Student Spotlight: How She Used Short Stories to Hone Her Craft (and Publish Her Debut Novel) With Pauline Yates
I recently sat down for a conversation with a writer named Pauline Yates to talk about her writing, editing, and publishing journey. Pauline has just released her debut novel, Memories Don’t Lie, and in our conversation, we talk about how she went from dreaming up her idea (literally) to landing a publisher near her hometown in Australia.
Pauline also shares how she used short stories to practice her craft—and how, by submitting her short stories to different contests and publications, she learned how to give her stories a “leg up” on the competition. If you’ve ever thought about writing short stories, you’re going to love this part of the episode!
You’ll also get to hear Pauline talk about what it was like to work with me on her story, and how one particular piece of advice (that she shares with you in the episode) helped her find her voice again—this was my favorite part of the episode, and I’ll admit, it made me a bit emotional!
So, this is a jam packed episode with my former client, Pauline Yates, and I’m so excited to share her story with you. If you want to listen to this episode, click here or search for the Fiction Writing Made Easy podcast in your podcast player of choice.
Transcript: How She Used Short Stories to Hone Her Craft (and Publish Her Debut Novel) With Pauline Yates
SAVANNAH: Hi, Pauline. Welcome, and thank you so much for coming on the show today.
PAULINE: Thank you so much for having me.
SAVANNAH: Yeah, sure, I'm really excited to talk to you, because you have been on a journey and you have a fun story. And I know we're gonna get a behind-the-scenes look at what it's like to write, edit, and publish a book. And I think it's gonna inspire so many people. So I'm really excited.
PAULINE: Well, I hope so, because it's been such a journey. The whole process, and a lot of it I was completely unaware of, so I'm happy to be here to, yeah, give a little bit more deeper insight into what it's like to actually write and publish a book.
SAVANNAH: Yes. So let's go ahead and start at the top. So introduce yourself to everybody. Tell us what kind of books you write and things like that.
PAULINE: Okay. Good morning. Well, it's morning here in Australia. It's actually 5:00 AM. So it's bright and early. The sun actually hasn't even come up yet.
SAVANNAH: Oh my goodness. Yeah, Pauline's a trooper for being here this early.
PAULINE: I am from Australia. I live on the South East Queensland coast. My passion has always been for this novel which is science fiction. I'm also a horror writer and I like anything that's dark fiction. I've written across the genres in many, many types. But I've found that my strengths were in that dark fiction and in the horror. But everything that I've done in the short story writing has been really leading me for this science fiction novel. Even though this novel is science fiction, I have brought a few speculative elements into it, which I can discuss more further as we go through the questions which I found quite interesting: a little bit of a mashup.
SAVANNAH: Yeah. That's really fun. And I liked what you said, that you're kind of writing short stories that have led to this. And it's not so much that they're related stories, right? It's like they were used as practice to gain confidence and get your stuff out there. Is that right?
PAULINE: Absolutely. When I first wrote this novel, and I first wrote this novel back in 2012 I think. Looking back at that now, from where I'm sitting now, I thought I wrote a story. What I actually wrote was just an idea. And it's taken me multiple rounds of edits over the years and rewrites to actually find the story. Right up until just a couple of years ago when we finally found the story and finished it. During that time, because I've come from, like I started late. I didn't start writing till my 40s. I'm 53 this year. And anyone who's older and my age and has never published a novel, you know, you can do it because I did it. And if I can do it, seriously, anyone can do it.
SAVANNAH: Right, and so let me pause you there and give a spoiler alert of your kind of overall journey, 'cause we're gonna talk about the book that you have just recently published, which is called "Memories Don't Lie." And we'll link to all of that in the show notes and stuff. But a highlight reel of at least the journey since I've met you is we met in 2020 when we were working on this manuscript that you had written, and it had a really good shape, right? Then we kind of worked through that together. Then the next year in 2021 we did a manuscript evaluation. So you were all the way done with the draft we had started working on together. And then by 2022 you were querying. And now in 2023, as of March 11th, your book is published, right?
SAVANNAH: Yeah. Congratulations, 'cause, I mean, that's a lot in three, it's not even really three full years. But that's a lot considering this has been something you've been working on since 2012.
PAULINE: I know, I mean, yeah, those last few years were just the most intense time. But the years before it were also full of intense moments trying to pull this novel together.
SAVANNAH: Do you remember where you got this idea from? 'Cause it's a really interesting idea. And actually, maybe before you answer that, do you wanna read us the back jacket cover copy?
PAULINE: Sure. I would love to. "Memories Don't Lie." "Sarah Wilson, orphaned niece of Lieutenant John Wilson is determined to escape his restrictive upbringing and find her place in the world. Her journey takes a deadly turn when she uncovers secrets about her past, hidden deep in her mother's memories, that threaten everything Sarah wants. They could cost everything she holds dear: and her life." So that is on the back flap.
SAVANNAH: Very cool. And so where did this idea come from? Because it's really unique.
PAULINE: Well, I've always had Sarah, my character, she's always been with me. I just didn't know who she was. It's been so long now. Where did I first get the idea? I actually cannot even remember that, to be honest.
SAVANNAH: That's funny.
PAULINE: Which it is. But I do remember when I was trying to think, what book am I willing to write here? You know, who is my character? What does she need? What's happening to her? I had a dream, a very vivid dream, which I remember to this day. And the dream went like this. It was a scene. It was a girl running across the roof of a building, and she was being chased by a group of soldiers. She's jumped off the building, and this is a five-story building. She hasn't hurt herself. And then she's darted into a dark alleyway and been caught by another person, unknown to her, who said that he would keep her safe and hide her.
SAVANNAH: Now that was the dream. When you read Pauline's book, you'll kind of see how that relates to her story. But knowing what the story's about, I can totally see how that dream inspired everything. That's really cool.
PAULINE: So that dream then posed questions that I could answer. Who is my character? I already knew it was Sarah. But why didn't she hurt herself when she jumped off the building? Who was chasing her, and who was offering to help hide her, and why? So I had all these questions that I could answer. And suddenly that was the start of how I could write my story.
SAVANNAH: Yeah, that's really cool.
