Posts

David Farland winning Writers of the Future Contest in 1987

Prize Writing—Three Things to Know

Contest judge Frederik Pohl presents Writers of the Future Award to David (Wolverton) Farland, 1987

As many of you know, I got my start by prize writing. While I was in college, I won third place in my first writing contest and decided to see if I could win first place in a contest. I spent a year honing some short stories for various contests, in between my studies, and sent them out in the autumn of 1986. Within a few weeks I discovered that I had won not just one, but all of the contests that I had entered. One of the judges at Writers of the Future, Robert Silverberg, liked my story well enough so that he shared it with some editors, and this led to a three-novel contract with Bantam Books. I’ll always be grateful to Bob for that.

So I promised a couple of people on the list that I would talk about prize writing. If you think about it deeply, everything that you write is really for a competition. You’re competing for publication with other writers, for promotional monies from the marketing departments of various publishers, for literary awards, and of course for your reading audience. So these posts really apply to any writer. When you think about it, it would seem that there isn’t a lot that you can do in order to win a prize. Thousands might enter a competition, but only one will win. However, there are some things that you can do to increase your chances dramatically.

These things include:

  • Get to know your judge’s tastes.
  • Aim your story straight at your judges.
  • Make sure that your story is presented well.

This all might sound easier than it is, but let’s take this one step at a time. Your first step is to get to know your judge’s tastes. Now, if you’re talking about a contest judge, this person might be a teacher at a local university. The best way to gauge the judge’s tastes is to read anything that they’ve written. If your judge has written short stories, look at the age of the protagonists, the themes that the judge covers, his or her use of language, and so on. This will tell you whether the judge values crisp dialog over brilliant metaphors, slow pacing versus fast, and so on. Pay particular attention to the themes. If a judge has a penchant for writing about stories that deal with death, for example, you might realize that your story will hit them harder if you feature a death scene.

In some cases, you’ll have a panel of judges. For example, there are more than a dozen judges at the Writers of The Future. So if I wanted to win that contest, I’d look at the mix of writers. How many write only science fiction? How many write fantasy? What do each of their tastes seem to be.

One easy way to gauge their tastes is to look at past stories. You could read the grand prize winners from each anthology. By doing so, you’d begin to notice some patterns.

You can of course do this same thing with any publication. You could go to editor’s panels at science fiction conventions and listen to editors talk about their favorite books out. You could go to Publisher’s Marketplace on the internet and find out what each one of those editors has bought.

It’s really quite easy to learn the tastes of one solitary reader. If you’re facing a panel of judges, the task becomes more complex, but it is possible to write a story that will average out to be a winner.

So start studying!

 


David Farland

David Farland

Guest Blogger, David Farland, Coordinating Judge of the Writers of the Future Contest.

David Farland is an award-winning, international bestselling author with over 50 novels in print. He has won the Philip K. Dick Memorial Special Award for “Best Novel in the English Language” for his science fiction novel On My Way to Paradise, the Whitney Award for “Best Novel of the Year” for his historical novel In the Company of Angels, and many more awards for his work. He is best known for his New York Times bestselling fantasy series The Runelords.

Kary English, photo by Olav Rokne

Writers of the Future Taps Kary English as New First Reader

The L. Ron Hubbard Presents Writers of the Future Contest would like to welcome Kary English as the new first reader for contest entries!

The Problem

Due to unprecedented expansion, contest officials asked Coordinating Judge David Farland to help in the selection of a first reader to keep pace with the increase in entries. Dave immediately responded, “Obviously, I’ve had a number of amazing authors that I’ve helped mentor over the years, and so when I considered who I might ask to help out as a first reader, I really suffered from an embarrassment of riches.”

The Solution

“A dozen names almost instantly leapt to mind, but Kary English was right near the top. I wanted someone with a great eye for style, someone who understood storytelling well,” he continued. “Kary, as an award-winning author, has proven over and over to have a great eye, but more than that, her strong support for and commitment to helping new authors spoke volumes. We found someone who cares deeply about new authors, who will help nurture them, and who understands the artistry that is inherent in great storytelling.”

Meet Kary English

Kary EnglishKary English is a Writers of the Future winner whose work has been nominated for the Hugo and Campbell awards. She grew up in the snowy Midwest where she read book after book in a warm corner behind a recliner chair. Today, Kary still spends most of her time with her head in the clouds and her nose in a book. Her fiction has appeared in Galaxy’s Edge, The Grantville Gazette, Daily Science Fiction, Far Fetched Fables, the Hugo-winning podcast StarShipSofa, and L. Ron Hubbard Presents Writers of the Future Volume 31.

When approached with the offer to be first reader, Kary said, “I was in high school when I first learned about Writers and Illustrators of the Future. My head was full of dragons and starships, and here was this contest that I could enter and possibly win. The contest has grown so much since then, thousands of entries every quarter, and from countries all over the world. I am delighted to join the contest as first reader so that I can play a small part in discovering and encouraging the writers of tomorrow just as the contest discovered and encouraged me.”

A Legacy of Helping New Writers

Over its 34 year history, the Contest has recognized 404 winners who have gone on to publish 1,150 novels and 4,450 short stories. Of those, 192 are still active with a writing career—that’s over 40%. Twelve of these Contest winners have gone on to become New York Times bestselling authors: Dave Wolverton (aka David Farland), Sean Williams, Jo Beverly, Nancy Farmer, Lisa Smedman, Karen Joy Fowler, Patrick Rothfuss, Tim Myers, Eric Flint, Dean Wesley Smith, Tobias Buckell and Elizabeth Wein. In addition, Contest winners have garnered 155 major awards. Collectively, the winners of the contests have sold over 60 million books over the years.

