Writer judges Hal Clement, Robert Silverberg, Frederik Pohl and Jerry Pournelle

Why Is Writers of the Future the Top of the Top Writing Contests

If you are an aspiring author or know someone who is, then this article is for you. Find out for yourself why Writers of the Future is the top writing contest in the world and why you have nothing to lose and everything to gain by checking it out.

Created by L. Ron Hubbard to Provide for the Future of Science Fiction & Fantasy

Robert Silverberg

Robert Silverberg

“What a wonderful idea—one of science fiction’s all-time giants opening the way for a new generation of exciting talent! For these brilliant stories, and the careers that will grow from them, we all stand indebted to L. Ron Hubbard.”Robert Silverberg

For over three decades, Writers of the Future has grown to become the premiere writing competition of its kind in the world.

The Contest is free to enter with the ability to upload one’s submission online making it available to anyone anywhere on the planet. (English language only.)

The Contest is open to those who have not professionally published a novel or short novel, or more than one novelette, or more than three short stories, in any medium.

But, it’s a review of what Contest judges and past winners turned-to-Contest-judge say about the Contest that makes it clear why it is now the top writing contest in the world.

Kevin J. Anderson

Multiple New York Times bestselling author Kevin J. Anderson, a Contest judge since 1996, notes that perhaps L. Ron Hubbard’s greatest legacy is that with this Contest he has created another generation of writers.

Rebecca Moesta

Bestselling YA author Rebecca Moesta, a Contest judge since 2007, discusses how the Contest provides for the future of Science Fiction and Fantasy. 

Nina Kiriki Hoffman

Writers of the Future winner from the first year and Contest judge since 2000, Nina Kiriki Hoffman talks about the importance of paying it forward. 

Dr. Doug Beason

For Contest judge Dr. Doug Beason, the Contest provides a sense of family and a sense of togetherness, everybody there to help each other out. 

Tim Powers

Multiple World Fantasy Award Winner, Tim Powers explains how the Contest takes promising writers and provides a future.

Dr. Jerry Pournelle

New York Times bestselling author Dr. Jerry Pournelle was originally mentored by Robert A. Heinlein and became a Contest judge in 1986 to follow in Mr. Heinlein’s footsteps of paying it forward.


Proven Track Record for Over Three Decades

The Winners

For 34 years, the Writers of the Future Contest has established itself as the top merit competition for speculative fiction. Hear it from the winners themselves what it means to win the Contest.

It Levels the Playing Field

Kristine Kathryn Rusch

Participant in the first workshop in Taos, NM in 1986 and now Contest Judge, Kristine Kathryn Rusch was interviewed by SciFi Magazine about the Writers of the Future Contest.

“To my knowledge, it’s the longest-running contest currently going on in science fiction,” says Rusch, when asked why Writers of the Future is such an influential force in the sci-fi world. “It’s anonymous—which is important—and it only deals with new writers, which levels the playing field a bit. It’s also had tremendous success. The writers chosen have for the most part gone on to have great careers. I think that comes from having professional writers as judges and not academics. Writers know what makes good fiction.”

Robert J. Sawyer

The only thing the judges will see is the story itself with a number assigned to it. They have no inkling of age, sex, nationality or ethnic of the contestant. So it is only by the merit of the story alone that will determine a finalist or winner. Contest Robert J. Sawyer explains how this is: 

Judged by the Best in the Industry

From its inception, the judging panel of professional writers have been some of the most celebrated names in the science fiction and fantasy field. The judges for the first Writers of the Future volume in 1986, included Gregory Benford, Algis Budrys, C.L. Moore, Robert Silverberg, Theodore Sturgeon, Jack Williamson and Roger Zelazny. The panel of judges has continued to grow with many of today’s masters of science fiction and fantasy who were themselves winners in the formative years of the Contest.

Judges at the 1996 Writers of the Future Awards ceremony at Johnson Space Center in Houston, Texas.

