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The Shit No One Tells You About Writing
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The Shit No One Tells You About Writing

Author: Bianca Marais, Carly Watters and CeCe Lyra

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This is a podcast for emerging writers who want to improve the quality of their work and learn more about the publishing industry. Your one host, Bianca Marais (the bestselling author of 'The Witches of Moonshyne Manor') interviews authors, agents, editors and just about anyone and everyone who's involved in bringing a book to market. She's joined by her cohosts, literary agents Carly Watters and CeCe Lyra from P.S. Literary Agency, who read and critique query letters as well as opening pages in their Books with Hooks segment. Expect good advice, honest insights, and a few laughs along the way.
176 Episodes
In today's Books with Hooks, Carly and CeCe discuss the line between YA and adult historical fiction; category mashups; plausibility of plot points; mentioning side characters in query letters; considerations when writing for younger kids; and the importance of emotionality in the pages rather than the query letter.After which, Carly chats with her client, Andrea Dunlop, author of Women Are the Fiercest Creatures, about shapeshifting manuscripts; cutting passages and the battle with backstory; the realness of characters; how to know when your book needs a prologue; exploring different stories and forms; empathy in writers; the challenges of writing nonfiction; what is valued in a publishing partner; and some rapid-fire questions. Then we get to hear an excerpt from the audiobook for Women Are the Fiercest Creatures!Find us on our socials:Twitter: @TSNOTYAW @BiancaM_author @carlywatters @ceciliaclyraInstagram: @biancamarais_author @carlywatters @cece_lyra_agent @ the_shit_about_writingFacebook: @tsnotyawWebsites:,, and www.cecilialyra.comAndrea can be found on Instagram at @andreadunlop and her website is  Advertising Inquiries: & Opt-Out:
Writing About Trauma

Writing About Trauma


In today’s Books With Hooks, which is our 100th segment, Carly and CeCe each critique two queries, discussing comps; clear and compelling inciting incidents; plausibility; interiority and emotionality; the beginning, middle and end of memoirs; balancing tension and the mundane in a memoir; including social media handles with signatures; YA vs Adult; the right type of prologue; using swear words; and a request for a full manuscript!After which, Bianca chats with Eden Boudreau, author of Crying Wolf: A Memoir, where they discuss writing about trauma; emotional support for writers of trauma; her unconventional path to publication; creative writing mentorship; the beauty of small presses; adding the moments of light when writing about traumatic experiences; structuring a memoir; and finding the right place to start a memoir.Find us on our socials:Twitter: @TSNOTYAW @BiancaM_author @carlywatters @ceciliaclyraInstagram: @biancamarais_author @carlywatters @cece_lyra_agent @ the_shit_about_writingFacebook: @tsnotyawWebsites:,, and www.cecilialyra.comEden can be found on Instagram @edenboudreau and on Twitter @edenboudreauAdvertising Inquiries: & Opt-Out:
In the latest Books with Hooks, Carly and CeCe each critique two queries and discuss pitching only one genre; having a solid reason that a story takes place in near-history; POV changes within a single chapter; when a query sounds more like a synopsis; opening with a daydream; sucking the agent in with curiosity and tension; needing to be the best in a busy category; using an elevator pitch; dialing down the setup and characterization details in a query; and which character readers connect to first in a multi-POV novel.After which, Bianca chats with Grady Hendrix, author of How to Sell a Haunted House, about the horror genre; how horror can open up conversations about the darker side of death and how we process it; what it is about the south that lends itself to gothic novels; horror genre conventions and tropes; establishing a stasis; writing what you know; writing the antagonist; and why it’s important to have humour infused along with the dark stuff.This episode is brought to you by BetterHelp. Give online therapy a try at and get on your way to being your best self.Find us on our socials:Twitter: @TSNOTYAW @BiancaM_author @carlywatters @ceciliaclyraInstagram: @biancamarais_author @carlywatters @cece_lyra_agent @ the_shit_about_writingFacebook: @tsnotyawWebsites:,, and www.cecilialyra.comGrady can be found at, on Twitter @grady_hendrix, and on Instagram @gradyhendrix.Advertising Inquiries: & Opt-Out:
In today's Books with Hooks, Carly, CeCe, and Bianca are joined by listeners Marnie and Karisa. In the process, they discuss the importance of stakes in a query letter, even if it's literary; immersing yourself in place; the concept of 'historical' YA; the difference between YA and coming of age; how to set a scene; connecting specific plot points with the hook; and why interiority is important.After which, Bianca chats with, Deepti Kapoor, author of Age of Vice, about building buzz for a book ahead of time; planting curiosity seeds and leaving them hanging for many pages; a story’s structure and experimenting with form; her drafting process; letting characters develop naturally; when plot devices feel artificial; social commentary in novels; using different POVs to give more information about other characters; and introducing a bit of humour to balance the challenges characters face.Find us on our socials:Twitter: @TSNOTYAW @BiancaM_author @carlywatters @ceciliaclyraInstagram: @biancamarais_author @carlywatters @cece_lyra_agent @ the_shit_about_writingFacebook: @tsnotyawWebsites:,, and www.cecilialyra.comDeepti can be found on Instagram @deeptikp. Advertising Inquiries: & Opt-Out:
In today’s Books with Hooks, Carly and CeCe critique two queries each, discussing strong hooks; coincidences; describing a character indirectly; grief, day-to-day, and voicey-ness in the pages; submitting polished queries, character observations tying in with their story-forward intentions, characterization, covering a long time period in a story, what a frame narrative is, clarifying genre, vagueness, having a protagonist who’s both observant and self-aware, and plausibility. Plus a serious attempt is made at making someone sing.After which, Bianca chats with Hank Phillippi Ryan, author of The House Guest, wherein, they discuss succeeding in an industry that is increasingly difficult to thrive in; the importance of a thick skin and taking constructive criticism; the pacing in Hank's novels; a non-linear timeline within chapters; Hank's starting of her novel with a solitary character; and Hank's advice for reframing your query letter.Find us on our socials:Twitter: @TSNOTYAW @BiancaM_author @carlywatters @ceciliaclyraInstagram: @biancamarais_author @carlywatters @cece_lyra_agent @the_shit_about_writingFacebook: @tsnotyawWebsites: www.theshitaboutwriting,, and www.cecilialyra.comHank can be found at @hankpryan on Instagram and Twitter, and at www.hankphillippiryan.comAdvertising Inquiries: & Opt-Out:
In today’s Books with Hooks, Carly and CeCe critique two queries each, discussing catchy titles; voice-y and specific details in queries; using line breaks; grounding readers in the scene; using opportunities for interiority; the emotional entryway technique for any genre; ensuring a unique hook to make your story stand out in a sea of similar stories; the web effect of characters and plot points; and strong pacing.After which, Bianca chats with Charlene Carr, author of Hold My Girl, on getting representation and the journey to publication; self-publishing; the worthiness of non-Giller winning writing; Charlene's latest novel; the Canadian setting of Charlene's novel; and having an agent from a different country.Find us on our socials:Twitter: @TSNOTYAW @BiancaM_author @carlywatters @ceciliaclyraInstagram: @biancamarais_author @carlywatters @cece_lyra_agent @the_shit_about_writingFacebook: @tsnotyawWebsites: www.theshitaboutwriting,, and www.cecilialyra.comCharlene can be found at @charlenecarrauthor on Instagram and at www.charlenecarr.comAdvertising Inquiries: & Opt-Out:
In today’s Books With Hooks, Carly and Cece co-critique two queries, discussing showing how the protagonist is propelled on their journey; dealing with major dramatic questions and stakes; dense query letters for well-worn tropes; surprises and predictability in the opening pages; line edits and synopsis-like queries; reactive protagonists vs giving your protagonist agency; “soft” women’s fiction; movement in the opening pages; and having an obviously bad love interest in the beginning of a story.After which, Carly talks with author Rebecca Makkai, author of I Have Some Questions For You, about creating a fictional podcast for her story; dealing with social media as an author and in your book; chapter lengths; judgement of authors and of characters; boarding school settings, adding real life trauma situations to fiction; and tackling the messiness of life in novels. We also play you an excerpt from the I Have Some Questions for You audiobook.This episode is brought to you by BetterHelp. Give online therapy a try at and get on your way to being your best self.Find us on our socials:Twitter: @TSNOTYAW @BiancaM_author @carlywatters @ceciliaclyraInstagram: @biancamarais_author @carlywatters @cece_lyra_agent @ the_shit_about_writingFacebook: @tsnotyawWebsites:,, and www.cecilialyra.comRebecca can be found on Instagram @rebeccamakkai and on Twitter @rebeccamakkai. Her website is Inquiries: & Opt-Out:
In today's Books with Hooks, Bianca speaks to guest agent, Emmy Nordstrom-Higdon, about five submissions including middle grade queries, a rom-com, and a graphic novel script. They discuss the best way to personalize your query letter to your specific agent; balancing narrative dialogue and action in a scene; content warnings; non-fiction book proposals; overwriting in non-fiction; and the need for an illustrator when submitting graphic novel queries.After which, Carly chats with her client, Karen Katchur, author of The Greedy Three. They discuss the fun and difficult parts about writing a 'closed door' mystery; the process of writing dark humour; Karen's use of a specific setting for this novel; her choice of epigraph; her path to finding Carly; her experience working with different publishers; being a woman in a male-dominated genre; and Karen's words of wisdom for aspiring authors. We also play a snippet from Karen’s audiobook!Find us on our socials:Twitter: @TSNOTYAW @BiancaM_author @carlywatters @ceciliaclyraInstagram: @biancamarais_author @carlywatters @cece_lyra_agent @ the_shit_about_writingFacebook: @tsnotyawWebsites:,, and www.cecilialyra.comKaren can be found at www.karenkatchur.comEmmy can be found at @emmy_of_spines on Twitter and InstagramAdvertising Inquiries: & Opt-Out:
In today’s jampacked Bonus Episode, Carly and CeCe answer all your questions, tackling the difference between trade and academic publishing; using a title that already exists; the use of historical slang in historical YA; using comps from self-published authors; the difference between the various genres of suspense novels; the potential mistakes that make it past the revision stage; the use of domain names for author websites; resubmitting a refurbished novel to the same agent; querying with a co-writer; and the difference between women's fiction, upmarket fiction, and book club fiction.After which, Emilie Sommer of East City Bookshop give all the phone-in listeners various suggested comp titles.Finally, our guest interviewer, Femi Omotade chats with Onyi Nwabineli, author of Someday, Maybe, about the inspiration behind the grief and loss in the book; writing difficult subject matter; adding humour and light and love to balance out the grief and loss and despair; her writing and publication journey; her writing process; and the main messages Onyi wants readers to take away.Support us at us on our socials:Twitter: @TSNOTYAW @BiancaM_author @carlywatters @ceciliaclyraInstagram: @biancamarais_author @carlywatters @cece_lyra_agent @the_shit_about_writingFacebook: @tsnotyawWebsites: www.theshitaboutwriting,, and www.cecilialyra.comOnyi can be found at, on Instagram at @onyiwrites, and on Twitter at @OnyiWritesEmilie can be found at @emiliegsommer on Instagram and East City Bookshop can be found at @eastcitybookshop and at www.eastcitybookshop.comFemi can be found at @thebookalert on InstagramAdvertising Inquiries: & Opt-Out:
In today’s Books with Hooks, Carly, CeCe and Bianca look at two queries, in the process discussing a metafiction query letter; the idea of having characters written by other authors being used in your novel; digging deeper on a line level; originality and tropes; and the importance of specifics in interiority.After which, Bianca chats with Audrey Burges, author of The Minuscule Mansion of Myra Malone, about writing humour in a darker book; how she found her agent; having connections in the writing community; not losing momentum during drafting; working with her editor after her book deal; and having a mentor through the WFWA mentorship program.Find us on our socials:Twitter: @TSNOTYAW @BiancaM_author @carlywatters @ceciliaclyraInstagram: @biancamarais_author @carlywatters @cece_lyra_agent @ the_shit_about_writingFacebook: @tsnotyawWebsites: www.theshitaboutwriting,, and www.cecilialyra.comAudrey can be found at, on Twitter @Audrey_Burges, and on Instagram @audreyburges.Advertising Inquiries: & Opt-Out:
In today’s Books with Hooks, Carly and CeCe critique two queries each, in the process discussing the concept of a protagonist knowing their fate or path; the importance of imbalance in the opening scene; an example of an 'excellent' query letter; and what is required in a query letter when your novel covers a long period of time.After which Bianca chats with James M. Lang and Sarah Connell Sanders, authors of Small Teaching K-8, on approaching university and small presses without an agent; creating a nonfiction proposal; how to find the right publisher/imprint; getting invited to speak at events and how those costs are handled; being qualified to write on a nonfiction topic; the process of interviewing experts for info to include in a book; the collaboration process with co-authors; ensuring you’re addressing a need in the market; and managing the social media aspect of marketing your bookFind us on our socials:Twitter: @TSNOTYAW @BiancaM_author @carlywatters @ceciliaclyraInstagram: @biancamarais_author @carlywatters @cece_lyra_agent @ the_shit_about_writingFacebook: @tsnotyawWebsites: www.theshitaboutwriting,, and www.cecilialyra.comSarah can be found at and on Instagram at @sarah_connellJim can be found at www.jamesmlang.comAdvertising Inquiries: & Opt-Out:
In today’s Books with Hooks, Carly and CeCe critique two queries each, in the process discussing putting your own spin on a classic trope; writing physical descriptions of characters; the difficulties w beginning your novel focusing on a character who is not the protagonist; how to explain that you've had a previous agent; and a good example of voicey prose.After which Carly chats with Kitty Johnson, author of Five Winters, about structuring a novel differently than the “norm”; creating obstacles for the main character to face; finding the balance between light and heavy topics; using emotional memories in writing; capturing grief in a story-forward way; and the most challenging and exciting things about Five Winters.Finally, Carly and CeCe do their end-of-year wrap up!Find us on our socials: Twitter: @TSNOTYAW @BiancaM_author @carlywatters @ceciliaclyra Instagram: @biancamarais_author @carlywatters @cece_lyra_agent @ the_shit_about_writing Facebook: @tsnotyaw Websites: www.theshitaboutwriting,, and Kitty can be found at and on Instagram at @kittyjohnsonbooksAdvertising Inquiries: & Opt-Out:
In today’s Books with Hooks, Carly and CeCe critique two queries each, in the process discussing the pros and cons of epistolary novels; the #ownvoices term being retired; baiting the reader in the opening pages; having too much character description and not enough plot in the query; linguistic calibration and earned emotionality; problems with omniscient POV and breaking the fourth wall; vulnerability in unlikable characters; and having a compelling ending to a chapter.After which CeCe chats with Caitlin Barasch, author of A Novel Obsession, about her query letter and how she got her agent; how the editing process worked after the book deal; writing unlikable female characters; how suspense can live in the psychology of the story; writing tightly on a scene level; constantly keeping your character in motion on some level to keep the story moving forward; continually escalating things for the MC; writing “pause pebbles”; and how to find the heart of your story.Find us on our socials:Twitter: @TSNOTYAW @BiancaM_author @carlywatters @ceciliaclyraInstagram: @biancamarais_author @carlywatters @cece_lyra_agent @ the_shit_about_writingFacebook: @tsnotyawWebsites: www.theshitaboutwriting, and Caitlin can be found at, on Twitter at @CatilinBarasch and on Instagram at @soembaraschedAdvertising Inquiries: & Opt-Out:
In today’s Books with Hooks, Carly and CeCe each look at two query letters, and in the process discuss making sure interiority adds up—showing not just what a character thinks, but how they think; ensuring the line-level writing and unfolding of tension is allowing the reader to actively put the pieces of the puzzle together; ensuring there is specificity and the story climax in the query letter; making the first scene dynamic by giving the character a story-forward goal and a clear obstacle with power imbalance and sharp specifics; showing on the pages what a camera could capture and having interiority elevate that; using comps instead of themes in a query letter; using a selling type of language instead of a synopsis type of language in a query letter; and ensuring your hook can wow agents and editors, even in areas of a genre that are “soft” in the market right now.After which, Bianca chats with Roxana Trabulsi, author of Of Mud & Honey about deciding on writing fiction instead of memoir; research vs personal experience; what constitutes ‘bloody good writing’; bringing a place alive that readers are not even remotely familiar with; reaching out to experts on the subject you’re writing about; publishing with an indie press; and including foreign words within the text.Find us on our socials:Twitter: @TSNOTYAW @BiancaM_author @carlywatters @ceciliaclyraInstagram: @biancamarais_author @carlywatters @cece_lyra_agent @ the_shit_about_writingFacebook: @tsnotyawWebsites: www.theshitaboutwriting, and www.carlywatters.comRoxana can be found at and on Instagram at @roxanatrabulsiwritesAdvertising Inquiries: & Opt-Out:
In today's Bonus Episode, Carly and CeCe answer all your burning questions, in the process discussing whether agents ever ask for full manuscripts right after reading a query; whether query word count will keep an agent from reading or requesting pages; the concept of “new adult"; and how to deal with query letters having been sent off with the incorrect comps.After which Emilie Sommer from East City Book Shop joins us to give you her recommended comp titles.Advertising Inquiries: & Opt-Out:
In today's Books with Hooks,  Jessica and Kate join Carly and CeCe who critique their work, in the process discussing  the important difference between a reader's curiosity about what happened before your pages started versus curiosity about what is going to happen in the novel; knowing exactly what you want your readers to be thinking  after reading your first pages; the issues with having a protagonist that is too self aware at the beginning of a novel; the requirements when choosing between  single and dual POVS; and the concept of the 'ick' factor.After which, Bianca chats with Amber and Danielle Brown, twin sisters and co-authors of Someone Had To Do It . They discuss the synergy between co-authors as they’re developing characters and story; turning a script into a novel; making social and cultural commentary entertaining; drawing from your own life experiences; humanizing a really unlikable character to make them compelling; incorporating perfectly timed backstory; what to look for when choosing an editor and agent; and knowing when to say no to edits.Find us on our socials:Twitter: @TSNOTYAW @BiancaM_author @carlywatters @ceciliaclyraInstagram: @biancamarais_author @carlywatters @cece_lyra_agent @ the_shit_about_writingFacebook: @tsnotyawWebsites: www.theshitaboutwriting, and Amber and Danielle can be found at and on Instagram at @amberanddanielle Advertising Inquiries: Privacy & Opt-Out:
In today's Books with Hooks, Carly and CeCe each critique two query letters, in the process discussing WWII fatigue in the industry; the importance of the butterfly effect in time travel stories; how to compress plot in your query; packing in as many compelling elements as possible; and reading a perfect query letter.After which, Bianca chats with Brad Smith, author of Copperhead Road, about how Bob Dylan, moonshine, and the origins of stock car racing inspired Copperhead Road; his experiences publishing with a small Canadian indie press; surprising the reader in the opening chapter; the importance of causality; how writing a book is like building a house; and killing your darlings.Find us on our socials:Twitter: @TSNOTYAW @BiancaM_author @carlywatters @ceciliaclyraInstagram: @biancamarais_author @carlywatters @cece_lyra_agent @ the_shit_about_writingFacebook: @tsnotyawWebsites: www.theshitaboutwriting, and Brad can be found at Advertising Inquiries: Privacy & Opt-Out:
In today's Books with Hooks, Carly and CeCe analyze two query letters each, and in the process discuss what constitutes a long query, in respect of word count; how statements in dialogue shouldn't be made simply to tell the reader something; avoiding vague references in queries; and getting a submission that reads like a published book. After which, Bianca chats with Alexa Martin, author of Better Than Fiction, about her journey to publication; writing teacher books; planting curiosity seeds and having the reader be an active participant instead of spoon-feeding them everything; character arcs and how they are so integral to the character’s wants/needs; flipping genre tropes; Story Genius, character misbeliefs, the third rail, and causality; and putting hooks in your books.Find us on our socials:Twitter: @TSNOTYAW @BiancaM_author @carlywatters @ceciliaclyraInstagram: @biancamarais_author @carlywatters @cece_lyra_agent @ the_shit_about_writingFacebook: @tsnotyawWebsites: www.theshitaboutwriting, and Alexa can be found at and on Instagram at @alexambooks  Advertising Inquiries: Privacy & Opt-Out:
In today's Books with Hooks, Carly and CeCe are left unsupervised as they critique two query letters each, in the process discussing the best way to frame your novel if it has series potential; the difficulty of marketing a quiet novel right now; how you should open your novel; matching query tone and novel tone to your genre; and the importance of readers being invested in your characters.After which, Bianca chats with one of the bestselling authors of all time, Jeffrey Archer, about his latest novel, Next in Line; his 14-draft process; how he writes a story in 45 days and finishes a book in a year; writing what you know; plot twists vs. reveals; manipulating the reader; fictionalizing historical figures; the two levels of research; and magic moments in storytelling. Find us on our socials:Twitter: @TSNOTYAW @BiancaM_author @carlywatters @ceciliaclyraInstagram: @biancamarais_author @carlywatters @cece_lyra_agent @ the_shit_about_writingFacebook: @tsnotyawWebsites: www.theshitaboutwriting, and Jeffrey can be found at and on Instagram at @jeffrey_archer_author Advertising Inquiries: Privacy & Opt-Out:
In today's Books with Hooks segment, Dongwon Song, an agent at Howard Morhaim Literary Agency who specializes in the sci-fi and fantasy genres, joins Bianca to look at four query letters. The two discuss the difference between sci-fi, fantasy, and speculative fiction; the very specific sub-genre of magical realism; the length of queries in sci-fi/fantasy genres; being deliberate with the limited real estate in a query, even when world building; driving forward plot at all times; the concept of looking through a 'keyhole' when writing a query; when to italicize foreign words; the importance of using stakes to pull in an agent in the query; starting with grief in a query; and the importance of using author names when comping.After which, Bianca chats with Kristen Bird, author of I Love It When You Lie, about how to choose your characters; multi-POV stories; subverting the mystery genre; interviewing your characters to understand character motivations; basing characters on people IRL; using setting as a tool to develop characters; and factoring in a character’s misbelief.Find us on our socials:Twitter: @TSNOTYAW @BiancaM_author @carlywatters @ceciliaclyraInstagram: @biancamarais_author @carlywatters @cece_lyra_agent @ the_shit_about_writingFacebook: @tsnotyawWebsites:,, and www.cecilialyra.comKristen can be found on Instagram @kristenbirdwrites and on Twitter @kbirdwrites. Her website is Advertising Inquiries: & Opt-Out:
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