And with the last four volumes of Writers of the Future hitting national bestseller lists—and each of the winners becoming national bestselling authors and illustrators as a result—contest entries continue to increase each quarter with entries from around the world.

Photograph of Kary English at the Hugo Awards by Olav Rokne

Photo by Tegan Mierle on Unsplash

One Foot in Front of the Other by Wulf Moon

I know a truth. We are all going to fall. Many times. Perhaps I know this truth better than some because I was born with a disconnected spine and extreme in-toed feet—my left and right foot pointed directly at one another. I could not walk without falling. Kids laughed at me. My knees were not knees, they were horrible black and brown scabs. But I also know a secret. You can lay on the sidewalk, or you can get back up and start walking again, bloody knees and all. The choice is yours.

The same is true with writing. We are going to fall. Many times. We are going to think we’ve got it, that this time we can keep it up, only to trip and drop flat on our face and wonder what in the world just happened. It’s inevitable. When one is learning to walk, it is an absolute. When one is learning to write, it is also an absolute. What makes us soldier on? I suppose a core belief that we’d rather be walking than lying in the dirt. There is also that innate sense that we were born to write, and if we can just get our balance and catch our stride, we know in our heart of hearts we have the potential to soar like the wind.

But first, we must learn to walk. As in life, so in writing.

In life, I learned to walk at six years of age, when I finally had a successful surgery and corrective casts that turned my feet back out. My back, doctors left alone, so I have always been disabled, but that hasn’t stopped me from walking, running, even dancing, and yes, I still fall at times, but after the pain subsides, I always get back up.

As in writing, I have always known that I’m a writer. It’s in my blood. At fifteen I wrote an SF story that was a winner in Scholastic Inc.’s national writing contest. The editor at Science World, circulation 500,000 copies per issue, bought and published it in 1978. My first pro sale. I won so many contests after that, I was certain I was on the path to a professional writing career.

And then I fell. Living in a violent household, I escaped and got placed in a foster home. I didn’t care if I lived or died, and took many risks with my life. While at college I ended up in a hospital, my biggest fall of all, and came face to face with what falling would cost me. Saving my life required a change of life. I had to burn my bridges behind me. For me, that meant extreme measures, and I signed away my full scholarship, left bad friends … and I stopped writing.

It wasn’t until 1994 that I took up writing again. The Nebula Awards had come to Eugene, Oregon, and my wife encouraged me to go. When I signed up, I met Dean Wesley Smith. He noted I was from town and asked if I had anything published. As I listed some credits, his eyes lit up. “You’re a professionally published writer!” For the rest of the convention, he introduced me to everyone, and I mean EVERYONE, like this: “Have you met Moon? He’s a published writer!” I was beyond embarrassed, but by the end, I got the point. It was no small thing to achieve a professional sale, I was indeed a writer, and I should stand back up and walk the path again.

Dean introduced me to the local writer’s group, Wordos. They introduced me to Writers of the Future, and I started submitting and collecting certificates. My next pro sale was in Star Trek: Strange New Worlds II. From there, I queried the editor at Pocket Books, and he said I could submit my Trek novel. When literary agent Donald Maass represented me on it, I was certain my career as a novelist had begun. This wasn’t walking, this was running with the bulls!

Wulf Moon's certificatesAnd then I fell. The novel was rejected. At the same time, my wife became seriously ill. It took years to get her back on her feet, and when she was finally safe, we moved to escape the memory of that ordeal. In spite of it all, I kept submitting to Writers of the Future as able, and got an invite to attend the awards gala when it was held in Seattle. At the after party, I sat with Kevin J. Anderson, and he asked about my writing. I told him about the certificates. “They don’t hand those things out lightly,” he said, looking me straight in the eye. “This is a huge contest. That you have that many says a lot. It’s a Big Deal. Keep writing, Moon.”

And so I have. Through all the subsequent trials–as my wife’s health tanked again when she was diagnosed with cancer, as we lost our business and home in the recession, as we brought her through the treatments and got her stabilized—I would write as I was able. And I made a commitment a few years ago that in spite of the adversities, I would do my best to enter WotF every quarter. Out of the thirteen times I’ve entered with David Farland as coordinating judge, those twelve certificates you see above—from HM to Semifinalist—are the result. I have many more, but these are the ones with Dave. They aren’t wins, alas. But each one says I have not given up, and whether I win this contest or not, I am walking the path.

I am grateful for this contest. It has helped many of my friends jump start their writing careers. And the honorary certificates and critiques you get from the contest coordinators validate your writing and help you improve. In my case, I know there is no way I can have so many consistent near misses, over so many years, without my writing being of professional caliber. That’s comforting. So, I lower my head, lean into the wind, and keep on walking. Virtually everyone else has had to walk this path to achieve success (even my favorite author, Frank Herbert, with the most brilliant book of the 20th Century, Dune), so why should I expect anything different? A good personal rejection, a contest certificate, a judge that writes us an encouraging note–these are signposts along the path that we shall reach our destination if we stay the course.

I know a truth: The difference between success and failure is getting up one more time than you have fallen.


Wulf MoonWulf Moon feasted on fantasy as a young child when he lived with his Chippewa grandmother. He begged stories from her every night and usually got his wish—fireside tales that fired his imagination. If Moon had a time machine, those are the days he would go back to. Since he doesn’t have a time machine, he tells stories. Learn more at driftweave.com.

Blog photo by Tegan Mierle on Unsplash.

"Slurp" by Lucas Durham

Showcase: Lucas Durham, Illustrators of the Future Winner

During my first week of college, I was gifted with one of Frank Frazetta’s published sketchbooks. I was amazed and inspired by the raw ideas and energetic gesture lines that leapt off every page. Since then, I’ve continued to be intrigued by other artists’ sketchbooks, because they’re a glimpse into someone else’s thought process. You can see how they study the world around them; how they muddle through a problem; how they take seeds of an idea all the way through to a final painting. There’s a vulnerability shared in the pages that you don’t normally find in finished work.

