1. We know you as an author. What don’t we know about you as Zeneefa Zaneer?
I don’t know whether this is a good thing or not, but I love to try my skills at everything that I get fascinated with. This has made me a Jane of all trades, everything needs a touch of professional polishing (where my enthusiasm dries up in the middle of everything without polishing up anything).
I am also a person who is too greedy to eat achcharu (chili/salt/pepper/vinegar mixed in sour fruits) – the name itself waters my mouth
2. When did you decide to become a published author?
At a very young age, like sixteen. I had written four novels by then, when I asked my dad to help me with publishing because nobody I knew was a writer. A writer was someone so rare to be known, like as if writers come from another world. Then after ten years of struggle I finally published a book at the age of 26.
3. Who do you most like to read?
J.K Rowling, and Jodi Picoult. J K for her plot building and magical language style. Jodi for fact presenting and poetic way of writing. Can’t say which one I like the most though. This admiration can change as I explore more writers in the universe of books.
4. What or who inspires you?
Nature, people, children, real life events, dreams and books.
5. What topics are you passionate about with regards to writing?
Life issues, and family matters. I’m mostly known for romance but my books are not just about man and woman finding love. They speak more real life issues.
6. Do you write non-fiction?
I’ve been writing nonfiction on and off, although I’m not so passionate about it. Sometimes I get philosophical and that’s when I write that has got nothing to do with fiction.
7. There are many who are averse to the term Islamic Fiction. What is your stand on it and how do you respond to them?
Here we have two kinds of people:
1. Those who strongly dislike the idea, saying that we don’t have to separate ourselves from others.
2. Those who say that fiction is totally unacceptable.
I’m a pro Islamic fiction writer. I believe that our representation is necessary. But I believe that we shouldn’t limit ourselves only among us. We must not draw a circle around us. Our books, our stories should reach general audience, not only Muslims. Without being preachy in every chapter, every circumstance can deliver our message. That’s the duty of a storyteller. We spread the beauty of Islam in a creative way to every mankind.
8. I assume part of your success on Nothing But Love is due to crowd-funding. Could you tell us your experience on it?
Crowd-sourcing isn’t a new concept. It had been there for ages in communities. We trade things with those who lend us a hand. I saw crowd-sourcing as a good platform for marketing my book before it got published. Through crowd-sourcing I got pre-orders for the book. With that pre-ordered funds I could afford for the expenses of publishing. This means you are selling your product before it’s manufactured. I know some authors crowd fund even before they’d started writing a book. I was around the corner wrapping up my project and found this platform to be very effective.
9. How is your journey as a self-published author?
It’s not easy. I must say that I wasn’t in favor of self-publishing. Because I self-published my first book and could only sell a few hundreds of books. Even then half of them were given free.
And then I went for mainstream publishing for another book, where my book was successfully sold out but I haven’t got a single penny out of it.
I’d completed six English novels by the time I decided to publish Nothing but Love. I sent my manuscript to other publishers – some gave positive feedback and others didn’t reply.
I wrote Nothing But Love in 2011, and five years had already passed. I was wondering when I would see my books get published. It took another year to finish with editing. I’d gone through the novel more than twenty times, where by the end of it I could blindly pick the page of any scene. I hired a professional editor but I still found loopholes. I’m a person who gets so impatient seeing typos and mistakes. It’s not just for English novels. It was same with my Sinhala novels. I still find typos in my published books Editing is a never ending process. Then along with my good friend, a qualified writer and an editor I did the final round up.
And then, I had to tackle USA tax forms for e-book publishing.
Marketing is another major topic which I found very difficult.
So self-publishing isn’t a piece of cake as some other writers define. It’s hard work. It’s a one man show, or with me, a one woman show with three little kids distracting every third minute.
And then, no matter how good your book is, the place where you come from matters. I’ve contacted editors, reviewers and every known, unknown person for exposure of the book. It’s been over a year now yet I haven’t heard from them. Only very few people lend you a hand. At the same time books that haven’t yet published get massive shout-outs. I’m not saying that one should climb through someone else’s success. But I find that with regards to places dedicated for writers, books, and Muslims, most pay heed only to those whom they know. That’s the world law I guess.
10. What advice would you give to novice authors?
Don’t give up! I won’t promise you an easy climb. Success doesn’t rain over you. You have to struggle.
Read in your favourite genre. Write whatever comes to your mind. Editing comes later. Write like you are the best. Edit like you are the worst. (Just saying )
Be realistic. Check whether your voice is appropriate for the character. Like if your main character is ten years old then sound like a ten year, not like a sixteen year old. No matter how well you build your plot and present your facts and flow with a unique style, if your voice doesn’t fit your characters then you are going to sound odd.
11. Could we have a peek at your work-space?
Well, if that’s what you want, here it is:My phone – i5. This is the device that I use to write since 2013. All what I do mostly come out from my phone. From power point presentations to NaNoWriMo win novel I do it with my phone.
Reason being, ever since my old laptop crashed I found myself harbouring on this phone. I do most of my work once kids fall asleep and my youngest keeps waking up when I’m not around. So it’s been handy for me to use the phone rather operating through a computer.
Zeneefa Zaneer is a bilingual contemporary novelist and a children’s book author from Sri Lanka. She is a diverse author who blends Sri Lankan Muslim culture and Islamic teachings in her stories. Her books focus on family, relationship, love and more. She is available at http://zeneefazaneer.com.