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L. Ron Hubbard as president of the New York Chapter of the American Fiction Guild in 1936

Advice to the Word-Weary by L. Ron Hubbard

L. Ron Hubbard, center, as president of the New York Chapter of the American Fiction Guild in 1936. The Guild’s membership included Dashiell Hammett, Raymond Chandler and Edgar Rice Burroughs.

Once upon a time Ye Ed wrote me a letter in which he stated that he did not want a dissertation upon the way Keats used a comma. He wanted, he claimed, an article in which there was a great deal of sound advice about writing and a number of examples.

While cleaning my files I ran across the following letters and carbon copies. If I wanted to be grasping, I could write two dozen articles using this material.

Instead, by cutting out the funny sayings and things, here is raw, solid meat as handed out to certain gentlemen and ladies who, somehow or other, obtained the address and thought, for some reason, that I could write.

•••

L. Ron Hubbard
New York City

Dear Mr. Hubbard;
For a long time I have been writing fiction. Most of it came back and lies neglected in my files along with letters from editors and plain rejects.

I have not managed to sell a single line. Of course I had some published in the school paper and a few places like that, but I think that if I could get at it right, I could earn a good living by writing.

The man down at the service station has read a lot of my stories and has given me quite a lot of good advice on them. He took a writing course, I think, or maybe it was journalism, at the local university.

Is it asking too much for you to answer this question? How did you start to write and sell?

Respectfully,
Jim Higgins
Cornshuck, Iowa

•••

Jim Higgins
Cornshuck, Iowa

Dear Higgins;
It isn’t a question of how I started to write, it’s a question of why.

There’s a world of difference there. I take it that you have a job, otherwise you wouldn’t eat and if you don’t eat, you don’t last long.

We assume, therefore, that you are eating. That is bad, very bad. No man who wants to start writing should be able to eat regularly. Steaks and potatoes get him out of trim.

When a man starts to write, his mental attitude should be one of anguish. He has to sell something because he has to pay the grocery bill.

My advice to you is simple. If you have the idea that you can write salable stuff, go off someplace and get short of money. You’ll write it all right, and what’s more, you’ll sell it.

Witness the case of a lady I know in New York. She was plugging at writing for some fifteen years without selling a line. She left the Big Town with her husband. In the Pacific Northwest her husband died and left her stranded.

She went to work in a lumber mill and wrote a book about it and sold it first crack out. She worked as a waitress and wrote a book about that and sold it. Having succeeded with two books, she went back to the Big Town and got herself a job in the library until the returns came in. She wrote all the time after that but she was eating. In sawmill and hash house she wasn’t living comfortably. She needed the extra.

She hasn’t sold a line since.

The poet in the garret is not a bad example, after all. Personally, I write to pay my bills.

Jack London, I am told, plastered his bills over his writing desk and every time he wanted to get up or go arty he glanced at them and went right on grinding it out.

I think if I inherited a million tomorrow, my stuff would go esoteric and otherwise blah.

I started to write because I had come back from the West Indies where I had been hunting gold and discovered that we had a depression going on up here. Dead broke and with a newly acquired wife I had to start eating right away.

I started writing one story a day for six weeks. I wrote that story in the afternoon and evening. I read the mag I was to make the next day before I went to bed. I plotted the yarn in my sleep, rose and wrote it, read another mag all the way through, went to bed….

Out of that month and a half of work I have sold fiction to the sum of nine hundred dollars. At the end of the six weeks I received checks amounting to three hundred and two dollars and fifty cents.

Unable to stand prosperity, I left for California. I got broke there, wrote for a month without stopping to breathe, sold eleven hundred dollars’ worth. Nothing like necessity to take all this nonsense about how you ought to reform editors right out of your head.

As far as that guy down at the service station is concerned, he may be okay, but remember this: You are the writer. You have to learn your own game. And if he’s never hit the bread and butter side of the business, he knows less about it than you do, all courses to the contrary.

Write me again when you’ve gone and done some tall starving.

Best regards,
L. Ron Hubbard
New York City

•••

L. Ron Hubbard
Podunk, Maryland

Dear Mr. Hubbard;
I have always felt that I could write if I tried, but somehow I’ve been so busy during the last few years that I haven’t had much chance.

I was married when I was very young and every time I started my writing, Joe would either move (Joe is my husband) or we’d have to both work because of the bills.

Most of my children have grown up now to a point where they can take care of themselves and although I have some time now I don’t seem to be able to get down to work. I have a lot of stories in the back of my head but I just can’t find time or ways and means of getting them down on paper. I feel that this is mostly mental.

Would you tell me how you write?

Wishfully,
Mary Stein
Swampwater, Florida

•••

Mrs. Mary Stein
Swampwater, Florida

Dear Mary Stein;
Remember when you read this that I didn’t ask to be appointed your psychoanalyst. I am nothing but a hard-working writer, after all, using fictitious characters and working them over. When real people get planted in front of me I stand back and gape and wonder if it can be true.

Let me tell you about Margaret Sutton. She writes some of the best children’s books being written today. She has five kids, I think. A lot of them need plenty of attention. She has to support them and do her own work and everything.

One day somebody asked her why she didn’t get a maid now she had so much royalty money. She blinked and said, “A maid? Why, what would I do with my extra time?”

Well, there you have it. Maybe it is mental.

