Superstars Writing Seminar 2020

I had a LOT of people tell me that this was a life-changing seminar, and boy, they weren’t joking.

Superstars isn’t like other girls writing seminars. This is a business-oriented, expert-level seminar for people who are serious about making money in the writing business in any capacity. I was totally clueless about the business of writing when I landed in Denver, but when I left, I felt like I might be able to get a handle on how to market myself and my writing.

So what’s the magic sauce? Well, first of all, all the people I talked to there, panelists, speakers, and attendees alike, were extremely approachable. I ended up talking to multiple terrifyingly successful people completely by accident, and I never would have known if I hadn’t seen them all teaching on panels. All of them were more than happy to talk to attendees before, during, and after their panels, and all were extremely knowledgeable. Someone walked me up to Kevin J. Anderson, who I had only met once, and he remembered me, gave me a hug, and proceeded to engage me in conversation. Eric Flint asked me about my Writers of the Future win when we passed each other in the hall and gave me some encouraging words.

The point is, you’ve got all these crazy talented people who are ridiculously successful in the writing field all gathered in one place to teach you how to navigate the business, and they’re all super nice.

Through people like this, Superstars fosters this environment where it’s easy to feel included and cared for, even when you’re totally overwhelmed by the massive amount of information you’re trying to absorb. And it is truly a massive amount, and there is so much socialization that you feel like you’re ready to explode, and then you go to bed at midnight and realize it’s only day one and you’ve got to be back at announcements at 8:15am. And so many writers are introverted! It seems like it would be easy to get overloaded and not want to participate in barcon, or big group dinners, or just chatting with people you don’t know in the lobby. But everyone else is a writer, too, and many have been attending Superstars for years and are more than happy to take a first timer under their wing. The weirdest part about this was how many people, even by day two, started recognizing me as “that person who won Writers of the Future this year, right?!” Everyone there was just genuinely excited to hear of each other’s successes, and genuinely wanted to listen to each other’s problems.

This seminar was just pure insanity from start to finish, in the best way possible. Craft Day consisted of six hours of classes from two teachers of your choosing, and each following day had 6-8 slots of 45-60 minutes each of pure information blast. Each slot usually had 3-4 different talks to choose from. Couldn’t choose just one? Don’t worry! In all likelihood, they were recording all but one of the sessions you wanted to attend, and you could buy the recordings and attend the sessions that weren’t recorded. Questions after the session ended? There’s a 15-minute break between each session during which no one will be upset at you for walking up to the front to talk to the speaker(s). Want to have a good cry? Go listen to James Artimus Owen’s “Drawing Out the Dragons” presentation. Not much of a crier? You will be when you watch him draw detailed dragons in minutes with a permanent marker while also speaking coherently. I’m convinced it’s a superpower. Want to self-publish? There’s talks for that. Want to trad publish? There’s talks for that too.

There are just too many aspects of Superstars to be able to put down into one blog post without it turning into a novel. But the truth of that seminar for me was that I had decided to go back before Craft Day sessions even started. Superstars is a big hotel full of people who, at the end of the day, are all rooting for you to succeed. Many of them have been where you are and are uniquely poised to understand and help you get to where they are. Is it expensive? Yes. But it was some of the best money I’ve ever spent. If you’re thinking of going and can’t afford it, apply for a scholarship. This is where you need to be if you’re serious about making it as a writer. Go check them out at https://superstarswriting.com/. You won’t regret it.

Hello, world.

Nothing ever goes like you expect it to.

I expected that I’d be wading through years of rejections before I got one acceptance. Maybe I’d get a few honorable mentions or other certificates from Writers of the Future along the way, but surely it would be years before I even came close to winning.

All of that changed with one phone call, and even that part defied expectations. The day before I received the phone call, I had emailed the contest coordinator to ask about my result, having not heard when everyone on the contest forums did. Of course I missed her call while walking the dog, because that’s how it goes. When I opened up the voicemail and heard, “Hi, this is Joni Labaqui from Writers of the Future…I have good news about the contest,” I turned to look at my husband and said, “Phone calls only mean one thing. But that doesn’t make any sense.” So, with shaking hands, I replayed the voicemail, wrote down the phone number she gave, and dialed.

Well, she picked up, chatted with me for a bit, and then happily told me that I’d been a finalist and was chosen as the third place winner. Thankfully, when I had absolutely no words to describe how hard I was freaking out, she was very kind to me and asked me about my story, congratulated me, and explained how everything was going to work.

For those of you who know Writers of the Future, feel free to skip this paragraph, but for those of you who don’t, here’s what “everything” means. Well, first, it’s prize money, in addition to payment for being printed in their yearly anthology. Then it’s the contest paying for your flights and lodging to go out to Hollywood for a week-long writing workshop led by terrifyingly talented scifi and fantasy writers like David Farland, Tim Powers, and Orson Scott Card. Then, at the end of what is essentially writer bootcamp, they have you fitted for tuxes and dresses (or is it gowns? Clearly I don’t wear enough of them to know the difference), have your hair and makeup professionally done, and send you in a limo to a big gala where everyone accepts their awards and makes a speech. Not to mention the part where you also get interviewed for the WotF podcast. But one of the parts I’m most excited for? One of the winning illustrators from the parallel contest, Illustrators of the Future, illustrates your story and it goes into the anthology along with your story. That is crazy to me. I can’t wait to see what one of these incredibly talented people comes up with! I know this sounds like a lot, but I’m positive I’m forgetting to list at least one thing here.

So, wow. This was completely unexpected. Sure, I’ve been working hard, trying to find and digest all the information I can and writing my butt off, but I never expected to win this contest on my second submission. I’m still half wondering if Joni isn’t going to call me back at any moment to tell me that there’s been a mistake, and either they got the wrong person or I’ve been disqualified or…really anything other than that I won this contest and get to participate in all the insanely cool stuff that comes with it. This will be my first published story as well, and my winning story was the second story I’d submitted…anywhere. At all, in my whole life. I thought I would have a few more years to navigate this whole “how to submit your work properly” thing, but here it is.

I have a lot of people to thank for this, all of whom will also be publicly and lavishly thanked in my acceptance speech as well in April.

First and foremost: my husband. He is an absolute gem who has suffered through reading the early stages of every single one of my stories with nary a complaint. Without him, my WotF winner would have had a whole different ending, but he read the first one and kindly told me that it was terrible and I needed to scrap it. He was right. It was terrible.

Second: Wulf Moon, for his advice and his challenge, and the Writers of the Future forumites, for their advice, kindness, and support. Moon’s Super Secret Bonus Challenge on the forum has been invaluable to many, including myself, and I read the whole thread front to back while I was writing my winner. And I tell you, that was no mean feat. It was about 36 pages long when I started reading it, and at the time of this writing it is up to 61 pages, with over 1,000 comments.

Third: My lovely friend Tiffany, who told me that no, those parts do not need to be in past perfect tense, and yes, I should strongly consider making them not be in past perfect tense. You were right, and you made that story a million times stronger than it would have been otherwise.

In programming, when you learn a new language, the first thing most people do is write a program that simply prints out, “Hello, world.” And writing fiction, although I do it in my native language, is still like learning a new language. Same concepts apply, but the syntax is different. So, this story is it. This is my “Hello, world.”