(Left to Right): Doug Beason, Kevin J. Anderson, Jerry Pournelle, Larry Niven, Algis Budrys, Jack Williamson, Frederik Pohl, Tim Powers, Gregory Benford and David Farland.

For a full list of Contest judges past and present, go to the Writer Judges section.

Judges at the 1996 Writers of the Future Awards ceremony at Johnson Space Center in Houston, Texas.


The Judging Process

Here are Contest judges David Farland and Robert J. Sawyer discussing how the judging process works.


Writers & Illustrators of the Future:

The Search for Tomorrow’s Legends

Click here to enter the Contest.

Sign up for our Writers of the Future newsletter for writing tips and updates from Contest judges and winners.


Larry Niven and Jerry Pournelle at a book signing

Building Plausible Futures by Jerry Pournelle

The first thing you must do is decide whether you want to build a plausible future. Many writers don’t. Some write fantasy and have no interest in building futures with sharp edges and rivets. Some, like Harlan Ellison, don’t exactly write fantasy but are successful largely because what they write is implausible. Others aren’t interested in futures at all.

Then there are writers like Frank Herbert. Dune convinces you that the implausible is real. Frank simply evaded most of the tough questions: computer and space science are dismissed with handwaving and religious mumbo-jumbo. He made a fortune with Dune and if you can write like Frank Herbert you don’t need advice from me.

This essay is about classical science fiction stories, the kind that built and even defined the genre during the Golden Age when John W. Campbell, Jr. was editor of Astounding. Those stories generally presented a future that seemed real and plausible; a future in which science, engineering, technology, and the social structures were self-consistent; a future the reader could believe in, at least until he had finished the story. The best of these stories taught the reader something about science and technology, and held up under real-world scrutiny.

Building those futures was never easy, but it was a lot easier in the old days than it is now.

Things were a lot simpler then, and more predictable. Space travel was inevitable even if most people didn’t believe it. All you needed was the courage to accept your own analyses.

For example, Robert Heinlein’s “Requiem” and “The Man Who Sold The Moon” are about a businessman whose ambition is to go to the Moon, and who uses business techniques to get a Moon colony started. Today those stories may be dated, but we can still read them. In their time, they were the epitome of hard-science science fiction,

Heinlein used a simple technique: he took everyday familiar objects and events, projected them into the future, and subtly modified them. One of the most famous lines in science fiction: “The door dilated.” In this one line from Beyond This Horizon, Heinlein takes us into the future.

A dilating door would still be the future to us. “Requiem,” though, begins at a county fair. In Heinlein’s time the barnstormer pilot, or the aeronaut, really did go to county fairs and offer to take passengers for short rides for a fee. Most readers would be familiar with that. In “Requiem,” fair-goers have the opportunity to fly in a privately owned, obsolete, and nearly unsafe rocket ship.

“Requiem” was written in 1939, long before the real space program became a government monopoly. More importantly, though, it was written before the skies were crowded with aircraft; before lawyers dominated the world; before the Environmental Protection Agency; before OSHA and Medicare and the busybody government put a stop to risky entertainment like barnstorming, whether in biplanes or rocket ships—and before TV put an end to county fairs as a standard medium of entertainment. The central theme of “Requiem” could make a good story today, but every one of the details, both technical and social, would be different. In its day, though, “Requiem” was as fine an example of projecting a plausible future as we have. Those who want to learn how to build plausible futures could do a lot worse than study early Heinlein’s ability to link technological and social changes and weave them into a seamless whole.

Technological Projection

Technology projection isn’t particularly easy, but the science fiction writer doesn’t have to do it. We don’t need to predict the real future; we’re only interested in a plausible future.

Even in the real world of professional technology projections, some things are easier than others. For example, you can have a lot more confidence that some development will happen sometime in the next thirty years than you have in predicting when. It’s usually easier to project twenty to thirty years ahead than it is five.

Before you can project technology, you need some understanding of what technology is. You needn’t be a scientist or engineer, and in fact, scientists and engineers often don’t understand the nature of technological development. Technology as a phenomenon is easier to understand than most of its components.

