42854/)].

Dont’s
  • If an ending involves self-sacrifice that saves the lives of other people, heroic sacrifice, that’s okay; but those that end in suicide — depressing, fatalistic suicides — are not. No suicide stories.
  • Suppose your story features very recent events, such as political elections. In that case, it will probably not do well in the Contest.
  • Don’t feature the names of real-world political figures simply because they don’t publish political fiction.
  • [“Obvious satire of current political figures will be rejected, so no characters named Orack Pajama or Tronald Bump. For less obvious satire, the answer is that it depends. We’re looking for immersive stories that draw us into another world. When that world is this world, sometimes the story loses some of its speculative feel. We’re also leery of stories that depict real-world groups or skin colors as All Bad, especially when contrasted against an opposing group or skin color who are All Good. To be really clear, I’m not saying “No satire” or “No politics,” but as with profanity and explicit sex, it’s going to be a matter of degree and how it’s handled.” (https://www.writersofthefuture.com/forum/postid/44077/)].
  • If it features recent events such as a volcano eruption, spaceship launches, or who went on that spaceship, whether it was a TV star or a billionaire, they’re going to have lots of those stories, and it takes away from the originality of the story; anything that so tightly connects to real-world events, essentially, e.g., coronavirus stories that are not very original. You can absolutely take inspiration from current events, but brainstorm until they are not so tightly tied to the current events, so that first reader Kary English might not even realize. She wants to at least be surprised if she was to learn the story is tied to a specific event.
  • Roughly 10% of submissions still have the author’s names on them, which is an instant disqualification.
  • [“Regarding DQ’s Disqualifications. The most common reason by far is leaving your name on the manuscript. The second most common is submitting something we don’t accept – screenplays, novels, poetry, essays, non-speculative stories, graphic novels, Amtrak tickets, pharmacy invoices, etc.” (https://www.writersofthefuture.com/forum/postid/46688/)].
  • It’s a short fiction contest; don’t submit novels, or sets of novels, no poetry, no excerpts that are not a complete story unto themselves, e.g., that do not contain a complete arc.
  • The upper word limit is seventeen-thousand words.
  • It’s a speculative fiction contest; no literary fiction, fan fiction, copyrighted characters and worlds, essays, articles, poetry, romances, etc.
  • Cannot accept already published works; unpublished work only.
  • There are limitations on profanity. “F-bombs” and “S-bombs” may not cause a story to be rejected, but they will be asked to be taken out, so you might as well not use them. Overall, excessive profanity will lower your odds, so be selective and careful with language.
  • [“John Goodwin, head of Galaxy Press, has said that he will not print the F-bomb, full stop. We won’t reject you for using it, especially if the use is sparing and judicious. That said, we’ve had a problem before where a winner refused to remove the F-bomb during editing, so now you flat-out can’t win if you insist on having the F-word in your story. When we look at an amazing story with F-bombs in it, we ask ourselves what we’d do if the author refuses to take them out…and then we look at the pile of 20-odd equally amazing stories that *don’t* have F-bombs in them,” (https://www.writersofthefuture.com/forum/postid/47091/)].
  • They only accept speculative horror, e.g., not serial killer horror missing speculative elements.
  • Don’t include artwork. It’s almost always an automatic rejection.
  • Don’t submit anything like a manifesto, a public declaration of policy and aims, especially when issued at a political party or candidate. They are not stories.
  • [“Why might someone get DQ’ed at the finalist level? Sometimes it’s because they submitted and sold the story elsewhere while waiting for results. Sometimes it’s because they didn’t understand the eligibility rules and weren’t actually eligible to enter. More rarely, someone doesn’t realize that WotF involves a workshop and gala, and they decide they don’t want to come” (https://www.writersofthefuture.com/forum/postid/45494/)].
WTF

No graphics, school homework, transcripts, ecology word searches, or versions of War and Peace.

Automatic Rejections

A good writer can pull off risky openings, but what they are risking is rejection. Openings that don’t work:

  • “Waking up.” Stories that open with waking up will not only get you poor results in the Contest but also in any magazines you might submit to.
  • “The Star Trek opening.” Opening the story on a ship’s bridge.
  • “The wandering or meandering opening.” It starts with a character just thinking, usually about exposition or background elements, and nothing else is happening, especially for more than a couple pages. It’s an info dump and usually includes the line, “It reminded me of….”
  • “Driving to the story.” These are stories that start with a family that is packing for the beach, and they start driving, and it’s twenty minutes to the beach, and now you are eight pages into the story with no speculative element in sight.
Perspective

In general, stories written in the third-person perspective are more common. First and second-person are rare and harder for newer writers to utilize well, so there is a higher risk of rejection.

Active vs. Passive Voice

In general, an active voice is preferred. An occasional passive-voice sentence is fine. If most of the story is in passive voice, and there is no compelling reason for it, it will probably not work for the Contest.

Story Length

In terms of Kary’s personally preferred length, she has none. However, most winning stories are between 4,000 and 6,000 words; that’s the sweet spot. In recent contest history, the shortest winning story that Kary is aware of was 2,500 words in length by Scott Parkin. Mara’s Shadow, Darci Stone’s grand prize-winning story, took it to the word limit of 17,000 words.

When you write a very long story, more than ten thousand words, simply because of the length, you have more chances to screw something up, and you have more opportunities to let the pacing slip and lose the reader’s interest.

Kary personally thinks it is more difficult to write a long story that holds the reader all the way through. Even a little bit of a slow patch somewhere in the story can affect a story’s ranking, demoting a piece to a silver or honorable mention. It means you must demonstrate complete control of your work for double or triple the length of someone who submits a 5,000-word story. If you write a longer story, you must keep the action up and maintain the reader’s interest.

How do you limit the length of a story? by Kary English

Click here to view the original version.

Here’s what works for me. Limit the following:
How many characters you have

My shortest stories have one or two characters, max. If you’re looking to seriously cut a piece, see if you can remove a character.

How many sub-plots you have

My shortest stories have ONE plot line and no sub-plots. If you want to seriously cut a piece, consider removing a sub-plot.

How many setting locations you have.

My shortest stories take place in ONE setting location with no movement to a new location.

Examples from Kary’s stories:
Flash

Cold, Silent & Dark, 650 words – One character stays in bed the whole time. She *thinks* about a second character, so we could argue it’s two. One plot line.

Departure Gate 34B, 850 words – Two characters sitting at an airport gate. One plot line.

5,000 words

Totaled – 4-6 characters (two main characters, a villain, a distracting love interest, two kids who are mostly memories), the main plot, two sub-plots (a romance and a research project), and two setting locations.

Inconstant Heart – Three characters, two setting locations, and one plot line, but it reads like one main plot and two subplots. In this one and Totaled, I deliberately trapped my characters in a single setting the vast majority of the time.

Shattered Vessels – Four characters (two main characters, a best friend, a guide type, *might* be 5 characters if you count a certain inanimate object), two plot lines, three main setting locations with a rapid-fire mention of several others.

5,600 words

When the North Wind Blows – 6 characters (two main characters, two best friends, two babies who are more MacGuffins than characters), five setting locations, three-ish plot lines

6,500 words

Poseidon’s Eyes – 7 characters, 5 setting locations, three-ish plot lines, maybe four.

7,200 words

Minder’s Bond – 4 characters, 5-6 setting locations, three-ish plot lines.

8,200 words

Flight of the Kikayon – 5 characters, 5 setting locations, 3 plot lines, maybe 4.

What am I counting as a character?

If they speak and impact the plot, I count them. If I mention random patrons having lunch in a cafe, I don’t count them.

What am I counting as a setting?

A location requiring description and where significant action happens. A flashback might count as a second setting, depending on the story. A kitchen and bedroom might count as different settings depending on the action, or I might just count the house. There’s a little wiggle room here, but generally, fewer characters, fewer plots, and fewer settings help keep a story short.

What am I counting as a plot line?

In The Minde’s Bond, there’s a relationship, a journey and an assassination attempt. I’ll call it three. In Kikayon, there are two relationships, a get-off-the-island plot and a trip in a balloon, so maybe that’s 5?

Writing and Finishing by Kary English

Click here to view the original version.

As a very early writer, revising something I’d already written was way less scary than writing something new, so I spent a fair amount of time revising. I never sold any of that stuff. Got a few personals, but nothing sold.

Today, once a story is done enough to submit somewhere, I don’t revise it except a) to editorial demand or b) if there’s been a significant epiphany while the story was out.

I revised Totaled after it came back from WotF with an Honorable Mention, and the revision took it from HM to Hugo-nominee. The ‘significant epiphany’ was how to handle the cognitive/linguistic breakdown, and I added about a thousand words.

A different story of mine is making its way through a contest right now, and that Contest lets you pay for feedback each round. I considered that story done, but the feedback, to the extent that I agreed with it, was editorial demand. In addition, a friend gave me some insightful comments on the opening, so I made those revisions, too. We’ll see how it does.

That’s two stories out of 10 or so. Most of the time, for me, once a story is done, it’s done.

I’m not sure the other rules are arguable. Hard to argue with WRITE, FINISH what you write, and PUT IT OUT THERE until someone BUYS it.

How are HM / SHM / Semi-Finalists weeded out of the finalist pile? by Kary English

Click here to view the original version.

For Honorable Mentions – occasionally. Sometimes the opening is great, and the story gets chunked into the ‘Evaluate for finalist’ pile, but when we go back into it, the pacing lags a bit in the middle, or the writer doesn’t stick the ending, or the story doesn’t quite live up to its promise in some other way. It’s still a good story, mind you, just not one of the top 8.

