How to Pass the Slush Pile: Writers of the Future Contest
With Kary English
* Updated 9/26/2022. (Included interview with Jody Lynn Nye, where she discusses what she is looking for in stories for the Contest.)
How do you pass the slush pile of one of the most known and respected vehicles for supporting new writers called L. Ron Hubbard's Writers of the Future Contest? The answer is simple, study this article and its resources, then put your story in front of the discerning eyes of First Reader Kary English. Make sure to read and follow the Contest’s submission guidelines carefully before entering.
"There are three ways to get out of the Contest: pro-out, win, or quit. Keep submitting, and don't quit."
Who is Kary English?
Kary English has been the First Reader for the Writers of the Future Contest (WotF) since Aug. 2, 2018. Her story, Poseidon's Eyes, won first place in quarter two in 2014 and was published in L. Ron Hubbard presents Writers of the Future Anthology Volume 31. She is also a moderator for the WotF Forum.
Kary's fiction has appeared in Galaxy's Edge, Grantville Gazette's Universe Annex, Undercurrents, Daily Science Fiction, Far Fetched Fables, TorNightfire, and the Hugo-winning podcast StarShipSofa. Her stories have been nominated for the Hugo, Astounding, and Campbell awards and long-listed for the Bram Stoker Award. She has been a finalist in the Screencraft Cinematic Short Story Competition for the last two years.
Find Kary at:
Amazon | Poseidon's Eyes | Website | Facebook | Twitter | WotF Forum Profile
Do's, Don'ts, and WTF
First up is a review of the WotF podcast titled 155. Kary English Do's, Dont's, and WTF on submitting to Writers of the Future, which aims to cut down on Contest rejections. Also listed are some types of stories they want to see and ones they don't. Click here to listen to the original version.
1. Read the submission guidelines and follow them.
Stories need to be formatted in certain ways, e.g., in Standard Manuscript Format (see Shunn's Proper Manuscript Format). The further a manuscript deviates from Standard Manuscript Format, the more likely it is to be rejected without being read at all.
There are types of stories they don't accept. (They are a speculative fiction contest, including, but not limited to, science fiction, fantasy, horror, superhero fiction, alternate history, utopian and dystopian fiction, and supernatural fiction.)
2. You will do your best if you read stories from the most recent volumes, e.g., Vol 29 and above, before submitting.
It will help you to learn the tastes of Kary English and Jody Lynn Nye.
Jody Lynn Nye, Coordinating Judge for the Writer Contest, is the person who selects finalists even though Kary English is the first reader.
Pick and choose the stories that interest you the most; they will give you an idea of what they are looking for.
Reading the anthology will give you a better feel for what is acceptable and let you better target the market.
3. A first reader typically only reads the first 2-4 pages before deciding whether to pass it up or reject it.
Kary wants to see the following:
An interesting character
An interesting setting
An interesting problem
Is it clear it is a speculative fiction story?
The faster you do it, the better. Some people can do it in one page, but you have 2-4 pages to get it all in (interesting character, setting, problem, and it's clearly a speculative fiction story).
4. Stories need to stay in a PG-13 rating if they were a movie, e.g., for libraries, middle-schoolers, and up.
["We won't print explicit sex. Fade to black is fine. Some sensuality is fine, but no sex on the page." (https://www.writersofthefuture.com/forum/postid/47091/)].
5. Stick the landing (the ending).
Beyond a good opening, you need a good ending that suits the story, e.g., a rousing conclusion after a low point.
The ending doesn't need to be predictable (Dave Farland, the former contest judge, actually preferred that they are not), but it does need to be a clear ending that ties off all the story elements in a conclusive way.
They prefer upbeat endings, you don't have to, but they prefer them.
6. Utilize hooks in the opening line.
These are little clues that tell the reader what your story will be about, which creates curiosity in the reader.
7. Start your story close to the inciting incident.
8. Send something original.
["Don't be afraid to experiment. The unusual stories stand out. Yes, you need to stay within the content guidelines, and it's important to get the spec (speculative element) in upfront, etc., but you've still got lots of room to innovate." (https://www.writersofthefuture.com/forum/postid/42854/)].
If an ending involves self-sacrifice that saves the lives of other people, heroic sacrifice, that's okay; but those that end in suicide — depressing, fatalistic suicides — are not. No suicide stories.
