Of all the writing contests out there, this one launches careers!
And the Winners are:
First Place – Andrew Dykstal from Virginia
Second Place – Wulf Moon from Washington
Third Place – John Haas from Canada
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.
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.
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.
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.
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!
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.
Here is the first in a series of articles addressing the barriers to achieving your writing goals as requested by you, the aspiring writer. In our New Year’s Resolution Survey, the top barrier you expressed to achieving your writing goal was simply the lack of self-discipline. While some said it amounted to being lazy, others stated it as a lack of drive. However you articulate it, it is a common malady and manifestation of writer’s block.
In this same survey, it was also unanimous that you wanted to hear from top-line professionals as to how they overcame these same barriers.
L. Ron Hubbard’s outpouring of fiction—often exceeding a million words a year—was prodigious, ultimately encompassing more than 250 published novels, novellas, short stories and screenplays, in virtually every major genre, from action and adventure, western and romance, to mystery and suspense and, of course, science fiction and fantasy.
In this article, Mr. Hubbard relates how he had come to the heartbreaking conclusion that while writers want to write and sell more stories, they generally fail to try.
So if you are interested in a proven tool to overcome writer’s block, read on…
All of us want to sell more stories and write better ones. It is hard to believe that there exists a writer with soul so dead that he would not. But, from careful observation, I have come to the heartbreaking conclusion that while writers usually want to do this, they generally fail to try.
Writers are the laziest people on earth. And I know I’m the laziest writer. In common with the rest of the profession I am always searching for the magic lamp which will shoot my stories genie-like into full bloom without the least effort on my part.
This is pure idiocy on my part as I have long ago found this magic lamp, but not until a couple years ago did I break it out and use the brass polish to discover that it was solid gold.
This lamp was so cobwebby and careworn that I am sure most of us have not looked very long at it in spite of its extreme age and in spite of the fact that it is eternally being called to our attention.
The name of this magic lamp is research.
Ah, do I hear a chorus of sighs? Do I hear, “Hubbard is going to spring that old gag again.” “What, another article on research? I thought LRH knew better.”
In defense I instantly protest that I am neither the discoverer nor the sole exploiter of research. But I do believe that I have found an entirely new slant upon an ancient object.
In Tacoma a few months ago, I heard a writer sighing that he washavingahelluvatimegettingplots. This acute writing disease had eaten deeply into his sleep and bankbook. It had made him so alert that he was ruined as a conversationalist, acting, as he did, like an idea sponge. Hanging on and hoping but knowing that no ideas could possibly come his way.
As usual, I injected my thoughts into his plight—a habit which is bad and thankless.
I said, “Here’s an idea. Why not go out and dig around in the old files at the library and the capitol at Olympia and find out everything you can on the subject of branding? There should be a lot of stories there.”
He raised one eye and leered, “What? Do all that work for a cent and a half a word?”
And just to drive the idea home, I might remark that one day I happened into the New York Public Library. Crossing the file room I slammed into a heavy bulk and ricocheted back to discover I had walked straight into Norvell Page and he into me.
I gaped. “Page!”
“Hubbard!” he whispered in awed tones.
Solemnly we shook each other by the hand.
CHORUS: Well, this is the first time I ever saw a writer in a library!
These two instances should serve to illustrate the fact that research does not rhyme with writer no matter what kind of mill you pound.
Research is a habit which is only acquired by sheer force of will. The easy thing to do is guess at the facts—so thinks the writer. When, as a matter of facts, the easy thing to do is go find the facts if you have to tear a town to pieces.
Witness what happened last summer.
Staring me in the face were a stack of dangerous profession stories which have since appeared in Argosy. At that time they were no more than started and I sighed to see them stretching forth so endlessly.
I chose Test Pilot as the next on the list and started to plot it. I thought I knew my aviation because the Department of Commerce tells me so. Blithely, thinking this was easy, I started in upon a highly technical story without knowing the least thing about that branch of flying—never having been a test pilot.
For one week I stewed over the plot. For another week I broiled myself in the scorching heat of my self-accusation. Two weeks and nothing written.
Was I losing money fast!
There wasn’t anything for it then. I had to find out something about test pilots.
Across the bay from my place in Seattle is the Boeing plant. At the Boeing plant there would be test pilots. I had to go!
