I’m a sixth-rate writer, at best

I recently received another rejection for my AI vs. Aliens story. This one was from L Ron Hubbard’s Writers of the Future contest.  Before I entered, I knew the contest was kind of a big deal, but I didn’t realize it was a REALLY BIG DEAL.  A number of sites I’ve read since submitting have convinced me the contest is very prestigious and probably gets a large number of entrants.

The contest posted a partial list of people whose stories were better than mine.  Let me know if anyone on it is familiar to you. I haven’t carefully checked the whole list, but I know J.M. Williams visits here.  I recently read his short story at Uprising Review and found it entertaining, so I don’t mind being placed below him.

As you can see from the list, there are five categories:  winners, finalists, semi-finalists, silver honorable mentions, and honorable mentions.  So, I’m in a sixth tier below those.  Actually, since the contest is not open to professional authors, maybe my tier should be pushed down even further.

Although my story didn’t make the cut, I have a positive impression of the contest.  The administrators were very friendly when I interacted with them, and they seem interested in helping new writers improve.  Unfortunately for me, only semi-finalists and above receive story critiques.

Before I entered the contest, I had already purchased a collection of last year’s winning stories, but hadn’t had time to read it.  I’ll get to it as soon as I’m finished with my magazine quest, and I’ll post a review.

WOTF 33Writers of the Future
Volume 33

One of two things will happen after I read it:

I might think the stories aren’t good.  I hope this isn’t the result.  It might feel good for a few minutes to say “my stories are as good as those”, but it wouldn’t be helpful.

I might think the stories are great.  I’m hoping this is the result for two reasons.  First, that means I’ll have 32 previous collections I can read when I’m ready for more short stories.  Second, I can try to pick the stories apart, and see what winners are doing that I’m not.  Are their openings stronger?  Do they focus on the characters more?  Do they use more description?

Let me know if you have experience with the WOTF contest, either as an author or as a reader.

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28 comments

  1. Keep sending your stories in. Sometimes it’s not your story, but what the publishers are looking for at that moment. Keep writing, keep submitting or…self publish an anthology of your short stories after you get your stories professionally edited.

    1. I have this particular story submitted again, this time to a themed anthology.

      I haven’t decided what to do with my stories if they aren’t picked up by any magazine or anthology. I think they’re too long to post on the blog, and I don’t think there’s much of a market for an anthology by an unproven author. It’s something to think about, but I’ve got a lot of submitting and writing to do first.

  2. Good luck! And recruit as many eyes as possible to give you feedback!

    1. Thanks. I run all my stories by my beta-reading team, but their backgrounds and reading tastes aren’t similar to those of magazine/anthology editors.

  3. Anonymous · · Reply

    Perhaps if you’d agree to some Scientology training, your writing would improve dramatically… at least in the eyes of WOTF.

    1. Everyone says they keep the two separate. I’ll keep an eye out while I’m reading the anthology, and see if I detect a common philosophy or message that they seem to like.

  4. Good luck with future entries. I have submitted a story to the WOTF contest for the first time ever a few weeks ago, so I’m waiting for the next list of people who will make it over the sixth tier. In the meantime, let’s keep on writing and submitting.

    1. Good luck with yours! I won’t submit again until I’ve read the anthology. I want to see if there’s a type of story they want (or maybe whether the winners are way out of my league).

  5. PDC,
    1. Have you been rejected at least 100,000 times yet? Cuz if not, you’re not done yet.
    2. Okay, that might be a bit of an exaggeration, but it’s basically true. EVERY writer gets rejections at least A ZILLION times. It’s part of the process. If I remember the forward to “The Forever War” correctly (multiple award winning novel), something like 32 editors rejected it before someone finally decided to publish it. And then it blew everyone away. But 32 editors didn’t think it was worth their time or to their tastes first.
    3. The WOTF Contest IS a big deal and get thousands of entrants from around the world. And they tend to be more of the literary bent, like most of the big magazines these days. So if your story is about how hard it is for a lesbian cyborg to find the help they need for their mentally handicapped child, if has a better chance of making it.
    4. The point of the indie revolution is that we don’t have to let a handful of people tell us what is and isn’t worth reading anymore. You’re right, chances are almost no one will notice your one tiny book of stories in the vast sea of stuff out there. But if you let rejections tell you you’re not good enough, NO ONE will ever see them anyway.
    5. My suggestion is to keep submitting to pro and semi-pro magazines, pick out 8-12 of them that you think are worthwhile and you have a shot at breaking into (which also means consider whether your story fits what they want—don’t just fire off blindly or you lower your chances even more). Then, if no one wants that story, its up to you to make sure the world has access yourself.
    That’s my 2 cents. And that’s what I do.

