I apologize to many of the folks who follow this blog for it being a relatively quiet week. I had a good reason. I was polishing up my short story submission for the Writers of the Future Contest, which I submitted today.
I tend to be data-driven, systematic, and analytical in how I approach any endeavor. I attack problems in this manner so I can maximize my probability of success. I also usually balance the risk of a particular challenge versus its potential reward. From this perspective, this contest seems to have one of the most attractive risk reward profiles for an aspiring science fiction writer.
Science fiction author L. Ron Hubbard established the contest in 1983 to “discover, and eventually” publish, “deserving amateur and aspiring writers.” Each quarter, the contest rewards three prizes of $1,000, $750, and $500 to the top three submissions. The contest also rewards a final $5,000 prize to the best story out of the twelve quarterly winners. The contest publishes the twelve winning submissions in an annual anthology.
Contest winners “have gone on to publish over 700 novels and 3,000 short stories, and have appeared on international bestseller lists.” Some of the winners include two of my favorite science fiction and fantasy authors, Jeff Carlson and Patrick Rothfuss.
Contest Has Attractive Risk-Reward Profile for Aspiring Writers
All a writer must do is spend a little time crafting a good short story and submit it to the contest as there is no entry fee. The worst case is a rejection. The best case is instant exposure and celebrity that can greatly accelerate one’s writing career. The chance to win up to $6,000 for a single short story is also an added bonus.
Since I have an interest in science fiction, but have little idea if I have a talent for writing stories in that genre, I decided to enter the contest to test my skills. Whatever the outcome, I believe the effort is worth my time.
Before entering any contest, it is important to assess the quality of one’s competition. The obvious way to do this is by reading previous Writers of the Future anthologies. The submissions are extremely good, but I also learned a lot about what the judges are looking for by reading them.
Additionally, I read several blog posts by previous winners with advice on maximizing one’s chances to win the contest. Contest winner Brad Torgersen provides some excellent advice on how to win in this post. Since Brad has won 4 Honorable Mentions, 1 Finalist Award, and was the Third Prize Winner, if anyone’s cracked the contest’s code, it’s him. Jordan Lapp also has an excellent page on WOTF resources here.
While the contest has not released the number of entrants each quarter, it was possible for me to estimate a range. According to the contest FAQ, the contest awards Honorable Mentions to the top 10-15% of overall submissions. Based on contest data I compiled for the last six quarters (see below), I estimate that there have been between 653 and 1,210 submissions per quarter.
As such, if you enter the contest with a well-written, unique story, you have a legitimate shot at winning. Heck, it’s why I entered the contest.
Putting a Stake in the Ground
The primary reason I am blogging about my recent entry into the contest is to set my goal publicly, so if I don’t succeed the first time around, I will be more motivated to re-enter it in the future.
So now I throw down the gauntlet. I will enter the contest every quarter until I reach my goal. Furthermore, I will publish my results on this site using the chart below:
1Q11 Silver Honorable and Honorable Mentions
4Q10 Silver Honorable and Honorable Mentions
3Q10 Silver Honorable and Honorable Mentions
3Q10 Honorable Mentions First List
2Q10 Silver Honorable and Honorable Mentions
2Q10 Honorable Mentions Second List
2Q10 Honorable Mentions First List
1Q10 Honorable Mentions
Note: All Winners are also Finalists. However, the chart in this post only includes Finalists who were not winners to avoid the problem of double-counting total awards.
Update: In 3Q10, the contest released two separate lists of Honorable Mentions, one of which I initially missed, and failed to include in my calculations. In 2Q10, the contest release three Honorable Mention lists, only one of which was on the contest’s revamped blog. Additionally, my story is a 1Q12, not a 4Q11, entry. I adjusted these three items to account for this oversight.