Writers of the Future Contest Tips

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.

Contest Background

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.

Competitive Analysis

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:

Source: ©2011 Reflections of a Rational Republican

Chart Sources

3Q11 Winners
3Q11 Results
2Q11 Winners
2Q11 Results
1Q11 Winners
1Q11 Finalists/Semifinalists
1Q11 Silver Honorable and Honorable Mentions
4Q10 Finalists/Semifinalists
4Q10 Silver Honorable and Honorable Mentions
3Q10 Finalists/Semifinalists
3Q10 Silver Honorable and Honorable Mentions
3Q10 Honorable Mentions First List
2Q10 Finalists/Semifinalists
2Q10 Silver Honorable and Honorable Mentions
2Q10 Honorable Mentions Second List
2Q10 Honorable Mentions First List
1Q10 Finalists/Semifinalists
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.

About Sean Patrick Hazlett

Finance executive, engineer, former military officer, and science fiction and horror writer. Editor of the Weird World War III anthology.
This entry was posted in Science Fiction, Technology, Writing and tagged , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

24 Responses to Writers of the Future Contest Tips

  1. Jordan Lapp says:

    Hi Sean!

    This is a great page, and I wish you luck in entering the contest. A few minor corrections….aren’t there usually 10 Finalists every quarter? Also, I thought there was only 1 Silver Honourable Mention…

  2. Jordan Lapp says:

    Sean, Your methodology about finalists makes sense. Perhaps you could call them “non-winning finalists”? Also, there are “Published Finalists” like John Arkwright last year that are printed in the antho, and who the contest treats a little differently from regular finalists.

    Also, Wow, I didn’t know there were a bunch of Silver Honorable Mentions, and I run the magazine (under my pen name, Jordan Ellinger) http://www.writersofthefuture.com/writingcontestnews/

    • “Perhaps you could call them “non-winning finalists”?”

      That’s actually a fantastic idea. I’m late for a breakfast right now, but I will change the chart to include “non-Winning Finalist” as the description. It’s a much more accurate way to present it.

      Can you point me to a source that has all the published finalists in one place? For some reason, I can’t find an easy source on the web (other than buying all the anthologies and painstakingly teasing out the published finalists.). Anyway, thanks for stopping by! 😉

      • Jordan Lapp says:


        http://www.writersofthefuture.com/awards-and-events/2008 It’s separated by year, but notice that Dr. Phil shows up at the bottom of the page as a published finalist.

        • Jordan,

          I just posted the changes. I greatly appreciate the feedback.

          I hope I do well in the contest, but I expect it to take me multiple submissions before I even earn an Honorable Mention. I’ve written plenty of non-fiction, but I haven’t written very much fiction. My entry was literally the second science fiction short story I’ve written (if you don’t count my spurt of creativity in the 5th grade). My first story didn’t make my personal cut. It just seemed too derivative.

          Anyway, I have the short story you wrote in one of the four anthologies I recently purchased. I am looking forward to reading it, and learning from it. 😉

    • Jordan,

      I just read your story on the WOTF link you provided. Wow.

      To have the post office lose your winning story like that. It’s funny how life works, isn’t it?

      • Sean,

        Yeah. Mysterious ways, that’s for sure. Good luck in the contest. It took me 7 times before I won, and I think the record is something like 23. Be persistent and work on your craft and you’ll either win or pro-out eventually.

        Also, I hope you enjoy the story!

        • “Good luck in the contest. It took me 7 times before I won, and I think the record is something like 23.”

          I’ll probably break the record for 23 times. 😉

          “Also, I hope you enjoy the story!”

          I’m looking forward to reading it!

  3. I see Jordan’s already been here before me. I can only add that persistence wins, above all else. Someone people snag a win right out of the box. Others? It took Brennan Harvey years — across multiple HMs, Semis, Finalists, etc. — before he finally got the W. Me? Like you, once I determined for myself that entering would be a worthwhile exercise with worthwhile, observable objectives and tangible rewards, it became a no-brainer. I got a story in, every quarter, barring (I think?) the one quarter during which I was moving from Washington State to Utah, with family in tow. I was fortunate to hit at or near the bullseye on every attempt (6 total) and I was double fortunate that the Finalist story which did not win — I was heartbroken — ultimately went on to make a home for itself with a major genre publication, has since been re-printed multiple times, has earned me far more than my Contest winner, etc. Basically, I “won” twice. And I’ve been having a blast.

  4. orwell27 says:

    This is fascinating. I’m Doug Texter. I won second in my quarter back in 2006/2007/ for Primetime. I had no idea what the stats were. This is great work.

  5. Marie France says:

    Does anyone know what the rejection rate is? That is, people who are disqualified or rejected (for whatever reasons) from the actual contest?

  6. Pingback: Writers of the Future Contest Update | Reflections of a Rational Republican

  7. Pingback: Writers of the Future Contest 1Q29 Results | Reflections of a Rational Republican

  8. Pingback: Writers of the Future Contest 1Q29 and 2Q29 Update | Reflections of a Rational Republican

  9. disperser says:

    Interesting . . . I submitted before reading this and all the other advice pieces.

    Mainly submitted to get me in the habit of getting stuff submitted (start once a quarter with WotF, and proceed to once a month with other venues), but also because it’s so dang difficult to get feedback on stuff. I figure a couple of thousand rejections will eventually have me convinced I suck . . . of course, just one acceptance would convince me I’m as good as sliced bread.

    What’s your opinion with regards to “writing to win” as opposed to the marginally different “write what you want and hope you win”?

    I’ve read the advice as to what judges want to see, but that seems a bit counterintuitive once it gets away from the mechanics of writing. If we are to be writers of the future, should we cater to writers of the past? Shouldn’t we instead drag them into the future with us?

    No, I don’t have specifics . . . just spouting stuff off the top of my head.

    • Thanks for stopping by, disperser!

      “What’s your opinion with regards to “writing to win” as opposed to the marginally different ‘write what you want and hope you win’?”

      My initial submission to WOTF was just to see if I could sell fiction. It was the second short story I’d ever written and the first one I’d submitted, and I was using WOTF as an external vetting mechanism. This submission won an Honorable Mention, which encouraged me to write more. Then I started reading all the anthologies to see what they were looking for to win. Now, I just write a short story which I think is salable and then submit it, if it is available in time for the contest (i.e., I just write what I like and then submit it).

      In my opinion, the contest tends to select for longer fiction (i.e., novelettes and novellas), which are very hard to sell to pro markets. So, if you write to win it, you could end up writing a ton of fiction you won’t be able to sell elsewhere. Now, as a rule, I try to write short stories under 5,000 words because they’re easier to sell.

      • disperser says:

        Interesting. I tend to write shorter stuff as well, but have been trying my hand at longer fare. I just write for my few readers, and I am a guest writer in another blog, but I finally decided I might as well try to sell stuff.

        I’ll keep your comments in mind.

        Also . . . I noticed you followed my blog. I want to make sure you’re not following my blog just because I followed yours. I didn’t and don’t expect a follow in return, and in fact I would prefer not to get yet another follower in name only (the vast majority of followers). Then again, if you are one of the rare actual readers, hope you find it interesting.

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