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» Hatrack River Writers Workshop » Forums » Open Discussions About Writing » WOTF learning curve

   
Author Topic: WOTF learning curve
tnwilz
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I thought I would start a thread where Hatrackers can post what they have figured out about the WOTF competition. For example, most have figured out that strong adult themes don't have a chance. Or, that they will actually accept and even publish stories up to 17,000 words in length which is very unusual.

Has anyone read large numbers of the WOTF stories and picked up any patterns as to what is consistently missing or present when compared to other anthologies?

What is the opinion as to whether the program runs in the red, breaks even or even makes a profit? (this is where we start to miss extrinsic)

Anything else that you have observed?

Tracy


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MrsBrown
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quote:
we start to miss extrinsic
Why are we missing extrinsic? Where'd he go?

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Cheyne
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extrinsic has left the building. He said good-bye on KDW's literary thread.
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Zero
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I'm sure extrinsic still reads stuff here. And if he/she doesn't return for at least one more post I'll eat my hat.

PS: My hat is made of candycanes.

Now, onto WotF. My opinion is that while this could be very interesting it's inherently the wrong approach to win. It's too ... scientific. I think the best strategy is to just express yoruself through your writing, embrace the art itself, and either they'll like it or not. I advise against trying to mold, conform, or bend your story to fit what they want. Or rather, what we think they want.

Anyway that's my take.


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snapper
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Based on reading many of the stories that were submitted to the contest and judging on how they did...

KDW likes single hero epics. More than one POV seems to not do as well.

KDW likes a little humor sprinkled in but stays away from stories that are comedies.

KDW does not appreciate gratuitous violence. Some of the best stuff I ever read on hatrack didn’t get even an HM because of it.

KDW prefers happy endings. Write a story where no one wins and you will lose.

KDW likes action but be careful not to go overboard.

[This message has been edited by snapper (edited June 18, 2009).]


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shimiqua
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What I have learned;

KDW does not like stories that are not submitted.

KDW does not like that one brilliant idea you think will be perfect, but then never got down to writing.

KDW does not like stories completed, but not turned in, because the author is a chicken.

I could be wrong though. This is just my opinion of an opinion. She might actually like that unsubmitted story, because it makes her selection easier. (Less choices)

~Sheena

P.S. Don't wear that candy cane hat in the rain.


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Zero
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I learned that the hard way.
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BoredCrow
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Shimiqua - so THAT's why I never win!
And I'm a crow, not a chicken. ::caw::

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annepin
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What I learned:

KDW likes strong, well crafted, original stories written with authority, passion, belief, and sophisticated prose.


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zerostone
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Okay, dumb question from a newbie:

Is 'KDW' the moderator of this site? I thought the WOTF contest used a team of professional writers to judge the stories---but this makes it sound the 'KDW' is the final arbiter of what wins.


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snapper
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Kathleen Dalton Woodbury is She Who Must Be Obeyed and should never be confused with the submitting judge of the Writers of the Future contest Kathy D Wentworth She Who Must Be Impressed. One can destroy you. The other one is only capable of taking away your will to live.

The will to live one (or is that the destroyer?) decides which stories are named finalist so they get passed up to a team of judges. With the rest of the estimated 600 to 1000 submissions, she'll decide if you get a nice Honorable Mention certificate, a Semi-Finalist teaser critique to let you know why you were so, so, close, or a simple better luck next time letter.

[This message has been edited by snapper (edited June 20, 2009).]


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branteaton
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Is it bad that I aim for teaser critiques these days (because that seems to be the level of my craft at the moment. For the last three years )?
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Kathleen Dalton Woodbury
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When I abbreviate my name, I always refer to myself as kdw for the very purpose of distinguishing myself from my twin, KDW (also known as K. D. Wentworth). One of the ways you can tell us apart in person is that she has blue eyes and I have light brown eyes (I wish they were green, but I can't have everything).

If people here want to also refer to me as kdw and to her as KDW, that's fine with me. I know which one of us is SHE WHO MUST BE OBEYED.


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snapper
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kdw just won't do Ms Obeyed. k.D.w is more appropiate however.

Let's see, you live in Utah, Ms Impressed lives in LA. I guess that makes you the one from the east. Better watch out for falling house from Kansas.


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ChrisOwens
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Off the top of my head:

(1) Avoid passive characters--a situation where the story happens to the characters instead of having the characters happen to the story.

(2) The speculative element must be upfront. If possible, on the first page, if not by the second.

(3) Evidently, avoid the word 'orbs'. I'm not too sure why.


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Kathleen Dalton Woodbury
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Actually, KDW doesn't live in LA (either Los Angeles or Lousiana, depending on which interpretation you apply to the abbreviation). WotF is in LA, but KDW is not. In fact, she lives further east than I do.
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extrinsic
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My hackles were tingling earlier in the month. Someones are using my named persona, not entirely in vein.

Let's see, two questions asked, WOTF learning curve and profitability of the contests.

