Zena Shapter is a Ditmar award-winning author who loves putting characters inside the most perfect storm of their lives, then watching how they get out. She writes wild rides through the gulches of adventure that spit you out breathless, and close-to-reality books of the unexplained. She also likes to travel, having visited almost 50 countries to date in search of story inspiration. She’s won seven national fiction competitions (all blind judging) and has been published in anthologies such as “Award-Winning Australian Writing” and magazines such as Midnight Echo. Read her and follow Zena’s writing journey through the links on her website at www.zenashapter.com
1. As well as being a writer carving out a successful career, you teach other writers how to use social media to forward their own careers. Do you believe that it is absolutely necessary for new writers to have a strong social media presence?
What a fantastic first question, Steph! Publishers today often talk about author platforms and say that an online presence is an absolute necessity for new writers. I agree that a ‘presence’ is necessary – a simple website with a contact form to enable fans to communicate with you. But a static website is not social media. Social media involves active dialogue, chatting with fans on a regular basis and keeping them interested in your work even when you’ve nothing new for them to read just yet. It’s a useful tool in a writer’s self-promotional toolkit, however it’s not the only option. If you want to carve out a successful career as a new writer, you actually have three options:
- Write masterful stories that demand to be read, which spread such a level of enjoyment that those stories speak for you as a writer.
- Physically meet and engage with readers and other writers on a meaningful level, such that they are happy to speak for you as a writer.
- Develop and foster a strong social media presence so that you can speak for yourself as a writer.
Ideally, of course, you’d do all three options. But Australia is so large that travelling to meet readers and writers simply isn’t as easy as in other countries, so social media becomes an alternative to that. And however masterful your story, once in the market it still has to compete against established names, so social media can help get your name ‘out there’ and deliver your high concept work to readers.
For social media to be effective, though, your heart has to be in it. Social media is all about engagement, about talking to people and being available to them. Think of social media like answering the phone – people want to hear something when they call, not just a silent line or a pre-recorded promotional message. You only get out of social media what you put in, so the key is to find the one channel that suits you and your lifestyle best, then to embrace it entirely.
2. You have won a number of short story competitions. Do you believe that competitions are a good way for new writers to break into the field? Do you have any advice for writers seeking to enter competitions?
To date I’ve won seven national competitions, all blind judging, and I’m very proud of that – a lot of writers would like to win just one! But I didn’t start entering competitions to break into the field. I wanted to know if I was any good as a writer and competitions were the perfect way to find out. Just as every performer has to deal with nerves, writers have to deal with self-doubt, and winning one competition after another was my way of proving to myself that I could write, and write well. After a while I realised that, yes, readers were connecting with my stories, and that was an amazing feeling. It’s that degree of confidence in my abilities that has helped me more than anything, because it’s kept me going and makes me push harder.
The thing to remember about entering competitions, though, is that it’s a competition with competitors. You’re up against writers who are determined, dedicated, experimental, inventive, talented and open. So if you’re seeking to win a competition, and you have any nagging doubts about your entry, I’d recommend you fix it before you send in your story because that’s what those other writers are doing – that’s what I’m doing. Don’t send your story in with the ‘hope’ that it might win – send it in with a knowledge that it will.
3. By any account, you’re a writer on the way up (with the Best New Talent Ditmar to prove it). What can readers expect from you next?
I still can’t believe I won that Ditmar! It came at the best time too, shaking me out of a self-confidence low patch. I couldn’t believe I had that many supporters, that I had a watching and waiting readership! So I’m more determined than ever now to get a novel to them as quickly as possible, and my agent and I are working that. I can’t wait for you to read what’s on my computer! There will most likely be some more short stories too. To find out what gets published first and when, just follow my blog via www.zenashapter.com/blog or like my Facebook page on https://www.facebook.com/ZenaShapter. I’ll be sharing all my writing thoughts and developments on there. There’s some free short fiction to read too – just follow the links on my website.
4. What Australian works have you loved recently?
- The Book Thief by Markus Zusak – I love first person stories. This is one of the best.
- Anywhere But Earth edited by Keith Stevenson – sci fi short stories written by a bunch of awesome Aussie authors. Yes please!
- Empress of Mijak by Karen Miller – it vividly transported me to a fantasy land that has inspired me as both writer and reader.
5. Have recent changes in the publishing industry influenced the way you work? What do you think you will be publishing/writing/reading in five years from now?
Change itself is never new. Humans are always evolving as a species, so too are our business practices and leisure pursuits. But the one thing that will never change is our love of story. We have always loved a good story and always will. So in that respect, the way I work hasn’t and won’t change. I will always be searching for, thinking about and creating the best stories.
In the same way, five years from now I suspect that my reading tastes will stay as eclectic as they currently are and that my writing will reflect that. Variety feeds my imagination. And you’ve got to feed your imagination when you’re a writer – it’s where you get your ideas!
This interview was conducted as part of the 2014 Snapshot of Australian Speculative Fiction. We’ll be blogging interviews from 28 July to 10 August and archiving them at SF Signal. You can read interviews at: Tsana Dolichva, Nick Evans, Stephanie Gunn, Kathryn Linge, Elanor Matton-Johnson, David McDonald, Helen Merrick, Jason Nahrung, Ben Payne, Alex Pierce, Tansy Rayner Roberts, Helen Stubbs, Katharine Stubbs, Tehani Wessely and Sean Wright.