Discover more from The Shit No One Tells You About Writing
3 ways to beat imposter syndrome; 13 authors on success, failure, and everything in between; author platform 101: do you really need one and how can you build it?
✨Plus, bestseller Liv Constantine shares words of wisdom for aspiring authors✨
Hello and welcome! 😊 We hope your writing is going well or, if you’re experiencing frustrations in that part of your life right now, we hope you remember to be kind to yourself. Why? Because being a writer is not for the faint of heart but you’re here and you’re doing it! Writers make so many sacrifices in order to write. They put themselves out there in ways that would terrify others. And they do all of this with no guarantees. But you’re showing up for yourself! Even if you haven’t been able to write a word in months, just reading a newsletter like this means you are honouring yourself and your desire to write. So cheers to you! ✨And in the meantime, we have so many fun, helpful, and actionable tips in this issue to help you along your journey. Enjoy!
❤️ The Shit No One Tells You About Writing Team
A monthly newsletter chock-full of guidance and support from publishing industry insiders. Expect author interviews, guest blogs, giveaways, and more! Sign up and immediately receive an exclusive webinar from literary agent Carly Watters
SHELF LIFE with bestseller Liv Constantine
We caught up with sisters Lynne Constantine and Valerie Constantine whose Liv Constantine books have sold over a million copies to find out what they wish they knew when they were working on their debut, the best piece of writing advice they’ve ever heard, and whether they advise mailing copies of your book to Oprah.
Liv Constantine is the pen name of sisters Lynne Constantine and Valerie Constantine. Lynne and Valerie are Wall St. Journal and USA Today international bestselling authors with over one million copies sold worldwide. They are Library Reads Hall of Fame authors. Their books have been translated into 28 languages, are available in 33 countries, and are in development for both television and film. Their books have been praised by USA Today, The Sunday Times, People Magazine, and Good Morning America, among many others. Their 2017 novel, The Last Mrs. Parrish, was a Reese’s Book Club pick. In 2004 they released their first co-authored book, Circle Dance. Their latest, The Senator’s Wife, is available now.
SHELF LIFE: From your debut through to your latest book, The Senator’s Wife (May 2023, Penguin Random House) and everything in between, your writing career has gone from strength to strength. Do you have any regrets about your journey so far? Is there anything you wish you had done differently?
LIV CONSTANTINE: The only thing would be to better acquaint ourselves with the business of publishing in order to make the most informed decisions along the way.
SL: Is there any piece of advice that resonated with you while writing your 2004 book, Circle Dance, that you still stand by today?
LC: Discipline. Set goals and stick with them. Don’t wait for inspiration to strike, sit yourself down and write. The quote that resonates the most in this regard is:
“The water does not flow until the faucet is turned on.”
SL: If you could travel back in time and meet your past selves in the year after the publication of Circle Dance, what words of encouragement and/or warning would you give yourselves?
LC: We had grand visions of Circle Dance being stocked and sold in book stores all across America, believing that once a book was published it just naturally was sent to every book store there was. So naïve. We even sent the finished book to Oprah in hopes she would make it one of her picks, really believing there might be a slight chance of it happening. Of course, nothing of the sort occurred. There was interest only from local book stores, and even then, only a few copies were placed on shelves. The words of encouragement would go something like:
“Don’t get discouraged. Study, read, hone your craft and the time will come, if you just keep going and don’t give up, and most importantly—don’t submit your work until it shines!”
SL: What do you wish you had known about being a writer and/or the publishing industry before you published Circle Dance?
LC: That’s an interesting question and one we’ve often talked about. We wrote Circle Dance over twenty years ago at a time when submissions were made by mail and the only way to find information on agents and publishers was not online, but instead through an enormously thick book, Writer’s Market. We were “alone on the prairie” so to speak, and so one thing that we’ve since learned and would have been so helpful back then, is that networking and becoming part of a supportive author community is incredibly important and helpful. Probably the thing we say most often is that we didn’t know just how much we didn’t know—about freelance editors, about writing itself, about revision. But you can’t know everything at the start. It’s a gradual process and one in which we continue to learn.
