Writers of the Future: I’m a Finalist

The title says it all, but it’s my party and I’ll talk if I want to.

As you may or may not know, Writers of the Future is a pretty big thing. It’s an award ceremony and workshop based in L.A. designed to discover new and upcoming writers. They receive tens of thousands of submissions per year, divided up into quarters. They only take the top three of that quarter.

I submitted my story a while back, not expecting much response from it. I started university again (in fact I’m knee-deep in a paper that’s due in two days right now), focused on other projects, went through illnesses, got more involved in StarShipSofa, etc. It slipped from my mind, and considering how many people submit each quarter any sort of response would be unlikely. I’ve already received two Honourable Mentions from them, but I doubted my luck would run much rather.

So last Tuesday I’m out in the morning doing stuff. I get back, flip open the computer to check my emails. I see a response from Writers of the Future. And in the subject line: You’re a WOTF Finalist.

No way. No sodding way.

My heart racing, I quickly scan the email. No, my eyes aren’t playing tricks. My story placed somewhere in the top eight, beating thousands and thousands of submissions from all over the globe. Joni tried to call me, but she couldn’t untangle the labyrinth of phone call connections she needed to make in order to call Australia from the US.

I read it again. Yes, it’s true. I’m a finalist.

Shaking, I pound in a reply, saying something like OMG THANK YOU THANK YOU before deleting it and replying with something much more professional and polite. Then I start jumping up and down like a circus freak on some sort of experimental drug, drinking as much coffee as I possibly can.

I give Joni my number and we have a chat where she fleshes out the details, her laughing and congratulating me. Basically the gist is this: Out of submission well into five figures, I landed in the top eight. The eight stories will then go onto judges, who will decide which stories come 1st, 2nd and 3rd. If you do place, you get a cash prize (between $1000-$500) and flown out to L.A. for a week long workshop. They pay for your flight, your hotel, the whole deal. The likes of Larry Niven, Orson Scott Card, Robert J. Sawyer and countless other headline authors instruct you for an entire week. Your work gets published alongside theirs in an anthology (which is distributed worldwide). You get interviews, go to signings, get artwork…everything she was saying just passed in a blur of awesomeness. I’m still shaking my head that a scruffy kid like me from down under was even being given this opportunity.

And then there’s the award ceremony, attended by various Hollywood stars and the aforementioned authors. Everyone gets a WOTF statue and some time on stage. And the grand prize? $5000.

$5000.

Five grand.

But let’s pull back on the reins for a little. I’m not at that stage. There’s no chance I’ll even be at the workshop. Out of the eight finalists, five will be yanked out of the running. But three will be given the Hollywood treatment. The chances of me grabbing it are three out of eight. Nearly fifty percent. Almost heads or tails.

Am I nervous? Mate, I can hardly sit still. I feel like a ten year old jacked up on sugar, caffeine and god knows what else.

So my conversation with Joni finished with me on a high. Then I realized that class was almost on so I packed my bag and headed out the door to be educated. I don’t remember much of that class, though, my head was still spinning. It’s still spinning now.

I might not get in this time. I might never get in at all. But in this regard the odds are very much in my favour, to paraphrase Effie Trinket. And it’s one hell of an opportunity, too.

If it wasn’t for them, people like Patrick Rothfuss, Sean Williams, Aliette de Bodard and countless others might not be where they are today. Book deals have been struck, movie deals have been signed, friendships have been made, and careers have been launched, all thanks to Writers of the Future. And I could very well land there in 1st place. Or 2nd. Or 3rd. Or not at all. Joni says she’ll call and let me know in a week or two. But there’s nothing I can do. It’s all in the cards now.

But you know what? It doesn’t matter. I made it here. If I get knocked down, I’m gonna pick myself up again and aim for the moon again. If I get my teeth kicked out and shoved into the mud, I’ll grit my teeth and try once again. And one day I’ll do it.

I’ve come this far. I keep going. And I will.

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StarShipSofa Submissions: An update

This is my first time reading slush, and it’s lovely to see all the fantastic submissions pouring in. And ¬°Ay, caramba!, I’ve come across some ripping stories. It’s an absolute joy to see this talent blooming, by both new authors and established authors alike.

I’ve already sent out a handful of acceptances, as well as a few rejections. Sending a rejection sucks just as much as receiving one, and I always try to pin-point what I personally didn’t like about the submission, or my reason for rejecting it. Remember, it’s just my opinion, and someone’s already picked it up, so you’re already on the right track.

But please, do remember to follow the guidelines. I’ve had a few submissions where the original publication venue is not listed, it’s addressed to “dear editor(s)” (despite the fact that my name is on the email address itself, and last time I checked I don’t have a double, as much as I’d like one). The latter I can forgive, but the former I cannot. I need to know if it was self-published by a vanity press, or if Ellen Datlow picked it up for her Tor anthology. It makes a big difference, and I will not read the work unless you follow these guidelines. Yes, it sucks, but I don’t have the time to trace its origin when I’ve got another 50 submissions from people who did follow the guidelines. It’s not fair on anyone. But overall I’ve had nothing but fantastic work and marvelous people, so keep that up.

This is the way I sort out the submissions. When the stories come in, I read from the earliest sent. I keep reading, and sometimes I’ll know immediately that this is a story I cannot let go, and I’ll email over the acceptance. Other times I’ll sadly have to send over a rejection immediately, as the story is not what I’m looking for. But most of the time, I’ll read the story and like it, and move it to the “Maybe/further consideration pile”. This means your story has a fighting chance, but I need to weigh it up amoungst the other submissions in the pile and decide against those merits. So basically, if you haven’t heard from me, you’ve moved to the maybe pile. The longer I hold on, the better. And I’m getting a lot of submissions, sometimes clocking it at 18,000 words, and for the most part can’t justify a response unless I’ve gotten to the end.

So, that’s it from Szal towers for now. Keep those submissions rollin’ and I’ll have an answer for you…sooner or later.

– Jeremy Szal

Something VERY, VERY big coming to StarShipSofa

So, me and Tony have been teasing this one out over the last couple of weeks. Something MASSIVE will be docking at the StarShipSofa. What, may you ask? That, I cannot say. However, I can tell you that it includes one of the biggest and coolest authors of modern SF/F today. It was bloody hard even reaching out to them, and negotiating was akin to walking on a tightrope made out of dental floss.

But I managed to secure a story from them, and I’m over the moon, man. And so is Tony, believe me. And our narrator, Nick Camm did a cracking job of the story. He always does, but he put everything he had into it.

And I can also tell you that getting the green light was only half the deal. Getting hold of the story was another matter entirely. It was extremely unconventional, and all four of us, (that being me, Tony, Nick and the author in question) had to work hard to get it done. But now it’s complete and I’m super stoked to hear the response.

Come on, tell us, I can hear you whining. Nope. Sorry, no go. Approximately only five or six people are aware of what’s coming, and we plan to keep it that way. Yes, it really is that big. I can guarantee with my life that you know this author and the work that they’ve done. But my lips are sealed.

Look out for it on Wednesday! June 3rd will be the day!

Until then…..

Jeremy