Writers of the Future Contest: The Ultimate Guide

If you're an aspiring writer of speculative fiction ( i.e. science fiction, fantasy or horror), you’re likely familiar with Writers of the Future.  It is a free-to-enter contest that is judged each quarter by some of the biggest authors in the genre like Brandon Sanderson, Orson Scott Card, Kevin J Anderson, Larry Nivens, and more.

Furthermore, winners not only receive cash prizes, but get published in an anthology, get a trip to LA to receive incredible training on the book publishing and writing world, taught by those same judges listed (including myself – for book marketing), and then attend a black tie gala award ceremony.

Basically, it's an incredible opportunity for authors in that genre.

Dave Chesson with Orson Scott Card
Me with Orson Scott Card teaching the previous winners of Writers of the Future.

However, as with any contest, you’ve got to know how to win, or at least the basics to give you the edge. That is why I put together the Writers of the Future Ultimate Guide. With this, you will learn what the contest is, and tips and tricks to help you become one of the winners.

In this article, you will learn:
  1. What Writers of the Future is
  2. What the rules are
  3. Tips for success from those who have one
  4. Frequently asked questions
  5. Free resources for the Writers of the Future tribe

What is the Writers of the Future?

The Writers of the Future contest was created and endowed by L. Ron Hubbard in 1983. The contest accepts entries quarterly with prizes of $1,000, $750, and $500 for the three winners.

The grand-prize-winning story receives the L. Ron Hubbard Golden Pen Award with an added $5,000 cash prize.

The 12 winning entries are published in the bestselling annual Writers of the Future anthology.  It is described by critics as a “glimpse of tomorrow’s stars,” a “must-have for the genre reader,” and “the bestselling science fiction anthology series of all time!”

Writers of the Future Covers

Each winning story is hand-picked by bestselling authors such as Brandon Sanderson, Orson Scott Card, Nnedi Okorafor, Kevin J. Anderson, Brian Herbert, Jody Lynn Nye, Larry Niven, Robert J. Sawyer, Katherine Kurtz, Eric Flint, and many others.

The Illustrators of the Future Contest is a sister contest for artists. Each winning illustrator is assigned one of the winning stories to depict. One of my favorite parts of reading the annual anthology is seeing the fantastic art which accompanies each story.  I have also attended the Annual Awards event a few times and witnessed the first time these authors see their works brought to life by an artist. It's a moving experience.

The writing and illustration winners each year are flown to Hollywood for an exclusive week-long workshop where they are taught by bestselling authors and industry professionals (I have done presentations at two of these with insider tips) and famous illustrators. It's a great opportunity to help further your career. 

The end of the workshops is capped off with a gala Black-Tie event and celebration where the winners walk the red carpet giving interviews and having their photos taken. And once inside, they receive their prizes, make their speeches and share an evening as the guest of honor in a beautiful reception and book-signing, getting to autograph their first book for attendees.

What are the Rules of Writers of the Future?

  1. No entry fee is required, and all rights in the story remain the property of the author. All types of science fiction, fantasy, and dark fantasy are welcome.
  2. All entries must be original works by the entrant, in English.
  3. No excessive violence or sex, determined by the judges.
  4. Works of prose, up to 17,000 words in length. (no poetry or children’s books)
  5. Entrant must not have professionally published a novel or short novel, or more than one novelette, or more than three short stories (professional publication:  paid at least eight cents per word, at least 5,000 copies sold or 5,000 hits).
  6. Hard copy submissions must be:
    • Typed or a computer printout in black ink on white paper
    • Printed only on the front of the paper, double-spaced, with numbered pages
    • Sent with a cover page with the title of the work, the author’s legal name, a pen name if applicable, address, telephone number, e-mail address and an approximate word count.
    • Every page must carry the title and a page number, with the author’s name deleted (it is blind judging, to ensure a fair chance for all entrants no matter their color, gender or age).
    • Do not requires a signature on the package.
  7. Electronic submissions must be:
    • Double-spaced, with title and page number on each page, but not the author’s name.
    • Cover is to include the author’s legal name, pen name if applicable, address, telephone number, e-mail address, and approximate word count.
  8. Judging is done quarterly: October 1, January 1, April 1, and July 1. The year will end on September 30. Entries must be postmarked or received electronically no later than midnight on the last day of the quarter.
  9. One manuscript can be submitted per quarter.
  10. Once you win, you can no longer enter the Contest.
  11. All entries for each quarter are final. No revisions are accepted.
  12. Entries will be judged by professional authors. The decisions of the judges are entirely their own, and are final and binding.

Tips for Success From Winners and Judges

There are a few resources that have been created by Writers of Future to give the aspiring writers a better shot at winning. Many of the past winners and Judges encourage new authors to take advantage of these and become part of the community—the “Writers of the Future tribe”:

1. Enroll on the free online Writing Workshop.

This is an intermediate-level writing course covering character development, story structure, the formulation of story ideas, and writing an opening with a hook to make the reader want to continue reading.  Many writers follow that mythical rule: Show don’t tell, even though many successful authors use narration.