Suppose your story features very recent events, such as political elections. In that case, it will probably not do well in the Contest.
Don't feature the names of real-world political figures simply because they don't publish political fiction.
["Obvious satire of current political figures will be rejected, so no characters named Orack Pajama or Tronald Bump. For less obvious satire, the answer is that it depends. We're looking for immersive stories that draw us into another world. When that world is this world, sometimes the story loses some of its speculative feel. We're also leery of stories that depict real-world groups or skin colors as All Bad, especially when contrasted against an opposing group or skin color who are All Good. To be really clear, I'm not saying "No satire" or "No politics," but as with profanity and explicit sex, it's going to be a matter of degree and how it's handled." (https://www.writersofthefuture.com/forum/postid/44077/)].
If it features recent events such as a volcano eruption, spaceship launches, or who went on that spaceship, whether it was a TV star or a billionaire, they're going to have lots of those stories, and it takes away from the originality of the story; anything that so tightly connects to real-world events, essentially, e.g., coronavirus stories that are not very original. You can absolutely take inspiration from current events, but brainstorm until they are not so tightly tied to the current events, so that first reader Kary English might not even realize. She wants to at least be surprised if she was to learn the story is tied to a specific event.
Roughly 10% of submissions still have the author's names on them, which is an instant disqualification.
["Regarding DQ's Disqualifications. The most common reason by far is leaving your name on the manuscript. The second most common is submitting something we don't accept - screenplays, novels, poetry, essays, non-speculative stories, graphic novels, Amtrak tickets, pharmacy invoices, etc." (https://www.writersofthefuture.com/forum/postid/46688/)].
It's a short fiction contest; don't submit novels, or sets of novels, no poetry, no excerpts that are not a complete story unto themselves, e.g., that do not contain a complete arc.
The upper word limit is seventeen-thousand words.
It's a speculative fiction contest; no literary fiction, fan fiction, copyrighted characters and worlds, essays, articles, poetry, romances, etc.
Cannot accept already published works; unpublished work only.
There are limitations on profanity. "F-bombs" and "S-bombs" may not cause a story to be rejected, but they will be asked to be taken out, so you might as well not use them. Overall, excessive profanity will lower your odds, so be selective and careful with language.
["John Goodwin, head of Galaxy Press, has said that he will not print the F-bomb, full stop. We won't reject you for using it, especially if the use is sparing and judicious. That said, we've had a problem before where a winner refused to remove the F-bomb during editing, so now you flat-out can't win if you insist on having the F-word in your story. When we look at an amazing story with F-bombs in it, we ask ourselves what we'd do if the author refuses to take them out...and then we look at the pile of 20-odd equally amazing stories that *don't* have F-bombs in them," (https://www.writersofthefuture.com/forum/postid/47091/)].
They only accept speculative horror, e.g., not serial killer horror missing speculative elements.
Don't include artwork. It's almost always an automatic rejection.
Don't submit anything like a manifesto, a public declaration of policy and aims, especially when issued at a political party or candidate. They are not stories.
["Why might someone get DQ'ed at the finalist level? Sometimes it's because they submitted and sold the story elsewhere while waiting for results. Sometimes it's because they didn't understand the eligibility rules and weren't actually eligible to enter. More rarely, someone doesn't realize that WotF involves a workshop and gala, and they decide they don't want to come" (https://www.writersofthefuture.com/forum/postid/45494/)].
No graphics, school homework, transcripts, ecology word searches, or versions of War and Peace.
A good writer can pull off risky openings, but what they are risking is rejection. Openings that don't work:
"Waking up." Stories that open with waking up will not only get you poor results in the Contest but also in any magazines you might submit to.
"The Star Trek opening." Opening the story on a ship's bridge.
"The wandering or meandering opening." It starts with a character just thinking, usually about exposition or background elements, and nothing else is happening, especially for more than a couple pages. It's an info dump and usually includes the line, "It reminded me of…."
"Driving to the story." These are stories that start with a family that is packing for the beach, and they start driving, and it's twenty minutes to the beach, and now you are eight pages into the story with no speculative element in sight.
In general, stories written in the third-person perspective are more common. First and second-person are rare and harder for newer writers to utilize well, so there is a higher risk of rejection.
Active vs. Passive Voice
In general, an active voice is preferred. An occasional passive-voice sentence is fine. If most of the story is in passive voice, and there is no compelling reason for it, it will probably not work for the Contest.