From Crabtown to Timbuktu, when I have been introduced as a writer, somebody always has said, “Well, now, I could write too if I just had some time.”

That is a queer mental quirk with people. If a man is a writer, he is doing something everybody thinks they can do. A chap who is the head of a big insurance company, highly successful, once said to me, “I would like to write, but I never seem to be able to find the time.”

It’s their way of apology, I guess. Nearly everyone makes that remark and, to be brutally frank, it is a source of much merriment in the professional ranks.

I am not one to talk about working and writing in the same breath. I have a law around the house here which says that writing comes first and to hell with everything else. The lawn grows into an alfalfa field, the pipes drip merrily, the floors need paint, but I turn a deaf ear to pleas and go right on writing.

I have found this to be the case. My time at the typewriter is worth, per hour, what the average artisan gets per week. I do not work the same hours he does. I work far less, but I work much harder.

Therefore I paint my floors and fix my pipes with the typewriter keys, if you get me. One short story will pay for all the work to be done around this house in a month including the maid’s wages.

People let petty things keep them away from a typewriter. I think that is true because they want to be kept away from the machine. When you start to write there seems to be an invisible wall separating you from the keyboard. Practice is the only thing which will dissipate it.

If you make yourself write during trying times, you are doing a lot toward whipping your jinx.

Recently I was very ill in a New York apartment. My agent, Ed Bodin, and his wife came in. My wife had been there with me for several days and was worn out. Ed and Juliet wanted to take her to a show.

They left at 8:45 p.m. They returned at 11:30. In the interim I had grown restless. I felt that I was stale, would be unable to write anything for months. Then I got mad at such a traitorous thought, climbed out of bed, sat down at the mill and wrote a story which I gave to Ed upon his return.

I knew, of course, that the story would be rotten. Half the time I couldn’t see the paper, I was so dizzy.

But I guess I was wrong. Ed sold it almost immediately to Detective Fiction Weekly. It was “The Mad Dog Murders.”

My contention is that, if you have the stuff on the ball, you can write anytime, anyplace and anything.

Best regards,
L. Ron Hubbard
Podunk, Maryland

•••

L. Ron Hubbard
Unusualado, California

Dear Mr. Hubbard;
I been pounding out a lot of western yarns and shipping same to certain editors located in New York where the only horse in town is located on a whisky bottle.

These gents claim, per letter and returned stories, that I haven’t got any real feel of the west.

The same irritates me considerable. I spotted a yarn of yours and you seemed to know hosses hands down and guns likewise and that don’t measure like most of these western yarns.

I think maybe I’d better go back to wranglin’ hosses because maybe I don’t know how to put it in stories. I sure do know something about putting them in corrals.

I thought it was about time somebody wrote some western stories that knew what they was writing about. I still think so.

The question is, what the hell can I do about it?

Yours truly,
Steed Monahan
General Delivery
Stud Horse, Arizona

•••

Steed Monahan
General Delivery
Stud Horse, Arizona

Dear Steed Monahan;
You have laid the finger on something. I’m not sure what. I wouldn’t go as far as to say that you have the dope but lack the knack of writing fiction. You know there might be something in that. Anyway, I’m no judge because I never read any of your stuff.

This question once leaped up at a New York Chapter meeting of the American Fiction Guild. Clee Woods, Al Echols, Sayer, and maybe Tom Roan got pretty deep into the argument about whether or not you had to know the west to write westerns.

I wasn’t so very interested because my forte is adventure and such, but I listened because I had been raised in Montana but had never been able to sell a good western story.

These lads who knew the west had it all settled to their satisfaction that you had to have the dope and data before you could put down the words and syllables.

Then Frank Gruber stood up and said he’d sold a few westerns that year. Fifteen or so. And that was odd because, he said, he had never been closer to a ranch than editing a chicken paper in the middle west.

So there you are. The dope and data does not outweigh good story writing. I can write stories about pursuit pilots, stories about coal miners, stories about detectives, stories about public enemies, G-men, arctic explorers, Chinese generals, etc.

Which doesn’t mean that I had to shoot down another plane to get the dope. I have never: 1. Been in a coal mine. 2. Been a detective. 3. A public enemy. 4. Been a G-man. 5. Explored the Arctic. 6. Been a Chinese general.

And yet I am proud of a record which was only marred by one inaccuracy in a story, and that was very trivial. By getting experience somewhere near the field, I can exploit the field.

For instance, of late, I have been looking into dangerous professions. I’ve climbed skyscrapers with steeplejacks, dived with deep-sea divers, stunted with test pilots, and made faces at lions. But at no time was I actually a member of that particular profession of which I was to write. I didn’t have to be because the research enabled me to view it from a longer, more accurate range.

The only thing you can do is try hard to write a swell, fast-action western yarn. Peddle it to every western book in the field. Ask for some honest comments on it.

But before you do this, be sure you are writing what these magazines are buying.

A good story comes first. Information comes second. An editor of one of our best books recently told me, “Accuracy be damned. Very few gentlemen will know you’re wrong. Give us the story. We can buy the accuracy from a twenty-five-a-week clerk with a library card. You don’t have to know. You can write.”

Ride ’em, cowboy, and don’t pull any leather until they spot your trouble for you. But if you can’t write, you can’t write, no matter how much you know.

