I’ve been submitting to Writers of the Future (WotF) since 2004. Of my 41 submissions, 18 have earned an honorable mention, including my latest for Q4 of 2015. That’s a pretty good record, though of course I would have preferred to rank higher in the contest. With my indie publishing and continuing to submit short stories to pro markets, though not at the rate I used to, I hope not to be eligible soon enough, but until I am, I’ll try to get something in by the deadline each quarter.
From the guidelines: The Contest is open only 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. Professional publication is deemed to be payment of at least six cents per word, and at least 5,000 copies, or 5,000 hits.
Writers of the Future is not the fastest pro market, nor does it offer feedback on your submissions beyond the placement. However, the placement itself gives me a sense of whether my story is working or not before I use up all the pro markets on my list, while sometimes the delay offers distance to reveal flaws I couldn’t previously see.
If you do manage to get into the coveted ranks, the rewards are solid and the chance to be read by authors who have been among some of my favorites as a reader can be a good motivator. The steady deadline of every three months is also good for keeping me in the short story market when it’s so easy to be consumed by my indie efforts. Then you have only to look at what some of the winners have done with their careers to see many have used this as a jumping off point.
An earlier draft of Forged is one of my honorable mentions. This story went on to place in another contest against authors who had been repeatedly published in pro markets as I have not. Online publication was part of the contest, and my story is now available as an eBook as well.
Other honorable mention short stories are still making the rounds, since shorter works are not my focus, but several have made it to the final stage of consideration, two being held by pro editors for years before being released back out into the wild. This is why I say WotF is a good judge of the story’s strengths. I don’t abandon the stories that don’t make the cut, but I’m more confident I’ve hit the right mark with those that do.
A couple things to remember:
* Despite the title, this is not some objective process. The stories one judge prefers might not be the same as the stories the next does. Just like any market, editorial subjectivity applies. I had a couple of years where none of my stories connected with the then judge. Whether the stories or particular taste was at issue, I’ll never know for sure.
* Again, despite the title, the contest is considering one story. It’s not judging your abilities as a whole. If this short story doesn’t make it, there’s always next quarter.
* While getting rapid results can make you feel like you’re getting somewhere, the delay can work for you and allow you to see the work’s flaws as well as its gems.
* Not everyone is a short story writer. This last has been something I’ve struggled with. I do write both long and short, and a number of my short stories are powerful. However, I go through periods when the closest I get to a short story is a novel synopsis, something I’ve come to recognize when I used to send them out as complete works. (Shafter was originally one of those.)
So, are you with me? Your story might just be the one to jump over all the rest and make it to the top, but even if you just hit the honorable mention level, it’s a good sign this story has potential. Besides, you’ll receive a pretty graphic like the one above and a lovely certificate. Especially if you’re just starting out, having a fixed deadline is a good thing…sometimes it’s a good thing even when you’ve been around for a while.
Traditional publishing is a difficult arena. As a numbers game, the numbers are always against you. But it’s not a numbers game. Speaking as someone who has been cut from anthologies because even though the editor loved my story, it didn’t go well with the other ones chosen and who has had stories held by pro editors for years only to let them go, breaking into the pro level is a complex blend of factors where your story makes up the only piece you can control.
What it comes down to is this: why not use all the methods available to you to perfect your story so it goes not into the hold pile but right to the top of the stack? Writers of the Future is one such method, with the possibility of being so much more.