Tracy S. Morris

Quirky Mysteries, Screwball Fantasy and Sassy History

Writers of the Future Quarter Finalist William Ledbetter

Written By: Tracy - Aug• 23•11

Today’s interview is with one of my dear friends, William Ledbetter. William wears a lot of hats.  In addition to being a fellow Yard Dog Press writer (and editing several of my short stories and novels) William is an editor for Heroic Fantasy Quarterly. When he’s not doing that, he’s also the administrator for the Jim Baen Memorial Competition.

Willaim was just named the quarter finalist for the most recent quarter’s Writers of the Future Competition. His story is in the running for the competition’s yearly grand prize. Additionally, his story will be published in the Writers of the Future yearly anthology. William will also receive a cash prize and get to travel to LA for a writing seminar.

He was kind enough to answer a few questions for me for this blog.


In your own words, describe the Writers of the Future contest?

It’s a contest designed to encourage amateur writers to write regularly and keep improving. Since they have a new contest every quarter, entrants can write and submit four new stories each year. As writers gets better they’re rewarded by having their names printed on the Honorable Mention list, then when they get to the Semi-Finalist level they get critiques from the contest administrator. And of course big cash prizes, professional level publication and a week long workshop for those who win each quarter.

How long have you been submitting entries into this contest?

Almost since I started writing for publication, which would be around ten years. But unlike some of those smarter winners I mentioned above, I didn’t submit stories every quarter, maybe one or two times a year. Over that period I started out with rejections, then I racked up two Quarter Finalist wins, which are called Honorable Mentions now, then two or three of those HM’s as well, and then last year I made semi-finalist for the first time. And now a win.

What was your process of submitting for this most recent work?

Rather simple really. The only special formatting requirements are that the manuscripts not include the writer’s name, in order to facilitate “blind” judging. They have electronic submissions now, so you don’t even have the cost of mailing the entry anymore. Or course like for any submission, you want to edit it and polish it so represents your best efforts.

Since I know that the work is still in the running for the Grand Prize award and you can’t tell me everything about it, tell me what you can about the story that you submitted? Was it something that you wrote with the contest in mind?

As most writers can tell you, the story in their head doesn’t always translate well to paper, but I think this story accomplished what I wanted it to do. The best speculative fiction takes you someplace you’ve never been, presents you with worlds and situations you’ve never encountered and contains elements of wonder and discovery. That is what I tried to do, and feel that it worked. I don’t recall ever writing anything specifically for Writers of the Future, but I did think this one might be a good candidate because its structure was similar to some of my earlier stories that ranked high in the contest.

 If someone is considering entering the contest, are there any tips that you can give them?

Don’t try cute tricks or to wow the judges with spectacular prose. Telling a good, entertaining story is the key. In my opinion, telling the story well is the foundation of all good fiction writing. Learn that first, then go back and experiment. But the vast majority of those submitting to WotF probably aren’t at that skill level yet. And above all…be patient. Learning each quarter’s results takes a long time.

What does it mean to be a 1st Place Winner? What do you get?

Each quarter has a 1st, 2nd and 3rd Place winner. I was lucky enough to be 1st Place for Q2, so I get $1,000 in prize money, my story will be published in the Writers of the Future anthology, Volume 28 (I get paid pro rates for that too,) they fly me and the other winners out to Los Angeles to participate in a workshop with well known professional writers, then a formal awards gala. As mentioned already, I’m also still in the running for the $5,000 Grand Prize, which will be given to one of the four quarterly 1st Place winners at the Gala.

In addition to winning contests, I hear that you’re also an editor for Heroic Fantasy Quarterly. Tell my readers a bit about the magazine.

The founding editors, Adrian Simmons and David Farney, thought there was a severe lack of skull crunching Heroic type fantasy in the short form, so decided they would get to read more if they tried to fill that void. And we have seen and published some great stories since then. Unlike some of the more civilized markets, we don’t shy away from visceral, bloody combat or bone chomping dragon maws. That said, we don’t much like brainless protagonists (or antagonists), blow by blow melee descriptions or aimless prattle. Tell us a good pulse pounding story and we’ll pay you $100 for it, or $25 for poems.

You also administer the Jim Baen Memorial Writing Contest. Tell my readers a bit about the contest.

This contest is co-sponsored by Baen Books and the National Space Society. It’s not nearly as big as the earlier mentioned WotF contest and is open to any writer, but we have a rather narrow focus. We’re looking for stories that show humanity’s near term future in space. The stories most likely to win will show spaceflight and technology as a positive thing, not the antagonist. We want to see Moon bases, Mars colonies, orbital habitats, space elevators, asteroid mining, artificial intelligence, nano-technology, realistic spacecraft, heroics, sacrifice and adventure! The winning story is published at pro rates as the Featured story on the Baen Books main website and the award is given out at the International Space Development Conference every year.

Since you read quite a bit of slush, I’m sure you see a lot of writers committing the same mistakes over and over. Tell me about some of the most common (and possibly the most over-used) tropes so that my readers can avoid them.

One big problem I see over and over, and usually reject, is when writers start their story with an info dump disguised as a conversation. The characters are walking down a hall or riding though a forest or sitting in a space station bar, just talking about where they are, and previous events that landed them in their current situation. These kinds of info dumps make for a slow start and almost never work. They are also seldom necessary. Beginning writers need to learn the art of giving out information in bits and pieces, as the reader needs it. If the reader needs to know right away that Mable is being hunted by the imperial guard, then instead of telling us in some lame bar room conversation, have guards storm into the guild hall looking for her.

Where can readers find you online?

My website is From there you can link to my writing blog and all those fine contests and publications earlier listed. I’m also on Facebook at

Anything else to add?

For all struggling writers out there…don’t give up! Keep writing and submitting, then sit down and write more.

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  1. Great job, Tracy! You make me look good! Thanks!

  2. J. Kathleen Cheney says:

    So glad to see your name on that list!