And I guess that’s all I know about that subject.

Best regards,
L. Ron Hubbard
Unusualado, California

•••

Mr. L. Ron Hubbard
New Orleans, Louisiana

Dear Mr. Hubbard;
During the last few months I have managed to sell some of my stories to magazines located in New York. I have every assurance that I can keep right on selling these stories of mine and I think it’s about time I made a break for the Big Town.

I’ve been reading the writers’ magazines and I think you have to know all about New York and the markets before you can really get places in this game.

I’ve been making over a hundred dollars a month in the writing game and I’ve sold stories to__________, and__________. I asked one of the editors about this and he told me by all means look him up when I got to New York. As that sounds encouraging, I’m planning on leaving.

Jeb Uglook wants me to go with him to Baffin Land on his whaler this summer, but I think I better give my writing a break and go to New York instead.

But I thought, before I made a decision, I’d better write to some professional writer like you who’s been in New York a lot and ask him what conditions were there.

My stories are mostly about this part of the world as I am always cruising around or trekking off someplace with guys like Jeb Uglook, or Biff Carlson (he’s the Mountie here), but I think I ought to have a wider field for my work. Detective stories, for instance, and things like that.

Would you tell me about New York?

Sincerely,
Arch Bankey
GeeHaw Factory
Hudson Bay

•••

Mr. Arch Bankey
GeeHaw Factory
Hudson Bay

Dear Arch Bankey;
A few years ago I knew a beachcomber in Hong Kong. All he ever talked about was the day he would go to New York. That was the place. New York!

But he was smarter than the rest of us. He never went. He just talked about it.

There’s nothing like knowing your editors, of course. Editors are swell people as a rule. Nothing like getting their slant face to face. Increase your sales no end.

But if you think you can go to New York and live there on a hundred a month, you’re as crazy as a locoed wolf. Think about it from this angle:

In New York you’ll have noise, bad living conditions, and higher expenses. You will have to keep right on writing to keep eating.

You are used to writing where the biggest noise is a pine tree shouting at its neighbor. That is the condition you know. You can write there.

Chances are a hundred to one that you won’t be able to turn out a line when the subway begins to saw into your nerves, when the L smashes out your eardrums overhead, when ten thousand taxi drivers clamp down on their horns.

If you can’t write, you can’t eat because you won’t have enough reserve.

Besides, the markets you mention are not very reliable. Those eds are the brand that want something for nothing. Wait until you sell the big books in the pulp field. Wait until you crack into at least four of the big five publishing houses. Wait until you are pretty sure you know what you’re doing in the game before you make a change.

I’ve wrecked myself time after time with changes just because I have itchy feet. I have just come from New York. I got along all right, for a very little while, then the town got me. I had a big month and managed to get out.

But once New York gets you, you’re got.

Some of the swellest guys I know are in New York. Also some of the worst heels.

Here’s my advice, take it for what it’s worth to you.

Jeb Uglook and the whaler will provide you with lots of story material. Go with him and write it. Trek out with that Mountie and study the way he goes about it. Take your trips with your eyes open for data.

Neither Jeb nor Carlson will let you starve. If you can’t put out the wordage, you’ll find editors far from interested in you.

Write everything you can, study the mags you’re sending stuff to, collect every scrap of story material from GeeHaw Factory. Collect yourself checks to the amount of one thousand dollars, no more no less. With that all in one piece, shove off for New York.

On arrival, get yourself the best clothes you can buy. Register at the Waldorf-Astoria. Take editors out to lunch in a Cadillac taxi.

Stay in New York until all you’ve got left is your return trip ticket to GeeHaw. Pack up and leave right away quick for home.

Don’t try to work in New York. Don’t try to make it your home. Go there with a roll and do the place right, then grab the rattler for Hudson Bay before the glamor wears off.

Sitting in a shabby room, pounding a mill with the landlady pounding on the door is fine experience, but I think gunning for whales up off Baffin Land is much more to your liking.

Best regards,
L. Ron Hubbard
New Orleans, Louisiana

•••

And this, my children, endeth the lesson. Any questions?

 

L. Ron Hubbard

L. Ron Hubbard, New York City, 1935

With 19 New York Times bestsellers and more than 350 million copies of his works in circulation, L. Ron Hubbard is among the most acclaimed and widely read authors of our time. For a more extensive biography, go to www.galaxypress.com/l-ron-hubbard

Pulp magazine covers featuring L. Ron Hubbard stories

History of Helping New Writers by Algis Budrys

L. Ron Hubbard, 1935Like other author-adventurers with names like Melville, Twain, London and Hemingway, L. Ron Hubbard’s experiences and travels—as an explorer and prospector, master mariner and daredevil pilot, philosopher and artist—found their way through his writing into the fabric of popular fiction and into the currents of American culture for fifty years. Distinguished editor, literary critic and grand master of science fiction Frederik Pohl said of L. Ron Hubbard: “There are bits and pieces from Ron’s work that became part of the language in ways that very few other writers managed.… He had a gift for inventing colorful pictures that still stay with me…. Pictures that stayed in your head.” At the same time, his unique voice and style helped reshape and establish new literary trends for many of the popular genres he wrote in—from science fiction to fantasy, and from horror to adventure—resulting in a compelling literary legacy. And what a legacy it was: 19 New York Times bestsellers, stretching over 50 years from his earliest commercially published story, “The Green God,” in 1934, to the completion of a mammoth ten-volume novel, Mission Earth, in 1987. His most signal talent, however, was perhaps the ability to create rich characters and place them in unusual circumstances.

