Brad R. Torgersen wrote:Since winning Writers of the Future, how do you think being an alumni has benefitted your career?Brad Beaulieu wrote:This is inherently difficult to answer. As a writer, we don't know exactly which doors might have been opened with various editors, but it's common knowledge how difficult it is to win a Writers of the Future award, so my general sense is that it helped in the months and years after the contest win to convey a certain level of achievement. It didn't mean that sales were given to me; simply that the stories I submitted were given more consideration than if I hadn't had the contest credit.
Another benefit was that of confidence. It's a slog as a new writer. We write. We submit. And the feedback from the people you're really looking for feedback from--editors and agents--is hard to come by. And so, getting the contest win proved to me that I was made out for writing. It gave me the confidence to continue writing, to continue working on my craft, and most importantly, to continue submitting.
One invaluable benefit has been the contacts I made during awards week. So many of the instructors were gracious with their time and insights at the workshop, and many have continued to be years after I attended the workshop. But it's not only the instructors that have been helpful, but my fellow writers. I've kept in contact with a good many of them, and we've helped each other along the way. And there's even more than that. There's a huge network of past winners, and winners that come after you. It's a large and vast network that can help with feedback, camaraderie, and on the networking end of things.
Prior to winning the Contest, how many times did you enter? And how many Honorable Mention (quarter finalist), Semi-Finalist, or Finalist placements did you get, before being a Published Finalist and then a winner?Brad Beaulieu wrote:I entered the contest for six straight quarters. The string ended when I placed second in Q1 of 2003. I think I had one Honorable Mention before winning the contest, though it's hard to remember at this point.
Was it difficult to attain additional publication after Writers of the Future, or did it come easily and/or quickly?Brad Beaulieu wrote:It wasn't easy, that's for sure. I made sales, but I had to continue to push my craft to make them. I attended workshops, traveled to conventions, and wrote, wrote, wrote. Working against me was the fact that I tend to write long. I don't personally gravitate toward reading or writing stories under 2,500 words. In fact, I feel like 7,500 words is a pretty natural length for my short fiction, and if you know anything about short fiction markets, you know that they tend to like shorter work (5k or under). So while I did work on being more succinct, I more importantly tried to make every word count, so that even if a story was long, it was compelling. Eventually I started making sales on a more regular basis and even got invited to anthologies. It was a challenging (though manageable) climb.
Do you feel like exposure via Writers of the Future helped you get additional attention from other editors which you may not have gotten?Brad Beaulieu wrote:Again, this is nearly impossible for me to say. I haven't asked any editors this question directly. But if you follow editors and listen to them on their blogs or on panels, you'll find that credits help. They aren't the whole story, of course--a story has to sell itself--but credits, especially a well respected one like Writers of the Future, will predispose them toward expecting a good story from you. In other words, they'll want to like it, as opposed to wanting to not like it so that they can move on to the next story in the pile. I think this is all a writer can hope for in terms of their past credits--an optimistic editor--and Writers of the Future certainly does that.
When working with other anthology projects, have you approached them, or do they approach you?Brad Beaulieu wrote:I've only been approached for anthology projects. I haven't actually written one on spec with a particular anthology in mind. It's always a fun challenge to write a story based on a certain topic or theme. It makes you stretch beyond the boundaries that you might have chosen for yourself, so I enjoy writing for them. That said, I've actually declined a few invitations because the subject wasn't quite up my alley. It was strange to do that--having previously been so hungry to make sales--but in those cases, and at those times, I was also busy with family, work, and other writing commitments.
When writing for anthologies, do you start with a broad theme, or are you operating with very clear guidelines?Brad Beaulieu wrote:Most of the anthologies I've worked with have had only broad themes. I had freedom to write a story pretty much as I chose. However, one anthology, Spells and Chrome, which was an anthology of stories set in the Shadowrun game universe, we had pretty tight guidelines in terms of the world and the speculative elements (Shadowrun is a futuristic Earth with both fantastical and science fictional elements). It was a fun story to write, and I'm proud to be part of the anthology, but it did come with tighter restrictions than I was used to.
Do you ever see royalties or other benefits from placing stories with anthologies?Brad Beaulieu wrote:Royalties, no. Not so far. Other benefits? Yes. They are good credits that can lead to other anthology invites. They can act as calling cards for novel-length work as well--assuming the story is one that you'd like to expand on. They can also be considered for awards or best-of anthologies, so getting more work out in anthologies or other short markets is a great path to more recognition and more work.
Do you have a 5 year plan -- or plan of any sort -- concerning future work?Brad Beaulieu wrote:Yes, certainly. I have an epic fantasy trilogy coming out from Night Shade Books. The first book in the series, The Winds of Khalakovo, is coming out next April. I'm wrapping up Winds now, and I'm in the middle of writing the second book. Finishing this whole process is going to take me out at least two more years. And then there's the promotion of the books, which will take time. But beyond this, I'm in the early stages of creating a Podcast on speculative writing with fellow writer, Greg Wilson, that will start in January of next year. I also have two story ideas that I'm letting marinate now for the next set of books after the Winds trilogy is complete. I'm hoping to have a package (synopsis and three chapters) that my agent can begin marketing by the middle of next year. Hopefully we can sell that series before I'm finished with Winds so that I can just leap to that project when my time is freed up.
