Tag Archives: Jordan Ellinger

Jordan Ellinger: Flexing Your Writing Muscles with Help from the Writers of the Future Contest

Guest Post by Jordan Ellinger

The Writers of the Future Contest, more properly known as “L Ron Hubbard Presents Writers of the Future”, is quite simply one of the largest, most well-respected short fiction writing contests in the world. By some accounts, it has the fifth largest purse of any contest, and is one of the only ones without an entry fee.

When Joshua Essoe, the managing editor for Fictorian guest posts, asked me to write an article about the Writers of the Future Contest, I started out with the title “How to Win the Writers of the Future Contest”. But that article has been written before, a couple of times, by previous winners of the contest. So I scrapped that idea, and instead decided to write about the experience of winning. But that article has also been written. Dozens of times. I used to even maintain a page linking to them.

So what could I cover that hasn’t already been discussed? Well, the contest has helped to shape my career almost from the moment I decided to write seriously, so I thought I’d write a little bit about what it has done to help me succeed professionally.

I discovered WotF back when I first started writing short fiction. I’d found a battered copy of Writers of the Future Volume 9 at a used bookstore, and the title intrigued me. “Writers of the Future”. It was an anthology for undiscovered talent. I was undiscovered and, hopefully, talented. I was excited.

It was encouraging that I recognized some of the writers within. Sean Williams was a #1 NYT Bestseller and Star Wars author and appeared in the table of contents alongside noted Baen author Eric Flint (1632). So that table of contents told me that some of the authors who won the contest went on to have great careers. I wanted in.

Unfortunately, the book was old. The spine was lined with cracks and calling the cover “dog-eared” was generous at best, so I Googled the contest and, impressively, it was still going. They’d just released volume 20. Longevity is a very good sign in short fiction, and twenty years impressed the hell out of me.

The first story I submitted was called the Autobomber, which was about a robotic suicide bomber. Looking back, I can see the story’s flaws and I eventually retired it to the trunk, but at the time it was the best I could manage. Encouragingly, it won an Honorable Mention.

Honorable Mentions are something I think the contest does right. Fully 10-15% of entries will receive HMs. Though the number of entries is kept a strict secret, internet gossip places it at around 1500 a quarter, which means that some 100-150 writers receive one. This is enormous encouragement. Often it’s the first bit of positive feedback an author has received at that point in their career.

While some writers win the contest on their first attempt, it took me seven, and I was able to mark my progress by the awards that I won. At first it was Honorable Mentions, then a Semi-Finalist, then another Semi-Finalist, and then eventually my Finalist story “After the Final Sunset, Again” won 1st place in Volume 25. Because there were so many tiers of prizes, I could actually see myself improving as a writer, and that was all the encouragement that I needed.

The prize for placing as a Semi-Finalist is a critique of your story by the contest administrator. In my case, that was the late K. D. Wentworth. I’d submitted a story called Mannequin Empire, about a hot shot engineer who figured out how to transfer the consciousness of a real dog into a robot body. Now, this guy was a bit of a jerk. Think Tony Stark without the redeeming qualities. When the critique came back K. D. explained that, though the writing was good, I had written an unsympathetic main character. Because she had no reason to like my protagonist, she had no reason to read further.

By the time I received K. D.’s critique I’d already submitted my next entry to the following quarter and it too placed as a Semi-Finalist. Guess what my critique said? Unsympathetic main character. Now, this contest is judged blind, so she had no idea that the same person had written both stories. What she’d done without realizing it was to identify a major weakness in my writing.

Armed with that knowledge, I set out to create the most sympathetic character I could. A mother who fights for the life of her unborn child. “After the Final Sunset, Again” was the result and it ended up winning first place.

I’m not going to talk about what the workshop or awards ceremony was like. Google “Writers of the Future Resources” and you can find dozens of workshop blogs, my own included, that cover the experience in more detail than the space allotted to me here. Instead, let’s talk about what happens immediately after you get home from the workshop week.