PAULINE: Yeah, now how the memories came into it, I've always been interested in deja vu and the cellular memory theory. And that all just got incorporated into it. Because I had this idea that she had someone else's voice in her head. And she had to try and figure out, you know, was she imagining this, was it real? Where did it come from? And this voice belonged to somebody known to other people. So that was the big mystery for her. But how it was in her head and how she was hearing it, like it was her own thoughts, that sort of started then, okay, how do we pull all this off?
SAVANNAH: Yeah, and I'm not gonna give away any spoilers, but it's kind of like that starts a journey of, well, then why am I also good at X, Y, Z? And why is all this other stuff happening? So as she kind of chases down, why are there voices in my head that oddly other people can kind of recognize in me, how is that connected to all this other stuff? So I think it's a really fun story.
PAULINE: Yeah. So it's been like now we're at the end where its memories don't lie. The original, it was actual voices in it. And this is what the editing and the rewriting has paired this down to get it to where it is now. So it's been quite a process figuring all that out, how to best make it work.
SAVANNAH: Right. Okay, so let's talk about all that. Because in 2020 we met, and you said you had been working on this since about 2012. So kind of what was that process like until we met? And then how did you know you needed extra help?
PAULINE: Okay, so yeah, when I first started writing, the first thing I wrote was my novel when I sat down and said, "I need to write my story now." So after that I went on and actually wrote the second and third, because I just got on a roll. And so that was a couple of more years passed. And then I went back to my first one and thought, "Okay, let's get this one ready, because it's pointless working on anything else now until I get the first one done." Okay, so my first couple of, I went through it again and did my, you know, the usual rounds of edits and polishing it and fixing it all up. And then I thought it was ready. and I sent it out to some readers. And yes, it was a good story in that stage, but there were things, you know, things weren't clear. And I think it was more the structure that wasn't clear. Or whether the story started in the right place. And of course, I was also beginning to know my characters a lot more. And so making changes. And look, I can't tell you how many times I changed where this story started. That kind of ricocheted me into a few more years of rewrites and complete, like major rewrites. When I look back at the very first version that I wrote, it's actually quite similar to this final version.
PAULINE: But the first version, I didn't have a world. And that was one of my sticking points. And something that I actually did struggle with in a lot of my writing was my worldbuilding. There were three different ways I could have set this story in. And I actually wrote all three of them in different versions. But till I got to the final one,
my problem was I was making things too big. I make my worlds just too big. And they're vast worlds. And my learning curve on this has been to bring everything back in as close as possible to the main character and then start from there.
SAVANNAH: Yes, that's a great point.
PAULINE: Yeah, after many rounds, many rewrites, I finally figured out what my world was. And that helped me then find my starting point. Because in between all this, I'm learning as well. I'm writing lots of short stories. I'm working with lots of other editors and publishers and various things. And I did reach out to other editors at stages to help me with, you know, various things. And even when I reached out to you, at the time that I reached out to you, I was at a point where I was stuck on the novel again, so I thought I'd set it aside. But I was also stuck with writing in general. I was losing my way. And so I stepped back. I just stepped right back from writing and went back into, okay, we need to go back to the learning stage. And that's where I started reading lots, and reading lots of articles on how to write and, you know, craft stuff. But for as many things that I read in the education side of writing, I actually work better when I'm working with my own work. You know, I work better learning from application. And so I just started searching. Okay, let's just have a little look and see who's about. And of course, I've stumbled across you, haven't I?
SAVANNAH: Yeah, and so I wrote down some notes about kind of what I remembered from that time, 'cause of course, now it's three years ago, which I can't believe. But I remember, like I had all these notes 'cause I had you fill out just some information so I could get used to your story and dig into the world with you. And one of the things I put pressure on you the most about was like, "Okay, but this part isn't a scene. We need to build this out into a scene and we need to make each scene matter," and things like that. And I put a little note, like in my notes for today: "I was probably annoying Pauline so much 'cause I harped on it so much." But I mean, otherwise, like your idea, it's funny, 'cause I went back and looked at the original thing you submitted to me. Your idea is still in the present published book the same as it was back then. So it's like we just needed to flush things out, deepen things, really tighten up that structure and work on those scenes. Do you remember some of that process, where I was like?
PAULINE: I absolutely do. Because this was a game-changer for me across everything. Okay, so once I've connected with you, and I thought, Okay, when I started working with you, I wasn't intending to work on my novel. What I was looking for was just working on my writing in general. Okay, and I think then we decided, okay, let's use my novel because it's there. And I thought, "Okay, let's have another crack at it." When you started talking writing in scenes and things, and I actually didn't know any of this. I'd had it explained to me many times, but not quite in the way that you explained it. And how you just explained how a scene is structured, it finally sunk in. Because if you remember, I was asking you multiple questions. Her initial goal, her end goal, the turning point, the progressive complication. I needed to peel all of that apart and inspect every single element so that I can then put it back together in my own mind and understand it. I do think I finally got it.
SAVANNAH: Yeah, you did. And it was funny, 'cause I was looking just through the various different documents we exchanged, and I could see it. Like there was a piece of the scene structure that you would start to get, and then it was like there was always one, like maybe it was the crisis moment that's hard for everybody. But it's kind of like that came a little slower. But it was really fun to just see the evolution of some of these scenes. And then, you know, at some point, you would start saying like, "This is her goal. Like I already know what you're gonna ask me, so I'm gonna put it in here."
PAULINE: Yeah, and that's what I mean about how I learn better when I'm working with my own work. I could read everything on the internet about, you know, when they're talking just in general about writing in general. But none of that really sinks in for me. But if I've got my chapter in front of me or my scene in front of me, and you point it out to me, what needs to change, then that's how I learn best. And then once I've got that, I can take that and apply it to the next thing, which I think is what we found. That by the time we got to that sticking point for me, chapter 9, once I got to that point, I remember saying to you, "Okay, I've got this. I'm really good to go." And I just wanna step back now and go and finish this book. And I think then I did. And then the next time I came back to you, I'd finished it. And that was for a complete manuscript assessment. I was absolutely terrified about it, but anyway.
SAVANNAH: Oh, totally. And so for everyone listening too, she's saying when she wrote out chapter 9, 'cause you had developed a full outline by that point.
