Entering competitions and submitting your work to magazines is a great way to raise your profile – if you’re successful! Otherwise it might sap your confidence and creative strength. But pick your targets carefully, and you have much to gain. Last year, for example, it got a real life when two of my flash fiction pieces were chosen for anthologies. Young author and poet Amanya Maloba shares her experience of choosing the perfect match for her submission: Vine Leaves Literary Journal, who named her Grand Finalist of their 2014 Vignette competition, for which she won a publishing contract for her debut collection, Harvest. I’ve been chatting to Amanya about her experience and about her future plans.
Debbie Young: You write very short and beautiful prose pieces and poetry, which are much harder to find an audience for such short pieces than longer works or conventional genre fiction – how else do you draw attention to them, other than on your beautiful blog?
Amanya Maloba: This entire process has been such a learning experience. Right now, I mostly rely on my blog, bloggers like yourself, word of mouth, guerilla marketing etc. I’m currently looking for independent bookstores, boutiques, and other specialty shops to carry copies of Harvest.
Debbie Young: Was Vine Leaves the first lit mag that you’d sent your work to, or is it something you do on a regular basis? If the latter, how do you choose the magazines that are right for your work, how often do you submit, and what have the results been.
Amanya Maloba: The first lit mag I submitted to, I did so anonymously and didn’t show anyone when it appeared in print. I was pretty happy to have my work published (another vignette) since I had never shown it to anyone before. I submitted different types of work to university publications while in college, but was never really interested in competitions when it came to my work – have too fragile an ego! It’s still not something I do regularly, though I do keep my eyes open for calls from publications I admire.
Debbie Young: I can relate to that! What made you choose Vine Leaves and why do you particularly like that magazine?
Amanya Maloba: I heard about the Vine Leaves Vignette Collection Award through my school (I was a student at the University of Chicago at the time of submission). Choosing to submit was a no-brainer – a publisher that wants an entire collection of a non-popular form of writing that I just happen to have hundreds of? When I first read the contest guidelines I had a premonition in the form of full-body tingling that this would be a life-changing opportunity.
Debbie Young: Sounds like it was meant to be! How wonderful. Congratulations on being the Grand Finalist in their 2014 competition, for which the prize was publication of a collection of your work. How did the submissions process work – did you have to submit a complete collection, or just sample pieces?
Amanya Maloba: Thank you! The competition called for a manuscript up to sixty pages. At the time I already had well over sixty vignettes all under the same food theme, but not organized into any cohesive order. So in a way I actually created the book for the competition.
Amanya Maloba: So far I’ve gotten positive feedback, which is nice to know that there are people who can vive with my peculiar style. People like to tell me what their favorite pieces from the collection are. So far “Sweetness” is the only repeat answer, which means I chose a good opener!
Debbie Young: The book is also delightfully pocket-sized and portable – easy to keep a few copies in your handbag to handsell and to share wherever you go, plus it’s very tactile, really inviting people to pick it up and take a look. Do you tend to sell by hand, and have you managed to get it into any other outlets other than the usual online retailers? I’m thinking it might be a great counter-top sale in African cafe-bars!
Amanya Maloba: Thanks! I love the size of Harvest as well. I agree.I think that is does make it easy to sell by hand, which I definitely do. I’m actually focusing on finding and getting Harvest into different brick and morter locations, including African shops and boutiques, as I believe African literature perfectly complements African paintings and jewelry. We all create art from the same powerful source.
Debbie Young: What difference has it made to you to now be able to describe yourself as a published author?
Amanya Maloba: Not that much of a difference in my everyday life. I spend about the same amount of time and energy on my craft now as I did before becoming published, and adding the title certainly didn’t give me any extra talents. It’s great to be published and have a body of work to share with people, but I still consider myself a student just at the start of my studies. People who I don’t really know just think I’m a little more legitimate now.
Debbie Young: Has the book opened up other opportunities that you wouldn’t otherwise have had?
Amanya Maloba: It’s hard to say what opportunities have come solely from the book versus a combination of being a published author, fashion writer and blogger, and general all-around hustler, but the book definitely represents a milestone for me. No one flooded my email or voicemail after Harvest was released, but it would be totally inaccurate to say that Harvest hasn’t been the jumping off point for many conversations which lead to some cool collaborations and opportunities.
Debbie Young: I also write flash fiction, so am a sitting target for a book like yours, but I’m conscious that it’s a term and a concept that many people are scarcely aware of. (It’s hard enough persuading people to read short stories of a more conventional length – 3K-5K words!) Do you network with other flash writers and promote your work among flash afficionados, or is that something you avoid?
Amanya Maloba: I’m not sure that I’ve ever described my work as flash fiction. I’m blessed to be exceptionally bad at remembering/respecting the distinctions between different styles, but in a way I guess Harvest falls somewhere between vignette and flash fiction, where each individual piece does not have a full story arch, but there is an implied overarching storyline that runs throughout the collection. I believe that there is value in learning from people that possess skill sets different from your own, but I do not actively seek out flash fiction writers. That being said, I would love to link up with a flash aficionado if their style and voice were tight—those are the most important things I look for in other writers.
Debbie Young: What’s your next move in terms of writing and publishing your work? Are you continuing to write poetry and very short fiction, or do you have plans and ambitions to write in other forms?
Amanya Maloba: I have very large ambitions regarding my writing, but I’m learning to be patient with my creative growth. I’ve always known that I wanted to be a novelist, so that is definitely in the works. However, I’m learning to accept my youth and focus simply on accumulating a vast number of experiences (voluntarily and involuntarily) before I try to tackle that next milestone. For now, I’m focusing on writing short stories that could turn into something longer…or not. At the moment, I find myself writing a lot of poetry, but I experiment with a variety of different forms, literary and otherwise. I have a wide array of talents and interests, so I never want to restrict myself in what I can create by getting stuck on arbitrary distinctions.
Debbie Young: What would you say to anyone who asked whether it was worth submitting work to Vine Leaves Literary Journal?
Amanya Maloba: I probably wouldn’t have to say much…I always assumed it would be something of a struggle to find a publisher willing to invest time, energy, and money in vignettes since, as you mention, they are harder to find audiences for. Vine Leaves Literary Journal is dedicated to honouring the lost form of the vignette, so it is perfect for anyone with the same weird niche.
Debbie Young: Your work is very different and unconventional, yet it’s clearly written from the heart and with great beauty. What advice would you offer to anyone who wants to write something like this that doesn’t fall into familiar genres?
Amanya Maloba: This may seem strange, but it wasn’t until recently that I realized that my work was considered unconventional—I guess the fact that I hadn’t read anything like my own work would’ve been a clue, but I thought all artists felt that way about projects they are proud of. Nevertheless, I’m learning to own the fact that I’m in my own lane, but that also means that the same thing that makes me unique also isolates me. Ultimately, I wrote Harvest because I felt called to share the stories of the people of the African diaspora, which were building inside of me, and to do so in the most innovative and exciting way I could. It’s not really too surprising that my work doesn’t fit neatly into any defined form, since my stories are influenced by literature, fashion, hip hop, jazz, slavery, crop cycles, drugs, sex, traveling and so much more—there’s no way the long-deceased white men who defined and upheld the distinctions between forms could fathom how much I need to squeeze into each piece to be concerned with trivial details like if this story is a poem or a vignette. If you feel called to tell a story, you have to tell it.