You can purchase The Senator’s Wife on our Bookshop.org affiliate page here. Buying books through this link supports a local indie as well as The Shit No One Tells You About Writing 📚❤️
SHELF LIFE is produced by Bronwen Keyes-Bevan, a Toronto-based writer and editor. Bronwen is newsletter editor at The Shit No One Tells You About Writing and is at work on her debut novel. She lives in Toronto with her husband and their son. You can find her on Twitter, Instagram, or at her website.
Let’s Talk About… Imposter Syndrome
In this monthly advice column, Bianca Marais shares concrete, actionable tips that you can use to immediately elevate your writing craft and career. This month Bianca shares three practical ways to triumph over the dreaded—but all too common—imposter syndrome.
It was Hemingway who said, “There is nothing to writing. All you do is sit down at a typewriter and bleed.”
Writing means making yourself vulnerable. It’s as simple as that. To produce good work, and really crawl under the skin of your characters to make them come alive on the page, you need to tap into all kinds of emotions and experiences from your own life. This can leave you feeling pretty fragile at times. It’s true what Robert Frost said: “No tears in the writer, no tears in the reader.”
“Some of my biggest emotional breakthroughs have happened at times when I’ve allowed my fictional characters to reveal truths about my life and myself that I’ve never dared discussing with anyone, not even a therapist.”
You might have experienced the same in your own work, which is one of the many reasons it’s so difficult putting yourself out there in terms of getting critique.
So, if this business of writing is so damn difficult, why do we make it even more torturous by allowing imposter syndrome to be so debilitating?
There are all kinds of imposter syndrome, but the one that most writers experience manifests as some variation of:
😔 “Who am I to think I can write?”
😔 “Why do I think I have something to say that others will want to read?”
😔 “There’s no point in trying because I’ll never be as good as [insert name of favourite author].”
If you’ve experienced any form of these, here’s my advice for dealing with it:
✨ Grant yourself some grace. Every writer started somewhere. No brilliant author sprang forth from the womb clutching their award-winning, bestselling novel. (Thank goodness, as that would have been incredibly painful for their mothers, especially if the book was in hardcover!).
When we read these kinds of books, what we see is a finished product and not what came before. We don’t see the years and years of scribblings that were crumpled up and tossed in garbage bins; the ‘overwritten with too many adjectives’ and ‘cliched and trite’ comments that various writing instructors made in the margins of these authors’ first short stories; the hundreds of rejection letters pinned to their corkboards; or the thousands of shitty drafts in which they honed their craft.
Succeeding as a writer takes time and practice, failure and resilience.
I remember when many, many agents rejected my first novel back in 2006. I was devastated because I thought the book was amazing. At that point, I hadn’t studied writing or read any books on craft. I hadn’t listened to any writing podcasts (because there weren’t any!) and I hadn’t shown my work to any other writers to get feedback. And yet I thought my work was incredible.
Here’s the thing: I found that manuscript a few months ago and was mortified reading it. I did everything wrong with that book, absolutely everything.
But I learned from it, and then I wrote another terrible book that no one wanted. And then I started to take myself and my writing seriously. And that’s when I wrote the book that would become my debut novel.
The very fact that you’re reading this article and have subscribed to this newsletter means you’re taking your writing seriously. You’re already leaps and bounds ahead of where 2006 me was. Just keep going.
✨ You are your greatest asset as an author. You will never be Ann Patchett or Gillian Flynn or John Irving, and that’s a good thing because you are YOU! What Ann, Gillian and John don’t have is your life experiences, your way of looking at the world, your observations and insights. Harness them to write the best damn book you possibly can because no one else can write the story the way you will.
✨ Muzzle the critic. Seriously, get that awful f*cker out of your head when you’re drafting. You can allow him visitation rights when you’re editing. But when you’re drafting, he must be silenced! Because perfectionism is the enemy of creation. You can’t create when you’re constantly telling yourself how shitty you are. It’s impossible!
Here’s an exercise that worked for me: personify the critic. Think of the most toxic person you know, the person who’s always finding fault with everyone and everything, who belittles others to make themselves feel better.
