Posts

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.

Matt Dovey with a cuppa tea

Matt Dovey: Two Years Later

From aspiring writer to writing contest winner to—let’s find out!

It has been nearly two years since Matt Dovey was announced as the Golden Pen Award winner in the L. Ron Hubbard Presents Writers of the Future writing contest.  As a contest for aspiring writers, we thought we would find out how winning the writing contest has affected Matt. So we asked him.

____

As I write this, it’s coming on two years since I attended the 32nd workshop week in LA, which also marks two years since my first publication—WotF was my first sale, but I was published for the first time just a month beforehand, in Flash Fiction Online.

 


Matt Dovey above, accepting the Golden Pen Award from David Farland and Orson Scott Card

It’s honestly strange to realise it’s only been two years. It feels a lifetime ago, as if everything before were a different person, as if LA were a wormhole I travelled through to an alternate life where—suddenly, amazingly—I’m actually a writer.

This is, of course, nonsense. The only act necessary to be a writer is writing, and if you have the courage to sit before the blank screen and summon whole worlds and people and hopes and dreams from nothing more than the spider silk of your imagination, mere publication is an incidental fact in the definition. If you’re reading this, chances are you write and are still chasing that first sale. So I’m telling you now, definitively and authoritatively: you are a writer. Don’t let anyone convince you otherwise.

But, of course, we’re all only human, and we all seek that validation from others, so it’s hard not to feel like you need the Badge of Approval that comes with publication to confirm that yes, really, it’s true: you are a writer. And for all my high-falutin’ talk above, it’s absolutely a trap I fell into myself. Honestly, most writers I know do. We seem to need more validation than most.

But having had that validation from WotF, my whole outlook on writing has changed. It’s gone from a strange little habit I indulge after work to a fundamental aspect of who I am; my day job is the incidental fact, now, the necessary evil to support my writing. I don’t just write when I feel like it, or when an idea occurs: it’s a given that I’ll be sitting down at my keyboard each evening and working, even if sometimes that “working” is just talking to friends in the community (essential lesson, learned the hard way and given freely here: self-care is as important as word count).

And you know what really gave me that feeling of validation? It wasn’t winning the super-fancy trophy (though that sure is nice! And really, really heavy in your luggage); it wasn’t meeting legendary pros like Tim Powers, Nancy Kress, Todd McCaffrey, so many others; it wasn’t even seeing my name in print, my story in the book, my words in physical form.

Writers of the Future winners, Class of 2016

It was the friends around me, the people in my class who were going through that indescribably surreal week with me. The friends who, it turned out, had the same weird habits and thought patterns and fears and aspirations as I had, the ones I’d thought only I had because writing, inevitably, is a lonely hobby, sat silent at the keyboard with only your own thoughts.

I found out I was a writer that week in LA because I found out I was just like other writers.

And so the last couple of years have been good to me. I’ve got 15 pro sales to my name now, plus semi-pros and reprints and narrations. I’m volunteering as a slush reader over at PodCastle and doing my bit to contribute back to the community there and in other ways. I have strangers send me fan mail and people reviewing my work and stories appearing in Year’s Best anthologies.

But whilst I wouldn’t have managed any of that if I hadn’t done the work, equally I wouldn’t have managed any of that if I didn’t have the friends I have now. I’m still close to all my WotF class; we support each other, not just with feedback but with commiseration and celebration and reminders that, for all the bad days when the rejections pile up and the new draft just isn’t working out, there are good days, too, and reasons to celebrate each other even if it doesn’t always feel like there are reasons to celebrate personally.

You’ll get nowhere in writing if you don’t have friends to walk the path with. And in the same way you don’t need anyone else’s validation to be a writer, you don’t need anyone else’s permission to join in with the community. Find us on Twitter, or on forums (the WotF forums are a great place to start), or at conventions. It’s the best thing you can do, for your career and yourself, I promise.

Just join in.