There are lots of other plans in the work--like more blog and other self-promotion activities--but most of these revolve around trying to build my name up once Winds hits the streets (and the interwebs).
What are the five things you'd suggest for writers who are entering Writers of the Future, and may have gotten Honorable Mention, but haven't managed to get to the Finalist circle yet?Brad Beaulieu wrote:1. Don't skip quarters. The Writers of the Future is a great contest, and certainly worthy of entering every quarter. It's good incentive to keep writing, to keep learning, and to keep stretching your boundaries. These are all necessary steps in your path to consistent publication.
2. Recognize your weaknesses. We all have weaknesses. Learn what yours are. Workshop your stories. Critique others. Pay close attention to the common threads in the feedback you're getting. And once you have those weaknesses identified. Work on them. Get advice. And make active attempts to root out those problems, because simply writing is not enough. Writing blindly can reinforce your bad habits.
3. Recognize your strengths. We all have strengths. Learn what yours are. It's common to get all sorts of advice on your stories, some of which makes no sense whatsoever to listen to. In fact, they may be very detrimental if taken to heart and internalized. While you're paying attention to those common threads I mentioned above? Also pay attention to what you're doing right. I say this not so you can rest on your laurels; I say it so you can accentuate those strengths and make them better. You can even use that knowledge to minimize your strengths in certain stories so that you can focus on your weaknesses. If you're great with dialogue, write a story with no dialogue whatsoever. If you're good with action, write an introspective story. And then do the reverse. Write a story that focuses on your strengths, i.e. make those muscles stronger. Hopefully something interesting comes out of these experiments along the way.
4. Network. Go to conventions. Participate in online workshops. Tweet. This is a lonely profession we're in, but you'll find that there's a whole world of people just like you (ok, mostly like you), struggling to break in. It's not only good to make contacts from a business perspective; it's healthy for the mind. It's nice to be able to talk and commiserate. It makes this difficult profession a lot more bearable when times are tough and makes it much more enjoyable when they're good.
5. Enjoy the small victories. Be proud that you're submitting. How many people think about writing stories but never do? A lot. So be proud of it. Be proud that you were considered with so many other talented writers. Be proud that you got honorable mention, or made the semi-finals, or the finals even though your story wasn't published. Be proud that you received feedback on a rejection. These are all accomplishments that should be relished. They should spur you to continue writing, to continue to get better. It may be a tired old maxim, but it's true: writing is more about the journey than the destination. So, please, enjoy your accomplishments along the way.
What are five mistakes that you think beginning writers most often make?Brad Beaulieu wrote:1. Allowing themselves to get discouraged. People often look at writing like it's easy--I sure did when I entered the fray--but writing has to be looked at like any other profession. You need training. You need time to learn what you're doing wrong. You need time to internalize the advice you're getting. It's a terribly personal thing to write something close to your heart, to send it out in the world, and to have it rejected (sometimes in very harsh terms). But you have to remember this is a journey. You will be rejected. Many, many times. Learn from the rejections--even stock rejections--and promise yourself that you will continue. After all, rejections are a necessary part of the writing process. It's impossible not to be down after a rejection--any rejection--but don't let it become larger than it is.
2. Failing to learn from their mistakes. I'm harping on this a bit, but I think this is a key component for young writers. While I was at Clarion, Chip Delaney told us that it's not sufficient to simply write. Doing so blindly will only reinforce bad habits, making them that much harder to break when you finally uncover them (assuming that you ever do!). We must exercise our writing muscles, and to do that, we must know which ones are weak. So early on, spend time learning all the various disciplines of writing--setting, action, dialogue, mood, tone, suspense, voice, and the like--and then evaluate yourself through the feedback of others. And then work on making them better. Go to workshops. Read well respected books on writing. And write with your weaknesses in mind.
3. Not treating this like a business. Like it or not, writing is a business. All of the short story markets out there have bottom lines to worry about. As do the publishing houses. If they're rejecting your work, it isn't personal--it's business--and keeping this in mind can help to put rejections and feedback in their proper place. They can become, strangely enough, positive experiences. After all, a "close" rejection from an editor can help you the next time you submit to them. If you act professionally, and you show yourself to be getting better, and you submit to them on a consistent basis, they will want to publish you. You just need to provide them with a story they can accept.
4. Failing to find the art. Young writers tend to get caught up in technique. I know I did when I first started writing. I was all about the crafting, making sure I followed this rule and that. And I think to a large degree this is a good thing early on. But at some point technique has to fall away and the art has to surface. You have to lose yourself in the writing. This is one of the hardest things to come by in writing. It's something that can be discussed, but not something that can be taught. I have no hard advice on this other than to remind writers that writing is as much an art form as any other. Your style and voice will eventually come to you. It's good to listen to your inner critic, but sometimes it's better to tell him to just shut up and let you write.
5. Failing to give writing the time it deserves. I will fully admit that it's difficult to find the time to write every day, but if a young writer really wants to evolve into the writer they envision, they have to commit to it. I write nearly every day. One hour minimum. Sometimes those days are spent brainstorming, working out problems, and the like. Other days it's hands-on-keyboard. They're both valid forms of writing, in my opinion. Try to minimize the former and accentuate the latter, but write. It's the only way you'll really be able to find the writer within you.
Huge thanks to Brad for contributing. Please visit his web site and give a shout out on his blog if you liked what you saw here.
Have a good weekend everyone!