The first principle is that technology goes by “S” curves. When a new scientific or engineering principle is discovered, things go pretty slow for a while. It takes a lot of effort to make small changes. An example would be aircraft speeds and ranges from the time of the Wright brothers until after World War I.

Then a breakthrough is made. The curve shoots upward. Aircraft speed and performance made astonishing gains just before and during World War II. After that we reached the “sound barrier” and the gains came much more slowly. We had reached the top of the “S.” That, in turn, became the base of a new “S.”

Computer power went the same way. Early science fiction had a dismal record of predicting what computers would be like and what they could do. The best SF writers based their future computers on things they knew: fire control computers for warships, and primitive IBM machines. Real world computer technology crawled along so slowly that it was plausible to have stories in which humans could take the place of a damaged or destroyed computer, or even out-perform one.

Then came the breakthroughs, and most of those stories were made instantly obsolete. Even after the breakthrough, when writers were frantically trying to revise their thinking, the sheer speed of real-world advances made most of their stories obsolete within a year of publication.

We are now in the sharp upward slope of the computer technology “S curve: computing power doubles every year while component prices fall. Eventually, we will reach the top of that curve. Meanwhile, plausible stories require that future societies not only have advanced computer technology but that the technology be widespread through the culture. The notion of the computer as hulking giant hidden in a basement and attended by high priests simply can’t hold any longer: everyone has computers now, and will in any plausible future.

The second principle is that technology is interdependent. Advances in one sector influence all the others. New molecular chemistry techniques led to micro-miniaturization which led to the computer revolution. New computer techniques led to new developments in chemistry—and in nearly everything else. It is now possible to do computer simulations of medical and dental problems; economic systems; aircraft. Little remains unaffected.

In the military field miniaturization made possible onboard computers for missile guidance. This brought ICBM miss-distances down from miles to hundreds of feet in a decade. That led to increased research in silo-hardening, which led to hard-rock silo designs, and that development made it possible to conduct certain mining operations that were previously not financially feasible.

Examples of interdependence can be given without limit, and you can’t know too many of them. Burke’s Connections is worth a lot of study.

The important thing to note is that you can’t change just one thing; if you’re constructing plausible societies, you must not only project technologies but think through what effects those technologies will have on other fields—and also what they will do to the social order.

After all, the sexual revolution owes more to cheap motor cars than anything else. Before the motor car it was very difficult for young people of opposite sex to be together without adults; after the motor car, adult supervision became nearly impossible. (And for that matter, the adults had new opportunities.)

We’re now in an era of bifurcated morality: high tech people generally aren’t perceived to be motivated by religion and haven’t found another philosophical basis for faith in law and justice. Meanwhile, we have the new rise of fundamentalism, both Christian and Moslem, at precisely the moment when all knowledge is available to just about everyone. It makes for interesting times.

Tools of the Trade

In order to keep the present from overtaking your future before you have finished your story, you have to keep up with current trends. This isn’t easy. After all, I live in a world that was science fiction when I was in college. I sit at a computer console that connects me to tens of thousands of highly educated technologists; I can get the answer to nearly any question in minutes to hours. The Soviets have built the space station the US would have built in the 70’s if it weren’t for Proxmire and his ilk. Terawatt lasers of high efficiency have been developed for strategic defense. Technology pours out, and if you’re not careful you can write a story about a future invention that’s already available in your DAK mail order catalog.

The indispensable tools of the trade are High Technology magazine and the weekly Science News. These aren’t enough, but you can’t do without them. A magazine that used to be useful and isn’t now is Technology Review. Scientific American used to be indispensable; now it’s useful, but just barely. Both these magazines succumbed to the notion that politics was more important than science.

Perhaps the best of the science magazines is the British publication New Scientist. It isn’t cheap. Because of its political slant, and its British origin, it cannot and should not be the only science magazine you get.