 


Matt Dovey

Matt Dovey

Matt Dovey is very tall, very English, and most likely drinking a cup of tea right now. His surname rhymes with “Dopey”, but any other similarities to the dwarf are purely coincidental. He lives in a quiet market town in rural England with his wife and three children, and despite being a writer he still can’t express the delight he finds in this wonderful arrangement.  He has fiction out and forthcoming all over the place; you can keep up with it at mattdovey.com, or follow along on Facebook and Twitter both as @mattdoveywriter.

Jake Marley on stage with Dave Farland and Erika Christensen

Jake Marley: One Year Later

From aspiring writer to writing contest winner to – let’s find out!

It has been nearly a year since Jake Marley was announced as the Golden Pen Award winner in the L. Ron Hubbard Presents Writers of the Future writing contest.  As a contest for aspiring writers, we thought we would find out how winning the writing contest has affected Jake. So we asked him.

So Many New Friends

In 2017, my Writers of the Future workshop was just the start of my opportunities to meet professional writers and editors.

Jake talks about his experience as a writer and with the 24-hour story during the Writer Workshop in an interview here.

I used my winnings from the Golden Pen to go to a few different writing conventions, and met even more of my contemporary heroes and favorite writers and editors, including quite a few bestselling authors. I think a highlight of the year was getting another chance to speak with Nnedi Okorafor while we were both in Providence, and I had another opportunity to thank her for her part of the workshop, which I had really connected with.

I also had a dream come true when Andrew L. Roberts and I were able to sign copies of WotF 33 at SDCC this year. The pro-badge I wore has a place of honor beside my trophies from last year’s awards ceremony.

I Am Selling What I Write

I’ve had two other short stories published since the release of Volume 33. One, “The Fifth Chamber” was in Resist and Refuse, and the other, “The Weight of Her Smile,” was just published last month in Unnerving Magazine #5.

The Post-Apocalyptic Tourist's Guide to Los AngelesI was also lucky enough to take part in the first Season of (fellow Vol. 33 winner) Stephen Lawson’s The Post-Apocalyptic Tourist’s Guide. While my story could stand alone, The Post-Apocalyptic Tourist’s Guide to Los Angeles is also part of a larger narrative featuring quite a few Writers of the Future alumni.

I’m hard at work on my new novel, and it’s coming together really nicely. I’m using quite a few of the tips and techniques I learned from Dave and Tim during our workshop, as well as applying the advice I received from the other judges (again, especially Nnedi Okorafor).

In addition to getting my novel written, I’ve just been given the upcoming Writers of the Future Volume 34 and I’ve begun reading the stories. I’m looking forward to review it!

A Note on Dr. Pournelle

Dr. Jerry Pournelle speaking at the Writers WorkshopI was very sad to hear about the passing of Dr. Pournelle. I think one of the most memorable moments of my experience with Writers of the Future last year was having him tell me that “Acquisition” was “a damned good story.” I only met him briefly, but it has made a lasting impression on my life.

 

How to Find Me

My website is jakemarley.wordpress.com and readers can find me on Facebook or @JakeofEarth2 on Twitter.

And here is the link to my Amazon page.

The Long Road

The Long Road

My last post was on “giving up.” I brought up dozens of books that got rejected over and over again, only to finally sell and either win major awards (like the Nobel Prize) or make millions of dollars.

I then received numerous letters from authors who have been looking at the hard times for writers at the moment and have been thinking about just that—giving up. In fact, one of them, fantasy author Dan Willis even wrote a blog about how he has been thinking of contemplating authorial seppuku.

Just remember that breaking in often takes years. Once you break in, it may take several more years to “go big.” My old friend Anne McCaffrey was an excellent example of that. She wrote several novels and literally decided to quit for good when one of them finally went big and led to a phenomenal career.

So just breaking in often takes years. The general rule is that it takes about six or seven years from the time that you begin writing to the time that you get published.

It often takes a new author another seven years of perfecting their skill before they go big.

Sometimes you do well the first time out. One of my students, Stephanie Meyer, did just that, as did Dan Wells. But for most of us, it takes much longer before they have a hit.

With my friend and student Brandon Sanderson, we went on book tours together for four years—sometimes spending as much as a month on the road—until we got to the last book in his Mistborn series. He was feeling pretty discouraged at the time. But when Robert Jordan passed away, he was asked to finish up the Wheel of Time series. Everything turned around for Brandon in a matter of weeks. Curious readers turned out in droves to buy the last book in his Mistborn series, and they discovered something that I’d known from Brandon’s first day in class—here was a wonderful writer!