For Silver Honorable Mentions / Semi-Finalists – frequently, but not always. Sometimes we know a silver is just shy of the finalist mark when we read it, so the story gets silver without ever being considered for more. Sometimes a semi has a fixable flaw that would make it great, so it goes to a semi without being considered for finalist.

Example: I remember a fantasy story with two POVs, one from a regular human and one from a minor deity. The regular human POV was spot on, really well done, perfect, really. The minor deity’s POV was stilted. It would have made finalist if all of it had been at the level of the human POV. Instead, it got semi so we could tell the author that the deity POV wasn’t working as well as it could.

Sometimes silvers are particularly well-done executions of common tropes (e.g., werewolves, vampires, ‘chosen one’ fantasies, etc.) that just aren’t original enough to get past silver.

Judges Preferences by Kary English

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It might be helpful to distinguish between what a judge – or anyone – likes best as an individual and what, in an objective sense, the same person might recognize as a superior effort in a professional situation.

Yes, writer judges have individual preferences, but judging is different. A judge is expected to be conversant with a wide variety of genres, structures, POVs, etc., and then to be able to recognize outstanding versions of each. That’s literally their job.

This Contest isn’t just about judges picking their favorite stories; it’s about judges choosing the best stories. Best and favorite are different. Favorite is a personal preference. Best is an evaluation of several different technical and emotional factors. It is entirely possible to have a favorite story because it hits your personal buttons, and at the same time, believe that a different story is objectively better in an evaluative sense because it has better use of language, an innovative structure, a brilliant premise, etc.

So yes, some judges have preferences, and writing to those preferences is a legitimate way to approach the Contest. But I also have to argue for writing the story you want to write in the way that story needs to be written.

Incidentally, here’s what Dave says about how to choose the stories you want to win with. Think about what you want to be known for. If you want to make a career writing fast-paced mil SF, that’s what you enter with because that’s what you want to win with. If you want to write beautiful but deliberately uncomfortable fantasies with a literary feel, then that’s what you submit because that’s what you want to win with.

If you win with apocalyptic SF, but you want to write epic fantasy, you may have a hard time making the transition because people will expect apocalyptic SF when they see your name. This kind of thing is why Dave changed his author name from Wolverton (who wrote SF) to Farland, who writes fantasy. Dave won with SF, and after he won, everybody wanted SF from him, and editors didn’t pay much attention when he tried to pitch fantasy.

So Dave says that if you can, you should try to win with the exact kind of thing you want to write for the rest of your career. Winning is hard. It takes lots of practice, effort, and heartache. If you write the stuff you want to write for the rest of your life, then all of that practice, effort, and heartache serves your ultimate career goal.

Here’s a quote from James Artimus Owen, one of the instructors at Superstars Writing Seminar: “Never sacrifice what you want most, for what you want most right now.” Maybe what you want right now is to win the Contest. Awesome goal. I hope every single one of you achieves it. If you think winning the Contest means writing a certain way, that’s completely valid.

But I also encourage you to take a larger view of things. Winning the Contest is only the beginning. You have a whole career ahead of you, so when planning your next several entries, think about what you want most for yourself as a writer. It might lead you to different stories or a different way of writing them.

Re: Editors by Kary English

Click here to view the original version.

Assuming their credentials and references are good, I wouldn’t hesitate to use an editor who hasn’t won the Contest. Moshe Feder, frex, hasn’t won, and he’s a fine editor. Ditto for Mike Resnick (of blessed memory), Shelia Williams, and a host of others.

The editor should understand short stories, so maybe don’t go with someone who only edits novels.

WOTF is a market. It has preferences like any other market, and it’s the writer’s job to learn what those are. The best way to learn those preferences is to read stories from the most recent volumes, especially ones (V 31 and newer) where David Farland is the coordinating judge.

Back in my day, I ran a tally on each volume – POV, length, genre / sub-genre, mood, MC gender, etc.

Three Kinds of Endings by Kary English

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I learned this bit about endings from David Farland.

In the happy ending, the main character gets everything or almost everything they want, and things, in general, are better than when the story started. It’s a very satisfying ending. Romances end this way.

In the sad ending, the MC fails, gets nothing they want, and things generally are worse than when the story started. The difference between a romance, for example, and a love story is that a romance has a happy ending, but a love story doesn’t.

Both of those are valid endings. Both of those work, and I’m sure you can think of plenty of examples of each. But Dave says that the ending readers find the most satisfying is the complex ending, which is where the MC gets some of what they want, but only at a great personal cost.

So how do you do it?

Here’s how I do it. I list everything my main character wants at the beginning of the story. I look at which things are big vs. small and which things are personal or internal vs. public or external. Saving the world is big and external. Saving a box of salt as it falls from a cliff is small and personal. Saving the Shire for everyone? Big and external. Saving the Shire because of your own personal love for it? Big and internal.

That big, internal thing? My character’s probably not getting that. That’s the knife I’ll twist to put the bitter in my bittersweet ending.

You can also pull this off by using a symbol. In Top Gun, Maverick starts out wanting to be the hottest flyboy in town. He takes risk after risk until he gets it, but the cost is the life of his wingman, Goose. The scene that gets people isn’t the botched ejection scene. The scene that gets people is when Maverick finally lets go of his grief and guilt, symbolized by releasing Goose’s dog tags into the ocean. The complex ending for Top Gun is about more than the loss of Goose’s life. It’s about Maverick realizing that his desire for glory was hollow.

So have a look at your endings. Think about what your characters want, why they want it, and whether you will give it to them. Think about whether what they want changes during your story. When you’re looking for costs, hit the character where it hurts. Give them a victory, but take something big and important.

Happy endings work. Sad endings work. Complex endings often pack the most punch.

WotF Coordinating Judge

Dave Wolverton (AKA David Farland) was the longtime Editor and Coordinating Judge for the Writers of the Future Contest before he passed on Jan. 14, 2022, and was replaced by Jody Lynn Nye. He also acted as First Reader before Kary English. The new editor is Dean Wesley Smith. Although it remains to be seen if what was true for Dave holds up with Jody, the following articles are good advice.

10 Points to Avoid by David Farland

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Ten reasons why Dave rejects stories quickly—usually within the first page
  1. The story is unintelligible. Very often, I’ll get submissions that just don’t make sense. Often, these seem to be non-English speakers who are way off in both the meaning of words, their context, or their syntax, but more often, it’s just clumsiness. The author had made too many other errors where the “almost correct” word was used.
  2. The story is unbelievable.
  3. The author leaves no noun or verb unmodified. You put two of those sentences together on the first page, and it really bogs a story down. People who do this on the first page of a manuscript will do it throughout. Very often, these modifications turn into “purple prose.”
  4. If nothing significant occurs in two pages, and I don’t have any reason to go further, I have to reject the story.
  5. A major element is left out. An “element” of your story includes your character, setting, conflict, theme, and treatment. Very often, I think that new authors neglect to put in elements like a setting just because they’re unsure how to weave that information in. But that kind of information needs to be there. Here’s a hint—if you don’t tell me your protagonist’s name in the first two paragraphs, I’ll probably reject the story. Why? Because long experience has taught me that if you make that mistake, you’ll probably leave out other vital information, too.
  6. The author is unable to “imply” information. Here’s a tip: since we typically have to reach out to shake someone’s hand, the words “reached out” are already implied and probably unnecessary. In the same way, when we stand, we don’t need to add the word “up.” If we sit, we don’t need to add the word “down.” If someone “nods,” we don’t have to add the words “his head.” No one ever nods his knee. Authors who are unaware of how to imply information will almost always overwrite their stories, adding entire scenes that don’t need to be there. Either that or they’ll leave out a great deal of vital description. Rarely will they do both.
  7. There simply isn’t a story. You would be surprised at how many pieces come in that are philosophical diatribes, letters, or reminiscences. Those are rejected instantly.
  8. Oily tales, e.g., bloody, violent, disgusting, or perverse as possible. One must remember that if you’re submitting to a major contest, the winning stories will be published. Any story that you submit that is not fit to be read by a high school student is, in my opinion, fatally flawed and will be rejected. Profanity may be edited out, but if vile content is what the story is about, then you need to be submitting to someone else.
  9. Non-formed stories. A lot of people are submitting flash fiction, a few paragraphs that might be interesting but which usually don’t have much to offer. I can imagine a rare circumstance where a flash fiction piece might win, but when placed beside a long, formed story, flash pieces almost always suffer by comparison because the conflicts in the piece never get properly developed and resolved. The same is true with japes (stories that start as stories and end as jokes).
  10. The tale is out of chronological order on the micro-level. Some authors love this construction: “John raced out the door, after brushing his teeth.” So I, as the reader, am forced to imagine John rushing out the door, then back up and imagine the tooth-brushing scene. If I see two of these in a short story, I’ll forgive them. But if I get two on the first page of a story, I’ll show no mercy. The reason is simple: the author almost always makes a lot of other errors, too, which will show up as unneeded flashbacks and as unnecessary point-of-view shifts.
Why You Only Got an Honorable Mention by Dave Farland

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There are four simple reasons why a story may not rise above Honorable Mention.
  1. The idea for the story isn’t particularly fresh or interesting.
  2. If the idea is good, then it may be that your execution is off. Persistent little bugs will put you in the Honorable Mention category, e.g., too many weak verbs, word repetitions, and character accents that are inaccurate.
  3. Plotting problems. Very often, I’ll have a story whose concept is good, and the writing is beautiful, but the plot just doesn’t work. Usually, it has a good opening (that’s why I got hooked), but perhaps the middle of the story is weak, or the ending doesn’t quite pan out. When plotting your story, make certain that its plot is logical, that it builds with each try-fail cycle, and that you have a powerful ending that leaves the reader thinking and emotionally moved.
  4. Missing elements. This is the most frequent problem and the hardest to solve. For instance, when I finish a story, I want it to have some universality. I want to understand why this story is important for others to read. In other words, “Does this story have a message?” Sometimes, the answer is no, and that usually means that it won’t hold up well in a competition. Those missing elements can be a lot of things. Sometimes I’ll have a story where only one character is involved. There’s no interaction. As a judge, I have to wonder why. Why didn’t the author put in a sidekick, someone to talk to, in order to make this more engaging? Usually, the author is blind to his or her own missing element. Some authors, for example, forget to describe what is off in the distance (a line of mountains, a roiling sea). Others forget to describe the middle ground (a golden pyramid with a congregation of Egyptian slaves and merchants bowing to the god king at its peak). So when you read their stories, the protagonist is often bumping into characters that seem to come out of nowhere. In other stories, the author forgets to engage the senses. A lack of smells or touch is the largest problem. Still, other authors have no internal dialog, so you never know what their character is thinking or feeling. Instead, the author writes in a cinematic style that keeps the reader at a distance. Frequently I see stories that just don’t have enough conflicts or the conflicts that they do have aren’t dealt with as rigorously as they should be. Or maybe your opening doesn’t have a hook. Or maybe your descriptions aren’t crisp enough, your characters feel a bit flat and stereotypical, or your language isn’t fresh or beautiful.