Do you want that person in your head when you’re writing? Hell no! Go ahead and envision muzzling them. It’s a very satisfying image, isn’t it?
The only person allowed in your head when you draft is the cheerleader. Think of the most positive person that you know, the one who always sees the best in everyone, and who goes out of their way to boost others and make them feel good about themselves. Pull up a chair for that person in your mind and make them a cup of tea. Ask them to hang around while you bang out a few pages.
Harboring imposter syndrome is a form of self sabotage. Don’t do it.
As always, you’ve got this!
Bianca Marais is the author of the bestselling The Witches of Moonshyne Manor, as well as the beloved Hum If You Don’t Know the Words and If You Want to Make God Laugh, and the Audible Original, The Prynne Viper. She taught at the University of Toronto’s School of Continuing Studies where she was awarded an Excellence in Teaching Award for Creative Writing in 2021. She is the co-host of the popular podcast, The Shit No One Tells You About Writing, which is aimed at helping emerging writers become published.
How 13 published authors think about success, failure, rejection, and everything in between
When rejection and criticism make up such a large chunk of the publishing industry, you might wonder if the struggle is worth it? Carly Watters asked thirteen authors to share their insight on the wild ride that is being an author.
I always get asked about success stories. How does it feel when things go right? When so much of the business is rejection or criticism do the big, shiny, happy moments make up for the struggle? I put out the question to some author friends and clients. What I got back was over a dozen responses from published and soon-to-be-published writers about the idiosyncrasies, vastly different experiences from book to book, and attempts to control our feelings and reactions in this wild world of publishing—the industry we know and love.
On riding the wave of the BIG HIGH
“It was a dream come true, and the sense of validation was huge after so much uncertainty. But as a person who struggles with anxiety, I was surprised how tricky it was to ride the high of signing with an agent and getting a book deal. I had a lot more practice managing the “low” feelings, and I felt keyed up and restless a lot of the time. Almost as if the rest of the world was moving in slow motion.” Sara Read
“After querying four books, getting hundreds of rejections, but knowing I was getting closer, it felt... almost impossible. Like the cliché, I had to be dreaming. I reread the e-mail like three times before I believed it. My whole body felt like it was vibrating. I couldn’t even talk when I went to show my husband the e-mail. I’m pretty sure, given the tears streaming down my cheeks, he thought someone had died. But no. It was a request for “the call”. In the ensuing weeks, I got three offers from literary agents, which after four books worth of querying, felt like a dream coming true. The whole time I was writing, then querying, racking up so many rejections, I couldn’t let myself doubt that someday it would happen. Someday, I would get a yes. So when it came—well, it felt like the start of something new.” Jessica Payne
On learning EXPECTATIONS
“Getting a book deal with my dream Canadian publisher, combined with unavoidable naiveté, meant that I developed unrealistic expectations of what was to come next. As a result, I would experience feelings of abject failure when, for example, subsidiary rights weren’t sold. I took it personally when a well known author who agreed to blurb my book then ghosted. I got impatient to learn that I’d still not gotten any film option offers. Achieving an early level of success made me believe that specific things were owed to me, when in fact, they weren’t. In the year since Such Big Dreams was published, I’ve come to the conclusion that literary success is not only an outcome that cannot be forced, but it is complicated and illusory. After doing the difficult work to loosen my grip on my expectations, I can finally just enjoy the fact that I wrote a novel I’m proud of.” Reema Patel
“What I feel most of all is a surreal sense that this is not really happening to me and that I will wake up one day and find out I imagined it all. What compounds this feeling is the fact that growing up, I had no support or encouragement for my work—so I always felt it would be a superhuman task to actually make it happen. That said, over the course of the year I have realized that publishing, agenting, and writing are all very much part of a business—and that business has to make money. The reason I got this deal is because my book idea happened to hit on a juicy concept at the right time and with the right angle. While there is still so much magic involved in the writing process itself, I find that the practical aspects of publishing dominate.” Agnes Monod-Gayraud