And all for a cent and a half a word.
I went. Egdvedt, the Boeing president, was so startled to see a real live writer in the place that he almost talked himself hoarse.
Minshall, the chief engineer, was so astounded at my ignorance that he hauled me through the plant until I had bunions the size of onions.
All for a cent and a half a word!
I went home.
About that time it occurred to me that I used to write a lot for the Sportsman Pilot and as long as I had the dope and data, I might as well fix the details in my head by writing them an article.
That done, I suddenly saw a fine plot for my Argosy yarn and wrote that in a matter of a day and a half.
Two months went by. Arthur Lawson came in as editor of Dell and promptly remembered Test Pilot in Argosy and demanded a story along similar lines.
In two days I wrote that.
A month after that, Florence McChesney decided that she needed a twenty-thousand word flying story.
“Test Pilot,” says I, “do your stuff!”
Each and every one of those yarns sold first crack out. Article for the Sportsman Pilot, short for Argosy, short for War Birds, twenty-thousand worder for Five Novels.
One day of research = several hundred bucks in stories.
This naturally made me think things over and, not being quite as foolish as editors think writers are, I added up the account book and promptly went to work. Thus, the moral is yet to come.
On the dangerous profession stories which followed, I almost lost my life and broke my neck trying to make them authentic. On each one I kept a complete list of notes and a list of plots which occurred to me at the time. There is enough writing material in that file to last me at least a year. It is the finest kind of copy because it is risky in the extreme, full of drama and high tension. I haven’t any fears about mentioning this, as any writer who is crazy enough to go down in diving suits and up in spar trees deserves all the help he can get.
But research does not end there and that is not the point of this article.
A short time ago I began to search for research on the theory that if I could get a glimmering of anything lying beyond a certain horizon I could go deep enough to find an excellent story.
I stopped doing what I used to do. There was a time when I expected a story to blaze up and scorch me all of its own accord. I have found, however, that there is a premium on divine fire and it is not very bright when used by a pulpateer. This gentleman has to write an immortal story about once every three days to keep eating.
On this plan I began to read exhaustively in old technical books, ancient travel books, forgotten literature. But not with the idea of cribbing. I wanted information and nothing else. I wanted to know how the people used to think here, how the land lay there. Given one slim fact for a background, I have found it easy to take off down the channel of research and canal-boat out a cargo of stories.
In other words, I have no use for an obvious story idea as laid out in Popular Mechanics or Forensic Medicine. I want one slim, forgotten fact. From there a man can go anywhere and the story is very likely to prove unusual.
In one old volume, for instance, I discovered that there was such a thing as a schoolmaster aboard Nelson’s ships of the line.
That was a weird one. Why should Nelson want a schoolmaster?
When did this occur?
Answer: The Napoleonic Wars.
Ah, now we’ll find out how those old ships looked. We’ll discover how they fought, what they did.
And there was the schoolmaster during battle. Where? In the “cockpit” helping hack off arms and legs.
Next lead indicated: Surgery during the Napoleonic Wars.
Wild guess in another allied field: Gunnery.
A battle: On the Nile.
A ship or something strange about this battle: L’Orient, monster French flagship which mysteriously caught fire and blew up, throwing the weight of guns to Nelson.
Incidental discovery: “The Boy Stood on the Burning Deck” was written about the son of L’Orient’s skipper.
Back to midshipmen, the King’s Letter Boys: They were hell on wheels, arrogant, ghastly urchins being trained as officers.
And with all this under my mental belt I girded up my mental loins. Complete after a few days of search I had Mister Tidwell, Gunner, which appeared in Adventure.
All that because I chanced to find there was a schoolmaster aboard Nelson’s ships of the line.
This is now happening right along because I haven’t let the idea slide as my laziness dictated I should.
The final coup d’état arrived last winter.
Boredom had settled heavily upon me and I sat one evening staring vacantly at a shelf of books. They were most monotonous. Whole sets stretched out along the shelves with very little change in color or size. This annoyed me and I bent forward and took one out just to relieve the regularity.
It proved to be Washington Irving’s Astoria, his famous epic of the fur trading days.
It had never been brought home to me that Irving had written such a book and to find out why, I promptly started to read it. The result was, of course, a fur trading story. But the method of arriving at this story was so indirect that it merits a glance.