At the end of the day, when a story wins an Honorable Mention in the Contest, it means that you came close. But in the end, there were two or more little problems that go beyond your typical typos.

Your First Five Pages by David Farland

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The shortlist:
  1. From the very first sentence, I want to see that you’re not just a competent writer, but a skillful one. I want to see that you “have a way with words” so that I feel I’m in the hands of a professional storyteller. That means that I won’t feel confused, and I won’t get tripped up by typos or beginner’s mistakes. Indeed, I want to see that you’re talented right from the first sentence. Half of the editors and agents say that they look for a “great voice” right out the gate, whether it be the voice of the narrating character or the author.
  2. I want to know (or at least have some great hints) where and when the story takes place. It helps if the setting is intriguing and beautifully drawn. Of course, when you bring that setting to life, you should appeal to most of the senses quickly—sight, sound, smell, touch, and taste.
  3. I want to know who the protagonist is and see you handling the viewpoint properly. This means that the protagonist moves, has an emotional state, and thinks so that we don’t see the tale from a camera’s point of view, but from a real person’s. More than that, it is often helpful if the character is likable or interesting, or even both.
  4. In the opening five pages, I must see a hint of an intriguing conflict, one that is already building toward a climax. To get that in quickly means that you almost need to start the story in media res. [A narrative work beginning in media’s res (Classical Latin: [ɪn mɛdiaːs reːs], lit. “into the middle things”) opens in the midst of the action. Often, exposition is bypassed and filled in gradually, either through dialogue, flashbacks, or description of past events.]
  5. In my business as a science fiction and fantasy editor, I want to see some novelty—something that tells me that your work is original and that you’re capable of coming up with something new.

I can only hope for so much for the first five pages. All I really want is to be convinced that you’re one of the greatest discoveries I’ve ever made. If you think that an agent or editor wants anything less, you’re mistaken. The truth is that every editor and every agent who reads your manuscript is hoping that your tale demands to be published.

11 General Guidelines for Submission by Jarrid Cantway
Do’s
  1. Contests usually have a specific genre and theme. Pay attention, and don’t submit a story that doesn’t embody those elements in a significant way.
  2. Always look into an organization’s history, previous winners, and social media presence to ensure they are reputable and align with your goals. You’ll also garner advice doing so. Note that reputability is frequently associated with how long a competition has been established.
  3. If the contest publishes winners, read past issues. Research to see if your piece fits with what the contest usually publishes. They are clear examples of not only what makes a story a winner but of the judges’ preferences. Pay particular attention to the stories that resonate with you.
  4. Research the judges to get a better feel for their preferences. Read their work. Many will publish books, interviews, articles, blogs, and newsletters in which they share advice.
  5. Avoid submitting the same story repeatedly, especially without rewriting and editing each time. Doing so is a legitimate method, and writers have won this way. Still, if you stretch yourself to write a new story for each submission, you’ll have a collection of fresh, exciting work and not a single, potentially overwritten, story. You also risk losing your passion or getting trapped in a never-ending editing loop.
  6. To increase your chance of winning, avoid submitting within the last four weeks of a deadline if possible. Four weeks is an arbitrary number, but you don’t want to submit last minute if you can avoid doing so. Some argue it’s better to submit as soon as a contest opens when the judges have fresh eyes. In my experience, it’s best not to get hung up on this; getting a submission in is more important.
  7. Determine what the relevant formatting specifications are and follow them. Guidelines often refer to “standard manuscript format,” but no centralized standard source exists. However, Shunn’s Proper Manuscript Format or McIntyre’s Manuscript Preparation are frequently cited.
  8. Get critiques.
  9. Always edit and proofread before submitting.
  10. Double-check official submission guidelines. Make sure the submission meets all requirements. Sometimes they change.
Don’ts
  • No fan fiction or erotica in any form.
  • No needless or graphic abuse or torture, especially against animals and children.
  • No excessive profanity.
  • Nothing that promotes or normalizes rape.
  • Nothing that promotes or normalizes bigotry or targeted violence against marginalized people or communities.
  • Tropes to avoid: Werewolves, vampires, zombies, goblins, orcs, and elves. Stories derivative in nature, particularly those based on TV series. Serial killer stories. Stories where a person tries to murder their spouse because of minor annoyances.
Resources:
https://soundcloud.com/uprn/writers-illustrators-of-the-future-podcast-186-jody-lynn-nye-the-roll-of-sff-on-the-future
https://soundcloud.com/writersofthefuture/41-story-prompts-short-fiction-how-to-win-the-contest-from-7-contest-judges
https://soundcloud.com/writersofthefuture/3-after-the-workshop-interview-with-orson-scott-card-tim-powers-david-farland
Fyrelite & Fyrecon

Fyrecon thrives as an online conference offering master classes taught by bestselling authors and nationally recognized artists, including dedicated quarterly Fyrelite workshops. For Fall 2022, three prominent Writers of the Future Contest winners have workshopsKary EnglishMartin L. Shoemaker, and Wulf Moon.

Kary English The Slush is ALIVE – Fyrecon

Ever wonder how a story passes from the slush pile at the worldwide Writers and Illustrators of the Future Contests (WotF) to the Judges? First Reader Kary English will be doing the ‘Slush Is ALIVE’ event to show how your past or future contest entries would do on the slush pile reading.

Submitting your story for’ Slush is Alive’ DOES NOT break anonymity for submitting to the Contest. Our submission system preserves your anonymity.

Fyrelite Saturday, Oct. 1, 2022

For Fyrelite, you can submit up to two 200-word story openings anonymously.

This will be part of the free events at Fyrelite. You will need, at minimum, the Free Event pass to submit, so grab your free registration now.

Fyrecon 6 (November 10-13, 2022)

For the Fyrecon event, you can submit one 600-word story opening. You must have a Fyrecon 6 general admission registration to submit once submissions open.

Notes:

You may not submit a story currently under consideration or which will be under consideration by the Writers of the Future story contest at the time of the respective event. You can submit a previous submission where you have received results or a story you plan to submit in the future after the event occurs.

Other Conferences
Superstars Conference

The Superstars Writing Seminars and Conference are recommended by Kary English. Four of the Founders are Writers of the Future Judges: Kevin J. Anderson, Rebecca Moesta, Eric Flint, and David Farland.

WorldCon

Worldcon is the annual convention of the World Science Fiction Society (WSFS). The WSFS members vote to select the winners of the annual Hugo Awards, which are presented at each convention. Many Writers of the Future winners attend.

Dragon Con
Recommended reading
1. Slushpile Memories: How NOT to Get Rejected (Million Dollar Writing Series) by Kevin J. Anderson 

This book, written by WotF Judge and bestselling author Kevin J. Anderson, reviews general submission tips applicable to WotF Contest. Find it here.

2. Million Dollar Outlines Paperback by David Farland

Written by longtime WotF Coordinating Judge and Editor, this book delivers tips for writing and submitting to the Contest. Get a free e-copy when you sign up for the newsletter run by his team, or purchase it here.

3. Heinlein’s Rules: Five Simple Business Rules for Writing (WMG Writer’s Guides) By Dean Wesley Smith

While Heinlein’s Rules are not for everyone because no tool works for every writer, this book is written by longtime WotF Judge and best-selling author Dean Wesley Smith. When Dean convinced Martin L. Shoemaker to try Heinlein’s Rules, Martin received his first finalist. Find it here.

4. Wulf Moon’s Super Secrets on the WotF Forum

Wulf’s collection of WotF Forum posts is often recommended to those entering the Contest. Find the forum thread here. Still, he also runs a “Super Secrets Workshop and Challenge” and the “Wolf Pack Club” through his website at TheSuperSecrets.com. A Super Secrets of Writing book will be available soon. On Aug. 22 —24, 2022, the debut of the SUPER SECRETS of Writing special collector’s edition will be released at Salt Lake FanX Comic Con (Wulf Moon Enterprises booth #2453).

Additional resources

https://www.writersofthefuture.com/forum/

https://www.writersofthefuture.com/blog/

https://www.writersofthefuture.com/podcast/

https://www.writersofthefuture.com/writers-contest-info/

https://www.fyrecon.com/

https://superstarswriting.com/

https://mystorydoctor.com/category/fiction/

3rd in the series

This is the third publication in the series focused on advice for entering the Writers of the Future Contest. Read the previous article in the series by clicking the links below:

  1. Intro to the Writer of the Future Contest.
  2. Intro to Writers of the Future Contest Part 2: Deadlines, Quarterly Announcement Dates, and Awards Event

Thanks for reading Jarrid’s Newsletter! Subscribe for free to receive new posts and support my work.