On IMPOSTER SYNDROME
“I did have one unexpected feeling right after I signed my publishing contract: a bout of imposter syndrome—Oh, no, everyone thinks I can actually do this!” Michelle Hoffman
“I’ve also felt severe Impostor Syndrome and anxiety that I won’t be able to “keep up.” When that happens, I can’t celebrate at all, and I end up dismissing my own accomplishments. It’s definitely a bit of a rollercoaster, but I think that’s baked into this business. I strive to be present and grounded as much as I can.” Sandra Wong
“I don’t think I ever truly got over the self-consciousness the rejection I met through querying brought me, even after I received deal offers for subrights and foreign rights and sold tens of thousands of books.” N.S. Perkins
On deciding what SUCCESS LOOKS LIKE
“To me, success is simply another book contract. If I can continue publishing books that people read—even if the audience is smaller than I’d like—I’m winning.” Julia Dahl
“We sold The Last Flight, where it went on to debut on the NYT bestseller list, becoming a #1 international bestseller several times over. To date, we’ve sold over 500,000 copies in the US and over one million worldwide. But is that the happy ending to the story? No, because it’s an ongoing story. As long as I write books, I will worry about selling them. About meeting '“success metrics” that others inside—and outside—the industry have set. Every book is like starting over from the very beginning and success in publishing is never linear. I have learned that I have to try to enjoy the ride when things are going well, and trust that when things aren’t, they won’t stay that way. My first book taught me that it’s possible to come back from rejection or failure of any kind.” Julie Clark
“It reminded me that the universe can always see the cleared road ahead of the traffic gridlock that I felt I was in. And what a perfect, clear road it was.” Bren McClain
On understanding long-term REJECTION
“Success after failure feels incredibly sweet and incredibly terrifying because the expectation is to replicate it. And in an industry where success is subjective and ever-shifting, that’s almost impossible to do (save for a select few). Rejection doesn’t define you, but success doesn’t either. The work defines you, and you get to decide what that looks like every day.” Julie Clark
“Before I sold my first book I had no publications—I wasn’t a writer who was really hooked into the literary world, publishing short stories, etc. I tried, but that wasn’t my path. So I was used to rejection. When my book sold it was, of course, exciting, but also kind of terrifying. There was about a month when it just felt purely good, and then I started to understand that rejection, when you’re a writer, never goes away—the terms of it just change. I was more successful, yes, and so the rejection was different, but it was (and is!) still there.” Anton DiSclafani
On handling NEW CHALLENGES
“I’m about to publish my third book. I’m afraid my third book won’t do as well. That readers won’t continue to buy and pre-order. There’s SO MUCH support for your debut, but after that, it feels almost like it’s expected that you’re established, that you’re good to go. I think people who are not in publishing (and even some of those who are) don’t realize it still feels like a struggle, like hard work, to get your name and book out there. That you worry about every single one.” Jessica Payne
On focusing on what YOU CAN CONTROL
“My first four novels never found homes, and my fifth, Deer Season, was rejected by all the agents I queried. I ended up placing it at University of Nebraska Press and it went on to win the Edgar Award for Best First Novel in 2022. People have asked me if I knew when I was writing Deer Season that it would be the novel that finally made it, and the answer is, not at all. I loved those first four novels just as fiercely, perhaps more so because my heart hadn’t been broken four times. But what they taught me was that I have to love the work and find the joy in sitting down to write, not in outside validation. So much of this career feels out of my hands, so I try to concentrate on what I can control.” Erin Flanagan
“There’s so much out of our control in publishing, so I try to celebrate all the wins, no matter their size.” Sandra Wong
Carly Watters is a SVP and Senior Literary Agent at P.S. Literary and the sitting VP of PACLA, the Professional Association of Canadian Literary Agents. She is the co-host of popular writing podcast The Shit No One Tells You About Writing. Carly received her MA in Publishing Studies from City University London. Her clients’ books have been translated into over 40 languages, optioned for TV and film, adapted into podcasts, and have been on every bestseller list from coast to coast.
✨Please excuse the interruption but…✨
Would you like to advertise in this newsletter? Drop us a line at theshitaboutwriting.newsletter at gmail dot com!