    1. I’m pretty sure my slow writing speed will continue to hold down my rejection numbers, but I do have a goal of at least 100. My plan is to get 8-10 stories out there, each submitted at least 12 times. I’m trying a range of styles from humorous to serious, and a mix of sci-fi, fantasy, etc..

      Hmm, my writing style is about as far from literary as you can get, so it looks like another WOTF entry may not be productive. We’ll see after I read that anthology. I don’t usually submit blindly (except for anthologies, where you often have to) – all my magazine submissions were done after reading an issue to see what their style was.

      An upcoming post (maybe my next one) will tangentially hit the topic of indie vs traditional publishing.

      Thanks for all the feedback.

  6. I’ve submitted a few times, got an Honorable Mention. I think the key is to have your story match the judges preference. The turnaround kindof sucks in the age of self pub.

    1. Congratulations! I probably need to do a better job of writing to the target audience. Right now, I’m just writing things I find amusing or interesting, and there may not be enough other people who agree with me. My beta readers seem to enjoy my stuff, but they are in my same age group, similar professional background, etc..

      1. The funny thing is that the story I got a Honorable Mention for was the first one I’ve ever written. I finished it the day I sent it off, did no edits, nothing. Everything after that I wrote and consider vastly superior got immediately rejected.

      2. I, personally, don’t think trying to “write to a target audience” is the way to go. I think your approach of writing what YOU like and what YOU find interesting is the only way. You can chase around what you perceive to be “the target” all day and night and never catch it. Or think that if you could just write the perfect “robot meets girl” story you could break in, even though you hate “robot meets girl” stories. and if you’re trying to fake it, it will show. Don’t try to be who you think “they” want to read. If you enjoy writing it, someone will enjoy reading it. Be you and write you, not “them”.

  7. Not with that contest.
    I did get over 25 rejection letters from New York literary agents…
    Darn!

    1. That’s one market I’ll never try to break into!

      1. Don’t. They’re in a dying industry and still think they own the world… Tsss.

  8. I can’t remember if you ever posted about WHY you keep trying to submit. Do you feel that authorial urge to write? Or is it a hobby? Or is it something you want to do for a living [emphasis on “want”]?

    I’m curious.

    1. “Why?” is a very good question, and it might need a future blog post to really answer.

      The biggest reason at the moment is blog fuel. Chronicling the process is kind of fun, and who knows, maybe my experiences will be helpful to someone else in the future.

      I’m also still hoping (probably unrealistically) that one of my rejections will come with commentary. Maybe I won’t consider the criticism valid, or maybe it will be something that helps me improve. If I only get one comment, though, it would be hard to know if I’ve stepped on a general preference or just a personal preference of that one editor.

      My slow progress would seem to indicate that I don’t have an urge to write. I have 2 stories out there, two that need more polish, and 6 or more others that are plotted out in handwriting on paper. My company has hired four new people to do parts of my job, so I may finally have a little free time to devote to writing. I enjoy coming up with the story ideas, but sometimes filling in all the details and doing the editing and revision is a chore. I often enjoy looking back over what I’ve written, finding a particular scene clever or humorous.

      I’m currently doing well in my career, and don’t yet know if my writing has any appeal outside my 2-3 person beta reading group, so writing for a living seems highly improbable. I would approach things completely differently if I were going to make it my profession. Instead of writing what I like, I’d have to identify a target market, and write what they like/expect.

      1. Thanks for the answer. That’s what I was looking for.
        I do think something like this would make for a great post some day.