In terms of Kary's personally preferred length, she has none. However, most winning stories are between 4,000 and 6,000 words; that's the sweet spot. In recent contest history, the shortest winning story that Kary is aware of was 2,500 words in length by Scott Parkin. Mara's Shadow, Darci Stone's grand prize-winning story, took it to the word limit of 17,000 words.
When you write a very long story, more than ten thousand words, simply because of the length, you have more chances to screw something up, and you have more opportunities to let the pacing slip and lose the reader's interest.
Kary personally thinks it is more difficult to write a long story that holds the reader all the way through. Even a little bit of a slow patch somewhere in the story can affect a story's ranking, demoting a piece to a silver or honorable mention. It means you must demonstrate complete control of your work for double or triple the length of someone who submits a 5,000-word story. If you write a longer story, you must keep the action up and maintain the reader's interest.
How do you limit the length of a story? by Kary English
Click here to view the original version.
Here's what works for me. Limit the following:
How many characters you have
My shortest stories have one or two characters, max. If you're looking to seriously cut a piece, see if you can remove a character.
How many sub-plots you have
My shortest stories have ONE plot line and no sub-plots. If you want to seriously cut a piece, consider removing a sub-plot.
How many setting locations you have.
My shortest stories take place in ONE setting location with no movement to a new location.
Examples from Kary's stories:
Cold, Silent & Dark, 650 words - One character stays in bed the whole time. She *thinks* about a second character, so we could argue it's two. One plot line.
Departure Gate 34B, 850 words - Two characters sitting at an airport gate. One plot line.
Totaled - 4-6 characters (two main characters, a villain, a distracting love interest, two kids who are mostly memories), the main plot, two sub-plots (a romance and a research project), and two setting locations.
Inconstant Heart - Three characters, two setting locations, and one plot line, but it reads like one main plot and two subplots. In this one and Totaled, I deliberately trapped my characters in a single setting the vast majority of the time.
Shattered Vessels - Four characters (two main characters, a best friend, a guide type, *might* be 5 characters if you count a certain inanimate object), two plot lines, three main setting locations with a rapid-fire mention of several others.
When the North Wind Blows - 6 characters (two main characters, two best friends, two babies who are more MacGuffins than characters), five setting locations, three-ish plot lines
Poseidon's Eyes - 7 characters, 5 setting locations, three-ish plot lines, maybe four.
Minder's Bond - 4 characters, 5-6 setting locations, three-ish plot lines.
Flight of the Kikayon - 5 characters, 5 setting locations, 3 plot lines, maybe 4.
What am I counting as a character?
If they speak and impact the plot, I count them. If I mention random patrons having lunch in a cafe, I don't count them.
What am I counting as a setting?
A location requiring description and where significant action happens. A flashback might count as a second setting, depending on the story. A kitchen and bedroom might count as different settings depending on the action, or I might just count the house. There's a little wiggle room here, but generally, fewer characters, fewer plots, and fewer settings help keep a story short.
What am I counting as a plot line?
In The Minde's Bond, there's a relationship, a journey and an assassination attempt. I'll call it three. In Kikayon, there are two relationships, a get-off-the-island plot and a trip in a balloon, so maybe that's 5?
Writing and Finishing by Kary English
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As a very early writer, revising something I'd already written was way less scary than writing something new, so I spent a fair amount of time revising. I never sold any of that stuff. Got a few personals, but nothing sold.
Today, once a story is done enough to submit somewhere, I don't revise it except a) to editorial demand or b) if there's been a significant epiphany while the story was out.
I revised Totaled after it came back from WotF with an Honorable Mention, and the revision took it from HM to Hugo-nominee. The 'significant epiphany' was how to handle the cognitive/linguistic breakdown, and I added about a thousand words.
A different story of mine is making its way through a contest right now, and that Contest lets you pay for feedback each round. I considered that story done, but the feedback, to the extent that I agreed with it, was editorial demand. In addition, a friend gave me some insightful comments on the opening, so I made those revisions, too. We'll see how it does.
That's two stories out of 10 or so. Most of the time, for me, once a story is done, it's done.
I'm not sure the other rules are arguable. Hard to argue with WRITE, FINISH what you write, and PUT IT OUT THERE until someone BUYS it.