Bibliography

English, Kary. “155. Kary English Do’s, Dont’s, and WTF on submitting to Writers of the Future” https://soundcloud.com/writersofthefuture/155-kary-english-dos-donts-and-wtf-on-submitting-to-writers-of-the-future. Dec. 26, 2021.

English, Kary. “THE CONTEST – QUARTERLY TOPICS, AND OTHER ITEMS/ Discussion Q2 Volume 39” https://www.writersofthefuture.com/forum/postid/47091/. Aug. 10, 2022.

English, Kary. “THE CONTEST – QUARTERLY TOPICS, AND OTHER ITEMS/ Future spoils” https://www.writersofthefuture.com/forum/postid/42854/. Dec. 8, 2021.

English, Kary. “THE CONTEST – QUARTERLY TOPICS, AND OTHER ITEMS/Satire for Joe Benet” https://www.writersofthefuture.com/forum/postid/44077/. Feb. 2, 2022.

English, Kary. “RE: DQ’s” https://www.writersofthefuture.com/forum/postid/46688/. July. 31, 2022.

English, Kary. “THE CONTEST – QUARTERLY TOPICS, AND OTHER ITEMS/Quarter 1 Vol 39” https://www.writersofthefuture.com/forum/postid/45494/. May. 9, 2022.

English, Kary. “How do you limit the length of a story?” https://www.writersofthefuture.com/forum/postid/44371/. Mar. 4, 2022.

English, Kary. “Writing and Finishing” https://www.writersofthefuture.com/forum/postid/44468/. Mar. 8, 2022.

English, Kary. “Re: are HM / SHM / Semis weeded out of the finalist pile?” https://www.writersofthefuture.com/forum/postid/46706/. Aug. 1, 2022.

English, Kary. “THE CONTEST – QUARTERLY TOPICS, AND OTHER ITEMS/ Future spoils/Judges Preferences” https://www.writersofthefuture.com/forum/postid/42821/. Dec. 7, 2021.

English, Kary. “Re: editors” https://www.writersofthefuture.com/forum/postid/42040/. Nov. 15, 2021.

English, Kary. “Three Kinds of Endings” https://www.writersofthefuture.com/forum/postid/43258/. Dec. 19, 2021.

Farland, Dave. “David Farland’s 10 Points to Avoid in Writing Short Fiction” https://www.writersofthefuture.com/dave-farlands-10-points-to-avoid/. May 24, 2017.

Farland, Dave. “Why You Only Got an Honorable Mention” https://www.writersofthefuture.com/why-you-only-got-an-honorable-mention/. May 30, 2017.

Farland, Dave. “Your First Five Pages” https://www.writersofthefuture.com/your-first-five-pages/. Aug. 16, 2017.


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Next week

I’ll share an article on WINNING the Writers of the Future Contest featuring advice from thirty past winners.

Cheers,

Jarrid Cantway

Oh, I wouldn’t mind if you shared the article on social media.

Weekly Update: Writers of the Future Contest

Author Jarrid Cantway

Weekly Update

Writers of the Future Contest

This week has been exhilarating! Through my work on my series about the Writers of the Future Contest (#WotF), I’ve connected with several past winners. Their invaluable advice will be featured in an upcoming article!


The growing list of contributors includes:
David Hankins

2023 Vol. 39 Second Quarter Third Place Winner

Website: davidhankins.com

Desmond Astaire

2022 Vol. 38 Fourth Quarter First Place & Golden Pen Award Winner; “Gallows”

Website: desmondastaire.com

Mike Jack Stoumbos

2022 Vol. 38 First Quarter First Place Winner; “The Squid Is My Brother”

Website: mikejackstoumbos.com

Brittany Rainsdon

2022 Vol. 38 First Quarter Second Place Winner; “The Last Dying Season”

2021 Vol. 37 Published Finalist; “Half-Breed”

Website: rainsdonwrites.com

Lazarus Black

2022 Vol. 38 Third Quarter First Place Winner; “Psychic Poker”

Website: www.lazarus.black

N.V. Haskell

2022 Vol. 38 Third Quarter Third Place Winner; “The Mystical Farrago” 

Website: nvhaskell.com

Rebecca Treasure Schibler

2022 Vol. 38 Published Finalist; “Tsuu, Tsuu, Kasva Suuremasse”

Website: www.rebeccaetreasure.com

Barbara Lund

2021 Vol. 37 First Quarter First Place & Golden Pen Award Winner; “Sixers”

Website: barbaralund.com

John M Campbell

2021 Vol. 37 Quarter Four First Place; “The Tiger and the Waif”

Website: johnmcampbell.com

Wulf Moon

2019 Vol. 35 Fourth Quarter Second Place; “Super-Duper Moongirl and the Amazing Moon Dawdler”

Website: driftweave.com

Jonathan Ficke

2018 Vol. 34 Fourth Quarter Third Place Winner; “The Howler on the Sales Floor”

Website: jonficke.com

Jake Marley

2017 Vol. 33 Third Quarter First Place & Golden Pen Award Winner; “Acquisition”

Website: jakemarley.wordpress.com


As a reminder, the 4th and final quarter of the Writers of the Future Contest (#WotF) Vol. 39 ends on 30 September 2022.

Don’t forget to subscribe to receive new content and updates sent straight to your inbox!

Next week I’ll share an article featuring advice on submitting to the Writers of the Future Contest from First Reader Kary English.

Cheers,

Jarrid Cantway

Oh, I wouldn’t mind if you shared the article on social media.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Author Jarrid Cantway

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Intro to Writers of the Future Contest Part 2

Writers of the Future Contest

Intro to Writers of the Future Contest Part 2

Deadlines, Quarterly Announcement Dates, and Awards Events

One of the most known and respected vehicles for supporting new writers is the free-to-enter international contest called L. Ron Hubbard’s Writers of the Future, now in its 39th year.

The merit-based contest was initiated to discover and encourage talented beginning writers of science fiction and fantasy.

Every quarter there are winners, finalists, semi-finalists, and honorable mentions. The quarterly winners are published in the annual anthology, receive cash prizes, and attend an all-expenses paid gala awards ceremony and writing workshop.

The second article

This article is the second in a series and comprises a list of significant dates. For example, I’ve compiled the winner announcement dates for each quarter starting from 2014, including the winners and hyperlinks to the relevant articles.

To those new to the contest, it gives a general outline of significant events, deadlines, and when results are typically announced for each quarter. Read the first article in the series by clicking on Intro to the Writer of the Future Contest.

The contest is split into four submission quarters, First Quarter (1 Oct – 31 Dec); Second Quarter (1 Jan – 31 Mar); Third Quarter (1 Apr – 30 Jun); Fourth Quarter (1 Jul – 30 Sep).

Winner announcement dates
Vol. 31 (2015 Writer Winners)

Q1 – First Quarter Winners: June 2, 2014 (119 Honorable Mentions | 10 Semi-Finalists | 8 Finalists | 3 Winners)

  • 1st Place Winner – “Twelve Minutes to Vinh Quang” by Tim Napper – currently of Vietnam and from Australia
  • 2nd Place Winner – “A Revolutionary’s Guide to Practical Conjuration” by Auston Habershaw of Massachusetts
  • 3rd Place Winner – “Unrefined” by Martin L. Shoemaker of Michigan

Q2: July 14, 2014. (124 Honorable Mentions | 8 Semi-Finalists | 8 Finalists | 3 Winners)

  • 1st Place Winner – “Poseidon’s Eyes” by Kary English of California
  • 2nd Place Winner – “Half Past” by Samantha Murray of Australia
  • 3rd Place Winner – “Purposes Made for Alien Minds” by Scott R. Parkin of Utah

Q3: October 8, 2014 (125 Honorable Mentions | 13 Semi-Finalists | 8 Finalists | 3 Winners)

  • 1st Place Winner – “The God Whisperer” by Daniel J. Davis of North Carolina
  • 2nd Place Winner – “The Graver” by Amy M. Hughes of Utah
  • 3rd Place Winner – “Wisteria Melancholy” by Michael T. Banker of New York

Q4: January 3, 2015 (Unknown Honorable Mentions | 7 Semi-Finalists | 8 Finalists | 3 Winners)

  • 1st Place Winner – “Stars That Make Dark Heaven Light” by Sharon Joss of Oregon
  • 2nd Place Winner – “Switch” by Steve Pantazis
  • 3rd Place Winner – “Planar Ghosts” by Krystal Claxton

Grand Prize Winner 2015: “Stars That Make Dark Heaven Light” by Sharon Joss

Published Finalist: “Between Screens” by Zach Chapman


Total of number of Honorable Mentions and above listed on winner announcements for Vol. 31: ~572+

Workshop Week – Day One: April 7, 2015

Awards Event: April 12, 2015 | Wilshire Ebell Theater Los Angeles, CA | 1200 Person Capacity | Steampunk Theme | Volume 31


Vol. 32 (2016 Writer Winners)

Q1 – First Quarter Winners: July 1, 2015 (84 Honorable Mentions | 8 Semi-Finalists |5 Finalists | 3 Winners)

  • 1st Place Winner – “The Sun Falls Apart” by J.W. Alden of Florida
  • 2nd Place Winner – “Dinosaur Dreams in Infinite Measure” by Rachael K. Jones of Georgia
  • 3rd Place Winner – “A Glamour in the Black” by Sylvia Anna Hivén of Georgia