Author Platform: do you really need one and if yes, how can you grow yours?
“Platform” is one word sure to strike fear into the heart of any writer. Whether you’re unsure of what it is, why you need it, or how on earth to get one, literary agent at Folio Literary, Jennifer Chen-Tran has got you covered.
Ask any author what the term “platform” means and you’ll get a dozen different answers. Personally, I tend to define platform broadly: anything that increases your visibility as an author and will ultimately help you sell your book. The idea of a platform originated primarily as a way to convince publishers to take on authors who already have an audience. Because publishers are risk-averse, they ideally want to work with authors who already have buy-in among their various networks and communities. Publishers want to know that other people, potentially buyers and readers of your book, know about you. Therefore, platform is extremely important to nonfiction authors and something that needs to be built organically, over time.
Platform can be composed of various ingredients, from social media followers to written publications, or even other authors who are willing to vouch for you and / or help promote you and your book when the time comes. Authors are often intimidated when building their platforms because they don’t know where to start. I always tell nonfiction authors to start small but make sure to actually take action! For example, if your work is visually-driven, you may consider starting an Instagram account. Or if you prefer short videos, TikTok might be a great platform to explore. The last thing you want to do is become paralyzed from all the different options out there. Don’t wait until you get an agent to start building your platform! And yes, you should have an author website.
Another good question to ask yourself: who do you admire as an author and what has that particular author done to broaden their platform? By studying other authors who have robust platforms, you can learn a lot about your strengths and where to focus your attention. For example, if you are a chef, Instagram might be a good place to start building an audience—post about your recipes, your inspiration, or a sneak peek behind the kitchen. Remember to support others too as you continue to build your platform.
If you secure an agent, the two of you can work closely on strategy to continue to build up your platform. I help my clients secure blurbs and creatively strategize on where we should focus our energies before, during, and after a book is sold. Most importantly, try to have fun along the way, stay curious, experiment, and call on professional help if you need it. There are social media strategists and brand managers who may be able to help. After all, it really takes a village for a successful book launch. Good luck!
Jennifer Chen Tran is a literary agent at Folio Literary Management. She has over a decade of experience as an agent and is a member of the Association of American Literary Agents and the Authors Guild.
“Literary snobbery makes you less of a storyteller”: a Q&A with Bianca Marais
Ever wonder who the hosts of The Shit No One Tells You About Writing podcast are beyond agents and authors? We asked you to submit your questions for our hosts and you did not disappoint. Here Bianca opens up about her best and worst book tour experiences, a fantasy book that changed how she views storytelling, and much more!
What are your go-to inspiration techniques (such as mood boards or playlists)?
My article in this newsletter breaks down my love of vision boards so I won’t get into that again. For some of my books, playlists were a very important part of my inspiration. For The Witches of Moonshyne Manor, I listened to my feminist playlist every morning while doing my 10,000 steps to get myself pumped ahead of writing. For Hum If You Don’t Know the Words, listening to my South African playlist was a way of transporting me back home so that I could conjure up the sights and smells and memories of the country I was writing about. For other books, music didn’t factor in at all. In fact, it was a huge distraction.
I am inspired in general by novels, films, and TV shows. I know some authors who can’t read at all while writing. But I can’t imagine not reading at any point in my life; it’s like oxygen to me. And I’m fascinated by how totally different genres can inspire whatever I’m working on. I’ll see a character in literary fiction struggling with something that will make me view my own romcom character in a totally different way and open up all new avenues that I hadn’t considered before. I’ll be watching a sitcom and a fragment of dialogue will spark an amazing idea for a scene in my fantasy novel.
Inspiration comes in so many different forms if you’re open to it. I’m curious about the world and people, so I like to get out there and live in between holing myself up and writing. I find that the novel I’m working on will tell me what it needs. It’s my job to listen to it.
Best and worst book tour experiences?
When I went on tour for my debut novel, I thought the worst moment was the store where no one showed up! It was excruciating with the store manager and myself making small talk as he sweated profusely while eyeing the door, desperately hoping for someone to show up. But it wasn’t that bad. I got to sit on the floor and play with the store dog who was such a cutie! And then I got to return to my hotel and go to bed early which was a rarity on book tour.