How are HM / SHM / Semi-Finalists weeded out of the finalist pile? by Kary English
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For Honorable Mentions - occasionally. Sometimes the opening is great, and the story gets chunked into the 'Evaluate for finalist' pile, but when we go back into it, the pacing lags a bit in the middle, or the writer doesn't stick the ending, or the story doesn't quite live up to its promise in some other way. It's still a good story, mind you, just not one of the top 8.
For Silver Honorable Mentions / Semi-Finalists - frequently, but not always. Sometimes we know a silver is just shy of the finalist mark when we read it, so the story gets silver without ever being considered for more. Sometimes a semi has a fixable flaw that would make it great, so it goes to a semi without being considered for finalist.
Example: I remember a fantasy story with two POVs, one from a regular human and one from a minor deity. The regular human POV was spot on, really well done, perfect, really. The minor deity's POV was stilted. It would have made finalist if all of it had been at the level of the human POV. Instead, it got semi so we could tell the author that the deity POV wasn't working as well as it could.
Sometimes silvers are particularly well-done executions of common tropes (e.g., werewolves, vampires, 'chosen one' fantasies, etc.) that just aren't original enough to get past silver.
Judges Preferences by Kary English
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It might be helpful to distinguish between what a judge - or anyone - likes best as an individual and what, in an objective sense, the same person might recognize as a superior effort in a professional situation.
Yes, writer judges have individual preferences, but judging is different. A judge is expected to be conversant with a wide variety of genres, structures, POVs, etc., and then to be able to recognize outstanding versions of each. That's literally their job.
This Contest isn't just about judges picking their favorite stories; it's about judges choosing the best stories. Best and favorite are different. Favorite is a personal preference. Best is an evaluation of several different technical and emotional factors. It is entirely possible to have a favorite story because it hits your personal buttons, and at the same time, believe that a different story is objectively better in an evaluative sense because it has better use of language, an innovative structure, a brilliant premise, etc.
So yes, some judges have preferences, and writing to those preferences is a legitimate way to approach the Contest. But I also have to argue for writing the story you want to write in the way that story needs to be written.
Incidentally, here's what Dave says about how to choose the stories you want to win with. Think about what you want to be known for. If you want to make a career writing fast-paced mil SF, that's what you enter with because that's what you want to win with. If you want to write beautiful but deliberately uncomfortable fantasies with a literary feel, then that's what you submit because that's what you want to win with.
If you win with apocalyptic SF, but you want to write epic fantasy, you may have a hard time making the transition because people will expect apocalyptic SF when they see your name. This kind of thing is why Dave changed his author name from Wolverton (who wrote SF) to Farland, who writes fantasy. Dave won with SF, and after he won, everybody wanted SF from him, and editors didn't pay much attention when he tried to pitch fantasy.
So Dave says that if you can, you should try to win with the exact kind of thing you want to write for the rest of your career. Winning is hard. It takes lots of practice, effort, and heartache. If you write the stuff you want to write for the rest of your life, then all of that practice, effort, and heartache serves your ultimate career goal.
Here's a quote from James Artimus Owen, one of the instructors at Superstars Writing Seminar: "Never sacrifice what you want most, for what you want most right now." Maybe what you want right now is to win the Contest. Awesome goal. I hope every single one of you achieves it. If you think winning the Contest means writing a certain way, that's completely valid.
But I also encourage you to take a larger view of things. Winning the Contest is only the beginning. You have a whole career ahead of you, so when planning your next several entries, think about what you want most for yourself as a writer. It might lead you to different stories or a different way of writing them.
Re: Editors by Kary English
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Assuming their credentials and references are good, I wouldn't hesitate to use an editor who hasn't won the Contest. Moshe Feder, frex, hasn't won, and he's a fine editor. Ditto for Mike Resnick (of blessed memory), Shelia Williams, and a host of others.
The editor should understand short stories, so maybe don't go with someone who only edits novels.
WOTF is a market. It has preferences like any other market, and it's the writer's job to learn what those are. The best way to learn those preferences is to read stories from the most recent volumes, especially ones (V 31 and newer) where David Farland is the coordinating judge.
Back in my day, I ran a tally on each volume - POV, length, genre / sub-genre, mood, MC gender, etc.
Three Kinds of Endings by Kary English
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I learned this bit about endings from David Farland.