Q2August 24, 2015 (83 Honorable Mentions | 8 Semi-Finalists | 5 Finalists | 3 Winners)

  • 1st Place Winner – “Images Across a Shattered Sea” by Stewart C Baker of Oregon
  • 2nd Place Winner – “The Broad Sky Was Mine, And the Road” by Ryan Row of California
  • 3rd Place Winner – “Freebot” R.M. Graves of London, England

Q3October 7, 2015 (114 Honorable Mentions | 29 Silver Honorable Mentions | 7 Semi-Finalists | 5 Finalists | 3 Winners)

  • First Place Winner – “Squalor and Sympathy” by Matt Dovey of Horncastle, United Kingdom
  • Second Place Winner – “Last Sunset for the World Weary” by H.L. Fullerton of New York
  • Third Place Winner – “Möbius” by Christoph Weber of Nevada

Q4January 7, 2016 (142 Honorable Mentions | 21 Silver Honorable Mentions | 7 Semi-Finalists | 5 Finalists | 3 Winners)

  • First Place Winner – “The Star Tree” by Jon Lasser of Washington
  • Second Place Winner – “The Jack of Souls” by Stephen Merlino of Washington
  • Third Place Winner – “Cry Havoc” by Julie Frost of Utah

Grand Prize Winner 2016: “Squalor and Sympathy” by Matt Dovey

Published Finalist: “Swords Like Lightning, Hooves Like Thunder” by K.D. Julicher


Total of number of Honorable Mentions and above listed on winner announcements for Vol 32: 535

Workshop Week – Day One: April 5, 2016 | Loews Hotel

Awards Event: April 10, 2016 | Wilshire Ebell Theater Los Angeles, CA | 1200 Person Capacity | Dragons and Dreamers Theme |Volume 32


Vol. 33 (2017 Writer Winners)

Q1 – First Quarter Winners: September 13, 2016 (106 Honorable Mentions | 9 Silver Honorable Mentions | 8 Semi-Finalists | 5 Finalists | 3 Winners)

  • First Place Winner – “Envoy in the Ice” by Dustin Steinacker
  • Second Place Winner – “Adramelech” by Sean Hazlett from California
  • Third Place Winner – “A Glowing Heart” by Anton Rose from the United Kingdom

Q2: September 16, 2016 (129 Honorable Mentions | 13 Silver Honorable Mentions | 8 Semi-Finalists | 5 Finalists | 3 Winners)

  • First Place Winner – “The Armor Embrace” by Doug C. Souza from California
  • Second Place Winner – “The Woodcutters’ Deity” by Emeka (Walter) Dinjos from Nigeria
  • Third Place Winner – “Moonlight One” by Stephen Lawson from Kentucky

Q3: November 3, 2016 (156 Honorable Mentions | 42 Silver Honorable Mentions | 8 Semi-Finalists | 5 Finalists | 3 Winners)

  • First Place Winner – “Acquisition” by Jake Marley from California
  • Second Place Winner – “The Fox, the Wolf, and the Dove” by Ville Meriläinen from Finland
  • Third Place Winner – “The Drake Equation” by C.L. Kagmi from Michigan

Q4: December 28, 2016 (105 Honorable Mentions | 24 Silver Honorable Mentions | 7 Semi-Finalists | 5 Finalists | 3 Winners)

  • First Place Winner – “Useless Magic” by Andrew Peery from North Carolina
  • Second Place Winner – “The Long Dizzy Down” by Ziporah Hildebrandt from Massachusetts
  • Third Place Winner – “Tears for Shülna” by Andrew L. Roberts from California

Grand Prize Winner 2017: “Acquisition” by Jake Marley

Published Finalists:

  • “The Magnificent Bhajan” by David VonAllmen
  • “Obsidian Spire” by Molly Elizabeth Atkins

Total of number of Honorable Mentions and above listed on winner announcements for Vol. 33: 647

Workshop Week – Day One: March 28, 2017

Awards Event: April 2, 2017 | Wilshire Ebell Theater Los Angeles, CA | 1200 Person Capacity | Red Dragon Theme | Volume 33


Vol. 34 (2018 Writer Winners)

Q1 – First Quarter Winners: May 30, 2017 (66 Honorable Mentions | 12 Silver Honorable Mentions | 8 Semi-Finalists | 5 Finalists | 3 Winners)

  • First Place Winner – “The Minarets of An-Zabat” by Jeremy TeGrotenhuis from Washington (AKA J.T. Greathouse)
  • Second Place Winner – “Miss Smokey” by Diana Hart from Washington
  • Third Place Winner – “The Face in the Box” by Janey Bell from Illinois

Q2: July 26, 2017 (71 Honorable Mentions | 34 Silver Honorable Mentions | 9 Semi-Finalists | 5 Finalists | 3 Winners)

  • First Place Winner – “Odd and Ugly” by Vida Cruz from the Philippines
  • Second Place Winner – “All Light and Darkness” by Amy Henrie Gillett from Texas
  • Third Place Winner – “Flee, My Pretty One” by Eneasz Bodski from Colorado

Q3: September 13, 2017 (91 Honorable Mentions | 15 Silver Honorable Mentions | 8 Semi-Finalists | 5 Finalists | 3 Winners)

  • First Place Winner – “Mara’s Shadow” by Darci Stone from Utah
  • Second Place Winner – “Turnabout” by Erik Bundy from North Carolina
  • Third Place Winner – “A Bitter Thing” by N.R.M. Roshak from Canada

Q4: January 8, 2018 (154 Honorable Mentions | 9 Silver Honorable Mentions | 6 Semi-Finalists | 5 Finalists | 3 Winners)

  • First Place Winner – “A Smokeless and Scorching Fire” by Erin Cairns from Texas
  • Second Place Winner – “What Lies Beneath” by Cole Hehr from Oklahoma
  • Third Place Winner – “The Howler on the Sales Floor” by Jonathan Ficke from Wisconsin

Grand Prize Winner 2018: “Mara’s Shadow” by Darci Stone


Total of number of Honorable Mentions and above listed on winner announcements for Vol. 34: 515

Workshop Week – Day One: April 4, 2018

Awards Event: April 8, 2018 | The MacArthur Theater Los Angeles, CA | 450 Person Capacity | Magic and Wizardry Theme | Volume 34


Vol. 35 (2019 Writer Winners)

Q1 – First Quarter Winners: May 10, 2018 (88 Honorable Mentions | 7 Silver Honorable Mentions | 7 Semi-Finalists | 5 Finalists | 3 Winners)

  • First Place Winner – “A Harvest of Astronauts” by Kyle Kirrin from Colorado
  • Second Place Winner – “A Certain Slant of Light” by Preston Dennett from California
  • Third Place Winner – “The First Warden” by Kai Wolden from Minnesota

Q2: July 18, 2018 (191 Honorable Mentions | 14 Silver Honorable Mentions | 5 Semi-Finalists | 4 Finalists | 3 Winners)

  • First Place Winner – “Dark Equations of the Heart” by David Cleden from the United Kingdom
  • Second Place Winner – “Release from Service” by Rustin Lovewell from Maryland
  • Third Place Winner – “Dirt Road Magic” by Carrie Callahan from Kentucky

Q3: October 25, 2018 (220 Honorable Mentions | 17 Silver Honorable Mentions | 8 Semi-Finalists | 5 Finalists | 3 Winners)

  • First Place Winner – “Untrained Luck” by Elise Stephens from Washington
  • Second Place Winner – “An Itch” by Christopher Baker from the United Kingdom
  • Third Place Winner – “Are You the Life of the Party?” by Mica Scotti Kole from Michigan

Q4: December 1, 2018 (219 Honorable Mentions | 34 Silver Honorable Mentions | 8 Semi-Finalists | 5 Finalists | 3 Winners)

  • First Place Winner – “Thanatos Drive” by Andrew Dykstal from Virginia
  • Second Place Winner – “Super-Duper Moongirl and the Amazing Moon Dawdler” by Wulf Moon from Washington
  • Third Place Winner – “The Damned Voyage” by John Haas from Canada

Grand Prize Winner 2019: “Thanatos Drive” by Andrew Dykstal


Total of number of Honorable Mentions and above listed on winner announcements for Vol. 35: 849

Workshop Week – Day One: March 30, 2019

Awards Event: April 5, 2019 | Taglyan Complex Hollywood, CA | … Person Capacity | Retro Robotics Theme | Volume 35


Vol. 36 (2020 Writer Winners)

Q1 – First Quarter Winners: May 15, 2019 (229 Honorable Mentions | 21 Silver Honorable Mentions | 7 Semi-Finalists | 5 Finalists | 3 Winners)

  • First Place Winner – “A Word That Means Every thing ” by Andy Dibble from Wisconsin
  • Second Place Winner – “A Prize in Every Box” by F. J. Bergmann from Wisconsin
  • Third Place Winner – “Automated Everyman Migrant Theater ” by Sonny Zae from Texas

Q2: August 16, 2019 (196 Honorable Mentions | 36 Silver Honorable Mentions | 9 Semi-Finalists | 5 Finalists | 3 Winners)

First Place Winner – “Educational Tapes ” by Katie Livingston from Oklahoma
Second Place Winner – “As Able the Air ” by Zack Be from Maryland
Third Place Winner – “Molting Season” by Tim Boiteau from Michigan

Q3: October 21, 2019 (237 Honorable Mentions | 29 Silver Honorable Mentions | 8 Semi-Finalists | 5 Finalists | 3 Winners)

  • First Place Winner – “Catching My Death” by J. L. George from United Kingdom
  • Second Place Winner – “Foundations” by Michael Gardner from Australia
  • Third Place Winner – “Stolen Sky” by Storm Humbert from Michigan

Q4: January 8, 2019 (307 Honorable Mentions | 46 Silver Honorable Mentions | 8 Semi-Finalists | 4 Finalists | 3 Winners)

  • First Place Winner – “The Trade” by C. Winspear from Australia
  • Second Place Winner – “Trading Ghosts” by David A. Elsensohn from California
  • Third Place Winner – “Yellow and Pink” by Leah Ning from Virginia

Grand Prize Winner 2020: “The Trade” by C. Winspear


Total of number of Honorable Mentions and above listed on winner announcements for Vol. 36: 1,164

Workshop Week – Day One: Canceled due to Covid-19.