From there you will need some specialty publications. Business trends are best tracked in The Wall Street Journal, which also follows commercially important technology trends. Fortune will do a good job of condensing and summarizing business developments. Aviation Week and Space Technology is valuable to most science fiction writers, but it’s expensive. BYTE summarizes the latest trends in consumer-available computer technology. All of these are available in the libraries.

There are also books. Writing and Selling Science Fiction by the Science Fiction Writers of America, available from Writer’s Digest Books, is one of the best. It contains my longer work on this subject, as well as essays by many other writers. Science Fiction Today and Tomorrow, edited by Reginald Bretnor, (Harper 1974) is I think out of print but well worth the trouble of finding it.

Once a writer becomes established by publishing a few stories and books, he will find ways to get on various mailing lists, such as NASA’s news briefs, and the technology announcements that pour forth from university and commercial laboratories. Indeed, the problem may be to avoid getting too many of these publications; but they’re indispensable for finding out what’s happening at the cutting edge.

A Sense of Structure

The most important prerequisite to inventing a plausible future is to have an understanding of the way the world works. That’s not easy since no one knows how the world works. On the other hand, if you don’t think you have a fairly good idea, you’ll have no framework to build your future on.

It used to be that the whole purpose of education was to give students a working knowledge of how the world works. We have since opted for “educating the whole child,” meaning that we teach people nothing. Unless you had an atypical modern education, you’ll have no choice but to teach yourself.

You learn by getting around and doing things, asking questions, and watching other people do things. Writing is never a full-time job. You’ll also have to read books. Arthur C. Clarke used to counsel writers to read at least one book and one newspaper each day. If that’s too much, make it a book a week; but you must read and read a lot.

The books needn’t be on technology. The only way I know to project the future is to know a lot about the past. To see what impacts new technologies will have, look at what the old ones have done. It also helps to read biographies and especially autobiographies: of scientists, to be sure, but also of people like Albert Sloan and Henry Ford, movers and shakers who have turned technology into social change.

How I Got This Way

I’m told I do a reasonable job of creating plausible worlds. I like to think so, and people I respect confirm it. What I am not an expert on is teaching anyone else how to do it.

In my case I spent a lot of time in universities studying nearly everything except English literature; then more years in space science, working at the edge of technology and sometimes making technological forecasts. I also wrote research proposals for aerospace firms. The experience was invaluable; I used to tease my SF writer friends by saying that I wrote science fiction without characters or plot and got paid more per word than they did.

When I got out of the aerospace business to write full time I ended up writing a weekly column for a national newspaper. I’d answer questions like “what is a laser?”, and “what caused the Ice Ages?”, in exactly 700 words. I guarantee that three years’ experience at that will give you a broad base in the sciences, and teach you not to waste many words.

In other words, I had a fair amount of education and training, and experience, in understanding this world before I started building new ones; and I don’t know of any easy substitute for that.

Nobody ever promised it would be easy.

This article by Dr. Jerry Pournelle was originally published in Writers of the Future Volume III. Timeless advice then and now.


Dr. Jerry Pournelle

Dr. Jerry Pournelle

Jeffy Pournelle was that legendary figure, the Renaissance Man. It included his mastery of the épée as well as other deadly weapons, but it also covered his two Ph. D.’s, his master’s degree in statistics and systems engineering, his bachelor’s degree in mathematics, and his chairmanship of the Citizen’s Advisory Council on National Space Policy. Then, of course, there were his definitive regular columns on computers for Byte and InfoWorld. And all of that wasn’t even the half of it.

In the world of SF, his contributions included editorship of many anthologies, any number of nonfiction pieces for the SF media, the presidency of the Science Fiction Writers of America, and, of course, his stories and novels. Those he wrote alone and in collaboration with others, notably fellow Writers of the Future Contest judge Larry Niven. He was a fixture on the New York Times bestseller list, with such blockbusters as The Mote in God’s Eye, Lucifer’s Hammer, Footfall and Oath of Fealty.