In the happy ending, the main character gets everything or almost everything they want, and things, in general, are better than when the story started. It's a very satisfying ending. Romances end this way.
In the sad ending, the MC fails, gets nothing they want, and things generally are worse than when the story started. The difference between a romance, for example, and a love story is that a romance has a happy ending, but a love story doesn't.
Both of those are valid endings. Both of those work, and I'm sure you can think of plenty of examples of each. But Dave says that the ending readers find the most satisfying is the complex ending, which is where the MC gets some of what they want, but only at a great personal cost.
So how do you do it?
Here's how I do it. I list everything my main character wants at the beginning of the story. I look at which things are big vs. small and which things are personal or internal vs. public or external. Saving the world is big and external. Saving a box of salt as it falls from a cliff is small and personal. Saving the Shire for everyone? Big and external. Saving the Shire because of your own personal love for it? Big and internal.
That big, internal thing? My character's probably not getting that. That's the knife I'll twist to put the bitter in my bittersweet ending.
You can also pull this off by using a symbol. In Top Gun, Maverick starts out wanting to be the hottest flyboy in town. He takes risk after risk until he gets it, but the cost is the life of his wingman, Goose. The scene that gets people isn't the botched ejection scene. The scene that gets people is when Maverick finally lets go of his grief and guilt, symbolized by releasing Goose's dog tags into the ocean. The complex ending for Top Gun is about more than the loss of Goose's life. It's about Maverick realizing that his desire for glory was hollow.
So have a look at your endings. Think about what your characters want, why they want it, and whether you will give it to them. Think about whether what they want changes during your story. When you're looking for costs, hit the character where it hurts. Give them a victory, but take something big and important.
Happy endings work. Sad endings work. Complex endings often pack the most punch.
WotF Coordinating Judge
Dave Wolverton (AKA David Farland) was the longtime Editor and Coordinating Judge for the Writers of the Future Contest before he passed on Jan. 14, 2022, and was replaced by Jody Lynn Nye. He also acted as First Reader before Kary English. The new editor is Dean Wesley Smith. Although it remains to be seen if what was true for Dave holds up with Jody, the following articles are good advice.
10 Points to Avoid by David Farland
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Ten reasons why Dave rejects stories quickly—usually within the first page
The story is unintelligible. Very often, I'll get submissions that just don't make sense. Often, these seem to be non-English speakers who are way off in both the meaning of words, their context, or their syntax, but more often, it's just clumsiness. The author had made too many other errors where the "almost correct" word was used.
The story is unbelievable.
The author leaves no noun or verb unmodified. You put two of those sentences together on the first page, and it really bogs a story down. People who do this on the first page of a manuscript will do it throughout. Very often, these modifications turn into "purple prose."
If nothing significant occurs in two pages, and I don't have any reason to go further, I have to reject the story.
A major element is left out. An "element" of your story includes your character, setting, conflict, theme, and treatment. Very often, I think that new authors neglect to put in elements like a setting just because they're unsure how to weave that information in. But that kind of information needs to be there. Here's a hint—if you don't tell me your protagonist's name in the first two paragraphs, I'll probably reject the story. Why? Because long experience has taught me that if you make that mistake, you'll probably leave out other vital information, too.
The author is unable to "imply" information. Here's a tip: since we typically have to reach out to shake someone's hand, the words "reached out" are already implied and probably unnecessary. In the same way, when we stand, we don't need to add the word "up." If we sit, we don't need to add the word "down." If someone "nods," we don't have to add the words "his head." No one ever nods his knee. Authors who are unaware of how to imply information will almost always overwrite their stories, adding entire scenes that don't need to be there. Either that or they'll leave out a great deal of vital description. Rarely will they do both.
There simply isn't a story. You would be surprised at how many pieces come in that are philosophical diatribes, letters, or reminiscences. Those are rejected instantly.
Oily tales, e.g., bloody, violent, disgusting, or perverse as possible. One must remember that if you're submitting to a major contest, the winning stories will be published. Any story that you submit that is not fit to be read by a high school student is, in my opinion, fatally flawed and will be rejected. Profanity may be edited out, but if vile content is what the story is about, then you need to be submitting to someone else.