This course has an exercise to teach you when you should use narration to tell parts of your story. The course is delivered through 13 videos by Orson Scott Card, Tim Powers, and the late David Farland, along with 11 essays from professional writers.

Here is what one of my favorite authors has to say about it:

2. Subscribe to the Podcast

The website also provides a podcast which provides tips for writers and illustrators from industry pros, the contest judges, and winners in these personal interviews which are always entertaining and informative

3. Join the Forum

There is also a writer’s forum where aspiring writers and artists meet other like-minded writers and artists to ask questions and read answers. The forum moderators are past winners who freely answer questions and give advice. Additionally, the judges often participate in the “Ask Me Anything” sessions.

4. Read the books

The judges repeatedly recommend that aspiring writers should read the winning entries to gain the knowledge on what it takes to win by seeing what the judges and readers are looking for. It also shows the level of competition a writer faces! Additionally, each anthology includes writing tips and advice from two or three of the judges. Knowing what they know and following their instructions, can make your entry stand out from writers who ignore these lessons.

For instance, in Volume 39 L. Ron Hubbard shares a secret to handling writer's block he learned from Jack London in “Circulate,” in Volume 38 Frank Herbert shares his “Single Most Important Piece of Advice,” and in Volume 31 Orson Scott Cardʼs “Fiction Without Paper” shares insights into building believable characters which readers will care about.

5. Write and submit your story

While this may seem like the most obvious tip, you can’t win unless you submit a story. Many winners have found themselves on the stage because they submitted a story each quarter. They used the quarterly contest deadlines to drive them to complete their stories and get them in. One of the biggest short-comings I have found with authors is completing their story.

Stop doing endless edits and second guessing yourself and submit it. If you don’t know what to write or how to start, you can check out the Ultimate Guide to NaNoWriMo for tips).

FAQ About Writers of the Future

How do I enter the Contest?

For electronic submissions, go to https://www.writersofthefuture.com/enter-writer-contest/  

To mail in your manuscript send it to

L. Ron Hubbard’s Writers of the Future Contest
7051 Hollywood Blvd.
Los Angeles, CA 90028

How long does it take to find out if I won?

You will be contacted in the following quarter. For example, if you entered at any time during the January 1–March 31 quarter, you will hear by the end of June.

How will I be notified?

Finalists are contacted by the Contest Director. Once final judging is complete and the 1st, 2nd, and 3rd place winners are final, the three winners will be called by the Contest Director.

Also, a press release announcing the finalists and winners is sent out each quarter along with a blog post and social posts on Facebook and Twitter.

Honorable mentions are sent certificates.

Do I retain the right to my story?

Yes. All entrants retain the rights to their story.

What is the entry fee?

None. There is no fee to enter. However, if you send in a printed manuscript, and want it mailed back to you, provide the return postage.

Who selects the winning stories?

Each winning story is hand-picked by the blue-ribbon panel of judges, which include New York Times’ bestselling authors such as Brandon Sanderson, Orson Scott Card, Nnedi Okorafor, Kevin J. Anderson, Brian Herbert, Jody Lynn Nye, Larry Niven, Robert J. Sawyer, Katherine Kurtz, Eric Flint, and many others.

Full list of contest judges past and present: https://www.writersofthefuture.com/writer-judges/

How do I a get list of the Writers of the Future books still available?

There is a list of the available titles on the publisher site.

Is there an anti-harassment policy?

Yes.  The Writers & Illustrators of the Future Contests are committed to ensuring a safe and welcoming environment. This includes all online or offline activities, meetings, and events.

Anti-Harassment Policy includes:

  • Be considerate and respectful in your posts and comments.
  • No demeaning, discriminatory, harassing, or threatening behavior in any communication.
  • Alert Contest Administration Personnel or Forum Moderators if you notice a dangerous situation, someone in distress, or violations of the Anti-Harassment Policy, even if they seem inconsequential.
  • No intimidating, harassing, abusive, discriminatory, derogatory, or demeaning posts or comments by any member;
  • No posting or sharing hateful or vilifying sites or blogs;
  • No harmful or prejudicial written comments or visual images;
  • No real or implied threat of physical harm;
  • No real or implied threat of professional or financial damage or harm.

Free Resources for the Writers of the Future Tribe


The Writers of the Future Contest provides an opportunity to get yourself on the track to becoming a professional writer.

With a little homework, you can prepare a short story that could have a shot at winning.

But the trick is, if you don’t win at first, DON’T GIVE UP. Keep pushing yourself. Keep writing stories and entering them.

With no entry fees and a chance to have one of your favorite authors read your manuscript… what do you have to lose?

Write for the love of writing. Enjoy yourself while you improve your craft. Great writers, WRITE.

Good luck.

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