SAVANNAH: And then we were going into writing each scene, and you would send over your complete scenes. And I would say, "Okay, this is working per what we said in the outline." Or maybe this doesn't work anymore, because, like I know for instance, we were still getting to know Sarah, even though you knew her quite well. It was like within the world and within the things that were happening in the world, sometimes her motivations might change from what we thought on the outline. So although maybe like the external part of that, like I don't wanna say difficult part, but part of the thing that we had to dig into was like, "Okay, well now what would Sarah do?" Or "How is she feeling going into the scene after that just happened?" So yeah, so you got to that sticking point of where you felt good about: "Okay, I'm done with scene 9. I'm gonna walk away. I'm gonna write this." And then you came back and you were like, "Okay, I'm done. I hope you tell me that this is perfect." And so I wrote down some notes 'cause I read through the whole thing. And it was really fun for me I remember to see this story that kind of we had put so much pressure on and developed in an outline, and then I got to see the whole thing. And I remember being really excited. But I wrote down like, there were five key things that I talked about in my notes. So after you had done all this work, I said, "Okay, I see that Sarah has an arc on the page. I think we can clarify this even more or streamline it." And then we talked about your antagonist, because there were two candidates for who could be the main antagonist. And it didn't feel like we picked one yet. So that was on our to-do list. And then I also said, I said that the orbs and the memories were so hard to write because they're nebulous, right? And I won't spoil anything, but this is what Pauline was talking about earlier when she says the voices in her head didn't belong to her. And that's really hard to write. I'm sure people listening are like, "Oh my gosh, I can't imagine." And then structure-wise, I recommended the most changes to the beginning section. Which is really interesting, because you said already you wrote it so many times, right? But I remember your ending was really strong. So I was like, "Okay, we don't wanna change that. But we do wanna set up the beginning so that that arc is even more impactful." And then I said the last thing was that your characters were your strong point. So I wanted to ask you about that in particular. Because even though Sarah's internal arc needed some work, I felt like your cast was really well developed. Everybody was unique. So do you have any like tips on how you did that? Or any insight for other writers?
PAULINE: Well, my character's came to me fairly fully formed. Even the names, I do distinctly remember thinking, "Okay, what shall I call this character? That's their name." It just sort of came to me. It's like they were ready to come down and just exist. The characters development over the years, I already had a fairly good idea of how I want them to behave and act. But over the many years of rewriting and allowing myself to be more free with them and actually bring them out more, I do remember reading something somewhere years ago that said, "When you exaggerate everything, don't make your characters ordinary," you know, people that you know, "Make them bigger, make them larger than life, really exaggerate them." Well, I haven't gone too overboard with my characters. But I do remember that thinking, "Okay, when they're speaking, how would they speak?" Let's expand that, make it bigger, make it louder, make it more laughable, make it more serious, make it more in depth. Yeah, just more intense in whichever way I'm going, 'cause I don't wanna give spoilers here. But I lived with my characters every day for 10 years. When you live with people for 10 years, you get to know them, their ins and outs. And I also did a fairly extensive backstory on every character. And I needed to, because everything that's happened in their past affects what they do today. But I can drop little hints about their past throughout the book. I don't have to go into great detail. But I need to know it in great detail.
SAVANNAH: And for people who are listening, one thing you don't know about Pauline's story is that there's a team atmosphere. So part of all this work was probably because you knew that you had to have a team dynamic. They rely on each other. They're kind of welcoming a new member at some point. So I'm sure all of that went into the consideration of each character.
PAULINE: Yes, I love the team dynamic, because you can just explore so many different relationships. Someone told me recently in a recent interview, it was a large cast of characters. And I'm like, "Really? Is that not normal?"
SAVANNAH: Yeah, you're like, "Oh, it didn't feel that way to me."
PAULINE: No, but one of the things that I did pull off was that I didn't stumble over anything where any character was placed in the story. It was all very clear. But having that large cast did allow me to just bring their characters more to life, I think, in a great situation. They all had character (indistinct), some stronger than others. But yeah, it was important to know their backstory, as far back as I could possibly go, so that I knew how they would act and why they would act in this story. And I think that's really important. I think that is why my characters feel so real and have become larger than life, because I've done all that work, all that background work with them.
SAVANNAH: And I think the other thing you said is really important too, like don't make them ordinary. And when I say this to writers, I say, like, "They can't be neutral." They have to lean one way or the other about everything. And I think it's really hard for a lot of people to do that, because we don't wanna offend anybody or we don't wanna, you know, pigeonhole somebody or put ourselves in a situation. But I think that's what made it work so well for you, because you leaned into that.
PAULINE: Yeah, I do think that you do need to live your character every day, whichever one you're working on. You need to really get inside their head And think about how would they act throughout the day. Even sitting here, how would they talk to you while they're having this? I know it sounds really weird, but yeah, you do kind of need to do that if you wanna get to know your characters on a really deeper level. But everything that you learn about your characters doesn't have to go into the story. But it makes your story so much better because it brings them more to life.
SAVANNAH: Right, and it's probably easier for you to write them too once you know them that well.
PAULINE: Absolutely. It is so much easier to write them because you know exactly what they're going to say in a situation. You know, or how they will respond, what their body movement will be like, what their facial expressions are. You will know exactly where they're standing on any subject, so they can have an argument if they want to. It Is very important I think, the character development. One thing I learned also during my journey, I think there are plot-driven stories and character-driven stories. So my characters feature very strongly in this story. But I did read or learn something somewhere along my journey that, you know, if your characters are relatable and you bring them to life, you could put them in any situation, and you would have an entertaining story because it's the characters that make it.
SAVANNAH: I believe that too.
PAULINE: I've always held onto that. And I do believe, particularly this novel of mine has both. it has a lot of action, a lot of plot, a bigger story. But the characters themselves, I could take them all out and throw them in a cafe having a cup of coffee, and it would become a dramatic scene because of who they are—their personalities, and what they would say…
SAVANNAH: Yeah. That's funny. And the other thing I'm just now remembering too about Sarah is I think you weren't afraid to show like the imperfect sides of her, in her thoughts, right?
PAULINE: I think that was very important because nobody is perfect.
SAVANNAH: Right. And that's what makes her relatable, right?
PAULINE: Yes, yes. She is the best of everybody that I wanted her to be, the positives. And in fact, all my characters had very positive attributes. But that doesn't mean that they don't have insecurities.
SAVANNAH: Totally. And I think a lot of writers are kind of afraid to go there. Or they're just like not sure. Sometimes we put ourselves on the page in our characters, so it's hard to go there. But I think, you know, you're really good at that. So it's a great tool to have.