Brandon is now a #1 New York Times Bestseller.

Another student, James Dashner, was struggling as a small regional author. He couldn’t make a living at it. So he needed to up his game in order to go national. He did just that, and now his Maze Runner series is one of the biggest hits of the decade. Allie Condie, another local author that I know, recently did the same with her fourth novel, Matched.

So these things can take time. How much time? Ten years ago I was working with a little green-lighting company in Hollywood called Entertainment Business Group. A couple of producers came to us with a novel that they wanted to turn into a movie. I read through it and gave them some advice, talking about art direction, how to position the movie as more of an adventure than the novel portrayed, adding beauty to it, using the low gravity on the planet to turn the hero into more of a “superhero” and so on. My friend and business partner David Cuddy went a bit further and even wrote a script for them. Their movie was going to be a tough sell, I thought.

It took ten years for John Carter and the Princess of Mars to be released.

I don’t know what struggles and setbacks the producers went through, but I know that it had to have been tough. After all, it took ten years.

But that’s actually pretty fast for a big film. The average movie takes longer than that to bring to life.

The entertainment business is tough. The road can take you over nice hills but will often lead into deep valleys where there’s no light at all. Keep going.

Developing an audience takes times and consistency. Nearly everyone who has ever had success has also met with one bitter disappointment after another.

 


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.

computer on a desk

Lou J. Berger on Writers of the Future

I want to chat about the Writers and Illustrators of the Future contest.

For many beginning writers (and illustrators, but I’m going to only talk about the writing side), the WoTF contest is a nice way to hurl your creations up against the wall of professional editing to see if, like perfectly cooked spaghetti, they stick.

It’s free to enter, the contest is made up of four quarters per year, each a separate contest, and the competition is worthy.

Although official numbers aren’t ever released, I have heard through the grapevine that three thousand submissions per quarter stream in from over 175 countries around the world.

Of those three thousand, many are simply not up to par. In fact, the vast majority of the entries don’t have more than the first few pages read, and David Farland is the wizard behind the process, culling through the stacks of submissions for those gems.

The better stories are awarded Honorable Mention status, and Joni Labaqui sends out beautiful, artistic certificates with the author’s name, the title of the story, and the words “Honorable Mention” blazoned across the page.

I have one up on my cork board in my office.

The top sixteen best stories are broken into two categories, Semi-Finalist (for stories 9-16) and FINALIST (stories 1-8).

The Semi-Finalist stories are those that rose almost all the way to the top and, for that particular quarter, were considered VERY good, but not quite as good as those top eight Finalist stories.

Joni sends out a different certificate, still artistic, still with the author name and the story title on it, but with the words “Semi-Finalist” instead of “Honorable Mention.”

I have one of THOSE on my cork board, too, from 2011.

Mike Resnick, who is not only the most award-winning author alive, began editing Galaxy’s Edge magazine back in 2013, proving that he’s a damn fine editor as well.

Having taken me under his wing (through my relentless pestering of him, no doubt) as one of his Writer Children, he included one of my stories in his inaugural edition of Galaxy’s Edge, way back in March of 2013.

Since then, I see him at conventions, I took a writing course on a cruise ship with him TWICE, and we remain in contact. He’s published SEVEN stories of mine in Galaxy’s Edge.

Nancy Kress, an award-winning author in her own right, co-taught me in Taos during the 2010 Taos Toolbox workshop, along with Walter Jon Williams. Carrie Vaughn came to talk to us about how her Kitty Norville series had changed her life, and we all left Taos after the workshop was over, inspired to become like our new-found heroes.

Kevin J. Anderson, a prolific author and a man who believes strongly in paying it forward, spearheads his Superstars Writing Seminars in Colorado Springs, and I’ve attended that event THREE times. Kevin has invited me to his home for movie night, for New Year’s Eve, and has never turned down my requests for advice as, slowly, I climb each rung of the ladder to professional authorship.