Non-formed stories. A lot of people are submitting flash fiction, a few paragraphs that might be interesting but which usually don't have much to offer. I can imagine a rare circumstance where a flash fiction piece might win, but when placed beside a long, formed story, flash pieces almost always suffer by comparison because the conflicts in the piece never get properly developed and resolved. The same is true with japes (stories that start as stories and end as jokes).
The tale is out of chronological order on the micro-level. Some authors love this construction: "John raced out the door, after brushing his teeth." So I, as the reader, am forced to imagine John rushing out the door, then back up and imagine the tooth-brushing scene. If I see two of these in a short story, I'll forgive them. But if I get two on the first page of a story, I'll show no mercy. The reason is simple: the author almost always makes a lot of other errors, too, which will show up as unneeded flashbacks and as unnecessary point-of-view shifts.
Why You Only Got an Honorable Mention by Dave Farland
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There are four simple reasons why a story may not rise above Honorable Mention.
The idea for the story isn't particularly fresh or interesting.
If the idea is good, then it may be that your execution is off. Persistent little bugs will put you in the Honorable Mention category, e.g., too many weak verbs, word repetitions, and character accents that are inaccurate.
Plotting problems. Very often, I'll have a story whose concept is good, and the writing is beautiful, but the plot just doesn't work. Usually, it has a good opening (that's why I got hooked), but perhaps the middle of the story is weak, or the ending doesn't quite pan out. When plotting your story, make certain that its plot is logical, that it builds with each try-fail cycle, and that you have a powerful ending that leaves the reader thinking and emotionally moved.
Missing elements. This is the most frequent problem and the hardest to solve. For instance, when I finish a story, I want it to have some universality. I want to understand why this story is important for others to read. In other words, "Does this story have a message?" Sometimes, the answer is no, and that usually means that it won't hold up well in a competition. Those missing elements can be a lot of things. Sometimes I'll have a story where only one character is involved. There's no interaction. As a judge, I have to wonder why. Why didn't the author put in a sidekick, someone to talk to, in order to make this more engaging? Usually, the author is blind to his or her own missing element. Some authors, for example, forget to describe what is off in the distance (a line of mountains, a roiling sea). Others forget to describe the middle ground (a golden pyramid with a congregation of Egyptian slaves and merchants bowing to the god king at its peak). So when you read their stories, the protagonist is often bumping into characters that seem to come out of nowhere. In other stories, the author forgets to engage the senses. A lack of smells or touch is the largest problem. Still, other authors have no internal dialog, so you never know what their character is thinking or feeling. Instead, the author writes in a cinematic style that keeps the reader at a distance. Frequently I see stories that just don't have enough conflicts or the conflicts that they do have aren't dealt with as rigorously as they should be. Or maybe your opening doesn't have a hook. Or maybe your descriptions aren't crisp enough, your characters feel a bit flat and stereotypical, or your language isn't fresh or beautiful.
At the end of the day, when a story wins an Honorable Mention in the Contest, it means that you came close. But in the end, there were two or more little problems that go beyond your typical typos.
Your First Five Pages by David Farland
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From the very first sentence, I want to see that you're not just a competent writer, but a skillful one. I want to see that you "have a way with words" so that I feel I'm in the hands of a professional storyteller. That means that I won't feel confused, and I won't get tripped up by typos or beginner's mistakes. Indeed, I want to see that you're talented right from the first sentence. Half of the editors and agents say that they look for a "great voice" right out the gate, whether it be the voice of the narrating character or the author.
I want to know (or at least have some great hints) where and when the story takes place. It helps if the setting is intriguing and beautifully drawn. Of course, when you bring that setting to life, you should appeal to most of the senses quickly—sight, sound, smell, touch, and taste.
I want to know who the protagonist is and see you handling the viewpoint properly. This means that the protagonist moves, has an emotional state, and thinks so that we don't see the tale from a camera's point of view, but from a real person's. More than that, it is often helpful if the character is likable or interesting, or even both.
In the opening five pages, I must see a hint of an intriguing conflict, one that is already building toward a climax. To get that in quickly means that you almost need to start the story in media res. [A narrative work beginning in media's res (Classical Latin: [ɪn mɛdiaːs reːs], lit. "into the middle things") opens in the midst of the action. Often, exposition is bypassed and filled in gradually, either through dialogue, flashbacks, or description of past events.]
In my business as a science fiction and fantasy editor, I want to see some novelty—something that tells me that your work is original and that you're capable of coming up with something new.