Putting aside all subjective judging criteria, an examination based on objective criteria would focus on qualities by which Ms. Wentworth evaluates stories. The Herald newsletters published by W&IOTF through Author Services, Inc., and Galaxy Press contain writing tips and advice from contest founder L. Ron Hubard, coordinating judges Algis Budrys and Ms. Wentworth, other contest judges, and well-known fantastical genre authors. One column in particular details the objective criteria that I suspect Ms. Wentworth uses in evaluations. I say this because she has commented on Budrys' mentorship of her writing and because my analyses of her stories, Budrys', and contest winners, finalists, and semifinalists' stories that I've read conform to and demonstrate all the qualities set forth in the column, and then some.

"The Basics of Writing" by Algis Budrys
http://www.writersofthefuture.com/newsletter/february09.htm
Index to Herald newsletters' archive
http://www.writersofthefuture.com/news.htm

The structure Budrys presents is a common one in fantastical genres short fiction, somewhat similar in long fiction too. A significant portion of all published stories follow that structure, especially ones that are in the form of the classic Aristotlean drama, particularly the Greek comedy, where the protagonist's goal is achieved or the protagonist has a favorable outcome, not a comedy as in the modern sense of a comic farce. A somewhat different structure is more common for stories that conform to the Greek tragedy, those beautifully tragic stories where the protagonist fails to accomplish a goal or otherwise has an unfavorable outcome.

Profitability of the Contest
Background;
The W&IOTF contests are administered by Author Services, Inc., a subsidiary for-profit corporation wholly owned by the Church of Spirtual Technology, Scientology, a tax-exempt not-for-profit entity. The anthology is published by Galaxy Press, a DBA entity that's part of Author Services. Author Services, a literary agency, it's main mission is representing L. Ron Hubbard's literary works. And Galaxy Press by and large publishes L. Ron Hubbard's fiction, also the annual W&IOTF anthology, and a select few other authors' works. Bridge Publications, also a subsidiary wholly owned for-profit corporation of CST, publishes L. Ron Hubbard's nonfiction properties.

All the contests' costs are funded by a trust of L. Ron Hubbard's estate, which is held in its entirety by the CST: costs for the handling of entries, screening and judging, awards, travel and rooming expenses for all winners and published finalists attending the workshop and awards ceremony, and the week-long pre-awards ceremony events. Board and other personal costs are at the expense of attending participants.

The anthology is published by Galaxy Press as a for-profit entity separately from the contest administration. The standard mass market paperback business model applies to the anthology's costs and revenues, though it is anything but standard. Print run is 50,000 copies compared with an industry average of roughly 2,000. Selling season lasts an entire year, compared with a typical, at best, three-month season. Sell through approaches 100 percent, compared to 60 percent industry average.

Some numbers;
What's known; (this from Peter Breyer of Galaxy Press) 50,000 annual anthology copies printed and sold at $7.95 cover price (more on discounted prices anon), author royalties are $500 flat rate per story, or about a penny a copy. Not known; Galaxy Press' distributed publication costs and expenses. Seeing as how a large portion of routine publisher business occurs as a consequence of the contests' processes, I'm sure operating costs are extraordinarily low. But a standard publishing business model is 30% production costs, 30% operating costs, 30% overhead, 10% gross profit. A conventional massmarket paperback costs about a dollar to produce. The anthology has an embossed cover and more pages than a typical paperback, more expensive than a conventional paperback, but the high-volume print run likely puts production costs well below a buck each. I'll call it a wash, so about a buck to print, bind, warehouse, and handle each copy, or fifty grand. (I've seen somewhere that mass market paperback costs produced in that number of copies are projected in the range of $35,000.)

Revenue stream;
Again, a standard mass market paperback business model; 20% of sales are direct retail sales through the publisher, 20% are indirect retail sales through distribution channels or other retail outlets, 60% of sales are through wholesale distribution channels. In many book sales there's also a book club market, but W&IOTF hasn't been involved with one in recent years.

Standard model; direct retail sales are at 100% of cover price, indirect retail sales at 20% discount, and wholesale at 40% discount. Book club discounts run as high as 60% off cover price.

Those standard models are suprisingly accurate in industry terms of actual results, but may vary a percentage point or two here and there.

An equation; {7.95 x [.2(100%) + .2(80%) + .6(60%)]} x 50,000 = $286,200 projected annual anthology gross revenues. Assuming 10% gross profit, = 28,620. I suspect gross profit is closer to $40,000 because of reduced production costs from high volume print run and sales, and operating and overhead costs shared with Author Services in administering the contests, as compared to a conventional publisher's standalone costs. I also suspect Galaxy Press pays a licensing fee, on paper anyway, to Author Services for publishing rights.

I'm convinced the contests are profitable, richly so considering they're a sideline of Author Services' routine business mission. All Author Services' net profits go to CST. The revenue stream from the contests probably net an annual return on the order of $50,000 for CST. I believe the costs of administering the contest are likely paid from income on the trust's investments and come close to the actual return from profits. But it's all to the good for promoting the legacies of L. Ron Hubbard's empires and a noteworthy incentive and launching platform for emerging writers and illustrators.

