Cram your novel in a compactor; strap your short story to a rack; or break out your best short novel or long short story. In other words, it’s time to bust out those novellas. Seizure, the cutting-edge, Sydney-based journal, is currently running Viva La Novella, a novella competition for Australian and New Zealand writers. Seizure is looking for novellas running between 20-50,000 words and is offering, to the winning author, $1000, publication in Seizure, the full editorial treatment and significant exposure.
Shorter than a novel but longer than a short story, the novella is an under-published and underexposed narrative form. However, given that so much of the world suffers from a rapidly eroding attention span perhaps the novella is overdue for a new breath of life. Australian writer John Dale suggests that for the emerging writer the future may well lie with the novella. He says ‘the novella is the genre best suited to conceptualizing the digital age’ largely because it ‘strips narrative back to its essentials, cutting away the excess baggage’. The implication here is that digital publishing presents fresh opportunities for revitalising the life of the novella, as well as offering a dynamic medium for emerging writers.
Speakeasy recently caught up with author, artist, creative director and design ninja, David Henley, the mastermind behind Viva La Novella, to offer us some behind-the-scenes hints and tips. So, whip out those novellas and check out what David had to say.
Speakeasy: How did Seizure‘s novella competition come about?
David Henley (DH): We wanted to find a way to encourage writers beyond the short story. Seizure puts out a magazine for short pieces but we felt a lot of writers could go further if they had more room.
Speakeasy: Why has Seizure chosen to promote the novella and why do you think the novella is such an under-published form? What opportunities do you think the novella offers to young writers and publishers?
DH: There are economic and chicken-and-egg reasons why the novella is not as commercially viable in print, largely due to an alleged value perception in book buyers that more pages equates to better value.
Novellas are a great place to start for a lot of writers. Writing a full length novel is a complex and time-consuming exercise, and something that is hard to complete if you work and/or study. The opportunities for writers and publishers are the same, but it takes risk and experiment to discover anything new. We think (hope, pray, etc.) the online marketplace can change the value perception, so that people will want a good reading experience, rather than a solid and heavy one. Digital publishing also affords greater flexibility with pricing structures.
Speakeasy: Is the competition open to writers across a free range of genres? Are there kinds of writers (in terms of genre or otherwise) whom you would particularly encourage to enter?
DH: Yes, absolutely. We are open to all sorts of writing and genres.
We would encourage anyone who hasn’t tried to complete a longer project before to use this competition as their impetus.
Speakeasy: If it isn’t giving too much away, what kinds of qualities would you look for in a top-shelf submission?
DH: The dream submission would be a tight story that took me in, held my attention, made me think, and then ended gracefully.
Speakeasy: On the website, Seizure is described as ‘a launchpad for new writing where young authors and editors experiment with form and style’. How important is this focus on young writers and experimental form and style going to be to the competition?
DH: That is one of Seizure‘s mottos as a whole, and largely it means a lot more collaboration between our editors and writers in the development of ideas than most other publishers and journals.
In relation to the competition it will come down to each entry. If you are a writer ‘experimenting’ with form then I’d encourage you to remember your science and that experiments start with a hypothesis that is tested by experiment. So, have a hypothesis and you might get somewhere.
Speakeasy: The theme for the competition is ‘Origin’: what was the motivation behind this theme? What kind of creative engagement with the theme are you hoping to see in the submissions?
DH: Well, we wanted to provoke the writers to think about story structure. Many young writers are stuck in their development by concentrating on sentences, and fail to consider the bigger playing field of story and plot.
We’d love to find a story that made us want to read more: perhaps the novella could be the start of a series, or meme.
Speakeasy: What kind of exposure or benefits might young or emerging writers hope to get from the competition and from their potential publication in Seizure?
DH: At the beginning of your career you need exposure however you can get it. Money will only come after you’ve got runs on the board and when you are a known quantity.
The aim of Seizure, in all its publications, events and activities, is to help spread the word and get the name of our creatives known to a bigger audience. Even though Seizure is one of Australia’s newest journals, we are doing well getting out to over 100 bookstores, and recently into newsagencies.
The other thing about Seizure is that we give every piece special treatment, with a rigorous edit, then a copy edit by experienced editors, and then we create individual art for every story. So writers get exposure, become part of the community and their work is crafted and presented beautifully.
Speakeasy: Are there any plans to publically announce the shortlisted authors or will their work, or excerpts of it, be made available?
DH: We are considering an announcement for the shortlist at the end of the year, once the authors have confirmed. Then we will go into rigorous editing mode so there won’t be extracts until after that. We won’t be able to confirm plans until consulting with the winners.
Speakeasy: Is there anything else you might like to mention to our readers?
DH: We hope that some of you will enter, or just investigate what we are doing at Seizure. There’s so much good writing in Australia, the challenge is getting people to take notice. That’s what we’re trying to help with.
Entries for Viva La Novella close November 1, 2012. For further submission details and full submission guidelines visit the Seizure website.
Julian Thumm is a freelance editor and writer. He has degrees from The University of Queensland and The University of Adelaide. He has worked with the Australian Journal of Communication, The University of Queensland Press, and Corporate Communication International through The City University of New York. He is currently based in Brisbane.