PAULINE: Yeah. I love creating characters. I think I can, I think because I see them so easily, I'm a very visual writer. So I imagine these scenes in my head, and I can imagine very easily what my characters look like, what they would do, what they would say. So it's probably easier for me to get that character down on page. My struggle has always been worldbuilding and making everything too big.
SAVANNAH: And I think for everyone who's doing, you know, I don't wanna say for everyone; for most writers it seems worldbuilding is a struggle, if they're doing sci-fi fantasy or even historical fiction. Whether it's because they don't put enough on the page or they have too much, you know, it's just hard to find that balance. - Yeah, I had my biggest learning curve on worldbuilding on a story I did with Metaphorosis, "The Secret Keeper." I originally submitted a story to them which I thought was wonderful. He thought it was wonderful too. But the world didn't make sense. By the time I'd done, I think it was nine edit rounds with him, I cannot believe they stuck with me for so long, to be honest. But he did, thankfully. The worldbuilding in that, it completely changed the story. The guts of the (audio cuts out) in the world and the world I created, it turned from a kind of a fantasy type story into a Greek mythology exploration which were completely different. I still had all my elements that I wanted in there. I still had my characters. But through that process that I did, I needed to understand how the world worked and what they could do. Now, all of that didn't need to be written down in big info dumps, because I think that would be where a lot of people go wrong when they're actually using their book to explain their world. You don't wanna do that. You wanna cut all that. It's great to write it because you need to write that. You need to understand your world. And if writing it helps you do that, that's great. But take it out of your novel. Because that's not where it should be. That world that you create then dictates everything that you write in your novel.
SAVANNAH: Right, it's the container for it. And I remember "Secret Keepers" 'cause we worked on that together too, remember?
PAULINE: Oh, we did. That's right, yes.
SAVANNAH: You're like, "There's been so many editors." But yeah, I remember that book. And I remember your other editor, part of what he kept questioning was kind of the bigger logic. So it was almost like you had the story figured out. There were things we wanted to tweak here and there, right? But it was kind of like, "Okay, I see there's a bigger world, but I don't quite understand it." It's almost like you had to reverse, back out of all that what's on the page, and then create the world and come back.
PAULINE: I did. And then that took me down so many rabbit holes of research, and that's how I ended up in the mythology, in the Greek mythology. Interesting, when I do, you know, struggle with things like this, I always find the answers. Everything's there, usually in all my messy drafts and notes. Everything is there. And when I really hone in on something, the answer is also there. I've just gotta find it. Once I find the answer, it's, oh, everything just becomes clear and I can move forward. Even if that means completely rewriting it.
SAVANNAH: Yeah, just like you said, nine times.
PAULINE: Oh, I'm claiming the title of, you know, the best rewriter in the world.
SAVANNAH: Yeah, well, and that's actually, I was gonna comment on that. Because you said you wrote it nine times, and he stuck with you, which is… He gets a gold medal.
SAVANNAH: But also like, you know, 'cause I remember there was one part where you were like, "Should I just not keep doing this one?" And I didn't talk to him, but I remember you told me he liked it. You liked it. I liked where the story was. And we were like, "No, let's just keep going. There's something here." And I think it's hard to keep going when you've had to rewrite it at least nine times. And that's just the short story.
PAULINE: Yeah, and that was just a short story, I know. I had a publisher who loved the idea of my story and wanted to take it through his normal editing rounds to get it to where he liked it. I've worked with him before, so I know fully what his editing process is, and it's intense. But I've done it with him before, so I thought, "I can do it again." But when I got into this story and started, things were just falling apart on it. I couldn't quite, I really didn't think I could do it. I think that's when I came to you and said, "Can you just read this and give me some clarity here because I am so lost." I didn't give up, because it's never in me to give up. I just needed to work harder. So that's when I really dug into the worldbuilding research. And it all just came together then once I went down the Greek mythology path, because all my concepts just matched, it all just matched. And so I started working and I thought, and that's when I thought, "Okay, I'm gonna rewrite this, and it's gonna be Greek mythology." And I got the story done.
SAVANNAH: That's cool. And we'll link to that one in the show notes, 'cause people will probably wanna read that. And they can, right, 'cause it's in an online magazine?
PAULINE: And you can also buy it in another book that the publisher put together called "Changes." And it actually shows the original version of that story plus the final version. And it's got got my initial notes and the editor's notes.
SAVANNAH: That's really cool.
PAULINE: Yeah, he put together a collection. And I'm sure he did this because of the amount of work he did on my story.
SAVANNAH: He's like, "This is for that one story…”
PAULINE: Just the first one. Yeah, I'm the first one. But he chose I think 15 other stories. Now, this is really interesting, because this particular book will show you that
it's not just me that does major rewrites. We got 15 other authors in this book that went through a similar process of changing, you know, their story to suit because of various issues. Now, I'm way at the top with my mega rewrites. That's okay. I can take the prize there. But other authors also went through that same process, you know, whether it be four or five times, rewrites, or six rewrites. So to your readers listening who are thinking, "Like is that not normal, the amount of rewriting they do?" It actually is normal. And it's normal for a lot of, yeah, it's normal for a lot of authors as they will see.
SAVANNAH: Yeah, I'd say it's normal, and it's almost it should be expected as just a part of the process, right?
PAULINE: Yeah. Yeah.
SAVANNAH: And so, okay, so we'll link to those things in the show notes 'cause I'm sure people will especially wanna check out that "Changes" book. It sounds really interesting. But okay, so we went through the manuscript evaluation. I had one other quick question for you. When you got the feedback that said changed the beginning again, were you like, "I've already changed this 45 times."
PAULINE: Oh I think I've changed it more than that. Did you know, I think they even changed it right up to the publication date: the opening paragraph. One thing, yeah, the opening paragraph was a real sticker for me. And you had the line there that opens with, it's the line that you suggested, it was the struck line.
PAULINE: And I agreed with you, but we were jumping a little bit back and forth around that. Again, where was the exact right place to start? I ended up going with that line after a few more go-throughs. Now, I think after I read all your notes it was like, "Oh my God, we've done it. I think we are onto something here."
SAVANNAH: You saw the light at the end of the tunnel?