Roberta and Jerry Pournelle

Jerry Pournelle Leaves a Legacy of Helping New Writers (1933-2017)

It was in 1986 that Jerry Pournelle heard about L. Ron Hubbard’s Writers of the Future Contest from Algis Budrys, the famed science fiction editor and writer, who assisted L. Ron Hubbard to get the Contest started. Jerry agreed to be a Contest judge in the second year and started judging immediately.

Jerry was chosen for several reasons: he was a legendary figure in both science and science fiction—a truly Renaissance Man. This included his mastery of the épée as well as other deadly weapons, his two PhDs, his master’s degree in statistics and systems engineering, his bachelor’s degree in mathematics, and his chairmanship of the Citizen’s Advisory Council on National Space Policy.

In the world of SF, his contributions included editorship of many anthologies and multiple New York Times bestselling novels, notably with fellow Contest judge Larry Niven—The Mote in Gods Eye, Lucifer’s Hammer, Footfall and Oath of Fealty.

Throughout the years, Contest organizers called upon Jerry to vote for the winning stories, to attend the annual awards event and Writer’s Workshop, and best of all, to impart his wisdom based on years as a successful writer to the newly published winners of the Writers of the Future Contest. In return, Jerry always enthusiastically accepted and presented very informative information.

Jerry will be remembered in his later years of the Contest for his lighthearted sense of humor with the winners on event day. Just ask most any first place winner and they will have a story to tell.

We will miss you Jerry, but your brilliance shines on, and will, way into the future.

Galaxy booth at Dragon Con 2017

Dragon Con 2017 – Day 1

Today was the first day of Dragon Con in Atlanta, GA and it was jam-packed all day long.

Sales at the convention started at 10:00 AM and it was a full booth at the start all the way to the end of the day. Both Battlefield Earth and Writers of the Future are in great demand. Books-A-Million staff are also on hand helping with sales for the release of Battlefield Earth mass market edition.

As sales were going on, we went to CBS46 in Atlanta and did an interview promoting our new release on Atlanta Plugged In. You can see that segment here:

Following that, we had our Writers of the Future panel with several of our Writers of the Future judges including: Rob Sawyer, Mike Resnick, Todd McCaffrey, Jerry Pournelle, Larry Niven and Jody Lynn Nye.

Writers of the Future panel at Dragon Con

Writers of the Future panel at Dragon Con

Then the President of Dragon Con, Pat Henry, having seen the 9′ tall Terl in the hall, wanted to make sure that he didn’t get in without a badge. So he was provided a ladder that he climbed up to put a badge on him. Along with him was Jonnie Goodboy Tyler making sure he was safe as he placed the badge on Terl’s chest.

President Dragon Con Pat Henry giving Terl his badge

President Dragon Con Pat Henry giving Terl his badge

Terl, being Terl, also didn’t waste any time creating trouble. He grabbed Larry Elmore and his wife Betty thinking he could get some leverage. Fortunately, both were rescued from the clutches of the 9-foot monster in time for dinner!

Larry & Betty Elmore captured by Terl!

Larry & Betty Elmore captured by Terl!

The evening completed with a dinner with almost all the attending Writers and Illustrators judges at the Dragon Con.

Writers and Illustrators of the Future judges at dinner

Writers and Illustrators of the Future judges at dinner

Stay tuned for Day 2.


Larry Niven

Writers of the Future Workshop 2017 – Day 6

Saturday is essentially a “Cavalcade of Stars.” For the winners, this means that today they don’t have to go anywhere except the classroom, but about every hour or so a new judge stops by to give them something new to think about (luckily, the brains of the winners are infinite storage cells for all the stuff that’s going on).

Nina Kiriki Hoffman starts the morning out with a fun exercise for creating idea, which gets C.L. Kagmi (3rd place, Q3) pumped. “I loved that exercise,” she said. She has this great idea, now, you see, but she has a problem: All she wants to do is go writer, but there’s a whole day’s worth of learning to sit through. Somehow, she manages. I can’t wait to see what she comes up with, though. Very little is more fun to see than a writer with an idea burning in her mind.