Irving only served to call to my attention that I was out in the fur trading Northwest and that I had certainly better take advantage of the history of the place.
I roved around, found very little because I had no direct starting point. I went to the Encyclopedia Britannica to discover a bibliography of such source books and started out again to ferret them out.
All these books were contemporary with fur trading days, all of them written, of course, by white men. But everywhere I kept tripping across the phrases, “The Warlike Blackfeet.” “The Bloodthirsty Blackfeet.”
This finally penetrated my thick skull. I did not like it because I thought I knew something about the Blackfeet.
Were they as bad as they were represented?
Into the records. The real records. Into Alexander Henry’s Journal. Into this and out of that until I had a stack of material higher than my desk.
And then I capped the climax by locating a young chap in Seattle who happens to be a blood brother of the Blackfeet. Lewis and Clark’s Journal contained about five pages concerning the circumstances which surrounded the killing of a Blackfoot brave by Lewis.
The way this suddenly shot down the groove is remarkable to remember. The Hudson’s Bay Company, the Nor’Westers, the Blackfeet, John Jacob Astor . . . The story pieces dovetailed with a click.
Coupled with years of experience in the Northwest, these hundred sources jibed to make the story.
The result was Buckskin Brigades, a novel being put out this summer by Macaulay.
Buckskin Brigades came to life because I happened to be bored enough one evening to sit and stare at a line of books on a shelf.
This account of researching is not complete unless I mention a certain dogging phobia I have and which I suspect is deeply rooted in most of us.
H. Bedford Jones mentioned it long ago and I did not believe him at the time. But after rolling stacks of it into the mags, I know that B-J was right as a check.
He said that it was hard for a person to write about the things he knew best.
This gives rise to an ancient argument which says pro and con that a writer should write about the things he knows.
Witnesseth: I was born and raised in the West and yet it was not until last year that I sold a couple westerns. And I only sold those because somebody said I couldn’t.
Know ye: The Caribbean countries know me as El Colorado and yet the only Caribbean stories I can write are about those countries which I have touched so briefly that I have only the vaguest knowledge of them and am therefore forced to depend upon researching the books and maps for my facts.
Hear ye: I wrote fine Hollywood stories until I came down here and worked in pictures. I wrote one while here and the editor slammed it back as a total loss.
There are only a few exceptions to this. I have been able to cash in heavily upon my knowledge of North China because the place appealed to me as the last word in savage, romantic lore. The last exception seems to be flying stories, though after flying a ship I can’t write an aviation story for a month.
The final proof of this assertation came in connection with my Marine Corps stories. Most of my life I have been associated with the Corps one way or another in various parts of the world and I should know something about it.
But I have given up in dark despair.
He Walked to War in Adventure was branded as technically imperfect.
Don’t Rush Me in Argosy, another Marine story, elicited anguished howls of protest.
And yet if there is any story in the world I should be qualified to write, it is a Marine story.
These are my woes. The reason for them is probably very plain to everyone. But I’ll state my answer anyway.
A man cannot write a story unless he is deeply interested in it. If he thinks he knows a subject then he instantly becomes careless with his technical details.
The only way I have found it possible to sidetrack these woes is by delving into new fields constantly, looking everywhere for one small fact which will lead me on into a story field I think I’ll like.
This is not very good for a writer’s reputation, they tell me. A writer, it is claimed, must specialize to become outstanding. I labored trying to build up a converse reputation, hoping to be known as a writer of infinite versatility.
I did not know until two years ago that the specializing writer is persona non grata with an editor. Jack Byrne, for instance, rebuilt Argosy with variety as a foundation. And once I heard Bloomfield sigh that he wished some of his top-notchers would stop sending him the same background week in and week out.
Maybe I am right, possibly I am wrong.
But I believe that the only way I can keep improving my work and my markets is by broadening my sphere of acquaintanceship with the world and its people and professions.
Additional hard-won advice from our Contest Judges can be found at WritersoftheFuture.com.
About L. Ron Hubbard
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. As a leading light of American Pulp Fiction through the 1930s and ’40s, he is further among the most influential authors of the modern age. Indeed, from Ray Bradbury to Stephen King, there is scarcely a master of imaginative tales who has not paid tribute to L. Ron Hubbard.