PAULINE: I could. Even though you brought up the issues with, you know, Sarah's, her arc, and just the fact that I'd actually nailed all those things and got them to work was so good.
SAVANNAH: A relief. Yeah.
PAULINE: For the first time, I was thinking, "I actually might be making progress here."
SAVANNAH: Yeah. That's fun.
PAULINE: If we can just jump back a bit, in that, you know, when you asked the question about who my main antagonist was, 'cause I have an interesting story about that one. So my main antagonist is Joanna. And in the original version, she was actually the victim. And I had the scientist as the antagonist. And when we were, you know, going through this in the structural side of it, and you said, you know, you're not sure who is the bad guy here. And I realized, yeah, I'm not sure either. No, I kind of knew, no, what I'd done, again, it goes back to that making everything too big. And I had to pull everything back in and say, "Okay, if I want Joanna to be the main protagonist, then in every chapter, everything needs to relate to her, even though we think that the scientist is the bad guy. This actually worked in my favor, because originally, Joanna was going to be the innocent victim in the original versions. Well, not so innocent, but she was, you know, coerced into what happened. But then Sarah ended up saving her. When I made her the antagonist in this final, I was actually still able to use that innocent victim aspect of her in this final version. And it works perfectly.
SAVANNAH: Yeah, it's like a red herring, right? Like her behavior or the way we perceive her comes off as the victim. And then it's slowly revealed through Sarah's discoveries that things are not as they seem, yeah.
PAULINE: Yeah, looking at that now, how that all came about, that actually worked perfectly in showing who she is.
SAVANNAH: Yeah, and I think the fun thing is, like when you were at that stage of who is the main antagonist, it really could have gone either way, and I think it would've been fine. But I love that we went with Joanna and how it turned out. So I think that was the right decision.
PAULINE: Yeah, I needed to go with Joanna because she had such a connection with all of them. She was the character that joins them all together for various reasons, and not always for the best reason. And I was able to then weave that by knowing her backstory. Again, I had to go right back and actually create a whole other novel in my head to find out what her issues were with the team, to know why she's acting now. So again, that comes down to the character development and understanding exactly who they are. And yeah, writing, I have, you know, three other novels in my head of backstories of all these characters that could be written at some stage. And maybe if I get time, maybe I will write them because they're great stories.
SAVANNAH: Maybe they could be either full novels, they could be novellas.
PAULINE: Or little novelettes. I have considered little novelettes, because yeah, I do envision those as being really exciting, actually entertaining little stories, which would be great to pair with this.
SAVANNAH: I would love to read Joanna's, and I think I would really love to read Merrick's. He's like the main guy/love interest. I would like to read a bunch of those.
PAULINE: Yeah, he has a great backstory too. He was important to be the alpha male. But I didn't want him to be the gung ho, he is the gung ho alpha male, but he has got a lot of insecurities. And I think that shines through and makes him more relatable and more not so alpha.
SAVANNAH: Well, and more three-dimensional because there's more going on than the surface stuff, right?
PAULINE: Yes, yes.
SAVANNAH: Yeah. Okay. And so I love all that. That's really fun to hear. I also just love talking about your story, so it's fun to dig back into it.
PAULINE: Well, yeah, if there was one thing back in the manuscript, well, in the writing of it, which I really wanted to share with you, because this was important to me. I think when I first sent you through the manuscript, and with all my work up until that point, and one of the questions that you asked many, many, many times was: "How does this make Sarah feel?" Okay. Now, because I've written it in first person, how she feels is really important. But I'd edited a lot of that out because I didn't think it was the right thing to put in. So when you kept coming back at me: "How does this make her feel? How does she react? What does she think about this?" That actually gave me permission to say, "Yeah, actually, this is what I need to say." And I'm just gonna read what I wrote down because it worked. Okay, so you actually gave me back Sarah's voice, and in turn my voice. Okay, because I had edited all that out in trying to get things right. And this was a game-changer for me. Because for the first time in years, I thought, "Yes, this is what I want. And someone is telling me that it's not only right but necessary." So suddenly I could bring Sarah to life. And that just made all the difference. So thank you.
SAVANNAH: Wow. Oh my gosh. I don't know why that just made me a little emotional, but it did. I love hearing that, 'cause that's why we all wanna write. We want our voice to be heard. We want what we have to say to be heard. So that is a very special thing. You just gave me a very special gift. Thank you.
PAULINE: Oh, thank you. Because I found Sarah.
SAVANNAH: Yeah, I love that.
PAULINE: I gave her back her voice.
SAVANNAH: Yes, and her voice is so needed. I think she's a great character. And I'm very excited for other readers to meet Sarah because we've been with her for a while. You way longer than me. Okay, so after we went through that manuscript evaluation, how did you decide it was time to start querying, and what was that like?
PAULINE: Okay, so yes, the query part. Well, after I left with you and we got all the structure right, and I knew it was right. Didn't finish, but I found another editor here in Australia to help me with the line editing. And we went through, because one of the things we needed to do was get the word count down. Now, I think at that stage that I'd finished, it was sitting at around 116,000 words. Now, this being a debut novel, that was way too big. So I needed to cut. So I worked with an editor here close by. So right, we need to cut words out of this. She got it down to I think around 98,000. And then again because I learn from application, after seeing what she did, I was able to get it down to 96,000.
PAULINE: So that was my end. Yeah, That was my final. I thought, "I just can't take anymore out of this. It's down to the bare bone. But yeah, that's what it should be. I was willing to sacrifice a scene if I needed to.
SAVANNAH: Ooh. Did you have to do that?
PAULINE: No, I didn't.
SAVANNAH: Okay. Good.
