I sent the manuscript for Terminal Alliance to my editor and agent on Sunday, which means I am now allowed to stop and breathe and catch up on a little of what’s been happening in the world recently. I wanted to start with the discussion about the Writers of the Future contest that’s been making the rounds.
I was a first prize winner in the contest back in 1998, and attended the 1999 workshop. My story was published in Volume 15. At the time, I knew L. Ron Hubbard, the founder of the contest, was also the founder of Scientology. We were told the contest and its finances were completely separate from the church.
That was six years ago. Since then, I’ve learned more about people’s experiences, how the contest operates, and the alleged firewall between the church and the contest.
The Writers of the Future trademark is registered to the Church of Spiritual Technology. As of 1994, Scientology owned the WotF trademark. Ownership was transferred in 1997 to the L. Ron Hubbard Library…which has the exact same address and correspondent as the Church of Spiritual Technology.
The workshop is taught using materials from Dianetics. J. W. Alden posted a thread with one of the first handouts the writers receive at the WotF workshop. I remember that particular worksheet from my own workshop week. What I didn’t know until Alden pointed it out was that the text of that worksheet comes directly from page one of Dianetics.
Transphobic edits. Keffy R. M. Kehrli was a WotF winner in 2011. His story “Bonehouse” was, to the best of his knowledge, the only story to receive any edits that year. The edits in question? Removing references about a trans character who was transitioning.
The anthology sells poorly…except to Scientologists. Jason Sanford investigated the Bookscan numbers for previous WotF anthologies. He found sales to be relatively low, but with an unusual anomaly:
“Across this three week period sales match up extremely well with related Scientology locations, which would suggest more than 90% of total sales are bought in locations with a large Scientology presence.”
This would not be the first time the church encouraged or forced members to buy books with Hubbard’s name on them.
The publicity machine has gotten much more intense since 1999. Winner Anaea Lay wrote about her mixed feelings after the workshop. One quote that jumped out at me was, “The winners are not real people to ASI. It’s not malicious. From ASI’s perspective, there are no real people, just pawns in their great publicity machine designed to sell books with L. Ron Hubbard’s name on them.”
WotF Staffers are all Scientologists. This point was made by ex-Scientologist Dierdre Saoirse Moen, and affirmed by contest director Joni Labaqui in a letter to Frank Wu (see Edit 4 in the linked blog post).
- Why does this matter? I see two things here. One is that it undermines the idea of any real barrier between the church and the contest. The other is various reports of unfair labor practices within Scientology, and whether the people working at WotF are a part of that.
Winner speeches are allegedly used at Scientology ceremonies. Former Scientologist Mike Rinder writes that the winners’ speeches and photos are used at weekly Scientology “graduation” ceremonies, as a way of bestowing legitimacy on both L. Ron Hubbard and the church.
WotF Presence at the 1987 Worldcon. Conspiracy Theories, edited by Chris Evans, is a chapbook discussing the presence of Author Services Inc and related manifestations of L. Ron Hubbard at Conspiracy, the 1987 World SF Convention in Brighton, England. I’m not sure how much weight to give events from more than 30 years ago, but it’s part of the history, so I thought it worth including the link.
None of this makes me any less proud of my winning story from 20 years ago. The judges are not Scientologists, and they chose my sword and sorcery piece as one of the best stories they saw that year. I enjoyed the workshop, made some friends, and had a wonderful experience.
Did it kickstart or provide an irreplaceable boost to my career? Nope. I can’t see into alternate timelines, but I’m 99% sure I’d be in the exact same place if I’d never won. (Everyone’s experience is different, of course. I know the contest was much more of a springboard for at least one now-big-name author. But as a rule, a single story sale/publication will not make or break your career.)
I’m not interested in shaming winners or people who choose to participate, or the judges, some of whom are people I have tremendous respect for. But I want to make the information available so people can make more informed choices about whether to participate.
If I’d known then what I know now? I would have removed Writers of the Future from my submission list and sent that story to another market, somewhere without the transphobia, with a bigger audience, and without the close connection to a religious organization with a long list of alleged abuses.