Awards Event: October 22, 2021 | Taglyan Complex Hollywood, CA | 300 Person Capacity | Centurion Theme | Volume 36 & 37


Vol. 37 (2021 Writer Winners)

Q1 – First Quarter Winners: April 30, 2020 (296 Honorable Mentions | 59 Silver Honorable Mentions | 10 Semi-Finalists | 5 Finalists | 3 Winners)

  • First Place Winner – “Sixers” by Barbara Lund from Utah
  • Second Place Winner – “Death of a Time Traveler” by Sara Fox from Georgia
  • Third Place Winner – “The Redemption of Brother Adalum” by K. D. Julicher from Nevada

Q2: July 28, 2020 (270 Honorable Mentions | 51 Silver Honorable Mentions | 8 Semi-Finalists | 5 Finalists | 3 Winners)

  • First Place Winner – “The Enfield Report” by Christopher Bowthorpe from Utah
  • Second Place Winner – “The Argentum” by Anj Dockrey from Texas
  • Third Place Winner – “The Widow’s Might” by Elizabeth Chatsworth from Connecticut

Q3: October 15, 2020 (255 Honorable Mentions | 59 Silver Honorable Mentions | 8 Semi-Finalists | 5 Finalists | 3 Winners)

  • First Place Winner – “Soul Paper” by Trent Walters from Missouri
  • Second Place Winner – “How to Steal the Plot Armor” by Luke Wildman from Indiana
  • Third Place Winner – “The Skin of My Mother” by Erik Lynd from Washington

Q4: November 17, 2020 (351 Honorable Mentions | 118 Silver Honorable Mentions | 8 Semi-Finalists | 5 Finalists | 3 Winners)

  • First Place Winner – “The Tiger and the Waif” by John M. Campbell from Colorado
  • Second Place Winner – “Hemingway” by Emma Washburn from North Carolina
  • Third Place Winner – “A Demon Hunter’s Guide to Passover Seder” by Ryan Cole from Virginia

Grand Prize Winner 2021: “Sixers” by Barbara Lund

Published Finalists:

  • “The Battle of Donasi” by Elaine Midcoh
  • “Half-Breed” by Brittany Rainsdon

Total of number of Honorable Mentions and above listed on winner announcements for Vol. 37: 1,495

Workshop Week – Day One: October 16, 2021 | Volume 36 & 37

Combined Awards Event: October 22, 2021 | Taglyan Complex Hollywood, CA | 300 Person Capacity | Centurion Theme | Volume 36 & 37


Vol. 38 (2022 Writer Winners)

Q1 – First Quarter Winners: May 4, 2021 (99 Honorable Mentions | 118 Silver Honorable Mentions | 9 Semi-Finalists | 5 Finalists | 3 Winners)

First Place Winner – “The Squid Is My Brother” by Mike Jack Stoumbos from Washington
Second Place Winner – “The Last Dying Season” by Brittany Rainsdon from Idaho
Third Place Winner – “For the Federation” by J. A. Becker from Australia

Q2: July 8 2021 (290 Honorable Mentions | 107 Silver Honorable Mentions | 8 Semi-Finalists | 5 Finalists | 3 Winners)

  • First Place Winner – “The Phantom Carnival” by M. Elizabeth Ticknor from Michigan
  • Second Place Winner – “The Island on the Lake” by John Coming from Ohio
  • Third Place Winner – “Agatha’s Monster” by Azure Arther from Texas

Q3: December 2, 2021 (376 Honorable Mentions | 63 Silver Honorable Mentions | 6 Semi-Finalists | 5 Finalists | 3 Winners)

  • First Place Winner – “Psychic Poker” by Lazarus Black from Washington (AKA Lazarus Chernik)
  • Second Place Winner – “The Greater Good” by Em Dupre from Florida
  • Third Place Winner – “The Mystical Farrago” by N. V. Haskell from Kentucky

Q4: December 11, 2021 (469 Honorable Mentions | 100 Silver Honorable Mentions | 7 Semi-Finalists | 5 Finalists | 3 Winners)

  • First Place Winner – “Gallows” by Desmond Astaire from Illinois
  • Second Place Winner – “The Magic Book of Accidental City Destruction: A Book Wizard’s Guide” by Z. T. Bright from Utah
  • Third Place Winner – “Lilt of a Lark” by Michael Panter from Sweden

Grand Prize Winner 2022: “Gallows” by Desmond Astaire

Published Finalist: “Tsuu, Tsuu, Kasva Suuremasse” by Rebecca E. Treasure


Total of number of Honorable Mentions and above listed on winner announcements for Vol. 38: 1,684

Workshop Week – Day One: April 2, 2022

Awards Event: April 8, 2022 | Taglyan Complex Hollywood, CA | 300 Person Capacity | Past and Future Theme | Volume 38


Vol. 39 (2023 Writer Winners)

Q1 – First Quarter Winners: May 12, 2022 (283 Honorable Mentions | 128 Silver Honorable Mentions | 10 Semi-Finalists | 5 Finalists | 3 Winners)

First Place Winner – Samuel Parr from Great Britain
Second Place Winner – Spencer Sekulin from Canada
Third Place Winner – L.H. Davis from Florida

Q2: Aug 10, 2022 (294 Honorable Mentions | 109 Silver Honorable Mentions | 9 Semi-Finalists | 5 Finalists | 3 Winners)

First Place Winner – Devon Bohm from Connecticut
Second Place Winner – Arthur H. Manners from Great Britain
Third Place Winner – David Hankins from Iowa


Conclusion
  1. Each year multiple thousands of writers submit to the contest, and for the last three years the number has increased drastically in no small part to the Covid-19 pandemic. Only 12-14 stories are published in the anthology.
  2. The annual Awards event is a lavish, televised affair.
  3. Frequently, there are many more submissions in the Fourth Quarter than the First Quarter, indicating that there is a slightly greater chance of winning the contest in Q1 than in the remaining quarters.
  4. Submission deadlines, winner announcement dates, the writing workshop, and the awards event all have a small range of dates when they occur.

a.) The workshop, awards event, and top winner are announced in early April.

b.) Final submission dates are on the last day of the months:

  • December (Q1)
  • March (Q2)
  • June (Q3)
  • September (Q4)

c.) Standings are typically announced:

  • Q1. May – Jun.
    • ~5 to 6 months after December deadline
    • about a month before the Q3 Jun. deadline
  • Q2. Aug.
    • ~4 to 6 months after March deadline
    • about a month before the Q4 Sep. deadline
  • Q3. Oct.
    • ~4 to 5 months after June deadline
    • about a month before the Q1 Dec. deadline
  • Q4. Dec.
    • ~3 to 4 months after September deadline
    • by the first week Jan.
  • The Grand Prize Winner is announced in the first two weeks of April at the awards event.
Additional resources

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

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Jarrid Cantway

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Intro to Writers of The Future Contest

Author Jarrid Cantway

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.)

Statistics

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
Bibliography

Tomeo, Marissa. “Winners Announced for L. Ron Hubbard Achievement Awards Gala.” BroadwayWorld.com. https://www.broadwayworld.com/los-angeles/article/Winners-Announced-for-L-Ron-Hubbard-Achievement-Awards-Gala-20220411. Apr. 11, 2022.

Labaqui, Joni. “Some Important Facts You Should Know About Writers & Illustrators of the Future.” https://www.writersofthefuture.com/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.

Cheers,

Jarrid Cantway

Oh, I wouldn’t mind if you shared the article on social media.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Author Jarrid Cantway

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Weekly Update: Story Story Preview

weekly Update

Shorty Story Preview

This week, I’ve put the article about the Writers of the Future Contest (#WotF) on hold in favor of a new science fiction short story. You’re in luck, I’ve included a preview here! The WIP title is USS America (SCVN-16).


To Bakken, the woman was radiant. He didn’t want to peel his eyes from her face, her wide-spaced blue eyes framed by blond locks. He stared as if he would never see her again, trying to memorize her profile, the curves of her smooth skin, her habit of tilting her head as she puzzled over his expression, her lips parted with unspoken concern.

The truth was, he might not see his wife again, at least not for two years. He twitched with the desire to scoop her into his arms. When Kirsi looked at him like that, his usual habit was to kiss her breathless, distracting her and telling her he was fine, but that wasn’t possible. The red belts of the retractable stanchions kept her and the crowd of news reporters six feet back.

Kirsi surprised him by smiling. Like she knew what he was thinking. He stopped breathing for a moment, his chest tight. It’s not too late, he thought. I could walk away from this deployment and my career.

With a deaf wife who was pregnant and a daughter with type 1 diabetes, not many would blame him. He could retire early, discharged from the military due to family responsibilities. However, a pension wouldn’t cover his family’s medical expenses.

Juni needed a kidney transplant and ongoing care. Since he wouldn’t be there for the baby’s birth, Kirsi would need a midwife and a certified postpartum doula who could sign fluently, resources not easily found in the lunar colony. Also, he wanted to restore Kirsi’s hearing, an elective surgery with an exorbitant cost. Kirsi had never heard her daughter’s voice. Bakken took a halting step away from the waiting ground transport toward Kirsi and Juni, aware of the cameras recording his every movement and expression.