With that in mind, this year I’m releasing my first published sketchbook. Throughout recent years, I’ve built up a portfolio of visual artifacts: images originating from a variety of planned projects, studies, and art challenges. It includes some of my favorite drawing series, including a series of drawings pulled from abstract graphite blots, and portraits of women with fey traits. There’s also whimsical doodles, portrait studies, and of course, fan art from various media. The sketchbook demonstrates my artistic process as well as a glimpse into my everyday life—an intimate collection of who I am.

His book was recently launched on his Etsy Storefront and is available for purchase there as well as at conventions where he is showcased, including GenCon in Indianapolis, August 2-5, 2018.


Lucas Durham

Lucas is an Illustrators of the Future winner published in Writers of the Future Volume 29. Find out more about him at www.LucasDurham.com

Writers of the Future 2nd Quarter Winners

Writers of the Future 2nd Quarter Winners Announced for Volume 35

 

Here are the 2nd Quarter Writers of the Future Contest Winners for Volume 35

 

Congratulations to you all!


Winners:

First Place – David Cleden from the United Kingdom

Second Place – Rustin Lovewell from Maryland

Third Place – Carrie Callahan from Kentucky

 


Finalists:

Robert Mitchell Evans from California
Meera Gangasani from Texas
James A. Hearn from Texas
D.T. Ludlow from Utah

Semi-Finalists:

S.A. Barrie from Utah
Lucy Caird from California
Hillary Dodge from Colorado
Phillip McCollum from California
Mikko Rauhala from Finland

Silver Honorable Mentions:

Chris Abela from Maryland
Dustin Adams from New York
Joy Auburn from Minnesota
Nathan Batchelor from Ohio
Laurel Douglas from Massachusetts
Luke Elliott from Oregon
Monalisa Foster from Texas
Cary Kreitzer from Utah
Travis Madden from Maryland
Wulf Moon from Washington
Christine Tyler from Colorado
Ramez Yoakeim from Australia
E.E. Young from Tennessee
Jackie Zitin from Missouri

Honorable Mentions:

Jeffrey Steven Abrams from Washington
Mark David Adam from Canada
Ester Shaina Agishtein from New Jersey
Christopher Aiello from North Carolina
Justin Aiello from Connecticut
Ingmar Albizu from Pennsylvania
Sydney Alexander from Maryland
Samantha Allen from Michigan
Darren Ambs from Kentucky
Brandon Scott Argetsinger from New York
Rachel Ayers from Alaska
Jill Creech Bauer from Utah
Paul Bean from Indiana
Bronson D. Beatty from Utah
Renan Bernardo from Brazil
W.B. Biggs from Mississippi
Lyssa Bivens from Idaho
Gustavo Bondoni from Argentina
Marty Bonus from the United Kingdom
Matt Bosio from Florida
Ezekiel James Boston from Nevada
Emma Brenner from Pennsylvania
Willa Brosnihan from Massachusetts
David Bruns from Minnesota
Lynn Buchanan from Utah
Nathan Buckingham from Arizona
Claire Campbell from Illinois
Cody D. Campbell from Oregon
Olivia Cuevas Carle from California
C.J.M. Carr from South Carolina
Shiloh Carroll from Tennessee
Philo V. Carter III from Utah
Alicia Cay from Colorado
Samuel Chapman from Washington
David M. Chevalier from New Hampshire
Ted Condi, Jr. from Colorado
Caitlene Cooke from Australia
Scott D. Coon from California
Claire Czotter from Massachusetts
KM Dailey from California
Elto Danzig from California
Jonathan Darling from Canada
Paulo da Silva from Germany
Benjamin DeHaan from Illinois
John DeLaughter from Oklahoma
Wendy S. Delmater from South Carolina
Ekpeki Oghenechovwe Donald from Nigeria
Max Dosser from North Carolina
Steve DuBois from Kansas
Alexander Duhamel from Canada
Sulan Dun from California
Wade H. Dunham from Canada
Marie Dundra from Florida
Kate Duval from Florida
Heather Lee Dyer from Idaho
Samantha Edelman from Nevada
H. Walker Edwards from Hawaii
Matan Elul from Australia
Tim Emery from England
Bryan Alexis Escobar from Texas
Jason Evans from Illinois
Angelique Fawns from Canada
T.A. Fenner from Wisconsin
Michael Feramisco from North Carolina
Suzanne Ferguson from Louisiana
Sam Fletcher from Washington
Aiki Flinthart from Australia
L.A. Fuller from Virginia
Joyce Lai Gabay from Pennsylvania
Allison Galbreath from North Dakota
Chris Galford from Michigan
Alex Garber from Texas
Michael Gardner from Australia
Jessica George from United Kingdom
Katharina Gerlach from Germany
Jamin N.S. Goecker from Alaska
JCG Goelz from Louisiana
Les Gould from Virginia
Erin Grant from California
Jude-Marie Green from California
Thomas Griffin from Tennessee
Jen Haeger from Michigan
Anaid Haen from The Netherlands
Clint Hall from Georgia
Kevin P. Hallett from Texas
Doug Hamilton from Ohio
Dan Hankner from Iowa
Charlie Harmon from Illinois
R.D. Harris from Arizona
S.M. Hawley from the United Kingdom
Alexa Herrera from Florida
Crystal Hill from Nevada
Cameron Hopkin from Utah
Morgan G. Howell from South Carolina
R.J. Howell from Illinois
Ashley Hyun from New Jersey
Miryam Jackson from Ohio
Bethany A. Jennings from New Hampshire
Christopher A. Jos from Canada
K.D. Julicher from Nevada
Brandie June from California
Robin Kaczmarczyk from Oregon
Skyler Kane from Minnesota
Carolyn Kay from Colorado
Dave Kavanaugh from The Netherlands
Angela Kayd from Indiana
Seth W. Kennedy from California
BC Kindt from California
Michael Kingswood from California
Isaac Kitterman from California
Shawn Kobb from Virginia
Jayson Kretzer from Florida
Allen Kuzara from Tennessee
Tinh Le from Ohio
Sonia Loosli from Oregon
Adam Luebke from South Dakota
Angus MacGregor from Australia
E.H. Mann from Australia
Twyla Marie from New York
Django Mathijsen from The Netherlands
Robert J. McCarter from Arizona
Joshua Harley McKnight from California
Ashley Meader from California
Jim Meeks-Johnson from Indiana
Gene Michaels from Texas
Lynn Michals from Virginia
Devin Miller from North Carolina
Bo Miranda from Switzerland
N.J. Morris from Idaho
Diane Morrison from Canada
Deborah Natelson from Colorado
GW Neill from Canada
Erik Nihil from Louisiana
Jay Ochotnicky from Delaware
Ray O’Meara from New Jersey
Geena Papini from Canada
Jess Pende from Arkansas
Peter A. Philleo from Wisconsin
Beth Powers from Indiana
Zachary Powers from Colorado
Rajeev Prasad from California
Eric Purcell from Canada
Mighty Rahiem from Colorado
Brittany Rainsdon from Idaho
Carlos R. Ramirez from New York
Julie Reeser from Montana
Lynn Renard from South Carolina
Mike Restaino from Nevada
Lauren E. Reynolds from Maryland
Julian D C Richardson from California
Nim Riel from Texas
Barbara Buckley Ristine from Nevada
Karen Rochnik from California
Lynette Roggenbuck from Michigan
Stephanie Rossmeisl from New Hampshire
Imani Russell from North Carolina
Max Russell from Colorado
Kiran Kaur Saini from California
Colin Sammons from Florida
Edward Sammons from Florida
H.J. Sandgathe from Utah
Lynne Sargent from Canada
Eric Schieber from North Carolina
Alfred D. Searls from the United Kingdom
Michael Simon from Canada
Kate Osana Simonian from Texas
Steven A. Simpson from Massachusetts
Joshua Sky from California
Ethan Parke Smith from Pennsylvania
J.F. Smith from Florida
Claire Sorrenson from North Carolina
Elsa Sotiriadis from the United Kingdom
Dale E. Sprague Jr. from Iowa
Gene Springsteel from Utah
Kristyn Stallings from Illinois
Krasimira Todorova Stoeva from Bulgaria
Tyra Tanner from Utah
Jessie M. Thomas from Kansas
L.N. Tillery from Kentucky
Scott Pohaku Vilhauer from California
Jade Visos-Ely from Kansas
Melissa Volker from Massachusetts
A. N. Waleron from Illinois
Jamie Wang from Minnesota
Abigail Welborn from Washington
Kristy L. Wells from Texas
Filip Wiltgren from Sweden
Michael J. Winegar from Georgia
Amie Irene Winters from California
Michael J. Wyant Jr. from New York
Anna Maria Wybraniec from Poland

