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Success Story Interview - Kimberly Wisnewski

An Interview with Kimberly Wisnewski (kski225 on QT) upon receiving an offer of representation from agent Alyssa Jennette of Stonesong.


QT: Can you tell us a little bit about the book for which you've found representation? What inspired you to write it?
Kimberly Wisnewski:
I'LL ALWAYS BE HERE (& OTHER LIES) is about two dangerously codependent friends who are forced apart when one moves away their last year of high school. Throughout the year, they adapt to their new lives and attempt to move forward while still clinging tightly to the past they desperately want back. In this story, I wanted to explore a toxic friendship in a raw, realistic way. I also wanted to examine the friendships that make us into who we become and ask the hard questions: Can these friendships last after graduation? Should they?
QT: How long have you been writing?
Kimberly Wisnewski:
As cliche as it sounds, I feel like I've been writing my entire life. I was always the one kid in class who didn't groan when essays were assigned, and I'd find ways to hide books and journals in the gym during P.E. so I could write as soon as I got eliminated in dodgeball. I'd say I only started seriously writing in 2007, but I don't know that there's a difference. All writing helps your craft in some way, doesn't it?
QT: How long have you been working on this book?
Kimberly Wisnewski:
I started writing it in May of 2016 and wrote sporadically while balancing a few other projects. I picked it up again in October of 2018 and finished my first draft in January of 2019. Since then, I've been revising. I was lucky enough to get into Author Mentor Match and after a final round of revisions, I began querying in July of 2019.
QT: Was there ever a time you felt like giving up, and what helped you to stay on course?
Kimberly Wisnewski:
Yes, definitely! I was actually getting my WIP into query shape, having given up on this manuscript being "The One" that got me an agent. It still might not be "The One," that becomes my first sale. It might never sell, and I have to be okay with that. But for now, It's mine again, and I'm excited to revise it and go on submission!

I can safely say, with 100% confidence, that my group of writer friends kept me going through the query process. We have a group chat that 20-something AMM mentees visit almost every day to commiserate, celebrate, vent, give advice, and generally hold each other up as we fight our way through the query trenches. Knowing I wasn't alone through the trials of querying, from full requests to full rejections, has truly made all the difference.
QT: Is this your first book?
Kimberly Wisnewski:
No! I'm sure the ones I wrote in 8th-9th grade probably don't count, but even without those, this book is my third. I also have a YA novel about superheroes struggling to move past a tragic mistake, as well as a companion/sequel. I queried it for a while but soon learned superheroes are a hard sell, especially for a debut—but who knows what the future will hold!
QT: Do you have any formal writing training?
Kimberly Wisnewski:
Yes, though I don't think it's necessary, as many prolific writers have proven. I majored in English, with concentration in nonfiction creative writing. Though I write fiction now, many of my stories come in part from my own life, so the CNF training has helped a lot. And like I said before, the only way to become a good writer is to write as much as you can!
QT: Do you follow a writing routine or schedule?
Kimberly Wisnewski:
Not remotely. I am a chaotic, disorganized disaster in most areas of my life. However, I always try to make time for writing because it's something that helps keep me grounded. Having a group of writer friends has also helped me stay motivated to write, even when the ideas just won't come.
QT: How many times did you re-write/edit your book?
Kimberly Wisnewski:
It's my third full draft, but I've had several rounds of smaller edits, too. I tend to go back in after every CP reads and find areas I can tweak or strengthen.
QT: Did you have beta readers for your book?
Kimberly Wisnewski:
Yes! Several. I read it aloud to my sister and husband as I wrote it (over the course of three years). I had a few CPs I'd collected from other contests and mentorships—but, again, it was really through AMM that I found most of my readers. All in all, I think I had about 10 people give some form of feedback on it, maybe more.
QT: Did you outline your book, or do you write from the hip?
Kimberly Wisnewski:
I'm a plantser. Maybe a panther. I make some form of outline so I have my major events and character moments down, but some of my best writing comes from just following ideas down the rabbit hole. With my more recent projects, I've drafted a synopsis following Susan Dennard's model and a very rough query. This has helped me hone in on the heart of my story from the start. I'm a firm believer that once you have the heart down, the rest will follow.
QT: How long have you been querying for this book? Other books?
Kimberly Wisnewski:
I queried my superhero book sporadically (and erratically, with no plan whatsoever) from 2016-2018, but I took long breaks for revisions. I think I probably only sent 30 or so queries for that one. For this novel, I sent five queries before AMM, then queried regularly and strategically from July to February, when I got my offer!
QT: About how many query letters did you send out for this book?
Kimberly Wisnewski:
Around eighty, counting my pre-AMM queries.
QT: On what criteria did you select the agents you queried?
Kimberly Wisnewski:
I used QT and mswl (both the twitter tag and the website). I searched lots of different keywords, like "friendship," "friendship breakup," and "mental illness," to see who was interested in the themes of my book, and I did another search for my comp titles in case an agent had listed them in their favorites. I sent my first round of queries to agents with quick response times, and once responses (mostly rejections) came in, I revised my query two more times.