In his 1940 horror classic, Fear, Hubbard frames an unrelenting nightmare of the macabre around bookish and mousey James Lowry, Professor of Ethnology at Atwater College, who after publicly debunking the existence of demons and devils finds himself confronted with unexplainable and ghastly real-life evidence to the contrary. Horror/suspense giant Stephen King acknowledges Fear as “one of the few books in the chiller genre which actually merits employment of the overworked adjective ‘classic,’ as in ‘This is a classic tale of creeping, surreal menace and horror’…This is one of the really, really good ones.” Works like Fear etched Hubbard’s place among the greats of contemporary suspense fiction including legends like Ray Bradbury and Stephen King. But his storytelling expertise was not limited to suspense.

Hubbard also excelled in other fiction genres, including fantasy, “future-history” science fiction, space-travel adventure and frontier fiction, while still showcasing his unforgettable characters in desperate—or hilarious—but always original circumstances. In Typewriter in the Sky (a satiric, story-within-a-story, literary fantasy), he engages the reader in a what-if tale of a piano player suddenly finding himself part of an adventure novel written by his writer friend, Horace Hackett. As if that weren’t enough, he is trapped in the novel as the villain of the piece and discovers that he has to suffer through Horace’s hackneyed writing and threadbare plot—knowing that his character is going to be killed off at the end. In Final Blackout, the apocalyptic science fiction adventure set in the aftermath of total war, the story focuses on an enigmatic, post-modern guerilla fighter, who is the least likely to lead a nation back from oblivion, and yet finds himself stuck with the problem. To the Stars is yet another beautifully crafted novel of future space travel and adventure that explores the sensibilities of a man shanghaied into becoming a crewman on the “long passage” of extended travel across the universe, while time goes forward normally on Earth.

All are examples of Hubbard’s unique approach to fiction and his unmatched storytelling ability, crossing multiple genres with ease. From horror and suspense to action-adventure and, of course, science fiction, he blazed a wide path of fiction output rarely matched by either his contemporaries or literary followers with over 250 novels, novelettes and short stories to his credit. Not surprisingly, L. Ron Hubbard’s life was an adventure story in itself.

His real-life experiences began in rural Montana where he grew up on a ranch in the early 1920s and formed an early and lasting friendship with the Blackfeet Indians. By the late 1920s, he left the country to serve aboard a coastal trading vessel operating between Japan and Java in the Pacific. On his return in 1927, Hubbard studied engineering and took one of the earliest courses in molecular phenomena. Later, he went on to achieve renown as a pioneer aviator, famous in the air meets of the day, and became a master mariner—licensed to sail any ocean, and was three times a flag-bearing expedition leader of the Explorers Club (as recounted in George Plimpton’s As Told at the Explorers Club). All the information gleaned from his experiences growing up and his personal interactions with the characters he met during his travels found their place in his various works: stories of civilians’ narrow escapes from marauding warlords and vindictive Japanese generals during the Sino-Japanese war; men being trapped in the Sahara under the guns of the enemy without enough ammunition or water—or relief—in sight; or tales of danger and the risks taken by those who had to test airplanes for the military before such could be put into active service. During this period, his editors noted that his name on the cover of a pulp magazine would greatly boost its sales, so compelling were his stories, and he became a frequently featured writer.

NOVICE WRITERS ASKING FOR ADVICE

As a consequence, novice writers who hoped to learn his storytelling and story-selling skills often consulted Hubbard for advice. He was happy to offer suggestions and so he began sharing his hard-earned experience with creative writing students in speaking engagements at institutions such as Harvard and George Washington University. In 1935, he was named president of the New York Chapter of the American Fiction Guild, where he made it easier for new writers to join the guild and readily shared his knowledge of writing and publishing with others who sought his help.

Hubbard also generated a series of “how to” articles that appeared in a number of writing magazines in the 1930s and 1940s, offering guidance to help new writers navigate the rough waters they were likely to encounter. Included in this volume is his wry article, “Advice to the Word-Weary,” a compilation by Ron of advice letters not previously published. In 1940, as a feature of a radio program he hosted in Ketchikan, Alaska, while on an Explorers Club–sanctioned expedition, he offered advice for beginning writers and went one step further, initiating the “Golden Pen Award” to encourage listeners of station KGBU to write fiction, and he awarded prizes for the best stories submitted.

THE CREATION OF WRITERS OF THE FUTURE

Years later, in 1983, in recognition of the increasingly difficult path encountered between first manuscript and published work, particularly in an era when publishers devoted the lion’s share of their promotional budgets to a few household names, L. Ron Hubbard “initiated a means for new and budding writers to have a chance for their creative efforts to be seen and acknowledged.” And so were born the Writers and Illustrators of the Future Contests. These Contests have continued to expand and now receive entries from all over the world and have become today the standard by which any aspiring writer and Illustrator in science fiction and fantasy should measure their work. And, as years have proven, the writers and illustrators you will meet will be the names you will see in the years to come.

So read and enjoy Writers of the Future and see for yourself why Orson Scott Card says, “Keep the Writers of the Future going. It’s what keeps sci-fi alive.”