Frederik Pohl at the 1986 Taos Workshop

How to Impress an Editor by Frederik Pohl

Image above (L to R) Gene Wolfe, Rosemary Wolfe, Edna Budrys, Algis Budrys, Frederik Pohl and Jack Williamson at the 1986 workshop in Taos, New Mexico.

What goes through an editor’s mind when he reads a story by an aspiring writer? In this article written by Frederik Pohl in 1987 for Writers of the Future volume 3, he is about to tell you.…

I don’t advise writers to write with editors in mind. An editor is really only a middleman; his job is to try to guess what readers will like, and it is the ultimate reader who will in the long run decide who succeeds in writing.

However, it’s important to impress an editor—especially if he has no idea of how well you write. It is the editor who makes the decision on what gets into print, so he can’t be ignored. Moreover, there are things to be learned from editors, if only because the editors have had to learn them themselves. At least half of the workmanship skills and techniques of writing are things I learned over the thirty-nine years from my first professional editorial job to my last. These form a major part of how I appraise a story from someone I’ve never read before … and a good part of how I do all my reading.

What editors learn about writing comes largely from the things that writers do wrong. It’s easier to see where somebody else has gone wrong than it is when it’s your own work, and then you can look at your own with a more knowing eye. That’s a big plus, for anyone who wants not only to “be a writer” but to write well. Unfortunately, becoming an editor is not an option open to everyone who wants to write; there simply are not that many editorial jobs.

What you can do, however, is what Albert Einstein called a “thought experiment.” Put yourself in an editor’s place for a moment, and see how you look to him as he goes through the process of deciding whether what you will subsequently find in your mailbox is going to be a rejection slip, or a check, or something in between.

THE IMPORTANT FIRST IMPRESSION

I’m going first to spend some time discussing manuscript preparation because that’s what makes the first impression for your story.

Your first contact with an editor (not necessarily the editor, but we’ll come to that later) occurs when the mailman drops your manuscript on his desk. (It may well be “her” desk, rather than “his.” In fact, these days it is more likely to be a her than a him—but forgive me if I don’t keep saying “his or her.”)

You can lose the whole game right here if your manuscript is handwritten, or otherwise illegible. You can also stack the cards against you, though not always lethally, in a lot of lesser ways, and a lot of them come under the general heading of “neatness.”