PAULINE: So all the scenes are in there. Once we got to that part, and then I've checked, checked, checked, checked, checked about a million times over, we were ready for the querying process. And this was, oh my God, this was a journey and a half. So I have to now write 96,000 words, you know, 100 words and 200 words and sum it all up. I did a lot of research on how to write a synopsis. I still don't know if I've got it right. but I did find one. But I must have a novel of query letters and synopses that I've written. Seriously, this was a very intense part of it. But that's okay. We worked through it. So I've worked out a query package. I had a whole query package. The most difficult thing for me was finding comparable titles. Because they need to be with the big five publishers and within the last three years. And there's not a lot out there that is similar to mine. Which is good for me as far as originality goes, but not so good when an agent is trying to place it with someone. So that was tricky. I can't even remember if I, I think I started just going down the young adult route. Because one thing with this book, we didn't end up selling it as a young adult book, although it is aimed at young adult
readers, and it does have young adult elements in it. It also suits a broader, wider audience as well, because of the number of characters and the ages of my characters. So I think perhaps I was querying the wrong way, sticking to just young adult. I should have actually gone a different path there. So in the querying process, that's the path I went down was to young adult. I put together my query package. I found relatively close titles that I thought would suit, and started researching agents. because my, you know, goal was find an agent, preferably in America because the story is set in America, in California. And yeah, do what every other author out there has done: get an agent, get published.
SAVANNAH: No big deal, right?
PAULINE: Yeah, no big deal. No, I knew it would, I was prepared for it to take some time. What I wasn't prepared for was how long it would take me every time I sat down to submit to an agent. I would spend hours pulling together and personalizing each query packet. So I do this every day for a month. And so I'm doing my head in here going, "I'm spending so much time just personalizing these query packages. Because if you find an agent, first you've gotta find their name so that you can address them by their name. You need to go through their wishlist to make sure what you're sending them is what they are requesting. You need to put together, I think I had three different versions of synopsis depending on what they required, whether it be short, medium, long. Then all my comparative titles. And then you get questions like, which I thought these questions were really silly. "Why are you the best person to write this book?" I mean, like what do you want me to say here? Of course I'm the best person to write this book because this is my idea.
SAVANNAH: You're like, "Because I did."
PAULINE: I think what they're asking for is if you've written the story about a rocket ship flying to Mars, have you been on a rocket flying to Mars? I think that's what they were asking. I couldn't answer those questions very well because I haven't done the things that I've done in my book. That's all in my imagination. I have created everything. So they were tricky questions. So I sent out possibly 30 queries around that beginning of the year, around the January mark. So that was a really intense month. And I tweaked every single query, every single item in the package according to the agents. Now, some replies would come back within 24 hours and say, "Yeah, we love the story but it's not for us." And I got that multiple times. "We love the story. it's just not the right fit for us. But good luck sending it elsewhere." Or you'd get no response, like zero response. So you start, yeah, losing confidence. And I must admit I lost a lot of confidence thinking I'm not a big-name author. I've done all these things. I have all these achievements in my short story writing. I have worked on this novel really hard. It's a great story. I'm having trouble selling it, because really, I'm nobody out there in the world. So I was losing confidence. Also, at the same time, when I was querying at the same time, there was big issues in the publishing industry. And there were mass walkouts of agents from publishers everywhere. And authors were being dropped. And I was reading all these tweets on Twitter with authors saying suddenly they had their book ready to go and their agents walked out and left, and now they're stranded. And then you had other publishers reaching out to these authors saying, "Send us your work. We'll have a look at it." I'm reading all these posts, and I gotta be honest, I got spooked. I thought, "I don't wanna be one of those authors." I don't wanna have poured my heart and soul into this and worked so hard to just have an agent up and walk away because of whatever's going on in their life and the industry. And that spooked me. So for the first time I considered self-publishing. But that spooked me even more.
SAVANNAH: Oh gosh.
PAULINE: Yeah. I thought, okay, I could do it. I have the means to self-publish, but I don't have the knowledge. I just knew even without even looking into it, that was something that I couldn't do. And after working with my now publisher and seeing everything we've had done, I take my hat off to any self-publisher—it is so much work. Okay, so I hit pretty much rock bottom on the query stage. And I looked at my book and I thought, "Okay, I either self-publish or I keep querying, which could drag on forever. Or I put you in the drawer. I'll print out a copy myself and just tuck you under to the pillow." That's to the point I got. And then I thought, "Hang on, why don't I try the small publishers?" And the other thing I also wanted, because I was querying in America, and after seeing all the unrest in the publishing industry over there, I started to, because I was spooked, I thought, "I really wanna publisher here in Australia. Yeah, even though the story is set in America, I want the people running behind it here in Australia with me, because that will make me feel more comfortable. It's like I'm not in my 20s, so I don't wanna stuff this up, you know. It's not like I can fly to America to sort a problem out. So suddenly finding an Australian publisher was at the top of my list.
SAVANNAH: That's so interesting.
PAULINE: Yeah, and I thought, "And who best to go to other than Black Hare Press?" You know, why didn't I think of this earlier?
SAVANNAH: That's awesome.
PAULINE: Now it's Black Hare Press. Yeah, so Black Hare Press, I've been selling short stories to them for the last few years. They are just my tribe. And they publish horror and dark speculative fiction, and they do a lot of short story anthologies. They do a lot of short reads. They're putting out novelettes. They're a really gung ho little Australian indie publisher.
SAVANNAH: How fun.
PAULINE: And they work as hard as me.
SAVANNAH: Yeah. It sounds like a perfect fit.
PAULINE: Well, because of all my short story sales with them, I developed a relationship with them. And I knew I could trust them. And so I actually said to them, I sent them a message and I said, "Can you please save me from this querying process?" Publish my book.
SAVANNAH: You’re like… it’s terrible out there!
PAULINE: Yeah, because by then I was at rock bottom. So they asked me to send it through, which I was really surprised. I actually said, "Well, hang on a second. This isn't like what you publish." And they said, "No, no, just send it through." So here I am talking myself out of a publishing deal. Oh my God. I cannot do this any better.
SAVANNAH: Oh my gosh.
PAULINE: So I sent the book through. And 12 weeks later I got that email that every author absolutely loves. And it was a yes. Here's the contract.
SAVANNAH: And do you remember, like let's sit in that moment for a second. So like what were you doing when you saw the email? Did you not believe it at first?
PAULINE: I think I squealed. I think I might have cried. I'm not sure. I think I did everything. Yeah, the best feeling in the world. It was, yeah, just the pinnacle of everything. I thought, "Oh my God, I've done it." You know, here I have a publisher that I know. They are in Australia. I've worked with them before, and I know that they work as hard as me. I trust them with everything. But the best thing is, even though they're in Australia, they also have ties in America.
SAVANNAH: Oh, there you go.
PAULINE: So this was even the bonus for me, because this book I was targeting for the American audience, and here it is in my own backyard.