 


Algis Budrys

Algis Budrys (1931–2008), known as “AJ” to his students and friends, was one of the most prominent forces behind the Writers of the Future Contest, workshop, and anthology series. He was born in Königsberg, East Prussia, on January 9, 1931. He became interested in science fiction at the age of six, shortly after coming to America, when a landlady slipped him a copy of the New York Journal-American Sunday funnies.

Budrys began selling steadily to the top magazine markets at the age of twenty-one while living in Great Neck, Long Island. He sold his first novel in 1953 and produced eight more novels, including Who?Rogue MoonMichaelmas and Hard Landing, and three short story collections. In addition to writing, he was renowned as an editor, serving as editor in chief of Regency Books, Playboy Press and all the titles at Woodall’s Trailer Travel publications. He also edited Tomorrow Speculative Fiction, where he published numerous new authors (many of them his students at WotF).

In 1983, Budrys was enlisted to help establish a new writing contest for aspiring writers. This was a request he took to heart. Not only did he assist with the judging, he used his well-known skills as an editor for the annual anthology. He attended scores of science fiction conventions, speaking on panels during the day about the Writers of the Future, and again at night discussing the Contest with many of the top names in science fiction and fantasy, using his influence and charm to bring them on board as Contest judges.

 

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.

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/

 

 

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.

The Magic Picture

Here is the next in a series of articles addressing the barriers to achieving your writing goals as requested by you, the new writer. It was also unanimous that you wanted to hear from top-line professionals as to how they overcame these same barriers.

In this article originally written for and published in Writers of the Future Volume 5 in 1989, Hal Clement, member of Science Fiction’s First Fandom and Grand Master of Science Fiction, deals with how to effectively “challenge readers with the ‘what if?’ implications of a background significantly different from the familiar and everyday.”

So if you are interested in learning from a Grand Master, read on …


The Magic Picture

Every story has a background; an environment in which—and a set of rules under which—everything happens, and writer and reader (or teller and listener) must have a reasonably similar idea of the nature of that background for the story to make sense.

In ordinary adventure or romance tales, the familiar “real” world forms the background, and the similarity can be taken for granted. Even in historical novels, while the author must specify the period somehow, it is usually safe to assume that the reader knows a fair amount of relevant history.

In fantasy and science fiction things are very different. The whole point is to challenge readers with the “what if?” implications of a background significantly different from the familiar and every day. A verbal picture has to be painted, and the wordage needed to do the background is what commonly makes SF novels easier to write than shorter fiction. The ordinary storytelling rules of pacing, characterization, and motivation still apply, but the SF writer has additional work to do; book-length offers more freedom to do that.

Why bother with the extra work?

The key reason is consistency; lack of this quality in a story will bother all but the most utterly passive readers. The slips may be minor but still annoying; Ozma’s magic picture, in Frank Baum’s Oz stories, sometimes has a gold frame and sometimes a radium one, and is sometimes called a magic mirror instead. This never has serious effect on the plotline; the existence and properties of the picture itself are the only important things; but to readers who thought they had the background clearly in mind, the changes still give a jolt.

Hard Science Fiction

In the “hard” science fiction which I personally favor, the background is “real” but deliberately unfamiliar in some ways. Here, at least one aim of the writer is to take the reader by surprise with a “what if?” that is logical but unexpected, as with Phileas Fogg’s gain of an extra day by going eastward around the world. The chief professional difficulty lies in spotting all the implications of the unfamiliar insertion, so as to maintain consistency. This task sometimes frightens writers out of the field. In my opinion, it should instead be taken as an opportunity; the implications can provide plot and action ideas. For example:

Quite commonly, science fiction authors have used planets whose atmospheres contain chlorine in place of oxygen. The usual implicit justification is that chlorine is almost as active as oxygen and chlorine-breathing creatures would probably do as well as we oxygen-breathers.

On the whole, I would agree, though as a matter of fact there is a minor energy disadvantage for the chlorine types. However, unless other implications of the chlorine (or fluorine, which has an energy advantage over oxygen) are considered, the author faces a strong risk of consistency slips (embarrassing), and of overlooking potential story-line material (wasteful!).

Some people claim that chlorine atmospheres are unlikely because chlorine is much less common in the universe, and probably on any given planet, than oxygen. True but unimportant; it is not necessary for a substance to be the most common, merely that there be enough of it. If the most common were automatically the most probable, we should be silicon instead of carbon beings ourselves; silicon-based life has been a favorite with writers for decades because of the chemical similarities between the two elements, and they may be right. It may be only chance that we turned out as we did, even though Earth’s crust is about a quarter silicon by mass and well under one percent carbon, but I doubt it (I am not saying that silicon life is impossible; that’s a different and much longer debate).

There is plenty of chlorine on Earth, however. If you want to write a mad-scientist story in which a genetic engineer plans to deploy organisms that can oxidize the chloride ion to the free element, you have a realistic plot. Only about a tenth of the chloride now in Earth’s oceans would have to be processed to match our present oxygen supply with CI2. Conceivably, it was only chance that the photosynthesis that works on oxides such as water evolved before one using chlorides; we might have been chlorine-breathers ourselves (an alternate-universe suggestion I haven’t seen used yet; please note my continuing point of possible storylines). In fact, there were (and still are) bacteria on Earth that used iron, and others that used sulfur in about that way, and which did come first. Why they didn’t end up in charge of Earth is another long question, and of course another possible set of story backgrounds.

