Can you give me some hints on how to get accepted to Brandon’s BYU English 318r class?
Karen here. I’m one of Brandon’s assistants, and I judge the applications each year. There are a few ‘tricks’ to getting accepted, but mostly they’re just common sense. Treat this application as if you are submitting your manuscript to an editor for possible publication.
The first part of this article is the nuts and bolts part. Below that are some things that I’ve noticed over the years about what I accept and what I reject.
1. Fill out the application and follow the directions EXACTLY. Remember to name your files EXACTLY as requested in the application. If you don’t, I will reject your application without looking at it. In past years I have been overwhelmed with applications, so I can only promise to consider 65 randomly selected submissions. This page has a link to the application form. Applications can be submitted on October 23 each year for winter semester of the following year.
2. The writing sample should be the first chapter of your novel and fit the wordcounts listed. If it’s too short, I won’t be able to get a good sense of your writing skill. If it’s too long, I will just stop in the middle and might reject your application for not following the rules. It’s best if you find a good stopping point within the wordcount limits.
Your first chapter is the hook of your novel. It may be the only thing that an editor or reader looks at. Make it something that will make me want more at the end of it.
After reading each writing sample, I’ll write a one sentence summary and give it a Good, Maybe, or No score.
3. I won’t look at the short answer questions before judging the writing samples. I generally end up with more than 15 ‘Good’ stories, and that’s when I take the short answers into account. A senior who has taken the lecture class before, has written three complete novels and listens to Writing Excuses is more likely to get accepted than a freshman who has not completed any novels or attended the lecture.
4. The essay will either confirm my previous impressions, or turn me off entirely. It’s all well and good to say that you feel your calling in life is to be an author, and that you’re committed to making a career of it, but if you haven’t put in the work of actually sitting down and completing a novel or two, then you’re not ready to get the full benefit of the workshop portion of this class.
5. Remember that if you are not accepted into the class, it does not mean that I’m rejecting you as a person or as an author. I only have 15 slots. There have been authors who applied one year, got rejected, took the lecture class anyway, then applied the next year and were accepted because they had a few more pluses on their application and more experience writing. I hope that you will take the lecture class no matter what your application status is, and that if your schedule permits, you will apply again another year.
When I said that you should treat this application as if you were submitting your novel to an editor for publication, I meant that literally. This is how it works in the field of professional publishing.
The key, other than just writing really well, is to not turn me off. Knowing that I have a limited amount of mental energy to devote to this task, I’m not going to waste my time on something that I know will not make the cut. You have two, maybe three pages to convince me that I ought to keep reading. Use them well. Here are some things that are nearly always going to get your story rejected.
- Grammar problems – I will stop reading after about the third mistake. There’s no excuse for this. If you aren’t confident about your ability to do a thorough proofread, have someone you trust help you.
- Boring start – I get that you want to show how exciting it is for your character to leave their life behind and answer the call to adventure, but I don’t want to read about a day spent twiddling their thumbs at school.
- Amateur pitfalls – Don’t have your character look in the mirror so that you can have an excuse to describe them. Don’t have a maid and butler scene where people tell each other things they both know in order to explain them to the reader.
- Purple prose – If the gentle breeze kisses the raven locks on the knight’s noble brow as she gazes forlornly at the twisting smoke emerging from the crimson embers of her dying campfire, I’m going to put the book down in less than a page. You don’t need an adjective every other word, and I shouldn’t feel like you’re writing with a thesaurus in your hand.
- White room – You do have to have some description. I need to be able to tell whether your characters are in a forest or a basement as they discuss their plans.
People have asked me, “If you see this many errors in my writing, doesn’t that mean that I’m the one who most needs to be accepted into this class?” The answer is no. You can get that kind of advice you can get from books or the lecture portion of the class. Brandon’s time is much better spent helping excellent authors take their writing to the next level, and we have enough of those apply that the fifteen slots I have really ought to go to them.
I don’t want this to stop anyone from applying. I hope that people will read this advice and use it to make sure that they’re sending me their very best work. I also want to stress that I only have fifteen slots. I have to reject good stories every year, and it breaks my heart to send out the letters to the candidates who weren’t accepted. Brandon wishes that he could help every one of you, but if you want the next Stormlight book to come out sometime in the next ten years, he’s got to ration his time.
On file names
Good luck, and good writing!