[This message has been edited by extrinsic (edited June 21, 2009).]


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KayTi
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Thanks as always, Extrinsic. Fascinating analysis.

I second the speculative element coming very early.

My other personal observation from my stories is that contemporary fantasy (something weird happening in a current-day setting) don't seem to play particularly well. My straight sci-fi stories have done better (HMs instead of no places), even the ones I wrote a long time ago when, presumably, my writing skills were less. It's easy to put the speculative element up front in a sci-fi story, since the setting is so often the speculative element. I found it harder to do with my contemporary fantasies.


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tnwilz
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Thanks extrinsic, you beat all expectations.

BTW the latest list of Finalists, Semi-Finalists, and a batch of HM's got posted today. I searched eagerly for my name but apparently you have to actually enter.

Tracy


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arriki
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I'm having a lot of trouble getting this WOTF story printed out. The printer keeps dropping lines.

Besides that -- how do I handle the page numbering? I am so upset over the text problems that I can't remember.

Is the cover letter page one? Or is the first page of the story page One? And do I print the page # on either of those?


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Zero
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I knew I wouldn't have to eat that nasty peppermint flavored hat.
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Merlion-Emrys
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My hat is made of cake.
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TaleSpinner
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Those sales figures for WOTF anthologies seem to defy gravity. Where do they come from? Are they audited?

If correct, they're selling almost as much as Analog, Asimov's and F&SF combined. Given that many F&SF fans will buy more than one of the big three, the WOTFs seem to be selling to a broader audience, one that includes many readers who do not buy the big three.

What is WOTF doing that regular mags and short story anthologies aren't doing? Why aren't the old familiars boosting their flagging circulations by copying WOTF's approach?


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WBSchmidt
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quote:
What is WOTF doing that regular mags and short story anthologies aren't doing?

It has been a long time since I entered the contest, but here are a few thoughts on why the WotF anthology sells so well.

1) $5,000 is a huge draw for a payout.
2) Winning the contest has launched many careers.
3) In depth critiques from well known authors.
4) The prestige of simply placing in the contest is a career boost.

--William

[This message has been edited by WBSchmidt (edited June 23, 2009).]


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TaleSpinner
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Those are reasons, perhaps, for entering the competition. I don't see how they can be reasons for its high sales unless there are 50,000 writers entering the competitions each year.
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AWSullivan
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The sales numbers aren't that hard to swallow if you consider that High Schools across the country and possibly across the globe use the anthologies in the literature curriculum.

Add to that a few thousand entrants that the majority of probably purchase. I don't think it's unrealistic.

~Anthony


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TaleSpinner
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If the primary buyers of the books are American high schools, wouldn't that mean that KDW is looking for politically correct YAs? (This would be consistent with the likes and dislikes noted above.)
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darklight
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To move away for a moment from the sales aspect of WotF, here's something interesting I thought I'd share with you.

So far, I've entered four stories into the competition. Two were non-runners, the other two got HMs.

I was trying to figure out what the two stories that got the HM had, that the other two didn't. I couldn't come up with anything in the narative or writing style that could be the difference, but I did realise this:

The two that didn't get the HMs were linear, written from start to finish as it happened. The two that got HMs both contained flashbacks. The first one having a single scene at the beginning, the main body of the story being a huge flashback, and a couple of scenes at the end that were back in the present. And the story that just got the HM contained four or five flashbacks scattered within the story.

I know many people are agaisnt flashbacks, but this tells me that as far as WotF are concerned, they're ok.


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ChrisOwens
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None of my near successes in WOTF have contained flashbacks--so I'm not sure that was the key--BUT you might do flashbacks better than most of us. Flashbacks are great, provided they are done well. As far as a good example of non-linear storytelling in WOTF, "The Frozen Sky" is a good example. But in the anthologies I've read, those types of stories are the expection to the 'rule'.
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JenniferHicks
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I've entered WOTF twice now and have gotten HM both times. The first entry had a flashback as its climax (but it was hinted at and set up throughout the story). The second entry was linear.

I can't think of much my two entries had in common. One was urban fantasy, the other sci-fi. One was 7,000+ words, the other only a little more than 2,000. Both had characters who cursed, which I've since heard isn't good for WOTF because the anthologies go into school libraries and therefore tend to be appropriate for younger readers. My third-quarter entry goes in a completely different direction from the first two.

For my fourth quarter story, I'm trying to follow the structure guidelines talked about by Algis Budrys (mentioned above). None of my previous stories has come anywhere near the classic structure. Maybe that's part of my problem.


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wrenbird
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What's an HM?
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JenniferHicks
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Honorable mention. From what I understand, it used to be called quarter finalist but was changed to avoid being confused with the list of finalists for any given quarter.
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wrenbird
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Ah, I see. Thanks
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