  9. One of my English Profs won one of the quarter prizes in WotF. It seems the contest was at least somewhat less popular then. But he explained some things to me. First, he said that at least half of the submissions have no chance of winning, because they are either horribly formatted, or horribly bad in general. Second, the judging is very subjective. The main judges this round might have just not liked your theme, or maybe just didn’t like aliens. I’m sure you were very close to making the rankings!

    I think I submitted four or fives times to them before even getting an Honorable Mention. And that was after months of writing and publishing and perfecting my craft. Don’t give up! My advice is to submit to them every quarter that you have something new. A big part of it is catching the right reader with the right story.

    Take the story that didn’t make WotF and send it to the next publisher, then the next one. When you have 15 or 20 rejections, then you can start to feel down. The story you like published in The Uprising Review was rejected nine times before being accepted. Of the places that didn’t like it were Beneath Ceaseless Skies, Pod Castle, and T. Gene Davis’ Blog. I started high on my publishing goals list and worked down with each rejection until I found a place that liked what I had to offer. With each rejection, I did a quick revision, and sent it off again, usually within a week.

    In the end, all you can do is keep trying. Eventually you will find someone who likes the story as much as you. If you’ve only been rejected five or six times, there are still many pro-rated pubs to submit to. After that there are semi-pro or anthologies. But don’t give up prematurely and self-publish it, as that will eliminate most of the pro and semi-pro venues. Just keep revising and submitting. You’ll get it soon enough.

    By the way, I’ve been working at this for more than a year, have many publication credits to my name, but still no pro-rated acceptance. It takes a lot of work and patience. I’m not ready to give up yet.

    1. I’ll definitely hold off on WOTF until I see what the anthology is like. I’ve got both of my stories out to anthologies now, and a list of magazines to try if those don’t work out.

      I’m surprised PodCastle didn’t take your story, it seems like it would have been a good fit.

      Once I get the rest of my stories written, I’ll be hitting all the semi-pro markets. Well, not all of them, but all of them where I think I might have a chance.

      1. Well, PodCastle is an audio venue, so they are looking for a certain sound in addition to a certain style of story.

  10. I sent some stories to WOTF. Received a couple of honorable mentions. Never made it to finalist. And now I’m a pro so I can’t submit any more. Which goes to show other people like my writing more than the WOTF judges did.

    All publication is a matter of the editor’s taste. You just have to catch the right editor at the right time. That said, Brad Torgersen wrote a useful post on how to optimize stories for WOTF:
    https://bradrtorgersen.wordpress.com/2009/11/19/how-to-win-the-writers-of-the-future-contest/

    There’s a lot of markets out there. The Submission Grinder has a list of just about everything publishing regularly. You can even sort potential markets in order of average response time. There’s also a Facebook group “OPEN CALL: SCIENCE FICTION, FANTASY & PULP MARKETS” which collects calls for anthologies and new markets (though many of them are non-paying or semipro).

    Also, don’t be afraid to send a story to a semipro market if it looks like a good fit. Some money and some publicity is better than none.

    Good luck! I look forward to reading your stories.

    1. Yeah, I read that Torgersen article. Unfortunately, I read it AFTER I’d already submitted. I know that I would have made at least one change to my story based on his advice.

      I’ve been using submission grinder extensively to find new magazines to read, and I’ve also been tracking my submissions there. I’d never heard of the facebook group, so I’ll check that out, thanks!

      I won’t get much writing done in October, but I’m hoping November and December will be productive. Then I can flood those semi-pro markets!

      I’m still undecided about what to do with the stories that don’t find a home. I’m brainstorming a few options, but I’ve got plenty of time to figure it out.

    2. I’d love to be able to say that I can’t submit to WotF because I’m a pro! 😀

  11. I’ve been thinking about entering this contest as well. I keep putting off the submission though because of Hubbard and it being a big deal. Is my writing at that level yet, and will they try to audit me?

    1. Well, I didn’t get an audit, that’s for sure!

      It doesn’t hurt to send something in, although I won’t do it again until I’ve read one of their anthologies, so I have an idea about the kind of things they look for.

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