Mike, Nancy, and Kevin are all WoTF judges. They take their time to pay it forward to the beginner writers (regardless of age), who dare to take a chance with their lovingly crafted prose, and work as judges for the contest.

Kevin’s wife, the insanely intelligent Rebecca Moesta, had a birthday party a few months ago, and I attended that event, once again visiting their lovely home. I remember sitting on the couch next to an elegant woman, but I didn’t recognize her. She wasn’t a frequent attendee of the other gatherings at the Kevin and Rebecca castle.

Somebody called her “Joni,” I think it was Rebecca herself, and I asked her, “You aren’t Joni Labaqui, are you?”

She admitted she was, and I stuck out my hand gleefully. “I’m Lou J Berger!”

See, Joni called me on a cloudy day in 2011 to tell me that I’d made it to the Semi-Finalist level with my story “Immersion,” and I was so unfamiliar with the WoTF processes that I assumed during the call that she had to call over three thousand people.

I may have said something to the effect of “Well, thanks for the call, but you have SO MUCH WORK yet to do!”

There was a moment of awkward silence, and then she said, brightly, “Okay, bye!”

*facepalm*

Anyway, there on the couch at Rebecca’s party, we talked for half an hour or so about the Contest.

“Why haven’t you been submitting any stories?” she asked me directly.

I thought about it for a half second. “Because I’m too pro by now. I sold stories to Mike Resnick, and to a handful of anthologies, and I got paid pro rates for all of them. I’m out, right?”

She beamed. If there is one thing Joni lives for, it’s helping ignorant people (such as myself) learn something new.

“Nope,” she said. “If any of those anthologies or any single issue of that magazine in which your story appeared failed to sell AT LEAST five thousand copies, we don’t count it.”

Stunned, I fell silent. I didn’t KNOW how many copies were sold!

I asked around, and none of the anthologies had moved five thousand copies. One editor refused to divulge whether they had or not, but I’m betting not. That’s one “gray area” story, because I couldn’t get confirmation.

I asked Mike. He didn’t know, and sent me over the publisher, a kind man named Shahid. He laughed at me and said “not yet, but we are working on it!”

One maybe story. The one that the editor wouldn’t confirm numbers on. That’s it!

So I went to the WoTF rules. There it is, in black and white, Rule #5:

“5. The Contest is open only to those who have not professionally published a novel or short novel, or more than one novelette, or more than three short stories, in any medium. Professional publication is deemed to be payment of at least six cents per word, and at least 5,000 copies, or 5,000 hits.”

So, given this NEW information (to me), I began to submit again.

Last night, the phone rang. Caller ID blocked. I answered.

A warm voice came across the line: “Hi, Lou. It’s Joni.”

Memories of our conversation came flooding back. The last time she’d called me directly, it was back in 2011 to tell me I was a Semi-Finalist.

“Hi, Joni!” I said, so pleased to hear her voice. Folks, this woman lives for helping people succeed.

Then, it hit me. Why was she calling ME?

“Wait…Joni, why are you calling me?”

The smile came through the phone: “You’re a Finalist, Lou!”

And….wow.

My story is in the top eight of the fourth quarter submissions for 2017. The top THREE of those top eight are called Winners, and they get an all-expense trip to LA, and the bottom FIVE of those top eight get a nice, artistic certificate, to add to their cork board (we all have cork boards, right?), with the word “FINALIST” on it.

I’m hoping for a Winner determination but, you know what?

Between you and me?

If I get that certificate with the word “Finalist” on it, I’m a happy, happy dude.

More as I hear it.

 


Lou J. BergerLou Berger started writing just shy of his 40th birthday. He lives in Centennial, Colorado with three kids, two Sheltie dogs and a kink-tailed cat.

stack of blocks balanced

Questions of Balance

I’m currently judging the Writers of the Future Contest for the third quarter. After my first pass, I was able to narrow the field down to just 228 possible finalists. These are all stories that started well, from people who knew how to write.

As I delve into these stories further, I have to be pretty critical. After all, I need to narrow the finalists down to just 8. Sometimes I find pieces that are beautifully written but have a particular weakness, a blind spot that the author has, and so I get nicely written stories that, unfortunately, just miss by a hair’s breadth. I want to examine some of those pieces today.

