C.L. Kagmi on her Writers of the Future win


Hi all, I'm very pleased to say that C.L. Kagmi's The Drake Equation is available in Writers of the Future Volume 33! I've read it, and recommend it. I thought it would be interesting for readers to hear about her experience, so I suggested she write about it and she kindly obliged. Enjoy! –Joe

Hello Compelling readers,

C. L. Kagmi here. If my name looks familiar, that's because I've appeared in Issues 2 and 5 of Compelling Science Fiction.

I'm also one of the Writers of the Future contest winners included the newly released book, Writers of the Future Volume 33.

I discovered the Writers of the Future books years ago, courtesy of the science fiction section of my local used bookshop. The first volume I bought home was quite remarkable: it contained tales ranging from new takes on old science fiction concepts to unique fantasy tales, all of which were sharp and vivid enough to engross me.

As time went on, I learned how these books were created: through a contest designed specifically for new writers of sci-fi and fantasy.

By targeting writers who had not already been widely published, the contest was finding new voices in the field. By soliciting submissions from all over the world and having some of the top names in speculative fiction choose the winning stories, they were finding, in short, really good stuff.

I'm honored to have been chosen as one of this year's voices for my new story, “The Drake Equation” - in which one woman learns the answer to the question of why humanity hasn't been contacted by any alien societies.

I will confess that when I entered the contest, I did not quite realize how much of a Big Deal it was. I knew that I would love to appear in an anthology alongside stories like those I'd loved from years past; I knew that the contest paid winners better for their work than any other short fiction markets I knew of.

I did not know that the contest treated winners to a week's bootcamp exploring topics from inspiration to self-promotion at the feet of some of today's most renowned speculative fiction writers.

When I received the call from Joni Labaqui notifying me that I was a finalist, I was stunned. I was further stunned when she asked me if I could be in Los Angeles in late March. My answer, of course, was “yes!”

The workshop week began with lessons from two-time World Fantasy Award winner Tim Powers – a contest judge – and anthology editor David Farland, also known as the author of the Runelords series, not to mention “the guy who decided to promote the Harry Potter books” and “the guy who tutored Stephenie Meier in how to write a bestselling young adult novel.”

Powers and Farland turned out to be an excellent “power couple” (as my fellow winner Ville Merlianen described them at the awards), espousing different attitudes toward writing which, clearly, have both yielded good results.

They were also absolutely delightful people to be with – indeed, everyone we met throughout the workshop week seemed thrilled to be there, and excited to support the newest members of the Writers of the Future family.

And quite a family it was. The week's roster read like a parade of A-list authors – after our first few days under Farland and Powers' tutelage, Kevin J. Anderson, Doug Beason, Nina Kiriki Hoffman, Nancy Kress, Larry Niven, Jody Lynn Nye, Nnedi Okorafor, Jerry Pournelle, Mike Resnick, and Robert J. Sawyer dropped by to share with us their wisdom.

Also present were a number of past winners-cum-success stories – discounting David Farland and Nnedi Okorafor, who are both past winners and current judges, Martin L. Shoemaker, Kary English, Laurie Tom, Steve Pantazis, and Brennan Harvey.

It was fascinating to see how this community of writers had all managed to excel, and all agreed on a few things – that successful writers are those who write regularly and don't give up easily, for example – but there was clearly no one formula for success.

Some were devoted “plotters,” working off of outlines; others were “pantsers,” who never knew what was going to happen next. Some churned out multiple books in a year; others took multiple years to perfect a single book.

The weeks after the awards ceremony are another invaluable – though somewhat less enjoyable – lesson for new writers.

Writers can't just write, these days. They also have to be promoters and publicists.

This is unfortunately true in all fields. Publishers have been cutting back on the amount they're willing to invest in publicity – and expecting writers to do more and more of it themselves – for years.

Galaxy Press spends more on promoting the Writers of the Future anthologies than most publishers would for your average first-time author, but that doesn't mean that winners are off the hook in terms of promoting ourselves.

There are book signings. There are Reddit AMAs. There are urges to expand social media presence as much as possible – a necessary evil that few writers I know enjoy, but which almost all publishers now require.

Indeed, attendees of 2016's Writers Digest Conference were told that something like 91% of 2015's first-time novelists already had “significant social media followings” before the release of their first book. Much to the frustration of old-timers and newcomers alike, that's just the way it's done now.

The contest provides invaluable experience in this regard; a team of 12+ winners works together and pools their expertise to accomplish self-promotion, with the guidance of Galaxy Press' experienced team of publicity experts. This is another opportunity that simply can't be bought.

The necessity to self-promote is one that most writers I know view as a necessary evil – we would much rather be spending all our time writing, and I've heard good writing characterized as “propulsive egoism, followed by crippling self-doubt.” That is to say, for writers who are perfectionists, promoting any of our work as being worth reading can be a real trial.

But perhaps by making it known that self-promotion is now a fact of life for all creators, we can make this task a little easier for each other.

C. L. Kagmi

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