Having researched extensively, read lots of horror stories, and heard firsthand accounts from fellow writers, I knew not all agents were created equal. For that reason, I didn't query anyone I wouldn't be thrilled to work with. It's always important to do your research and ask around—not to gossip but to be safe with your work and your career!
QT: Did you tailor each query to the specific agent, and if so, how?
Kimberly Wisnewski:
I did, but not much. I had the same basic query, and I always added something in my introduction paragraph that said why I thought this agent specifically would be interested. Sometimes it was as simple as "because you are seeking stories about teen friendships," and sometimes it was very specific. My agent, for example, had posted a #mswl tweet that essentially described my exact book!
QT: What advice would you give other writers seeking agents?
Kimberly Wisnewski:
Get involved in the writing community! Find your writing circle. It's sounds cheesy, but social sites like twitter and Instagram make the world so much smaller. I talk regularly to writers all over the world, and we are always here for each other at every step in the writing process. My writer friends have made all the difference in querying this time around.

Second to that, I would say to do your research and cultivate your list carefully. If you reach the end of your list and your book still hasn't been picked up, write and query another book. Don't settle. Speaking of which, keep writing. Querying is agony, and it's hard for people who are so deeply emotional and contemplative to cope with all that uncertainty. So what can you control? Your own writing.

Write another book. Attend classes or workshops if you can. Find free online contests and prompts, anything to keep you writing and growing. Because maybe that first book didn't work out, but there won't be a second one if you never write it!
QT: Would you be willing to share your query with us?
Kimberly Wisnewski:

Query Letter:

17-year-old Leigha Kelley views the world through numbers. Like 7—odd, prime—how many years she and best friend Nick Moony have lived inside their own perfect world. It's also how long she's helped Nick hold his head above water when depression pulls him under. Then there's 371—deficient number, square root 19.26136—the days left until college, when they'll escape their boring Georgia town and start life over. But at the beginning of senior year, Nick moves to California. 2400 miles away. It's not a number Leigha cares to analyze.

Nick realizes he loves Leigha the day he moves. He spends his time waiting for her texts and refusing any attempts at friendship—until his school's reigning publicity queen creates a new persona for him. Now, he isn't Nick Moony, Sad Kid. He's cool and impulsive, someone who parties and leaps off cliffs, not someone secretly in love with his best friend. It's the perfect escape from himself. Almost.

When their worlds collide again, Nick and Leigha struggle to move forward while still clinging to the past. Leigha worries Nick doesn't need her anymore. Nick is too afraid to tell Leigha he's drowning. If Leigha lets go of Nick, his new friends might not know how to save him. And he might not be strong enough to save himself.

Holding onto their friendship is painful, but letting go could destroy them.

Informed by my own experiences with mental health and by observations as a high school teacher, this story combines the humor and heart of Jennifer Niven's All the Bright Places with the lyrical writing style of Jandy Nelson's I'll Give You the Sun.