SAVANNAH: Right, and you know what's funny, is this is like what a character goes through, right, where it's like you get what you want in the way you never expected.
PAULINE: Yeah. So all roads lead to Rome. Yeah, this one led me straight to Black Hare Press, and I have not been happier. I could not be happier. I absolutely love this publisher. They have produced the most beautiful, stunning book with this. And yeah, I'm really, really happy. Probably will be now for the rest of my life. And the cover's really pretty. I love it.
SAVANNAH: And there's also images at the start of each chapter, right?
PAULINE: I have a good story about those images.
SAVANNAH: Let's hear it.
PAULINE: So as I've spoken, that I talk a lot about my characters and how real they are to me. I actually asked my daughter to create some artwork for me. I just wanted a poster of my characters on the wall. That's all I wanted. And I said, "Can you just do it in silhouette?" You know, so she doesn't have to give facial features and everything. So she went away, and she came back with these little drawings of my characters that she created on her, you know, and said, "What do you think about these?" "Oh my God, these are awesome." Now, I don't know, if anyone has a look around my website, you will see a lot of images of my characters. They're all in silhouette form and against different backgrounds, what we've done. So because I loved those so much, I said, "Can I send them through to my publisher?" Well, I did.
SAVANNAH: Oh my gosh.
PAULINE: And they loved them so much.
SAVANNAH: That's so cool.
PAULINE: So my daughter is now credited in the internal images, and she has all her little images as the chapter headings. And in the ebook, you've got the full image. And on the jacket cover, depending on where you get it through, it's got the characters on there as well. And then all our promo is all her images. Well, not all of them. I mean, certainly a large bulk of them. So that was so nice to have my daughter involved with this, when she has been, you know, walked this journey with me a lot, and been a big inspiration for many of the traits in my characters. Yeah.
SAVANNAH: That is so fun. And we're definitely gonna link to your website so people can go check that out. 'Cause I think the images are super impactful, and I'm impressed that your daughter could do this. It's amazing. But how cool is that? That makes it even more special.
PAULINE: Yeah, she was an art student winner. She won an award for art at school. She's always been very arty. So she plays around on her little iPad thing that she has with all this art, and loves creating. And she's just done such a great job with them.
SAVANNAH: Yeah, that's so cool. They're great pictures. So I just think that's special. Okay, so you found your home, that was great. I had a question for you. Because a lot of the writers I work with, it's like they have this, let's say they start getting rejections, and then they're kind of like, "Well, I thought it was good, and my editor or my book coach told me it was ready, and now nobody's liking it." I'm sure some of those thoughts went through your head at that point.
PAULINE: Oh, absolutely. You know, exactly those thoughts, because I had published a lot of things over the years. Also know that just because your story is rejected doesn't mean that it's not any good.
PAULINE: Yeah, publishers will receive hundreds of submissions every day. And I love stats. Okay, I love the statistics. And you can apply this to story submissions as well. But when I was doing short story competitions and writing short stories, I'd be in a group of about 30. And I'd have to write a story to prompts and have it in a certain time. Okay, now, this is where my stats come in. Out of those 30 people, probably, yeah, five aren't gonna finish it in time and they'll miss the deadline. Okay, so it takes down 25. Out of that 25, you're gonna have another five that just do not create a story. Okay, so that gets it down to 20. Then you're gonna have people who create a story but it's full of errors. and then you're gonna have a certain percentage that it's off-topic, it's off the theme. They've missed the prompt. You're basically gonna get down to, if you've done everything right, you're gonna find yourself in about the top 8%, okay? And that's where always my aim was, to get in the top 8% initially. In that 8%, it's gonna come down to ideas and making sure that everything in there is perfect. So that's your craft of writing. That's gonna scale you right down to maybe 3%. In that 3%, if you've made it that far, then you're gonna have say three stories which are absolutely top notch, alright? There's nothing wrong with them. Any one of them could win it. It's gonna come down to who likes your story the best, what resonates with that judge that is judging it. And now, I found this one really important, because sometimes in competitions, I would go and research who the judges were and find out what they liked to read.
PAULINE: And that would sometimes help me get over that 1% line.
SAVANNAH: That's really cool.
PAULINE: Yeah, and the same goes with short story publications. If a publisher puts out a call, find out who the publisher is. Find out what they like to read. See what they have published before. And not to write exactly like them of course. But if you write something that they like reading, you kinda better your chances of getting picked up.
SAVANNAH: That's smart. And you know, I love what you said about those statistics, because I often will tell writers something similar. That it's like if you master your craft, you're going to, and you write a draft that works, right, that's like structurally sound. Even if it's not perfect, if you are sending in something that works, you're already way ahead of the game, you know? And then it's kind of about from that point, what makes your story unique. But I think it's exactly-
PAULINE: Sometimes it's personal.
SAVANNAH: Yeah, and whether, you know, an agent or a publishing house or whatever it is, they might be full in a certain category, or they might, you know, there's so many reasons that don't mean something's personally bad or wrong about your story.
PAULINE: Yeah, if you've ticked all the boxes, you've done everything right and there is nothing wrong with your story, and it's simply just finding that one person who loves it. And you'll read that all the time. It just takes one person and then you're fine. Yeah. Okay. Well, you can help find that person to publish before. And yeah, so when it comes to the querying stage, don't just send out queries to anybody. You really need to do your research on what they like and what they're looking for. And then keep your fingers crossed that it's yours.
SAVANNAH: Right, and don't give up. You know, also be open to, like you thought outside the box, and I mean, it worked out perfectly.
PAULINE: Yeah, you know, because everyone wants to get an agent. Everyone thinks it's the in thing. I don't necessarily believe that. I've run my own business for the last 20 years. I'm quite capable of doing a lot of the business things. I've also worked with publishers on one-on-one basis, and we have developed a really strong relationship. When I got spooked after reading all the things I was reading, I really did question, do I even want an agent? You know, and I actually came to the conclusion I don't. I don't want an agent. Sure, they would be helpful in all these things. But right now where I'm sitting, I have a publisher that I have worked with in every step of the way, and I don't need an agent to help me do that. So I've found my perfect match for me.
SAVANNAH: That's great.
PAULINE: And I'm sure, you know, there are people out there who want an agent. And look, let's be honest. If you wanna get an agent and you might get into the big top five, and your book will sell millions more copies than, you know, what mine may, But that suddenly wasn't that important to me. I needed a publisher I could work with first, first and foremost before anything. And I found that.