The worst was when only one man showed up, just to get out of the rain, and then promptly fell asleep and snored really loudly while I was giving my talk. It didn’t matter how loudly I spoke, he just snored even louder. Until eventually, I just gave up and let the poor man sleep in peace.
I’ve had so many awesome book tour experiences that I honestly can’t pinpoint just one. I’m always touched when people show up and when the organizers go to a lot of effort for me. For my last tour, so many podcast listeners drove for hours to attend my events that it made me quite weepy.
If you were to write a memoir, what’s one experience that you’d be sure to include?
Oh wow. This is quite the question, especially since I’ve said memoir is the only genre that I’ll never write in, mostly because I’m not very interesting.
The most transformative period in my life was the nine years when I was volunteering in Soweto with HIV/AIDS orphans and their caregivers. There are so many moments from this time that stick with me, not because of what was happening in my own life at the time, but because of what was happening in other people’s lives. There’s an intimacy that’s created when you become a witness to someone’s worst moments, when you see their rawest pain, and know that no matter how much you want to help, you’re utterly helpless in the face of forces that are greater than yourself.
I will never forget arriving at a shack one morning to discover that one of the mothers who we were working with had passed away during the night while sleeping on a mattress on the floor with her two young children.
It was one of the most heartbreaking moments I’ve ever experienced and there was nothing I could do to take those children’s pain away or bring their mother back. It was both humbling and enraging, and it’s defined so much of my worldview.
What is your favorite time of day and why?
I used to be a morning person who could jump out of bed at 5am, ready to tackle the day. Not anymore. Stupid perimenopause has made me struggle with insomnia to the point where I’m generally bleary-eyed in the mornings now. I can’t pinpoint a specific time of day that I love, but anytime I get to sit down and write (whatever time that may be) is always my favourite time!
What is a book that you didn’t expect to like but LOVED?
I try to give every single book I read the benefit of the doubt. So, it’s sometimes the opposite way for me: I go in thinking I’m going to love a book and then I’m disappointed for whatever reason.
Soon after my husband and I got married, though, we challenged the other to read a book that each of us loved. He loves fantasy and at that time, I did not. But I still agreed to read the first book in The Belgariad series by David Eddings. And I loved it so much that I devoured the entire series and then went on to read The Malloreon.
That’s when I learned that every single genre has something to teach you about storytelling and that literary snobbery makes you less of a storyteller.
Thank you to @angiechoiniere @sophiedominiquewrites @flywrites2live and everyone else who submitted such great questions for our hosts!
🎙️On The Podcast This Week🎙️
Check out this week’s podcast episode below!
In today’s Books With Hooks segment, Carly and CeCe each critique two submissions, discussing query length; having enough of a hook; writing style in a query letter; confusion vs. curiosity in a query letter; explanatory vs. curiosity seeds; putting the hook up higher in a query; starting with dialogue; and fantastic first lines and opening pages.
After which, CeCe chats with Chanel Cleeton, author of The Cuban Heiress, about POV; being a plotter or pantser; Chanel’s different phases of writing; the research process; and writing successful dream sequences.
☕ Support The Shit No One Tells You About Writing on Ko-fi ☕
Each podcast episode costs us five hundred dollars to produce and edit and we aim to air at least four episodes and one bonus a month. The biggest compliment our listeners give us is that our episodes don’t have any filler, just one hundred percent helpful content. Your support helps keep it that way. Once-off and monthly supporters have access to Carly and CeCe’s written critiques as well as other exclusive content. Once-off supporters have access to the additional content for one month after their donation date. Monthly supporters will have access on an ongoing basis. Please register on Ko-fi and then follow us there to ensure you have access to the materials.
Well, that’s a wrap for this months, folks! If you enjoyed this issue, please spread the word to your writing pals. And use the hashtag #TSNOTYAWnewsletter on Twitter and Instagram so we can connect! Until next month, happy scribbling ✨
❤️ The Shit No One Tells You About Writing Team