I can only hope for so much for the first five pages. All I really want is to be convinced that you're one of the greatest discoveries I've ever made. If you think that an agent or editor wants anything less, you're mistaken. The truth is that every editor and every agent who reads your manuscript is hoping that your tale demands to be published.
11 General Guidelines for Submission by Jarrid Cantway
Contests usually have a specific genre and theme. Pay attention, and don't submit a story that doesn't embody those elements in a significant way.
Always look into an organization's history, previous winners, and social media presence to ensure they are reputable and align with your goals. You'll also garner advice doing so. Note that reputability is frequently associated with how long a competition has been established.
If the contest publishes winners, read past issues. Research to see if your piece fits with what the contest usually publishes. They are clear examples of not only what makes a story a winner but of the judges' preferences. Pay particular attention to the stories that resonate with you.
Research the judges to get a better feel for their preferences. Read their work. Many will publish books, interviews, articles, blogs, and newsletters in which they share advice.
Avoid submitting the same story repeatedly, especially without rewriting and editing each time. Doing so is a legitimate method, and writers have won this way. Still, if you stretch yourself to write a new story for each submission, you'll have a collection of fresh, exciting work and not a single, potentially overwritten, story. You also risk losing your passion or getting trapped in a never-ending editing loop.
To increase your chance of winning, avoid submitting within the last four weeks of a deadline if possible. Four weeks is an arbitrary number, but you don't want to submit last minute if you can avoid doing so. Some argue it's better to submit as soon as a contest opens when the judges have fresh eyes. In my experience, it's best not to get hung up on this; getting a submission in is more important.
Determine what the relevant formatting specifications are and follow them. Guidelines often refer to "standard manuscript format," but no centralized standard source exists. However, Shunn's Proper Manuscript Format or McIntyre's Manuscript Preparation are frequently cited.
Always edit and proofread before submitting.
Double-check official submission guidelines. Make sure the submission meets all requirements. Sometimes they change.
No fan fiction or erotica in any form.
No needless or graphic abuse or torture, especially against animals and children.
No excessive profanity.
Nothing that promotes or normalizes rape.
Nothing that promotes or normalizes bigotry or targeted violence against marginalized people or communities.
Tropes to avoid: Werewolves, vampires, zombies, goblins, orcs, and elves. Stories derivative in nature, particularly those based on TV series. Serial killer stories. Stories where a person tries to murder their spouse because of minor annoyances.
Fyrelite & Fyrecon
Fyrecon thrives as an online conference offering master classes taught by bestselling authors and nationally recognized artists, including dedicated quarterly Fyrelite workshops. For Fall 2022, three prominent Writers of the Future Contest winners have workshops, Kary English, Martin L. Shoemaker, and Wulf Moon.
Kary English The Slush is ALIVE – Fyrecon
Ever wonder how a story passes from the slush pile at the worldwide Writers and Illustrators of the Future Contests (WotF) to the Judges? First Reader Kary English will be doing the 'Slush Is ALIVE' event to show how your past or future contest entries would do on the slush pile reading.
Submitting your story for' Slush is Alive' DOES NOT break anonymity for submitting to the Contest. Our submission system preserves your anonymity.
Fyrelite Saturday, Oct. 1, 2022
For Fyrelite, you can submit up to two 200-word story openings anonymously.
This will be part of the free events at Fyrelite. You will need, at minimum, the Free Event pass to submit, so grab your free registration now.
Fyrecon 6 (November 10-13, 2022)
For the Fyrecon event, you can submit one 600-word story opening. You must have a Fyrecon 6 general admission registration to submit once submissions open.
You may not submit a story currently under consideration or which will be under consideration by the Writers of the Future story contest at the time of the respective event. You can submit a previous submission where you have received results or a story you plan to submit in the future after the event occurs.
The Superstars Writing Seminars and Conference are recommended by Kary English. Four of the Founders are Writers of the Future Judges: Kevin J. Anderson, Rebecca Moesta, Eric Flint, and David Farland.
Worldcon is the annual convention of the World Science Fiction Society (WSFS). The WSFS members vote to select the winners of the annual Hugo Awards, which are presented at each convention. Many Writers of the Future winners attend.
1. Slushpile Memories: How NOT to Get Rejected (Million Dollar Writing Series) by Kevin J. Anderson
This book, written by WotF Judge and bestselling author Kevin J. Anderson, reviews general submission tips applicable to WotF Contest. Find it here.