SAVANNAH: Well, and I think, you know, this goes back to just everybody has their own specific goal. They had their own meters of like what they're willing to put up with, what they're willing to do. You know, 'cause some people, like you said, you sent out about 30 personalized queries that took forever, right?
PAULINE: Which is hardly anything really, compared to what some people send out: hundreds, yeah.
SAVANNAH: But some people, like 30's their limit. Other people would send out 300 and it's still fun for them. You know, everyone has a different limit, different expectations, different goals, different priorities. So I think that's just, you landed in the perfect spot for you.
PAULINE: Yeah, and look at my age. It's not like I'm 20 and could query this book for the next 10 years, you know. Like I'm in my 50s. I wasn't gonna spend another three years trying to query this. No, it was either self-publish, or go down the path that I went to get this book out there so that I could move on. Because mentally, I needed to move on. While I was doing all this querying stuff, I really couldn't write anything else because my head was so stuck in the querying stage. So that wasn't helping me as a writer either.
SAVANNAH: Yeah. Well, and it's important to get your stuff out there, 'cause you have no shortage of ideas. So, you know, onto the next thing.
PAULINE: Definitely, so I really wanted to move on.
SAVANNAH: Yeah, and speaking of that next thing, like what are you working on right now?
PAULINE: Well, I usually try and set myself some little goals throughout the year. And as I've learned what publications are out there, I keep particular publishers now that I like working with or would like to work with. So I've become more specific in that. So I've just finished another couple of little short stories, which I've sent out into the world. I've been so consumed with all the release day on this, with this novel. Then that's still ongoing, that I think I'm kind of getting over, through that zone at the moment. I really wanna get back into book two of this one.
SAVANNAH: Yeah, that's really fun.
PAULINE: Because it's sitting there waiting for me to come back to. And it's really exciting: now I can actually work on it. The story is written. I did work on it a bit last year, but I really couldn't start it until I got this one completely 100% finished, which I now have done. So "Memories Don't Lie" is now the backstory for my next novel.
SAVANNAH: That's right. Yeah, and you know, you're carrying so many new tools into that book two, just throughout the process you're always picking up new tools. So I think that'll be a fun experience.
PAULINE: It will be. I've learned so much from just writing this one novel, that, yeah, I can take that all forward now. So hopefully the next one won't take me as long.
SAVANNAH: Yeah, definitely not gonna be like, you know, 10, 12 years again.
SAVANNAH: But okay, so is there any like parting words of wisdom that you wanna share, or anything that you wanna highlight for people who might want to be in your shoes someday?
PAULINE: Don't give up. Yeah, if you have a dream, chase it, because dreams do come true. If mine came true, anyone's can come true. It's hard work though. You really do need to make sacrifices in your own life to achieve, you know, the dream that you want. And it's a lot of hard work. And there will be setbacks. But there's always a solution, just like a plot hole. If you find a plot hole in your life, you can work around it, yeah.
SAVANNAH: That's right.
PAULINE: I think the most important thing, and it was something that I just shared yesterday because I only thought of it yesterday, was the first draft you write is just the idea. And it's the editing that helps you find the story. And that was so true in my case.
SAVANNAH: Yeah. I think, yeah, that's, you know, I just actually did a podcast episode this week that's about perfectionism and not even trying to get it perfect on the first try because you're never going to. So I think there's so many people out there that need to hear that. So I'm gonna ask you one more time.
PAULINE: Okay, so the first draft is just the idea. It's the editing that helps you find the story.
SAVANNAH: So words of wisdom. You heard it here first.
PAULINE: That's my words of wisdom today.
SAVANNAH: Yeah, I love it. And just thank you so much for sharing all of your story with us, because I know there were bumps in the road, right?
PAULINE: There were so many bumps.
SAVANNAH: Not everything's shiny and perfect the whole way through, but look where you are now, and your book's out in the world. And other people are going to meet Sarah, which is so exciting.
PAULINE: And I hope they love her as much as I do and as you do. One thing about this book: it does have dark elements in it, but I've always found that it is very uplifting. And I hope that my readers are uplifted after reading this.
SAVANNAH: I think so, because there is that little, you know, it's about hope, right? And how coming together and, you know, facing the bad guys, we can do big things.
PAULINE: Yeah, one of my little character, we had a bit of a launch day online last week with Black Hare Press, which people can go back and scroll through, all the discussions on that, if they want to have a little bit of a sneak peek at the many Black Hare Press authors. So in one of those was a giveaway for a character print. And it was one of my daughter's prints of my characters. And I added a little caption to it: "With friends like these you'll never have enemies."
PAULINE: Yeah, that pretty much sums them up.
SAVANNAH: That's right. Yeah, that's a great parting quote there, Pauline. I love that. And so we'll link to where they can watch that if they want to. And then where can people find you on the internet?
PAULINE: So they can go to my website, which is paulineyates.com. And that has everything about "Memories Don't Lie," all the links on it on there, as well as all my other publications. You'll also find the links to that "Changes" book with Metaphorosis that I was talking to you about. So if readers are looking for a little bit more insight into the editing process with, you know, short story publishers, that's a really great book to read because it has all the case studies in it. Yeah. That's where you'll find me. And then it has all my social links and everything, all my Amazon links, all my links to the books. It's got everything there.
SAVANNAH: Okay, so we'll link to your website in the show notes, and all that other fun stuff. And I encourage anyone that's listening to go give Pauline a little shout-out. Go say hi to her. Check out her book. And yeah, just thank you so much, Pauline. Thank you for sharing all this with us!
PAULINE: Thank you for having me!
I hope my conversation with Pauline has inspired you to dig in and keep going—to keep working on your story and believing in your story even if you hit some speed bumps along the way or get rejections when you query. I also hope that you’ll give short story writing a try! That was my favorite takeaway from my discussion with Pauline—that she used short stories to practice and hone her craft and explore different genres, too.
To learn more about Pauline, and to get all the details on her debut novel, Memories Don’t Lie, check out her website here. You can also check out the short story she mentioned, The Secret Keeper, in this edition of Metaphosis Magazine.
If you want to learn more about my Notes to Novel course—and how it can help you finish your first draft—you can click here to get all the details!