One of the best kept secrets of the contest is that Author Services Inc., the people who administer it, will keep in touch with you after you win, and continue to support you in any way they can, including getting you a spot on the 2nd most watched morning show in America. They have a vested interest in helping you to succeed. The better their contest winners do, the more the contest gets a reputation for picking winners. And they’ve picked some doozies. Patrick Rothfuss, Karen Joy Fowler, David Farland, Jeff Carlson, Stephen Baxter, David Zindell…the list seems endless.

I met several pro-writers at the workshop weekend, one of whom got me my first novel contract (coming out in November. No, I can’t talk about it yet. But it’s coming). Since then I’ve been developing a close network of friends who are neo-pros and we back each other up. We share opportunities with each other and recommend one another for writing assignments. Winning the Writers of the Future contest was my entry into the world of the genre writing, and for that alone I’m grateful.

Now, no article about the L. Ron Hubbard Writers of the Future Contest would be complete without a short paragraph on Scientology. Roy Hardin was asked about it on NBC Daytime, and I’m frequently asked about it at cons. I have no feelings about Scientology either way, or any religion for that matter. However, I do believe it’s wrong to discriminate based on one’s religious preferences–no matter what they are. “Nuff said.

The fact is that, to my knowledge, everyone at Author Services Inc. (the agency that administers the Contest) is a Scientologist. However none of the judges are (or have ever been), and no Scientologist has ever been included among the winners. There are rumours of a “firewall” between the contest and the religion L. Ron Hubbard founded, and in my experience it could very well exist.

No one ever mentioned Scientology when I was down there. No one. Not even the guests at the various events we were invited to. Whatever else he did, L. Ron Hubbard was a writer first and foremost and he enjoyed paying it forward. The folks at Author Services say that they recognize that and are paying it forward in his name, and I believe them.

So, to sum up, the contest has been the gift that keeps on giving. It encouraged me with Honorable Mentions when I was just starting out, rewarded me with a win when I’d reached a certain skill level, and has helped me develop a robust network of neo-pro and pro writers who’ve become my friends. It’s more than just a writing contest, and I encourage anyone who is reading this to enter. Hopefully it’ll help you to develop your writing muscles and launch your career the way it has mine!

Guest Writer Bio:Jordan Ellinger is a Writers of the Future winner and Clarion West graduate. His story “Kineater” recently made an appearance in Warhammer:The Gotrek & Felix Anthology and has work upcoming in Hammer&Bolter as well as World’s Collider, a new anthology from Nightscape Press. In his spare time, he helms Every Day Publishing, publisher of Every Day Fiction, Every Day Poets, Flash Fiction Chronicles, and Raygun Revival. To read more, visit his website www.jordanellinger.com or follow him on twitter @jordanellinger.

Jordan Ellinger: Coming Up in the Trenches

Guest Post by Jordan Ellinger

Quick! Name some of your favorite science fiction writers. Some of you might have named Asimov or Theodore Sturgeon, while others might have said Orson Scott Card or Kristine Kathryn Rusch. The more literary-minded amongst you probably listed Elizabeth Hand or Jeff Vandermeer. Guess what? They’ve all written tie-ins.

There is a perception among writers that tie-in books–that is to say books that are based in a universe created by someone other than the writer–are of low quality and reside in a kind of literary ghetto, and in some ways that’s even true. Tie-ins are generally hastily written and of poor quality. The plots are often clichéd or trite and the characterization hobbled by the need to not conflict with “canon” and to leave the universe in a state suitable for the next writer to tackle. But these books can often add depth to a beloved universe like Vonda McIntyre’s Stark Trek novels, or continue the story of favorite characters like Dave Wolverton’s the Courtship of Princess Leia, or even fill in plot holes such as Isaac Asimov famously did in Fantastic Voyage.

Like many of today’s fantasy writers, I spent my teen years playing Dungeons and Dragons and so it was with some pleasure that I discovered a set of Dragonlance books on the shelves of my local bookstore. Tie-in books had existed previous to the Dragonlance novels by Margaret Weiss and Tracy Hickman, but in the late 80s they were being pushed in a big way, and began to occupy whole shelves at the local bookstore. Being a fan of both dragons and lances, I devoured Weiss and Hickman’s novels and moved onto the Forgotten Realms series also set in a world that obeyed D&D canon.