You see, what you don’t want to do is make it hard for an editor to like your work. His eyes take enough punishment. Pica type (also known as 12-point in printers’ measure, or 10-strike in IBM’s loopy dialect) is usually better than the smaller elite or “12-strike”— but don’t go overboard and use one of the giant sizes available with some computers.

You should, (1) enclose an adequately stamped, self-addressed return envelope in case of need; (2) put enough stamps on the manuscript mailing envelope so it doesn’t arrive postage-due; (3) put your name and address on the manuscript. The right place for your name and address is in the upper left-hand corner of the first page, but at least get it on there somewhere. If you want to use a pen-name on the story you can, but put your check-cashing name in the corner of the manuscript. Then, under the title of the story, type whatever byline you want, and the editor will know what you mean. Repeat a key word of the story title, and the last name of your byline, and a page number, at the top of each succeeding page.

A few additional general rules about the mechanics of submitting a story:

It doesn’t matter whether you use a typewriter or a word processor, but if you use a word processor don’t set your printer to create a straight right-hand margin. (No editors insist on justification, as it’s called, and some editors actively hate it. Typesetters are infuriated by it.)

If your printer (or typewriter) lets you do fancy things, don’t do them. Don’t italicize; underline instead. Otherwise the copy editor has to do the underlining for you, because typesetters require it.

Don’t use odd typefaces—small caps, semi-script, sans-serif—they’re sometimes hard to read, and often annoying. Besides which, typesetters don’t like them, and sometimes charge extra for setting “difficult copy.” Editors don’t like extra charges—their publishers speak to them about it.

Finally, don’t try to cram a 40-page manuscript into a letter-sized envelope. For a short manuscript of five or maybe ten pages you can fold it in half, although a fold makes copy-editing more difficult; anything longer should be mailed flat.

Remember, these mechanical things are the first thing the editor sees. They are, God knows, not important to the merits of the story—but blunders with the manuscript can keep your story from ever being read.

Sloppy manuscripting will not, in the long run, keep a real masterpiece from being published. But the facts of life are that most stories aren’t masterpieces. There is no clear-cut line between the story that gets bought—reluctantly—and the story that gets bounced—regretfully. Many stories are right on the cusp. They can go either way. How well or badly you do the mechanical things can push your story one way or the other.

THE TITLE

If you’ve done all the mechanical stuff more or less correctly, then you’ve passed the first test. At least now somebody will evaluate your story. The person who reads it probably is not the person who will make the final decision about buying it, because nearly all editors use first readers to eliminate the worst of the “slush.” And you are by no means guaranteed that he will read it all the way through. But at least you’ve got the story in the hands of someone who has the authority to move it one step closer to print, and what happens now is up to your story. There are many ingredients that can sway the decision for you or against. Here are some of them:

Title. A catchy title encourages the reader to read on—whether he is an editor who gets paid to read or is your cash customer in the store. What makes a good title? Some answers to that question would be “relevance to your story,” “tickling curiosity,” “graceful use of language,” maybe even “humor”—but it would be more truthful to say, “I don’t know.” I do know a good title when I see one, and so does everyone else, but there isn’t any formula for generating them. Probably you’ll know a good title when you think of it… so always try a few different ones.

One other way to come up with a decent title is to make a list of as many possible titles as you would be willing to have on your story, then ask friends which one would make them want to read the piece. If you agree with one, use it. But don’t get hung up on this. If you have a good title, that’s a plus. If you don’t, it’s not fatal. Editors are willing to improve titles; some of them, in fact, actually feel left out if they can’t.

NARRATIVE HOOK

Opening. Once past the title, your editor naturally starts reading on “Page One.” If at all possible, have something there to interest him, for if you don’t he may never get to “Page Two.”

The technical name for the kind of opening you want is a “narrative hook,” meaning something which so piques the curiosity, arouses the sympathy or otherwise engages the attention of the reader that he is hooked and wants to get on with the narrative. There aren’t any good rules for constructing a narrative hook, either, but a good way to find one is to start your story at the point where something interesting is happening. The art of writing, to some degree, is the art of leaving out the dull parts. If you can’t quite leave out all the dull parts, at least try not to start with one. It is a useful exercise to look over some of your unsuccessful stories as though the author were someone you didn’t know and didn’t particularly want to know, and ask yourself, at every page and even every sentence, “Why is he telling me all this?” If you can’t think of a reason, cut that part out.

Page-Turning. The above applies not only to the opening of your story, but all the way through it. Students of playwriting at the University of Texas (so one of them told me long ago, leaving an indelible impression on my mind) used to be told that there were only three reasons for including any given line in a play: To show character; to advance the action; or to get a laugh. If you make the last stricture “to give the reader pleasure of some kind,” I would think those rules apply just as well to prose fiction.

However, you can’t make a rotten story good just by cutting it to the bone. The bone may be rotten. To make a reader turn the pages it is not enough to get to what you have to say quickly; you must also have something to say.

You also need someone to say it about, and that element is called characterization. It is characters who make a story move. If you read in a newspaper that 1800 Bolivians have died in an earthquake you may not be greatly moved; but if your bridge partner is run over by a truck you care. The difference is that you know your bridge partner, and you didn’t know all those other people; events are more interesting when you know who they are happening to.

Characterization is making the reader know the characters, so that he will care what happens to them. You can do that in a quick-and-dirty way—that is, by what is called “funny hat” characterization, meaning that you tag one of your people by giving him an odd and picturesque trait. Perhaps you have him wear a funny hat, or give him a wooden leg or the habit of saying “Bless my watch fob!” Or you can do it by letting the reader understand what the character is like through showing what he does and what he feels. Understand better, if it is done right, than the character himself understands. Mark Twain did both: You remember the heroine of A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur’s Court because of her “funny hat”—actually, her habit of telling interminably dull stories—you remember Huckleberry Finn because Twain made you see right into his stubborn, cynical, quirky but decent and generous soul. The second way is harder, and better. But both work, and if you can’t manage the hard way then at least do it the easy. If you can’t tell us anything else about your characters, at least let us know something about what they want, what they fear—what their problems are; because these should enter into the action of the story.