If we grant a planet where a chlorine atmosphere does exist, what other implications are there?

Further Assumptions

They depend on further assumptions. If the temperature is in the liquid-water range, for example, we have the fact that chlorine dissolves (rather slowly) in water, reacting with it to give hydrochloric and hypochlorous acids; the latter in turn decomposes slowly to hydrochloric acid and free oxygen. To maintain the chlorine atmosphere, then, we need some process (presumably the original chloride-oxidizing photosynthesis) that will turn the acid back to free chlorine as fast as it forms; and we must also accept the fact that there will be some—possibly small but certainly not zero—concentration of free oxygen as well as the chlorine in the atmosphere.

If we had preferred fluorine, things would have been more difficult (read: more challenging). Fluorine also reacts with water, forming hydrofluoric acid and free oxygen. The acid is viciously active, even on the common silicate minerals of an ordinary Earthlike planet, with which it forms SiF4. This is a gas that is also pretty active, and the long-term result will put the fluorine into insoluble minerals, just where we find it on Earth, instead of into the oceans like chlorine. Maybe some unfortunate early life, far back in Earth’s history, did develop a fluorine-releasing variety of photosynthesis, but couldn’t keep things going. If Earth were enough colder to have hydrogen fluoride oceans, with water a solid mineral, now….

Be my guest again. But do some chemistry of your own; there are other problems (read: story inspirations) to be checked along this line.

With that taken care of, consider the problem of seeing. I don’t, obviously, mean that the eyes of a being that has evolved in a chlorine environment would be irritated by the gas as ours are; but as most people know, chlorine is visibly colored—greenish, hence its Greek-origin name. Scientifically, we say that it absorbs radiation in the visible spectrum, more heavily at the long-wave end. This implies that over more than a short distance, which I haven’t tried to calculate since I haven’t tried to write this story yet, the atmosphere is opaque to human vision. Presumably native organisms, if they have evolved anything comparable to our sense of sight, use a different part of the spectrum.

What part? I don’t know; you’re writing the story. If I did decide to try it myself, I would find out what I could about the absorption spectrum of molecular chlorine—or just possibly, if I were in a real hurry for some reason or got too lazy to finish the research, I would cross my fingers and tell myself that, say, microwave radio photons are too low in energy to affect electronic, spin, or vibrational energies of the CI2 molecule. In the latter case I would not be too surprised, after the story appeared in print, to get a critical letter from a spectroscopist.

I don’t want to scare potential writers into confining themselves to the narrow, “mainstream” part of the storytelling field. I want to show the desirability of considering as many as possible of the possibilities—something we would like to do in engineering and politics as well. However, I grant that spotting them all is just as impossible in this field as in those.

Producing a good story

One can certainly produce a good story that concentrates on one “what-if?” and deliberately ignores others. Rick Raphael‘s “Code Three” dealt with the problems of a highway patrolman in a North America laced with five-mile-wide superhighways, whose speed lanes went above five hundred miles per hour. Many of the cars were jet-driven, and nuclear-powered ones were just starting to appear. I personally doubt strongly the possibility of fueling such a civilian fleet, but I still enjoyed the story—plot, action, motivation, characters, and all—except the end of the book version, which was perfectly logical and reasonable but unhappy (that is, my objection was a subjective, not a professional, criticism).

I realize, and want to emphasize, that Mr. Raphael may have omitted the fuel matter intentionally. He may have felt that discussing it would harm the pace of the story; he may have been saving that question for another story; he may have disagreed with me about the weight of the problem, afterthought and calculation. He could even be right; science is an inherently tentative field, and maybe I didn’t consider enough factors. (Certainty is only an emotion, and science is not for you if you feel a strong need for it. Join a group that depends on faith).

You are, in the final analysis, going to have to use your own judgment in painting your non-standard background picture. You can research in books and journals, pick the brains of friends, get information from computer networks; but only you can decide, for purposes of the story you want to tell, whether we are heading for a Larry Niven world in which checking into a hotel entails the risk of having the bed booby-trapped with high voltage and finding yourself sold for spare parts the next day, or the kind I used in “Mechanic” where the genetic code has been reduced to engineering practice and a patient’s new heart or leg can be grown from a snip of his own flesh, thereby obviating tissue rejection as well as organlegging.

Painting a Word Picture

You are painting a word picture (or a series of them— the frames in a movie). Your pigment is your vocabulary, your brushes are the rules of grammar, and your model is the universe—the known (and thinkable, if you’re extrapolating) laws of Nature.

The desirability of a good vocabulary (a rich palette) is obvious. Skill with brushes (the rules of expression that help avoid ambiguity and other forms of confusion) seems to me equally important. Many people, however, question the need for a model (scientific knowledge).

Personally, I find it convenient to have a lot of the rules and facts in my head, though the last three words are certainly not essential and not always correct—I often have to look things up. It greatly speeds up the process of painting-in the background, and it is also a fertile source of story ideas by itself. It does not, of course, preserve me from error; all of us, every now and then, take something to be so obvious that we don’t need to check it, and then find we were wrong. Just after World War II, I was assuming that jet aircraft would not be practical commercially because of their enormous fuel consumption; I was a bomber pilot, and had a fair supply of relevant knowledge. What I should have been considering, of course, was not pounds of fuel per hour, but ton-miles or passenger-miles per pound of fuel.