It didn’t matter to me that many of these novels were hastily written and clichéd. I was young enough that a plot line revolving around an elf, a dwarf, a wizard, and a warrior meeting in a tavern seemed fresh and new, simply because I hadn’t read enough to know how many authors start their novels that way. At one point, I had more Forgotten Realm novels on my shelves than original novels, and I would incorporate some of the plot lines I read into the D&D campaigns that I ran with a few friends.

In 2009 an event occurred that marked the beginning of my career as a professional writer: I won 1st place in Writers of the Future with a story about a woman with the powers of a Phoenix and a lifespan only a day long. After my win, I immediately started writing novels, hoping to capitalize on my newfound notoriety. Unfortunately, everything I wrote seemed to peter out after 50,000 words (just over half the length of a modern fantasy novel). A year after winning the contest, I had nothing to show for myself other than a few failed manuscripts.

Around that time, Larry Segriff put out a call for his Story Portals site, which would launch with a series about Katya, an assassin who killed with a mixture of extreme competence, sexually aggressive tactics, and magic. This was my first experience with work for hire. He owned the characters and universe and, once I signed his contract, he’d own whatever stories and ideas I created for him as well. Despite that stipulation, I was intrigued. Tracy Hickman and Margaret Weiss had done quite well from Dragonlance, and I told myself this could be an opportunity to get in on the ground floor of a new franchise. I expressed an interest in the project and sent Larry a writing sample, which he quite liked. I was hired.

With a story for Larry under my belt, I decided to tackle other franchises, and when I went down to the local mega-bookstore I found that Warhammer had the most shelf space. I sent them a note telling them I’d won this award, and did they have any stories that needed writing? Laurie Goulding, their acquisitions editor wrote me back to say that he was interested and that I could send him a pitch. When I asked what I should write about, he gave me four potential ideas. I ran out, spent a ton of money buying the rulebooks and then did my best to bone up on the areas he suggested. Instead of sending him a single pitch I sent him four (two of which were accepted and will be in issues of Hammer & Bolter this summer).

Laurie seemed to like my work, and he was one of the best editors I’d worked with (and still is) so I dove full-tilt into the world of Warhammer. The Black Library sends its authors free books whenever they ask to encourage them to become familiar with canon, and I must have read twenty novels in those first few months. Some were bad, but to my surprise and delight, some were amazing. In the latter books, the prose held up to that of any in the genre, and though the focus was necessarily on bloody action scenes, they were dynamic, with well-realized characters. These would be the kinds of books I’d write. Sure, they’d be Warhammer books, but they’d be the best damned Warhammer books out there.

Things have really skyrocketed for me recently. Since writing that first short story for Story Portals, it seems that my career has come full circle. When I was a kid, I had a ton of Tracy Hickman books on my shelves and I now have a novel coming out in a series he anchored. My name will be on the spine of a novel only a few books away from his on the shelves.

Writing tie-ins has given me the confidence to write my own stuff, and I’ve been able to bring the lessons I’ve learned writing them to my own original work. Best of all, the work pays better than pro-rate and is paid in advance. I’ve heard it said that the average number of novels a new writer has to pen before selling one is six. I sold my first novel before I’d even written it.

In terms of ways for a new writer to practice their craft, it’s hard to beat the tie-in market.

Guest Writer Bio:
Jordan Ellinger is a Writers of the Future winner and Clarion West graduate. His story “Kineater” recently made an appearance in Warhammer:The Gotrek & Felix Anthology and has work upcoming in Hammer&Bolter as well as World’s Collider, a new anthology from Nightscape Press. In his spare time, he helms Every Day Publishing, publisher of Every Day Fiction, Every Day Poets, Flash Fiction Chronicles, and Raygun Revival. To read more, visit his website www.jordanellinger.com or follow him on twitter @jordanellinger.