AND NOW FOR THE STORY

Which brings us to story. A story involves change. Something has to happen. What happens does not have to be on a physical level; it can be the inside of the characters that changes, and maybe the only thing that changes is that the characters positively make up their minds that change just isn’t going to happen. (That’s an approximate outline of William Saroyan’s most famous story, The Daring Young Man on the Flying Trapeze). It should not happen in a straight line, of course. If your character’s problem is that he wants to marry The Girl, and he asks her, and she says yes, then that’s a kind of story but, oh, what a dull one!

Some pulp writers of a generation ago used to follow a “Plot Skeleton.” It was articulated by the literary agent, Scott Meredith, in a book on writing, and it says, basically, that the structure of any story has three parts. In the first part, the lead character is in a hellish bad fix. In the second part he almost gets out of it but, through no fault of his own, fails. In the last part he successfully solves the problem.

According to Meredith, this plot skeleton is actually present in every novel and short story ever written, from The Satyricon of Petronius Arbiter right up to the novelization of the latest Star Trek film. I wouldn’t go that far, but the ingredients are all useful: An opening problem, the more urgent the better; a complication that keeps the hero on the hook and the reader turning pages; a satisfying resolution so the reader knows when the story’s over.

Then there is pace. There are, it is true, some kinds of stories that require a good deal of elapsed story time for the events to unfold. Most stories don’t. Particularly in a short story, avoid like poison the sentence, “Several months went by without anything happening,” or anything much like it. The attention wanders. Once again, it is a matter of leaving out the dull parts—not only in the parts you describe but in those you don’t.

Last of all, accuracy. In writing science fiction in particular, get at least your basic science right. You can’t have helicopters flying around the Moon (there’s no air), or take a rocket ship to Alpha Centauri in a week (a rocket can’t go that fast). It is a matter of trust. If your reader doesn’t have trust in you, he won’t enjoy your story, and one sure way to forfeit that trust is to be caught in a fat-headed blunder. You don’t need to know much about science to write some kinds of science fiction, but don’t pretend to know more than you do.

What I have described is a sort of catalogue of the elements of an acceptable manuscript, as an editor might see them. The manuscript should be mechanically adequate. The story shouldn’t sprawl, either in wordage or in draggy action. The characters should be solid enough to make the editor (and the ultimate reader) care what happens to them. And something should happen in the story.

If you’ve performed the thought experiment of looking at your manuscript through an editor’s eyes, you now should be able to see some reasons why you’ve been rejected—if that has been the case—and in fact you can analyze your story, or anyone else’s, quite expertly. For that’s all there is to it … except for one thing, one element, one quality that I haven’t touched on at all, and that was quite unfair, since it happens to be the most important thing of all. I’ve talked about everything that goes into your story, except you.

The only thing any writer has to sell is his own personal, idiosyncratic view of the world. What is it that you have to say? What have you seen that nobody else has seen, that you can set down for others?

When the editor reads your story he does not compare it against the checklist above. But all of these things will be in the back of his mind, along with a hundred other things that have to do with his own personal needs and preferences. However, if all he is doing is no more than to count off the ways in which your story matches a standard recipe, you may sell, but you’re in trouble. That means your story is at best marginal, one of the dozen or so that he can probably print without stinking up the magazine (or the line of books) too badly, but which no one will miss if it doesn’t get published. And there really is no point in being a writer if you don’t intend to set your sights higher than that.

So … do all the things that are said or implied above, but don’t stop there. Do more. Do your best to write stories that no one but you could have written, and write them as well as you can.
And good luck to you in the attempt!


Frederik Pohl addresses the workshop attendees.

Frederik Pohl addresses the workshop attendees.

A notable SF author since before World War II and ultimately a Grandmaster of Science Fiction, Frederik Pohl (1919-2013) was also an editor of great influence throughout his career, starting at Astonishing and Super Science and going on to Galaxy, IF, and elsewhere. He is the discoverer of Ray Bradbury, R.A. Lafferty, Keith Laumer and Larry Niven, among scores of other well-known names. He created the Star series, setting the pattern that other editors still follow for anthologies of original SF short fiction. He was also a novels editor at several prestigious publishing houses, served as an instructor and Contest judge for the Writers of the Future program.

His own work in fiction included Day Million and The Gold at the Starbow’s End, The Space Merchants, Man Plus, and Gateway, which garnered a thicket of awards. But those symbols of expertise are equaled in number by the trophies he won as an editor. One year, IF won the Hugo award in every eligible category.

Writers of the Future Golden Pen Award and books published by the winners

Some Important Facts You Should Know About Writers & Illustrators of the Future

The Writers of the Future Contest began in 1984 and the companion Illustrators of the Future Contest followed 5 years later. Both have grown to become the largest merit competitions of their kind in the world. While we never give the exact number of entries, we can say that there are thousands of entries each year with contestants submitting from 177 countries.

So far, the Contests have honored 404 Writer winners, 80 Writer published finalists and 334 Illustrator winners hailing from 44 nations over the first 34 years. In addition, they have awarded nearly $1 million in prize money to the winners.

Why This Is Important to Your Career

A review of the 34 years has found that of the 484 writer winners and published finalists, 336 went on with their writing career publishing at least one story and 192 are still active with a writing career—that’s 40% still writing!!