If you are an aspiring author or know someone who is, then this article is for you. Find out for yourself why Writers of the Future is the top writing contest in the world and why you have nothing to lose and everything to gain by checking it out.
“What a wonderful idea—one of science fiction’s all-time giants opening the way for a new generation of exciting talent! For these brilliant stories, and the careers that will grow from them, we all stand indebted to L. Ron Hubbard.” —Robert Silverberg
For over three decades, Writers of the Future has grown to become the premiere writing competition of its kind in the world.
The Contest is free to enter with the ability to upload one’s submission online making it available to anyone anywhere on the planet. (English language only.)
The Contest is open to those who have not professionally published a novel or short novel, or more than one novelette, or more than three short stories, in any medium.
But, it’s a review of what Contest judges and past winners turned-to-Contest-judge say about the Contest that makes it clear why it is now the top writing contest in the world.
Multiple New York Times bestselling author Kevin J. Anderson, a Contest judge since 1996, notes that perhaps L. Ron Hubbard’s greatest legacy is that with this Contest he has created another generation of writers.
Bestselling YA author Rebecca Moesta, a Contest judge since 2007, discusses how the Contest provides for the future of Science Fiction and Fantasy.
Writers of the Future winner from the first year and Contest judge since 2000, Nina Kiriki Hoffman talks about the importance of paying it forward.
For Contest judge Dr. Doug Beason, the Contest provides a sense of family and a sense of togetherness, everybody there to help each other out.
Multiple World Fantasy Award Winner, Tim Powers explains how the Contest takes promising writers and provides a future.
New York Times bestselling author Dr. Jerry Pournelle was originally mentored by Robert A. Heinlein and became a Contest judge in 1986 to follow in Mr. Heinlein’s footsteps of paying it forward.
For 34 years, the Writers of the Future Contest has established itself as the top merit competition for speculative fiction. Hear it from the winners themselves what it means to win the Contest.
Participant in the first workshop in Taos, NM in 1986 and now Contest Judge, Kristine Kathryn Rusch was interviewed by SciFi Magazine about the Writers of the Future Contest.
“To my knowledge, it’s the longest-running contest currently going on in science fiction,” says Rusch, when asked why Writers of the Future is such an influential force in the sci-fi world. “It’s anonymous—which is important—and it only deals with new writers, which levels the playing field a bit. It’s also had tremendous success. The writers chosen have for the most part gone on to have great careers. I think that comes from having professional writers as judges and not academics. Writers know what makes good fiction.”
The only thing the judges will see is the story itself with a number assigned to it. They have no inkling of age, sex, nationality or ethnic of the contestant. So it is only by the merit of the story alone that will determine a finalist or winner. Contest Robert J. Sawyer explains how this is:
From its inception, the judging panel of professional writers have been some of the most celebrated names in the science fiction and fantasy field. The judges for the first Writers of the Future volume in 1986, included Gregory Benford, Algis Budrys, C.L. Moore, Robert Silverberg, Theodore Sturgeon, Jack Williamson and Roger Zelazny. The panel of judges has continued to grow with many of today’s masters of science fiction and fantasy who were themselves winners in the formative years of the Contest.
Judges at the 1996 Writers of the Future Awards ceremony at Johnson Space Center in Houston, Texas.
(Left to Right): Doug Beason, Kevin J. Anderson, Jerry Pournelle, Larry Niven, Algis Budrys, Jack Williamson, Frederik Pohl, Tim Powers, Gregory Benford and David Farland.
For a full list of Contest judges past and present, go to the Writer Judges section.
Here are Contest judges David Farland and Robert J. Sawyer discussing how the judging process works.
The Search for Tomorrow’s Legends
Click here to enter the Contest.
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Galaxy Press is very proud to announce its release of L. Ron Hubbard Presents Writers of the Future Volume 32!
With its introduction of 13 new winning writers and 12 artists we are continuing in the long established tradition as noted by Publishers Weekly in a starred review for the series, “Always a glimpse of tomorrow’s stars.”