2. Million Dollar Outlines Paperback by David Farland
Written by longtime WotF Coordinating Judge and Editor, this book delivers tips for writing and submitting to the Contest. Get a free e-copy when you sign up for the newsletter run by his team, or purchase it here.
3. Heinlein's Rules: Five Simple Business Rules for Writing (WMG Writer's Guides) By Dean Wesley Smith
While Heinlein's Rules are not for everyone because no tool works for every writer, this book is written by longtime WotF Judge and best-selling author Dean Wesley Smith. When Dean convinced Martin L. Shoemaker to try Heinlein's Rules, Martin received his first finalist. Find it here.
4. Wulf Moon's Super Secrets on the WotF Forum
Wulf's collection of WotF Forum posts is often recommended to those entering the Contest. Find the forum thread here. Still, he also runs a "Super Secrets Workshop and Challenge" and the "Wolf Pack Club" through his website at TheSuperSecrets.com. A Super Secrets of Writing book will be available soon. On Aug. 22 —24, 2022, the debut of the SUPER SECRETS of Writing special collector's edition will be released at Salt Lake FanX Comic Con (Wulf Moon Enterprises booth #2453).
3rd in the series
This is the third publication in the series focused on advice for entering the Writers of the Future Contest. Read the previous article in the series by clicking the links below:
Intro to Writers of the Future Contest Part 2: Deadlines, Quarterly Announcement Dates, and Awards Event
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English, Kary. "155. Kary English Do's, Dont's, and WTF on submitting to Writers of the Future" https://soundcloud.com/writersofthefuture/155-kary-english-dos-donts-and-wtf-on-submitting-to-writers-of-the-future. Dec. 26, 2021.
English, Kary. "THE CONTEST - QUARTERLY TOPICS, AND OTHER ITEMS/ Discussion Q2 Volume 39" https://www.writersofthefuture.com/forum/postid/47091/. Aug. 10, 2022.
English, Kary. "THE CONTEST - QUARTERLY TOPICS, AND OTHER ITEMS/ Future spoils" https://www.writersofthefuture.com/forum/postid/42854/. Dec. 8, 2021.
English, Kary. "THE CONTEST - QUARTERLY TOPICS, AND OTHER ITEMS/Satire for Joe Benet" https://www.writersofthefuture.com/forum/postid/44077/. Feb. 2, 2022.
English, Kary. "RE: DQ's" https://www.writersofthefuture.com/forum/postid/46688/. July. 31, 2022.
English, Kary. "THE CONTEST - QUARTERLY TOPICS, AND OTHER ITEMS/Quarter 1 Vol 39" https://www.writersofthefuture.com/forum/postid/45494/. May. 9, 2022.
English, Kary. "How do you limit the length of a story?" https://www.writersofthefuture.com/forum/postid/44371/. Mar. 4, 2022.
English, Kary. "Writing and Finishing" https://www.writersofthefuture.com/forum/postid/44468/. Mar. 8, 2022.
English, Kary. "Re: are HM / SHM / Semis weeded out of the finalist pile?" https://www.writersofthefuture.com/forum/postid/46706/. Aug. 1, 2022.
English, Kary. "THE CONTEST - QUARTERLY TOPICS, AND OTHER ITEMS/ Future spoils/Judges Preferences" https://www.writersofthefuture.com/forum/postid/42821/. Dec. 7, 2021.
English, Kary. "Re: editors" https://www.writersofthefuture.com/forum/postid/42040/. Nov. 15, 2021.
English, Kary. "Three Kinds of Endings" https://www.writersofthefuture.com/forum/postid/43258/. Dec. 19, 2021.
Farland, Dave. "David Farland's 10 Points to Avoid in Writing Short Fiction" https://www.writersofthefuture.com/dave-farlands-10-points-to-avoid/. May 24, 2017.
Farland, Dave. "Why You Only Got an Honorable Mention" https://www.writersofthefuture.com/why-you-only-got-an-honorable-mention/. May 30, 2017.
Farland, Dave. "Your First Five Pages" https://www.writersofthefuture.com/your-first-five-pages/. Aug. 16, 2017.
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I'll share an article on WINNING the Writers of the Future Contest featuring advice from thirty past winners.