Mission Gravity coverIn my novel, Mission of Gravity, I assumed, in spite of my perfectly valid astronomy degree, that my planet Mesklin would have an elliptical polar cross section (it was written before slide-rules grew buttons). Later, the MIT Science Fiction Society had a great deal of fun calculating what the actual shape would be, and of course telling me about it. In the same work, I took it for granted that my leading character’s vessel, the Bree, would sail faster with the wind behind it. A sailor straightened me out on that one. I should have known better; I just didn’t make the high-school-physics vector analysis I should have (and which I wouldn’t have had to make if I’d ever done any sailing; the situation would have been familiar).

The word, then, is to spend all the time and effort that you want in working out your hard-science background material. I spend a lot because it’s fun (for me). If you don’t enjoy it, don’t feel guilty; maybe (probably!) you’re a better character builder than I.

Don’t however, expect to avoid all mistakes, and don’t worry when you’re caught. You’re in the entertainment business, and many of your readers will get fun out of catching you. Just remember that the fewer mistakes you do make, the more triumph they’ll feel when they do; don’t make any on purpose.

And don’t try to claim that you did. “Touché” is a courtesy not restricted to fencing.

 


Hal Clement

Harry Clement Stubbs (1922-2003) earned degrees in astronomy, chemistry and education. He was a multi-engine pilot in World War II. By that time he was already capturing the attention of Astounding readers with a kind of SF writing he, in effect, invented and whose leading practitioner he remains. It’s usually called “hard-science fiction”; a combination of a gripping story—as in his famous Mission of Gravity—with meticulously worked-out scientific extrapolation of a totally alien environment, told entirely or in large part from the viewpoint of an intelligent and appealing, but totally alien, inhabitant of that environment … to whom it’s just that ordinary place he lives and must be brave in.

He was named Grand Master by the Science Fiction Writers of America in 1998 and became a Writers of the Future judge in 2001.

Robert J. Sawyer speaking to writer winners

Eight Things New Writers Need to Know

Here is the next in a series of articles addressing the barriers to achieving your writing goals as requested by you, the new and aspiring writer. It was also unanimous that you wanted to hear from top-line professionals as to how they overcame these same barriers.

In this article originally written for and published in Writers of the Future Volume 22 in 2002, Robert J. Sawyer provides eight important things you need to know as a new and aspiring writer.

So if you are marching along the road to becoming a newly published writer, read on…


1. Not Everyone Is Going to Like Your Work

And that’s okay. Your job as a writer isn’t to be blandly acceptable to everyone; rather, it’s to be the favorite author of a narrow segment of the population. If you try to please everybody, you’ll end up pleasing no one. Good book reviewers know this: their job isn’t to tell you whether they like a given work (which is a datum only of interest to them personally); rather, it’s to say if you like this particular sort of work, then this book will be to your taste—or not, if the book has failed at what it set out to do. Which brings us to…

2. Your Fiction Should Be About Something

Theme is the story element beginning writers spend the least time on, and yet it’s the single most important aspect. Nothing drives this home more clearly than the success of Dan Brown’s The Da Vinci Code. The book is poorly written in almost every way—and yet, on its own, it has been read by more people than read all the books published last year by all science fiction and fantasy publishers combined. Why? Because it’s about something. In particular, it’s about the suppression of the feminine in Catholicism, and a reinterpretation of the Christ story that is new to most readers. The quality of the plot (formulaic chases), the characters (made of the same stuff as the paperback’s cover), and the prose (pedestrian at best) are all forgiven, because Dan Brown had something to say—and you should too. Which means…

3. Your Job Is to Tell Your Stories

Too many talented young writers waste time writing fan fiction (such as stories set in the universes of Stargate Atlantis or Star Trek: Voyager). This is a waste of time; worse, it’s a seductive waste of time, because they get all sorts of feedback praising their “skillful handling” of the characters, which makes them think they’re much better writers than they really are (since creating your own memorable characters, not aping someone else’s, is a key part of a writer’s job).

Once you start publishing, you may be offered the chance to write a media tie-in; don’t do that, either. Your job is to establish your name; you are branding yourself in a competitive marketplace, and you do that by telling unique, original stories about characters and events you’ve devised while exploring issues that you are passionate about. Many experienced writers of media tie-ins do so under pseudonyms—precisely because they don’t want the association with hack work to taint their own original writing. And, for Pete’s sake, don’t even think about starting your career with a media tie-in; they are not entry-level work in this field; rather, they are dead ends. No, to launch your career, write your own wholly original first novel. But be aware that…

4. First Novels Are Hard to Sell

So don’t make it any harder. The number one reason first novels are rejected is that they’re poorly written; you, of course, don’t have that problem! The number two reason first novels are rejected—that is, the reason the vast majority of well-crafted, polished, tightly written novels are not bought by publishers—is that they aren’t easily categorizable. Almost no one who is involved in the selling of your novel will ever actually read it. All they will know is what the editor says about it at the publisher’s sales conference in perhaps sixty seconds, plus maybe 150 words of copy in the publisher’s catalog.