Now combine the above with the fact that the number of new books published annually is now over 1 million. The average new book also sells less than 250 copies in the first year. And less than 1% of the new books published have a chance of being stocked in a bookstore.

What Industry Professionals Have to Say

See why established professionals in the business say what they do about the Contest and to its value to the future of science fiction & fantasy.

So, isn’t it time you entered?

For the Writer Contest: www.writersofthefuture.com/enter-writer-contest/

For the Illustrator Contest: www.writersofthefuture.com/enter-the-illustrator-contest/

 

 

Remember the stories in the news about exploding phone batteries? Well, Writers of the Future winner (Vol 33) Stephen Lawson turned the “Lithium-Ion Batteries exploding” phenomena into a terse rescue effort on the planet Titan. The story is “Homunculus” and it was this year’s grand prize award-winner in the Jim Baen Memorial Short Story category.

Alumni Update – Stephen Lawson

Remember the stories in the news about exploding phone batteries?

Well, Writers of the Future winner (Vol 33) Stephen Lawson turned the “Lithium-Ion Batteries exploding” phenomena into a terse rescue effort on the planet Titan. The story is “Homunculus” and it was this year’s grand prize award-winner in the Jim Baen Memorial Short Story category.

Stephen recently posted a link to the story on his blog so you can read it for free. He also includes in that same blog the proofs of concept for the scientific stuff he has in the story. And if you are into the geeky side of stories, you will find it is a fascinating read all on its own. It shows the level of detailed research he does in order to create new universes for his readers.

Bestselling author and contest founder L. Ron Hubbard will tell you from experience how research pays off in his article “Search for Research.”

Likewise author and WotF judge Larry Niven, in his trademark succinct style, gives this advice to new writers, “Always do your research. One mistake in hard science fiction, in particular, will be remembered forever. Remember: you’re on record.”

Obviously, Stephen is on the right track as his propensity for research is paying off in both entertaining and award-winning stories.

Take, for example, his short story “Moonlight One,” which garnered him a Writers of the Future Award (published in Volume 33). This one is a murder mystery set on the moon. What sets this story apart from the normal who-done-it, is there are only two people on the moon. When the protagonist wakes up to find her husband murdered, she has to find the real killer. But behind the story are all the science facts that make it all work, as Stephen explains in this video.

Being one of the Writers of the Future winners, Stephen attended the 2017 Writers Workshop. In addition to studying articles by L. Ron Hubbard on writing and getting sage advice from bestselling authors and workshop instructors David Farland and Tim Powers, there were also guest speakers providing profession tips, for new writers including: Kevin J. Anderson, Mike Resnick, Nancy Kress, Robert J. Sawyer, Nina Kiriki Hoffman, Nnedi Okorafor, Jody Lynn Nye, Jerry Pournelle and Larry Niven, to name but some.

What additionally makes the Writer Workshop unique from others is the 24-hour story that each writer has to submit. The clock starts and the pressure is on as each writer has to turn out a complete story in one day. But Stephen, with his military background, is used to pressure as he explains here.

Looking forward to seeing what new worlds Stephen’s research will take us to next.

National Bestseller 4 Consecutive Years

L. Ron Hubbard Presents Writers of the Future a National Bestseller 4 Years in a Row

Nearly 100 aspiring writers and artists have realized a major accomplishment over the past 4 years as winners in the Writers & Illustrators of the Future Contests — when the book they were published in, L. Ron Hubbard Presents Writers of the Future, became a national bestseller.

The Hard Facts

The number of new books published annually is now over 1 million (data provided by Bowker) with more than 2/3rds being self-published. Yet the number of book outlets in the US has dropped significantly, from 38,539 in 2004 to 22,586 in 2018. Unfortunately, the average new book will sell less than 250 copies in the first year and less than 1% have a chance of being stocked in a bookstore.

Writers of the Future Provides Hope

At a time when getting a much-needed break as a writer seems next to impossible, having a contest such as Writers & Illustrators of the Future becomes all the more vital. In fact, a review of the previous 33 years found that out of 472 past writer winners and published finalists, 336 have gone on with their writing career, publishing at least one story. And 192 continue to write and be published—that is, over 40% who are still realizing their dreams as a writer.

Publishers Weekly Sci-Fi Bestseller ListWriters of the Future 34 Now a National Bestseller

In keeping with the Contests’ aim to give new writers and artists a leg-up on their careers, this past week L. Ron Hubbard Presents Writers of the Future Volume 34, became a national bestseller, hitting the #10 spot on the Publishers Weekly Science Fiction bestseller list. This is the fourth Writers of the Future volume in a row to achieve national bestselling status—a fitting accolade for this year’s winners!

Volume 34, released in April, is a compilation of 12 top sci-fi and fantasy short stories written by 12 winners of the Writers of the Future Contest and illustrated by the 12 Illustrators of the Future Contest winners. While contest entries span over 170 countries, winners this year hailed from 9 different countries and include Belgium, Canada, Mexico, the Philippines, South Africa, Thailand, Ukraine, Venezuela, as well as the United States.


 


The winning authors listed alphabetically are Janey Bell, Eneasz Brodski, Erik Bundy, Erin Cairns, Vida Cruz, Jonathan Ficke, Amy Henrie Gillett, Diana Hart, Cole Hehr, N.R.M. Roshak, Darci Stone and Jeremy TeGrotenhuis.

Winning illustrators listed alphabetically are Bruce Brenneise, Adar Darnov, Alana Fletcher, Quintin Gleim, Duncan Halleck, Sydney Lugo, Anthony Moravian, Maksym Polishchuk, Jazmen Richardson, Reyna Rochin, Brenda Rodriguez and Kyna Tek.