The insulin pump bulged under Juni’s dress as she crossed her arm over her chest, her jaundiced, yellow eyes filled with unshed tears. Her quivering lip was a dagger to his heart. She pressed against the red belt of the stanchion and could have easily slipped under, breaking the preflight quarantine and delaying the launch. Who would blame a four-year-old for wanting to cling to her father?

Part of him craved Juni’s embrace and willed her to come to him. It would give him an excuse to beg off the mission without slanderous news headlines or spurring disciplinary and legal actions against him. He could then resign quietly, out of the public eye. Even though he was thirty-four, young to hold the rank of an O-5 Commander, he could have resigned his commission anytime in the last eight years of his sixteen-year career.

However, as a legacy, a sixth-generation astronaut and spaceship pilot for the U.S. Navy, it was not a simple decision. Both his parents had been career officers. His father had passed but the thought of explaining to his mother, Major General DeAnna Bakken, Commander of Combined Force Space Component Command, the U.S.—led multinational command responsible for tactical control of American and multinational space forces, made a headache form behind his eyes.

He lowered his chin to his chest. He provided his family’s sole income, and he couldn’t imagine giving up piloting. What would he do as a civilian? What would he do as a civilian? Become a commercial pilot? No. His responsibility was clear in his mind, not to his superior officers, the ship’s crew, or the public, but to his family. He stood straight and took a step back.

“Dad loves you.” His pressure suit and helmet were restrictive. Still, he made the effort to swing both his arms up and down in a goodbye wave. No doubt he looked like a bird mascot flapping its wings, but it was worth the grin that slipped onto Juni’s face. Then she buried her face into Kirsi’s flowery dress.

Kirsi’s hand flashed in sign. She’ll be okay.

His gloves made his signing clumsy. Yes. She has you. I love you both. With everything that I am.

Kirsi’s fingers danced rapidly. If you did, you wouldn’t leave. Not for so long.

His stomach flared with acid and burned the back of his throat. The weeks of arguments came back to him. They had gone over every reason in exhaustive detail. Kirsi knew why.

Kirsi’s fingers curled against her pregnant belly for a long moment. Then she beamed.

The air went from him. His eyes watered. Oh, how I love that woman! She was so strong and brave despite everything.

Make it back to us, Kirsi signed. We love you.

One of the hardest things he ever did was to get into the waiting ground transport with the other bridge pilots and watch his family disappear as the vehicle drove into the tunnel to the military’s lunar space elevator.

#

The USS America (SCVN-16) disengaged from the docking station at the peak of the lunar space elevator. The departure was nothing spectacular, just one among dozens of civilian vessels shuttling cargo and people to the colonies and various space stations. That notion didn’t apply to the USS America or its crew. The Obama Class Spacecraft Carrier, carrying a full complement of four-hundred piloted fighters and three thousand drones, was a behemoth among the commercial traffic.

Unlike atmospheric vessels, the slower-than-light ship was an industrial monstrosity. It stretched two thousand meters long, consisting of eight main sections connected by carbon-nanotube composite tensile trusses: a debris shield stack, crew section, cargo section, atmospheric shuttle bay, fighter bay, drone bay, main tension truss, and propulsion block.

The USS America was a small city. The ship hosted over two thousand regular crew, another thousand personnel in the attached Space Wing, a multinational space force from the Combined Force Space Component Command numbering six hundred, and a few dozen contractors. Even representatives from most of the countries on earth accompanied the ship. The Spacecraft Carrier was home to nearly four thousand souls on deployment to the outer colonies for the next two years …


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Jarrid Cantway

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Short Story Writing Contests & Markets Part 3

23 Markets for Speculative Fiction

Short Story Writing Contests & Markets Part 3

23 Markets for Speculative Fiction 2022

What is a writing market?

It’s easier to think of a market as an audience or organization comprised of people, a community of ideal readers, where writers build relationships. Marketing, then, is about telling a genuinely interested audience what a writer has for them. It’s that simple, but one of the biggest mistakes new writers make is not identifying those ideal readers.

When people use the term fiction market, they most often mean a publication or website that publishes fiction. I’ve narrowed the list below to magazines that accept speculative fiction. Generally, speculative fiction writers should avoid submitting to literary magazines looking for general or literary fiction.

“Without marketing — real marketing — no one would be able to make a living writing, share their story, or gain new fans and followers.”

Danny Iny
14 Market Caveats

Generally, when researching appropriate markets, see if a story fits with what a particular market usually publishes, their submission periods, and their pay rate.

More specific factors include:
  1. Is the magazine popular?
    • What’s the quality and reputation of the publication?
    • Does the market have a platform for publication?
  2. What awards has the magazine won?
  3. How long has the magazine been publishing?
  4. What is the pay rate the magazine is offering? Semi-pro, pro, or non-existent?
    • $0.06 to $0.08 per word is a professional pay rate.
    • $0.01 to $0.05 per word is semi-professional.
    • Some pay a flat rate rather than per word, and some pay in contributor copies (free copies mailed to you).
    • Avoid those that pay in anything that is not currency.
  5. Does the magazine pay on acceptance or publication; there can often be a lengthy gap in between.
  6. Does the magazine require first publication rights without providing more exposure than posting on a personal blog or self-publishing?
  7. What are the acceptable genre, style, and subject of the story?
  8. Word count range?
  9. Accepts reprints (stories that have been published already)?
  10. Accepts multiple submissions (more than one story submitted from the same author at a time)?
  11. Accepts simultaneous submissions (same story submitted to another publisher at a time)?
  12. Does the magazine have specific requirements such as anonymity, file formats, subject material they want absolutely nothing to do with, etc.?
    • It’s better to avoid those with ultra nit-picky formatting requirements.
  13. What is the magazine’s response time?
  14. Does the magazine have an easy-to-find guideline linked right from the website’s home page?

Tip: If you’re a new writer, don’t focus all your attention on the larger, more prominent magazines. The chances of acceptance are lower.

The Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America (SFWA) Market Report is an excellent place to find markets open to submissions. The report is compiled by David Steffen, the administrator, and co-founder of The Submissions Grinder.

The Submissions Grinder is a donation-based database where writers can search for publications to submit their work for free. Their database is unique in that it’s searchable by acceptable word count. I especially like that search results often list the link to both the contest website and submission guideline pages.

Duotrope is a professional, subscription-based service but offers a free trial. Their “one-hundred most favorited markets” list can be helpful.

Literarium offers a free account. The site is entirely funded by Co-Directors Lucas Martin and Tom Dullemond, for less than a thousand dollars a year. It can be slow at peak times.

Plenty of other websites and blogs list markets.

“People say, ‘What advice do you have for people who want to be writers?’ I say, they don’t really need advice, they know they want to be writers, and they’re gonna do it. Those people who know that they really want to do this and are cut out for it, they know it.”

R.L. Stine
23 Magazines to submit speculative fiction 2022

Be aware that markets frequently close, both temporarily and permanently, and their information constantly changes. Read the publisher’s submission guidelines, and follow them carefully before submitting.

Analog Science Fiction and Fact

Apex Magazine

Asimov’s Science Fiction

Aurealis

Beneath Ceaseless Skies

Bewildering Stories

Clarkesworld

Cosmic Roots and Eldritch Shores

Fall Into Fantasy

Galaxy’s Edge

Interzone

Leading Edge Magazine

Metaphorosis Magazine

Not One of Us

On Spec

Space and Time Magazine

Strange Horizons

The Aphelion Webzine of Science Fiction and Fantasy

The Dark Magazine

The Magazine of Fantasy & Science Fiction

Three-Lobed Burning Eye

Uncanny: A Magazine of Science Fiction and Fantasy

Weird Tales

“The first and most important thing is finishing the story! It doesn’t matter how ragged, battered and pathetic that story is when it crosses the finish line. It doesn’t matter whether it is flash fiction or novel-length… finishing is what will separate you from 90% of the writers who start to tell a story.”

Peter J. Wacks

One of the biggest criticisms of articles featuring publications is that they become quickly outdated, and the hyperlinks cease working. Please leave comments if you find dead markets, links, etc.

Don’t forget to subscribe to receive new content and updates sent straight to your inbox!

Next week I’ll be sharing an article featuring the Writers of the Future Contest for those interested in one of the best contests for new speculative fiction writers.

Cheers,

Jarrid Cantway

Oh, I wouldn’t mind if you shared the article on social media.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Author Jarrid Cantway

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Short Story Writing Contests & Markets Part 2

15 Guidelines for Writing Contests

Short Story Writing Contests & Markets Part 2

15 Guidelines for Submitting to Writing Contests

Guidelines

The following guidelines apply broadly but always adhere to the official submission guidelines specific to each contest.

“If you don’t enter at all, you have no chance of winning.”