I had two stories where the authors had a wonderful ear for dialog but lacked visuals. For example, in one tale, where a young man lives in a desert town, there are only half a dozen inhabitants. We learn their names, but don’t get physical descriptions of the characters. The same happens in another tale set in a 15th Century cyberpunk vista. I love both the stories and will probably put them through as finalists, but I worry that the authors could have added just a tad more detail.

Of course, there were other good stories where almost all of what I had was dialog, long exchanges where all I had were name tags as identifiers—no external descriptions at all, no internal thoughts, no sense of setting. It’s fairly common for writing instructors to say, “It’s good to have these kinds of exchanges once in a while.” The teachers are right. It’s okay to have those—if we know who the characters are and understand the back story enough so that we can visualize what is happening without having the proper beats in the conversation. When overdone, such tales sound more like radio dramas.

In other stories, I have plenty of physical description, but very little audio. Now we’re into silent movies. The author may spend four pages describing things, but have no conversations.

Now, I’ve had stories told from a single point of view where having a dialog is almost impossible, and I’ve published at least one. In that case, it was a tale told by an astronaut who is skydiving over Jupiter. Great tale, told as well as it could be done.

But if you have a character who has no dialog within the first four pages of your story, and yet that character has the capacity for human interaction, the chances are good that you’ve got a problem.

Most of the time, the author is engaged in what I call “hesitation.” He or she begins narrating backstory in the hopes of finding a good place to start. Normally, such tales need to have the first few pages cut, since the author finds a good opening eventually.

But sometimes the author is just a very “internal” person—someone who thinks much more than he or she speaks or acts. So the tale ends up being an internal story of personal discovery. That’s not a bad thing, but such tales tend to be much weaker than stories where the characters actually do or say surprising things.

So when you write your tale, take a look at it in chunks of two or three pages. Is it all dialogue? Is it all internal? Is it all narration? Is it description of sights with no smells?

If so, you may have a problem with balance.

 


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.

man looking at bulletin board

Avoid Hesitation

When you sit down to write a story or the opening to a scene, you’re presented with a problem: how to begin? As a contest judge, I see too many tales that don’t work—right from the very first sentence.

The most common problem that I see arises from “hesitation.” You as an author haven’t figured out how to start your story. You haven’t brainstormed a scene yet, so you just begin writing in the hopes that it will turn into something. Perhaps you’ll tell me about the character, “Gunther Harlan was ten years old.” Maybe you’ll start with a setting: “The day began as any other day.” Or perhaps you’ll start with a conflict. “Gunther sat on a rock, panting from exhaustion. How did I ever get into this mess? he wondered.”

Starting a tale with any one of those three elements is okay, but if you spend two pages telling your reader about Gunther, or inventing the setting, or if you have Gunther wondering how he got into trouble, you’re wasting the reader’s time.

Most often, when I see this hesitant beginning, it’s obvious to me that you’re “ramping-up.” I suspect that the real story will start a few pages in, but if I’m judging the story for a contest, I will have to reject the story long before I find the real beginning, the place where your character and conflict and the action all merge so that the story comes to life.

As an author, it’s your job to create an opening that works, to get beyond that hesitation. If you find yourself spilling ideas onto paper in the opening of your tale, for example, if you’re brainstorming your character until the story takes off, that is all right. But when your story does take off, it’s your job to cut out all of the garbage.

This is true whether you’re writing a short story, a screenplay, or a novel. One piece of advice that you will hear from professional writers over and over again is, “When I finish my novel, that’s when I know what the story is truly about. So the first thing that I do is go back and throw away the opening, then rewrite it, with the ending in mind.”

Why do all of that work? Because with a novel, you typically don’t find your characters’ voices until you’ve written about them for fifty or sixty pages. You may not know how they think, their habitual ticks, or what they will do. So you need to let them solidify in your imagination.

So when you finish a tale, return to your opening and revise it.