Also included in Volume 34 are short stories written by New York Times bestselling authors and Writers of the Future contest judges, Brandon Sanderson and Jody Lynn Nye along with a fantasy short story by contest founder, L. Ron Hubbard. The cover art was created by internationally acclaimed artist and Illustrators of the Future judge, Ciruelo.

Discover why these are the best new voices in speculative fiction by reading their stories and seeing their art in L. Ron Hubbard Presents Writers of the Future Volume 34.

Never Give Up

Never Give Up!

It was 1978. I was thirteen years old and my mother gave me Clifford Simak’s book, Mastodonia. So began my love affair with speculative fiction. Within a few years, I read everything from Poul Anderson to Roger Zelazny and had amassed hundreds of books and magazines. I was obsessed. I had found my calling. I was going to be a science fiction writer.

A Mountain of Rejection Slips

It took a few years to gather the courage to write a story, and another few to start sending them out. From 1986 to 1992, I wrote 47 stories, submitting them to any place I could find, including and especially to the Writers of the Future. The result was a mountain of rejection slips. Sometimes the editors provided encouraging messages, but they still rejected my stories! I entered the WOTF eleven times and received—no surprise—eleven rejections.

Becoming a science fiction writer was much harder than it looked. After six years of trying to get published, I made a huge mistake. I gave up. It was too hard. I was done. My love affair with speculative fiction was over. I sold all my books and magazines. The only ones I saved were my Writers of the Future books. I just couldn’t part with them. I wept as I boxed them up and put them in the closet, where they would remain for the next seventeen years.

Return to the Urge to Write

Fast-forward to 2009. My boss walks into my office and asks, “Do you like science fiction?”

“I used to,” I said.

“Read this,” he handed me E. E. Doc Smith’s Lensman series. He was my boss, so I obeyed.

And I was back in love! I bought back all my books. I dug out my WOTF books and re-read them. Then I got all the remaining volumes and read those.

Then it happened: I started to feel that urge again, that compulsion to start writing my own stories. But I was terrified. I had been down that road before, and it was littered with broken dreams. I wasn’t sure if I could do it.

So I made a vow. I would try submitting again, but only to the WOTF contest. If I earned an Honorable Mention, then maybe I would try submitting elsewhere. I re-read all the WOTF books again, and then I submitted a story. Of course, I received a rejection, then another, and another, and so on.

An Anonymous Guy from Topanga Canyon

Then it happened, entry number sixteen, an Honorable Mention! I did it! My head nearly hit the ceiling. Still, I was too scared to submit anywhere else. I kept entering the WOTF and soon earned another HM. When I had earned three, I began submitting to the magazines.

To my delight, I not only began receiving personal rejections; within one year, I sold my first story! Then I sold another. And another!

Still, my primary focus was with the WOTF contest. I never missed a quarter. I was earning more honorable mentions, but that was it. The higher levels of the contest seemed out of reach. Whenever I felt my confidence waver, I would look at the WOTF books and tell myself, you could win this contest. Don’t give up.

Then one day I was lurking the WOTF forum and noticed a mention of a cautionary tale about why you should never give up. It was from a workshop by Dean Wesley Smith. I knew about Dean. He had a story in Volume 1, and later became one of the judges. In his workshop, Dean talked about an anonymous guy from Topanga Canyon, a promising new writer who the magazine editors were talking about. They wondered who would be the first to publish one of his stories. Even book editors were showing interest. Then suddenly, he disappeared. Gone and never to be seen again. His name, to protect his identity, was Topanga Canyon.

When I read that, I felt a cold chill. I was from Topanga. That was me. I knew it in my bones. Before I gave up, Dean was editing Pulphouse and had written me personal rejections. I still remember them: “You’re close.” “Keep trying.”

I sent Dean an email. He confirmed my secret identity.

I felt waves of sheer delight with an undercurrent of utter devastation. Editors were talking about me! And I gave up.

The Magic Number—#47

This discovery inspired me, even more, to keep entering, which I did, every quarter, eventually earning twelve honorable mentions. On December 28, 2017, three days before the Q1 deadline, for the 47th time, I submitted yet another story to the contest. I had just received four rejections in a row, so my hopes were not high. I had entered every single quarter for the last eight years. Why should this one be any different? At best I hoped to add to my sizable collection of HMs.

Then the impossible happened. To my utter shock, my story was a finalist. The next few weeks were pure torture. I was at work when the phone call came that I had won second place. It was easily one of the happiest days of my life. I could feel that thirteen-year-old boy inside of me jumping up and down. I won! I actually won! I’ll get a monetary prize, a beautiful trophy, a week-long workshop, and best of all, my story is going to appear in Volume 35. At last!

All I can tell you is, if you have a dream, never give up. Not ever!

 


Preston Dennett

Preston Dennett

Preston Dennett has worked as a carpet cleaner, fast-food worker, data entry clerk, bookkeeper, landscaper, singer, actor, writer, radio host, television consultant, teacher, UFO researcher, ghost hunter and more. He has written 22 non-fiction books and more than 100 articles about UFOs and the paranormal. But his true love has always been speculative fiction. After a long hiatus, he started writing again in 2009. He has sold 37 stories to various venues including Allegory, Andromeda Spaceways, Bards & Sages, Black Treacle, Cast of Wonders, the Colored Lens, Grievous Angel, Kzine, Perihelion, Sci Phi Journal, Stupefying Stories, T. Gene Davis’ Speculative Blog, and more, including several anthologies. He earned twelve honorable mentions in the L. Ron Hubbard’s Writers of the Future Contest before winning 2nd place for Quarter 1, 2018, (Volume 35), his third professional sale. He currently resides in southern California where he spends his days looking for new ways to pay his bills and his nights exploring the farthest edges of the universe.