— Joni Labaqui
  1. When researching contests, pay particular attention to these factors: terms and conditions, rights, fees, prize money, judges, and rules.
  2. Be aware that many legitimate contests charge a small fee, sometimes referred to as an entry, entrance, or reading fee. Still, even a small charge can add up with multiple submissions.
  3. If a hefty fee exists ($50 or greater), that’s a red flag. It’s uncommon to cost more than $30; most are around $3. Science Fiction & Fantasy Writers of America offers advice on predatory contests here and here. Winning Writers maintains an avoidance list and tips here and here.
  4. Contests usually have a specific genre and theme. Pay attention, and don’t submit a story that doesn’t embody those elements in a significant way.
  5. Always look into an organization’s history, previous winners, and social media presence to ensure they are reputable and align with your goals. You’ll also garner advice doing so. Note that reputability is frequently associated with how long a competition has been established.
  6. If the contest publishes winners, read past issues. Research to see if your piece fits with what the contest usually publishes. They are clear examples of not only what makes a story a winner but of the judges’ preferences. Pay particular attention to the stories that resonate with you.
  7. Research the judges to get a better feel for their preferences. Read their work. Many will publish books, interviews, articles, blogs, and newsletters in which they share advice. If judges are anonymous, that is a red flag.
  8. Avoid submitting the same piece to multiple organizations at the same time, known as simultaneous submissions. Many publishers seem accepting of this practice, as long they are promptly notified to remove a story from consideration. (Still, refrain from more than three simultaneous submissions.)
  9. Avoid submitting the same story repeatedly, especially without rewriting and editing each time. Doing so is a legitimate method, and writers have won this way. Still, if you stretch yourself to write a new story for each submission, you’ll have a collection of fresh, exciting work and not a single, potentially overwritten, story. You also risk losing your passion or getting trapped in a never-ending editing loop.
  10. To increase your chance of winning, avoid submitting within the last four weeks of a deadline if possible. Four weeks is an arbitrary number, but you don’t want to submit last minute if you can avoid doing so. Some argue it’s better to submit as soon as a contest opens when the judges have fresh eyes. In my experience, it’s best not to get hung up on this; getting a submission in is more important.
  11. Determine what the relevant formatting specifications are and follow them. Guidelines often refer to “standard manuscript format,” but no centralized standard source exists. However, Shunn’s Proper Manuscript Format or McIntyre’s Manuscript Preparation are frequently cited.
  12. Get critiques.
  13. Always edit and proofread before submitting.
  14. Double-check official submission guidelines. Make sure the submission meets all requirements. Sometimes they change.
  15. Record, organize, and track your submissions.
Some general, but admittedly biased, DON’TS:

(it depends on the specific market)

  • No fan fiction or erotica in any form
  • No needless or graphic abuse or torture, especially against animals and children
  • No excessive profanity
  • Nothing that promotes or normalizes rape
  • Nothing that promotes or normalizes bigotry or targeted violence against marginalized people or communities
  • Tropes to avoid: Werewolves, vampires, zombies, goblins, orcs, and elves. Stories derivative in nature, particularly those based on TV series. Serial killer stories. Stories where a person tries to murder their spouse because of minor annoyances. Stories that are thin on substance but thick on preaching religion or politics. Endings where the protagonist commits pointless suicide.

“Any man who keeps working is not a failure. He may not be a great writer, but if he applies the old-fashioned virtues of hard, constant labor, he’ll eventually make some kind of career for himself as a writer.”

— Ray Bradbury

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Next week I’ll share Part 3, 25 Markets to Submit Speculative Fiction 2022.

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Jarrid Cantway

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Short Story Writing Contests & Markets Part 1

Short Story Contests

Short Story Writing Contests & Markets Part 1

26 Best Short Story Contests for Speculative Fiction 2022

What are short story writing contests?

You might be wondering what short story contests are, exactly. Short story contests are where writers submit original works with the hope of winning prize money, awards, and possible publication in a prestigious magazine, online publication, or anthology.

They can be found on curated lists such as Novel & Short Story Writer’s Market by Writer’s Digest or on popular websites like reedsy. Some of the best searchable databases are The Submissions GrinderDuotrope, and Literarium.

Many new writers start their careers by featuring short stories in contests, magazines, and anthologies. Some experts focus on such markets exclusively.

Why writing contests are essential to a writer’s career

“A professional writer is an amateur who didn’t quit.”

Richard Bach
  • Though there isn’t a single reliable measuring device for book sales data (ex., BookScan captures approximately 85% of all print sales, and Bowker publishes statistic reports), it’s estimated that the number of new books (traditionally published and self-published in various formats) is over 4 million annually. 
  • New books sell a mean average of less than 250 copies in the first year.
  • The marketplace is crowded. Only big-name authors and brand-name books stand out. Less than 1% of the new books published have a chance of being stocked in an average bookstore.
  • Most books today are sold to the authors’ and publishers’ communities, and authors, not publishers, do most of the marketing. Publishers devote the lion’s share of their promotional budgets to a few lead or top authors.
Why submit to writing contests?

“If you’re serious about getting ahead, you must invest time, energy, and a few dollars to become better informed and methodical.”

Alex Keegan
Writing contests are a vital part of the writing community

Magazines, literary journals, and universities regularly host writing competitions to keep their publications funded throughout the year. Those that are non-profit use contests as fundraisers. Writing contests support new authors trying to gain exposure and hone their craft and the writing industry as a whole.

It’s a method for deliberate, organized practice

Writing contests help new writers internalize what it is to be an author while providing practice for honing the craft. Contests allow writers to develop the habit of meeting deadlines and writing consistently while actually finishing something.

Acknowledgment and validation

Entering contests shows the world that a writer is serious about their craft. They’re one of the best ways for new writers to get their work acknowledged. Even if a story doesn’t win anything beyond recognition and appreciation from other writers and readers, it gives new writers a real sense of validation.

Get published

Contests encourage writers to put their stories in front of the eyes of as many people as possible; for readers to discover new authors.

Grow your writing resume

Winning can lead to awards, a magazine contract, or book deals.

Get feedback

When offered, feedback from editors and judges is invaluable.

Earn money and prizes

Of course, prize money, trophies, and awards are significant factors. The prizes differ from one contest to another. Some contests give more money than others or offer semi-pro or professional pay rates and royalties. Others offer prestigious awards and trophies.

Other benefits

A hallmark of some of the best contests is when their primary purpose is to convey the opportunity and importance of networking. Many top contests offer workshops by industry pros and masters in their field. Even if a story doesn’t win or get published, some judges and editors recommend an author to an agent or another publication.

In short, winning short story contests are a low-risk way to launch a career.

What is a short story?

“Novels are, for me, adding up details, just work, work, work, then you’re done. Short stories are more difficult — they have to be perfect, complete in themselves.”

Isabel Allende

The short story is one of the oldest, most common, and most varied forms of writing. It’s categorized by length and defined by brevity. A short story is fictional prose written in narrative form.

Shorter than a novel and read in a single sitting, the most commonly preferred length of a short story is 5,000 words. Still, it can fall between 1,000 (flash fiction) and 10,000 (novelette) words. Some outliers range up to 20,000 (novella) words.

Short stories tend to be less complex, aimed at a unity of effect, and primarily concentrate on evoking a single mood conveyed in only one or a few significant incidents or the tale of one particular character.

Despite their brevity, short stories are fully developed, complete works with as much impact on readers as novels. In particular, they express theme just as effectively. They are often judged by the ability to provide a satisfying treatment of their characters and subject.

Short stories are a flexible form that can challenge the expectations of a genre’s conventions in a relatively low-stakes way compared to a novel.

The form encourages economy of setting, concise narrative, and the omission of a complex plot; character is disclosed in action and dramatic encounters but is seldom fully developed.

A short story typically isn’t fully developed in these areas:
  • multiple points of view; a large cast of three-dimensional characters
  • a full backstory and meaningful character arc for every character
  • extensive worldbuilding
  • complicated settings
  • complex magical systems
  • long, intricate plots with multiple subplots
  • major twists and conflicts
  • successive climaxes

“A short story is a narrative — a single-sitting read, but with enough time and weight to move the reader. It is narrow and focused to produce a singular effect, the story’s meaning, most commonly through events affecting some change or denial of change in an individual. All aspects of a short story are closely integrated and cross-reinforcing; language, POV, tone and mood, the sounds as well as the meanings of the words, and their rhythm.”

Alex Keegan
Contest Caveats

Below is a list of some of the best writing contests, however:

  • It is not comprehensive.
  • It does not parse deadlines or feature descriptions.
  • It focuses on those open to speculative fiction short stories (the typical word limit is five thousand or less). Speculative fiction includes, but is not limited to, science fiction, fantasy, horror, superhero fiction, alternate history, utopian and dystopian fiction, and supernatural fiction.

There are hundreds of contests. Many are reputable; some are prestigious. Some are exploitative, pointless, or outright scams (for more on predatory contests, click here). When reviewing individual contests, pay attention to the terms, rights, fees, prize money, judges, rules, and contest history.

  • Contests range from broad categories with thousands of entries to specific categories with only a relative few entries.
  • They can be open to international, national, or regional entrants only.
  • Many specify categories such as literary fiction or genres like science fiction; others are nonspecific or generalize to all fiction.
  • Some pay money, offer awards, publication, workshops, networking with other writers and professionals, free subscriptions, or only one of those benefits.
  • Different writing contests have different submission periods (annually, biannually, quarterly, rolling). Be sure to take advantage of websites that use search functions with filtering and those that consistently show upcoming deadlines.

Some writers recommend checking lists once a season (fall, winter, spring, summer) and compiling a personal, curated list. Others recommend resources such as The Submissions Grinder, Literarium, and Duotrope for market information and submission tracking. Note that speculative fiction writers should not submit to contests run by general or literary fiction publishers.

26 Best Short Story Contests for Speculative Fiction 2022
Recommended lists:
Additional resources:

One of the biggest criticisms of articles, lists, and books featuring short story contests, publications, and advice is that they become quickly outdated, and the hyperlinks cease working. Please leave comments if you find dead markets, links, etc.

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Next week I’ll share Part 2, 15 Guidelines for Submitting to Writing Contests.

Cheers,

Jarrid Cantway

Oh, I wouldn’t mind if you shared the article on social media.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Author Jarrid Cantway

SUBSCRIBE TO MY NEWSLETTER

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