What the sales force wants to hear about a first novel from the editor is, “This is a Heinlein-esque military-SF novel that will appeal to fans of David Weber and David Feintuch” or “This is contemporary urban fantasy, in the mold of Charles de Lint.” Save your cross-genre impossible-to-categorize novel for later in your career, for the time when all the sales force needs to hear is, “This is the new novel by you.” In my own case, my first novel, Golden Fleece—which grew from a shorter work submitted to Writers of the Future in 1986—was a hard-SF novel about a murdering computer aboard a starship. It clearly echoed Arthur C. Clarke’s 2001: A Space Odyssey—and that’s how the editor presented it. Of course, as with almost all first novels, I had to write the whole thing before I could sell it.

But for my twelfth novel, Calculating God, which I sold with just a conversation on the phone, I said I wanted to write a novel in which two people sit in a room and debate evolution vs. creationism without ever getting really angry in the process. I never could have sold that book as my first novel—but it was easy later in my career (and it hit number one on the Locus bestsellers list, and was a Hugo finalist), because by that point all that mattered was that it was a new book by an established name. That said…

5. With Your First Book, Knock Their Socks Off

Many people read a bad book then say, “Heck, I can write that well!” and then set out to try to do so—and they succeed, producing a bad book of their own. Set your sights high. For my own first novel, I wanted to do something that I’d never seen done well before: a book from the point of view of an intelligent computer (and I guess I pulled it off, because in his review of my book for The Magazine of Fantasy & Science Fiction, Orson Scott Card said I’d created “the deepest computer character in all of science fiction”). It’s important to have ambition: you should be aspiring to greatness, not mediocrity, and your best inspiration is the top works in the field. Because the truth is…

6. If You Want to Write It, You’ve Got to Read It

When I meet someone at a convention who tells me they’re trying to break into science-fiction writing, I ask a seemingly unrelated question: “Have you read anything by me?” It seems self-absorbed, perhaps, but it’s actually a useful little test. See, I’ve been lucky enough to win the field’s two top awards—the Hugo and the Nebula, both for best novel of the year. If you want to sell in this market, you need to know what the market considers to be the best work. When people say no, they haven’t read any Sawyer, I smile politely and walk away—because they can’t really be serious about breaking in. After all, if they were, they’d be reading not just the Hugo and Nebula winners, but also the nominees each year; doing so is a key part of knowing the marketplace. Which brings us to…

7. Your Best Market Guide is a Bookstore

Sure, there are lots of websites with writing advice (including my own at sfwriter.com), but to sell in this field, you have to know the market inside and out—and the best place to learn about that is in a bookstore. Trivia question: what do the writers Cory Doctorow (Tor), Nalo Hopkinson (Warner), Tanya Huff (DAW), Robert J. Sawyer (Tor), and Michelle West (DAW) all have in common? Answer: we all used to work at Toronto’s Bakka-Phoenix, the world’s oldest SF specialty bookstore, and Michelle still works there, even though she hardly needs the booksellers’ wages—because being in a bookstore keeps her finger on the pulse of what’s happening in the SF&F marketplace.

Forget about online market listings. Rather, you should spend hours looking at actual books, studying what sort of work each publisher puts out. A wannabe author should be able to name not just their five favorite contemporary SF&F authors (and if the best list you can come up with is Asimov, Clarke and Tolkien, you’re not reading enough new stuff), but also instantly be able to name who each of their publishers are—and understand why they were published by that house and not another.

There is a world of difference between a Baen military-SF novel by John Ringo, a Del Rey contemporary-SF thriller by Greg Bear, and a Tor literate fantasy by Gene Wolfe. If you send your manuscript to the wrong editor, you’re wasting not just the editor’s time, but your own—and with editors taking a year or more to respond to an unsolicited submission, it behooves you to do your homework. Because…

8. Ultimately, It’s All Up to You

Editors do care, and agents can help. But, in the end, it’s only you who really has a large, vested interest in whether or not you succeed. Some established authors think it’s their job to discourage newcomers, because the faint-of-heart might not do well in a rough, competitive marketplace.

Ultimately, I think that’s short-sighted. Yes, the marketplace is harsh and uncaring, but what a loss it would be to our culture if the only books published were by hardened, thick-skinned, tough-as-nails types. There’s a place on bookstore shelves for the shy and the delicate, too.

So, take what advice encourages you, smile politely and ignore advice that discourages you, and, most of all, don’t give up. More than talent, more than luck, more than anything else, this is a game of perseverance—and the only sure way to lose is not to play.


Robert J. Sawyer, called “the dean of Canadian science fiction” by The Ottawa Citizen, has won all three of the science fiction field’s top honors for best novel of the year, the Hugo, the Nebula and the John W. Campbell Memorial Award, as well as eleven Canadian Science Fiction and Fantasy Awards (Auroras).

The ABC TV series Flash Forward was based on his novel of the same name. Maclean’s: Canada’s Weekly Newsmagazine says, “By any reckoning, Sawyer is among the most successful Canadian authors ever.” Sawyer’s novels are top-ten mainstream bestsellers in Canada. His twenty-three novels include FrameshiftFactoring HumanityCalculating GodWake and the Neanderthal Parallax trilogy: HominidsHumansHybrids.

Rob first entered the Writers of the Future Contest in 1984, and he became a judge for the Contest twenty years later. He lives in Toronto.