Doug Beason was next up. He talks about focusing on characters and relationships in science fiction. “It’s not good enough to just put cool technology and ideas into pieces anymore,” he says. Nancy Kress and I have a little conversation about this in the cracks of the session. My own little pin on this kind of thing is that, as time moves forward, what used to be considered harder science fiction has turned into contemporary fiction. But then, what do I know, right? Doug spends thirty minutes answering questions that range from the use of metallic hydrogen to the kinds of programs available to get kids interested in space.

Jody Lyn Nye talks about conventions. Specifically, how to work with a convention as a professional writer, giving our winners tips a steady stream of ideas and advice. She echoes Kevin J. Anderson’s talk a few days back about how to be a professional writer. It’s a solid hour filled with great stuff.

Then the group gets to sit with Nnedi Okorafor, who starts by asking “what do you want to hear from me?” and then spends the next 45 minutes answering non-stop questions. She discusses her own journey to becoming a professional writer—which is a topic almost every new writer I know loves to hear. The paths we take are all so different. I mean, there are similarities, of course, but it helps to hear that there is no one “right path.” She talks about writer’s block—or at least why she doesn’t believe in it. “When things aren’t coming, I’m not blocked. But I know I just have to wait. It always comes.” I love this thought pattern. This was an energetic conversation that would probably still be going if Tim Powers hadn’t kept a semi-firm handle on the agenda!

And the highlights keep coming.

Next up is Jerry Pournelle, and then Larry Niven. It’s clear to me that there are more than a couple of our winners who are doing their best not to go into full-out fan mode. Jerry talks about the difference between being an author and being a writer, coming back to that point often, but focusing on the work. “Concentrate on the story,” he said. Larry spent most of his discussion on the act of collaboration. He talked about respecting the other writer, and he talked about matching skillsets. Both he and Jerry talked about using each other’s strengths while creating their stories together.

Then came a session with six past winners including Megan O’Keefe, Laura Tom, Steve Pantazis, Martin Shoemaker, Kary English, Brennan Harvey, and myself. As might be expected with seven voices, the result was a scatter-shot of ideas that were all primarily focused on what happens next. Megan passed around an approach to story structure, and everyone picked out things that struck us as valuable to think about as the winners go home. Questions came in about web presences, how to use critique groups, how to deal with an audience and the pressures that come from having a bit of notoriety. Among others.

Since I participated directly in this session, I found myself looking around the room and thinking of the people I came to the program with back in volumes 14 and 15. Amy Casil and Scott Nicholson were at the forefront. Jim Hines, Steve Mohan, Jason Schmidt. I was remembering Carla Montgomery, who helped me title “Stealing the Sun.” Stephano Donati and Franklin Thatcher, who were my roomates. Don Solasan. Bill Rowland, Scott Huggins. I could go on, but this isn’t meant to be about me, right? (too late, I hear you say, too late!)

Much of the conversation focused on this new community that these winners are stepping into. And it is a great community. But I wanted them to look around the room now and realize that this is their class. These are the people who can still be around year after year. “These are your people,” I tried to say at the end of the session.

And that was that.

Except, of course that since this is Writers of the Future week. There’s always more to do even when the workshop comes to a close.

Next is a session for Q&A on the award ceremony, then a break for dinner, and finally a trip to the Wilshire Ebell Theatre for a rehearsal.

Yes, friends, the Awards Ceremony is tomorrow. [April 2, 2017 – 6:30 PM – Pacific Standard Time]

I think the gang is ready.

Here’s the link to the photos for the day.


Ron Collins

Ron Collins

Guest blogger, Ron Collins.
Ron Collins was a Writers of the Future published finalist in 1998 and a prize winner in 1999. He has gone on to publish about 100 short stories in prominent magazines and anthologies. Each volume in his fantasy serial Saga of the God-Touched Mage, hit the top 10 on Amazon’s bestselling Dark Fantasy list in the US, UK, and Australia. His short story, “The White Game” was nominated for the Short Mystery Fiction Society’s 2016 Derringer Award. The first four books of his current SF series, Stealing the Sun, are available now.