Reflections on an Honorable Mention

If you follow me at all on social media, you probably already know that I received the results from my Quarter 1 Writers of the Future entry on April 23. I got an honorable mention!

So what does that mean?

An HM is a step up from a rejection, and I’ll get a nice certificate in the mail. Honorable mentions, and silver honorable mentions, are the judges’ way of saying, “This was pretty good, but you’re not quite there yet. Try again next time.” It is okay to revise and resubmit rejected stories or those that place in either honorable mention category.

Semi-finalists and finalists get a critique. Those authors can’t re-submit their stories to the contest because they have an unfair advantage, but they can try other markets. Some finalists do get published in the anthology, though.

I feel like I’ve learned a lot about the process

This was my second WotF entry. I liked the story a lot, but it did have some problems. I’ve learned a lot about the contest and what the judges like through forum posts, the WotF online workshop, and the Super Writers Bundle courses. Unfortunately, I did all that after I wrote and submitted this story. Let’s learn from my mistakes.

I can’t go into great detail right now because I might decide to revise and resubmit someday, and I’d be disqualified if any of the judges were able to link the story with my blog. I can still give you some general ideas, though.

It was too long

The rules allow stories up to 17,000 words, but shorter is better. Early readers thought my 10,000 word story was a novel at first. I had too many characters and scenes.

I should have gone with a different ending

Some stories just aren’t meant to have a happily ever after. There was too much stacked against the protagonist, and the ending was convoluted. Additionally, because the story was so busy, the ending felt rushed and tacked on. I knew it was a problem before I submitted the story. I just couldn’t quite figure out why it was a problem until it was too late.

Beyond that, I don’t know

It’s possible my story was too similar to another entry, or something about it bothered the judges for personal or more subjective reasons. Those things happen all the time. There isn’t a whole lot you can do about that, though, so it’s not worth getting flustered over.

It wasn’t all bad

Somebody out there is probably wondering why I bothered submitting at all when I knew my story had problems. And the answer to that is something I say all the time–writing is subjective. Just because I think there’s a problem doesn’t mean the judges will. Rejection is a given in writing, and you can’t let a fear of getting rejected stop you from ever submitting anything. Or, to put it another way, you miss 100% of the chances you don’t take.

Even though my story had issues, it also had quite a few things going for it. I got some really good feedback, and I felt pretty confident about several of its major components. I know I had a great protagonist–several of my critiques compared her to Katniss Everdeen, and I consider that a massive compliment.

The world building was intriguing, and I got some interesting comments on that. The plot was decent except for the ending. It was too much for a short story, but the readers who critiqued it thought it was engaging.

All in all, I can’t complain about an honorable mention

I’m going to try to do better next time, of course, but I don’t feel bad about my results. I’m on the fence about whether to rework this story as a short or expand on it and turn it into a novella. Right now I lean more toward novella, because I think it will be a good promotional tie-in for my novel, but we all know I change my plans about as often as I change my underwear.

You probably didn’t need to know that.

Anyway. My Q2 story is in, and I don’t expect results back from that until June or so. I’m predicting another HM or SHM, but we’ll see. The story I’m writing for Q3 is more or less finished, but I need to toss one of the middle scenes and write something new. It just doesn’t take the story where it needs to go.

Did you enter the contest?

Feel free to share your results in the comments if you’d like! I’d love to know about your experience. I’d also love to know if you’re thinking about entering sometime in the future.

Next week is the first Wednesday in May, so I’ll see you then with another monthly progress update. You can subscribe for reminders if you’d like to know when new blog post publish.


My Writers of the Future Results

Remember my progress report from last month? Short Story #2’s contest results came in sooner than I expected, so let’s talk about that today. I entered the story in Writers of the Future, which is kind of a big deal for sci-fi and fantasy writers.

You already know the result if you follow me on Facebook or Twitter, but let’s talk about the process a little bit.

The story

Unfortunately, I can’t give away the plot details because I might revise this and resubmit it someday. Sharing too much could get me disqualified because entries have to be completely anonymous. It was loosely based on some things that have happened to me, but I gave them a sort of speculative/urban fantasy twist.

I will say that it struck a chord with readers on Scribophile. People were leaving me critiques even after it left the spotlight, which (in my limited experience) doesn’t happen often. I didn’t leave any notes or anything to indicate that it was partly based on real events, but a few of my readers figured it out anyway. The fact that it felt real to people told me I was on the right track, and I decided I should submit it somewhere after I gave it a little polish.

The contest

Where do you submit a weird speculative/creative nonfiction short story? I thought about sending it to magazines, but I had a Writers of the Future anthology (volume 36, if you’re curious) on my nightstand, and I felt like my story would fit right in.

L. Ron Hubbard (yes, THAT L. Ron Hubbard) established Writers of the Future Contest in 1983. It is a reputable contest, and it’s helped a number of bestselling authors launch their careers. The contest is judged quarterly; the top three stories from each quarter, plus a few of the finalists, are combined into an anthology that’s released annually. They don’t charge entry fees, and they also have a free online workshop and forums where writers can compare notes and just hang out. There’s also an annual awards ceremony/writing workshop/banquet thing that sounds super fun.

There is some criticism about the contest, mainly due to its association with L. Ron Hubbard and Scientology. However, the judges are not Scientologists, and there’s sort of a firewall in place that’s supposed to keep things separate. Like, they’re not allowed to talk about it at the awards workshop or try and talk writers into becoming Scientologists or anything like that. I’ve not seen anything from a reputable source that makes the contest itself look shady. Anyone who’s considering entering the contest should do their own research and decide for themselves what they’re comfortable with.

My experience

I went back and forth about submitting for a while before I finally made a decision. It’s not a bad story, but the stakes are kind of low and it’s a little silly. But I finally decided I didn’t have anything to lose and just went for it.

Entering Writers of the Future only took a few minutes; all I had to do was make an account on their website and upload my document. No problem. After that, it was just a waiting game.

Since this is a quarterly contest with regular deadlines, I looked at information from previous contests and assumed I’d hear something back around the end of November, or sometime early in December. I submitted the story on August 27, if you’re wondering; the deadline for that quarter was September 30. I got an email with my results on November 4th.

The story was low-stakes and apparently the judges don’t like first person narration, so I assumed they’d just reject it. But I had a killer opening, and I was hoping maybe that would be enough to land me an honorable mention–the very lowest “place.” I actually got a silver honorable mention, which is a step up from that. There’s no prize, and I’m not getting published, but I think I’m getting a certificate in the mail.

I’m definitely going to try again

All in all, it was a fine experience and I can’t complain. I’m working on a new story to enter this quarter, and I need to wrap it up soon so I can get some critiques and have time to revise before the deadline. I feel a little pressure now–I’d like to exceed my silver honorable mention if I can.

As far as this story goes, I’m trying to figure out where to take it next. I might revise it; I struggled with a few things in the original draft that I think I might be able to fix now. But then I wonder if it’s fine like it is, and I should try submitting it to lit magazines. I could also save it for the short story anthology I’m planning on putting together. I have a lot of options, and I don’t feel like I need to stress myself out on a decision right now.

Do you have any experience with writing contests? Feel free to share in a comment if you do. I’ll be back tomorrow to talk about how to find places to submit your short stories, and I hope you’ll be back for that. I’ve got some good information for you.