The newly published writers include: Stewart C Baker of Dallas, OR; Matt Dovey of Lincolnshire, UK; Julie Frost of West Jordan, UT; HL Fullerton of New York; R.M. Graves of London, England; Sylvia Anna Hivén of Lawrenceville, GA; Rachael K. Jones of Athens, GA; Ryan Row of Berkeley, CA; Jon Lasser of Seattle, WA; Stephen Merlino of Seattle, WA; Christoph Weber of Reno, NV, J.W. Alden of Hypoluxo, FL and K.D. Julicher of Fernley, NV.
The newly published artists include: Christina Alberici of Sewell, NJ; Camber Arnhart of Albuquerque, New Mexico; Brandon Knight of Shawbirch, Telford, UK; Talia Spencer of Los Angeles, CA; Adrian Massaro of Neuquen, Argentina; Killian McKeown of Phoenix, AZ; Vlada Monakhova of Edmonton, Alberta, Canada; Paul Otteni of Kirkland, WA; Jonas Spokas of Kaunas, Lithuania; Preston Stone of Loveland, CO; Maricela Ugarte Peña of Monterrey, Mexico and Dino Hadziavdic of Bosnia and Herzegovina.
In addition to the winning stories is a story from Contest creator L. Ron Hubbard entitled “The Last Admiral,” written under the pen name Rene Lafayette as the 8th story in his Conquest of Space series.
Contest Judge and anthology editor David Farland has his Steampunk tale, “Hellfire on the High Frontier.”
And Contest judge Sean Williams was very happy to be able to once again have one of his stories published in a Writers of the Future volume and so we are very proud to present “The Jade Woman of the Luminous Star.”
In a special article entitled “Where Steampunk Started,” Contest Judge and World Fantasy Award winning author Tim Powers tells the story of how the subgenre, based on Victorian fantasies, got its name. It was a letter from K.W. Jeter to Locus in 1987 where he stated, “Personally, I think Victorian fantasies are going to be the next big thing, as long as we can come up with a fitting collective for Powers, Blaylock and myself. Something based on the appropriate technology of that era; like ‘steampunks,’ perhaps….”
And our most recent Writers of the Future judge, New York Times bestselling author Brandon Sanderson, enters in with his article “The Fine Distinction Between Cooks and Chefs” as he provides what he feels is the best writing advice he has to offer.
“The authors offering advice seemed to be saying, ‘You poor thing. You have no idea what you’re in for.’
“Trouble is, neither did they.”
And with his amusing article “How to Drive a Writer Crazy,” L. Ron Hubbard comments on the business of writing in reference to dealing with fickle editors.
“1. When he [writer] starts to outline a story, immediately give him several stories just like it to read and tell him three other plots. This makes his own story and his feeling for it vanish in a cloud of disrelated facts.”
Every year the Writers of the Future workshop expands its horizons. It brings in NYT bestselling authors from around the world, hands out wonderful prizes, spends a full week training that year’s crop of up-and-comers, and then twirls them out onto the red carpet to celebrate their success. That can be a lot for a group of new writers to take in, but this year’s winners are wading into the fray with aplomb.
The first of the winners I had the pleasure of meeting were Stephen Merlino and Jon Lasser. They stood on the pick-up curb at LAX, smiling despite the wind and the Los Angeles heat, as the car sent from Author Services swooped in to pick them up. Once settled in for the ride, they fell into chatter like old friends, though they’d only just met a few moments before. Their energy and good humor carried them into the lobby of the Loews Hotel where the other winners awaited. Despite all meeting in person for the first time, the group gelled instantly and high-fives were shared.
After quick introductions and a break for dinner, the writers were ushered upstairs to formally meet their workshop week instructors, David Farland and Tim Powers. Workshop materials were handed out, and the schedule explained, but most of the time was spent answering questions and cracking jokes.
Though the week ahead may be daunting in its intensity, I have a feeling this year’s winners are going to tackle it with gusto and come out the other end with fresh knowledge and fresh friendships.
Happy holidays from your friends at Writers and Illustrators of the Future!
This is our wish that your dreams as a writer or artist will be realized which has been the goal of these Contests since their inception as written by L. Ron Hubbard when initiating the contest,
“A culture is as rich and as capable of surviving as it has imaginative artists. The artist is looked upon to start things. The artist injects the spirit of life into a culture. And through his creative endeavors, the writer works continually to give tomorrow a new form.” – L. Ron Hubbbard, Introduction, Writers of the Future Volume 1