Meet the Author: Pauline Montagna

PAULA’S TOP WRITING TIP: Don’t write novels. The novel is a dying art form and the market is flooded. Look to the future. Write for the next generation in the formats they’ll be, in the jargon of the day, ‘accessing’ and ‘consuming’. My money would be on computer games.

Pauline Montagna was born into an Italian family in Melbourne, Australia. After completing a Bachelor of Arts at La Trobe University, Pauline joined the Department of Social Security where it was decided that someone with a major in French would be perfect for the Finance section. Fortunately for them, as the daughter of shopkeepers, Pauline had a good head for figures.

While indulging her artistic interests by becoming involved in Melbourne’s burgeoning amateur theatre scene, Pauline pursued her developing accounting skills through a wide variety of workplaces culminating in the Australian film industry which eventually took her to Perth. There she decided to return to university and qualify as a teacher, graduating from Edith Cowan and Murdoch universities with Graduate Diplomas in Language Studies and Education.

After returning to Melbourne, Pauline continued teaching English as a Second Language while she completed a Diploma of Professional Writing and Editing.

Pauline has now retired from teaching to concentrate on The Stuff of Dreams, a four volume fictional account of the life of William Shakespeare and the experiences and relationships that made him the writer he became. The first volume, Not Wisely but Too Well, traces his early life until 1593. She has previously published two other books, The Slave, an historical romance set in fourteenth century Italy, and Suburban Terrors a short story collection.

Information about her books and where to buy them can be found at her website http://paulinemontagna.net.

AUTHOR INSIGHT

Why do you write? I think I’ve always wanted to be a writer. I guess I would say it’s what I do, what I am. If I had my way I would write all day and read all night. As a child I was always telling myself stories and writing them down is just an adult version of that. I remember my first effort was a four-page play when I was eight years old. It was about a princess in a tower waiting to be rescued by a prince. How original!

More recently, though, my writing has been inspired by a need to know more. I have always loved history. I love reading about history. I love doing the research, and I love writing about it. As I dig deeper into my subject, I discover stories which I just have to tell or bust. I can’t be sure where this love comes from, but it may be because I was born in Australia, a country with very little history, while my roots are in Italy, a country with perhaps too much history.

What would you be doing if you weren’t a writer? I don’t really know. There are times when I wonder how much longer I can do this, on both the psychological level and the financial. I’m doing some teaching at the moment to keep body and soul together. If needs be I could also get work as a bookkeeper. But I don’t know what would become of me if I ever gave up on being a writer.

What was your toughest obstacle to becoming published? Strictly speaking, as a self-publisher, I haven’t been ‘published” as the mainstream would define it. Now I probably never will be. As far as the publishing industry is concerned, self-published books are by definition books that aren’t good enough to find a publisher and so they will not look at them. I daresay this prejudice will extend to the author. We self-publishers dream about being discovered by the mainstream, but there’s lots of competition out there, and unless you’re a breakout like Fifty Shades of Grey, the mainstream will never find you.

The irony is that while agents tell you that your book couldn’t find a publisher because it wasn’t good enough, in the same breath they will tell you they are having a great deal of trouble placing their clients’ books as the industry is in such dire straits. They are discovering what we self-publishers have known all along. The mainstream industry doesn’t have the capacity to publish all the publishable books out there. The rest of us have to either live a life of frustration as we try desperately to be accepted by the mainstream, or go it alone and live with knowing we’ve locked ourselves out.

What’s the best aspect of your writing life? And the worst? I do love the research. My best summer ever was the one I spent in the State Library of Victoria doing the preliminary research for my Shakespeare series. You can almost hear the neurons firing as you go from one book to the other, making leaps here and connections there. There’s nothing better.

But recently I’ve discovered how much I love actually writing, though I made this discovery because I’ve done so little of it recently. Most of my time, energy and headspace has been taken up by marketing. For a self-published writer, marketing is difficult, much more difficult than writing. It’s where the drudgery and uncertainty comes in and can become all-consuming. Unfortunately it’s vital, unless you want to write in a vacuum.

I’m basically a shy person so I dread the very thought of going out there to sell myself. Instead I’ve turned to the internet. There’s lots of advice about online marketing out there, but in reality, no one knows what will and won’t work for your book. You have to try it all and hope that something pushes the right buttons. Over the last few months I’ve been trying to implement a detailed online marketing plan I developed while I was overseas earlier this year. It takes a great deal of time out of my day, and saps the writing energy out of me. I’m working towards finding some kind of balance.

What would you do differently if you were starting out now as a writer? What do you wish you’d been told before you set out to become an author? What’s the best advice you were ever given? As I mentioned earlier, there’s lots of advice out there. Most of it is about believing in your dreams and never giving up. Such advice assumes that your dream will come true as long as you work hard enough and that if your dream doesn’t come true it’s because you’ve given up. But sometimes there’s a brick wall out there and the only time banging your head against a brick wall feels good is when you stop. There’s only so much rejection a soul can take.

The only advice I wish I had been given is probably the only advice I wouldn’t have listened to. Quality has little to do with success. Marketing is everything. Don’t go out into a brutal and crowded marketplace unless you’re a salesperson first and a writer second. If you aren’t then don’t bother trying to become a published author. Be content as a closet writer, writing for your own pleasure alone. If you’re lucky you may find your niche, but don’t count on it.

{For a snapshot of Not Wisely, But Too Well go to Author Bookshelf.}

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3 thoughts on “Meet the Author: Pauline Montagna

  1. Hi Pauline,
    There is a Shintoist saying: “There are many mountains to God, and many paths up each mountain. I think that applies to us writers. Looking at Teena’s various guests, I see a different path for each, but a huge amount of commonality.
    The same is true for how you get your book published. I do have some books with large publishers, some with small independents, and some self-published. The amount of necessary marketing is exactly the same. So, you have not disadvantaged yourself by self-publishing.
    And old Will told me to pass his thanks on to you for writing about him.
    🙂
    Bob

    Like

  2. Although my sentiments are not all identical to Pauline’s, I find we have more in common than a love for research and historical fiction. It is tough out there now, the competition is more than just fierce, and there are mixed messages about what works and what doesn’t.

    What I have learned since the huge changes took place in 2009/10 is that it’s certainly not a debate or a race between trad or indie publishing. It’s a dash for discoverability, and understanding all the loaded meanings of that word. We could not be writing in a better – or a worse – time. The double-edged sword of democratized publishing swings over the necks of all authors, irrespective of how they are published.

    Like

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