As you rewrite your openings, you also need to pay close attention to what I call the treatment of your story. If you’re looking to win awards or contests, it isn’t enough to write a “journeyman-style” story, where you’re describing things as if you were a reporter. You need to bring your own art into it. You need to bring in the details that add life to the story. You need to spend some time considering the poetry in your language, adding richness to your descriptions, paying attention to the beats in your dialog, considering what metaphors to choose in order to make your tale more evocative and memorable than someone else’s treatment of the tale.

Mike Resnick addressing winners at the Writers of the Future Workshop 2017

Mike Resnick addressing winners at the Writers of the Future Workshop 2017

I listened to Mike Resnick talk to a group of new writers. Mike has won more Hugo and Nebula Awards for his short fiction than any other writer. He said that he spends about 80% of his time on a short story just crafting those first two pages, while the rest of the story takes another 20% of his time.

This means that he gets to know his characters, understand his conflicts and themes, all before he gets to page three. “If you don’t have a great opening,” Mike said, “one that hooks the reader in on several different levels, then you’ve got nothing. People will never read the story at all if they don’t love it from the start.”
 


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.

Woman writing

Spectacular Settings

I mentioned last week that when I judge a story, one of the simple things I look at is your setting. There are so many aspects to setting, let’s just look at a few:

1) Is your milieu intriguing? Many authors will set a story in the most blasé of places. Often, the story is set “somewhere in the USA.” While for certain types of stories this may be completely appropriate, in most cases it’s not. It’s as if the writer has suffered brain death, and couldn’t bother to come up with a real milieu. In most cases, it helps if you choose a particular place to set your story, and a particular date.

2) Is the world fully created? If you’re using a real-world setting, then “creating” that world is a matter of capturing it—learning its history, culture, and future. It’s not enough just to research a setting, you have to know it, get it into your bones. This usually means that you must travel to that setting and spend some time there. You can’t just blow through Amarillo, Texas and expect to really know the place.

In a science fiction tale, if you want to set your story on a planet, then creating a setting might require you to decide what kind of star system your planet is set in, along with the planet’s composition, rotation, axial tilt, number of moons, type of atmosphere, and so on. You may have to think about how to create alien life-forms, and develop their life-cycles, and perhaps create their histories, languages, and societies. Just getting those kinds of details takes some concentration.

If you’re creating a fantasy world, then you may have to look even further—into creating the flora and fauna of your world, along with cultures and subculture, the magic systems and economic systems, societies, languages, histories, religions, and so on.

So I look at how robust your setting is. I consider how fully developed it is. I ask myself, “Has this author put enough thought into the setting to create the illusion that this is a real place?”

3) Does your setting produce interesting characters and conflicts?

A well-developed setting has a profound effect on characterization. To a large degree, you’re a product of your environment—of your culture, your society, your school system, your family influences, and so on. In a story, this must also be true.

So, I look at your world and ask myself, “How well has this author taken advantage of his or her milieu? Had she missed opportunities to make her characters more interesting?” If you’re creating a fantasy world, and you develop a particularly fascinating subculture, then you may want to consider placing one of your characters in that culture.

But the setting doesn’t just help develop characters, it also creates its own conflicts. Thus, if you have a story where a world is enshrouded by a continual electric storm, how does that affect your tale?

4) Now, once you’ve created a milieu, how well do you display that world?

Some authors don’t show their settings well at all. I often see stories where there is no background, no mountains or forests in the distance. Often, the author doesn’t bother to mention what time of day it is, or what the weather is like.

In other stories, authors even forget to mention the mid-ground. In other words, if they’re in a small town, they give no details about nearby houses, streets, or crowds.

Other authors even forget to mention what is close by, so that when a character is sitting eating lunch at a table, someone may suddenly speak up—appearing out of nowhere.

Many authors don’t involve all of the senses. They go “cinematic” on me, so that they only show me things from the outside, never referring to the sense of taste or touch. These authors often forget to get into the heads of their protagonists, so that we don’t hear their thought or sense their emotions.

Remember, the best-selling novels in almost every genre do one thing well above all others: they transport the reader fully into a well-developed milieu.

As you can see, I can’t talk about settings in great detail in this small format, so I will be writing a book on the topic soon.

 


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.