Success Story Interview - Kristen Bonardi Rapp

An Interview with Kristen Bonardi Rapp (tipper_snark on QT) upon receiving an offer of representation from agent Kevan Lyon of Marsal Lyon Literary Agency, LLC.


QT: Can you tell us a little bit about the book for which you've found representation? What inspired you to write it?
Kristen Bonardi Rapp:
THIS IS ALWAYS is historical fiction set in New York City in the late 1950s. Each chapter is told from the perspective of one of the three main characters: Alice, Walter, and Jim. Alice is a young wife, wondering what to do with her life now that she's finished her degree. Walter is a priest who's recently moved to New York and feels adrift. Jim seems to have everything figured out, but he's keeping some pretty big secrets from Alice, his wife. I live in NYC and I'm always so fascinated by its history, it only seemed natural to set the story here.
QT: How long have you been writing?
Kristen Bonardi Rapp:
I've been writing non-fiction for more than ten years -- book reviews, local newspapers, personal essays, you name it -- but I decided to try my hand at fiction about two years ago.
QT: How long have you been working on this book?
Kristen Bonardi Rapp:
I started THIS IS ALWAYS in September 2013. I stalled out for a bit, from Thanksgiving to New Year's, but I picked it up again and finished the first draft in July 2014. After that, I edited it from start to finish, then sent it out to beta readers, got their feedback and edited it again (and again and again) until I had a final draft by October 2014.
QT: Was there ever a time you felt like giving up, and what helped you to stay on course?
Kristen Bonardi Rapp:
Sometimes I would think about giving up when I'd get a string of form rejections, but then I'd get a request for a full and that would lift me up for a while. But the closest I got to genuinely giving up was when I got a revise-and-resubmit from an agent who just didn't like the way the story ended. It was actually the second R&R I'd gotten that said almost the same thing: they loved the story until the ending. At that point, I just felt like... a failure. I felt like I'd written the best book I possibly could and maybe it was good but I was never going to be good enough.
After getting that R&R (and crying about it for like, 24 hours straight), I read an interview the Humans of New York blog did with President Obama. In it, he discusses the time he lost a Congressional race and he says the thing that got him through was to keep thinking about the work more than yourself. He says, "if you can keep it about the work, you’ll always have a path." Reading that really changed the way I looked at what I was doing, After that, when I would get discouraged, I'd start telling myself, just keep it about the work.
QT: Is this your first book?
Kristen Bonardi Rapp:
Absolutely! In fact, this book was going to be just another short story (because that's all I'd ever written before) but I didn't want to leave the world that I'd started writing about, so I kept going.
QT: Do you have any formal writing training?
Kristen Bonardi Rapp:
I've taken courses in journalism and creative nonfiction, but no formal fiction training.
QT: Do you follow a writing routine or schedule?
Kristen Bonardi Rapp:
Not so much a routine or schedule but I set a word count goal every weekday. I aim for a minimum of 500 or 750 words, plus whatever else I can do on top of that. Some days, I blow right past the goal and keep on going -- and some days, it feels like every single one of those 500 words was a struggle.
QT: How many times did you re-write/edit your book?
Kristen Bonardi Rapp:
I honestly stopped counting after a while. I think I went through the entire manuscript, from start to finish, maybe four or five times in all.
QT: Did you have beta readers for your book?
Kristen Bonardi Rapp:
I did! I sent the manuscript to five people, three writers and two non-writers. It was exceedingly helpful to see where their feedback overlapped so I could hone in on what really needed fixing.
QT: Did you outline your book, or do you write from the hip?
Kristen Bonardi Rapp:
A little of both. I knew how I wanted things to end up so I'd write up to a certain point and when I'd get stuck, I'd outline the next few chapters and sort of sketch out where it needed to go next.
QT: How long have you been querying for this book? Other books?
Kristen Bonardi Rapp:
I started querying in January 2015 and found representation in May.
QT: About how many query letters did you send out for this book?
Kristen Bonardi Rapp:
I sent 28 queries in all -- Kevan Lyon was actually the 27th of the 28 I sent out.
QT: On what criteria did you select the agents you queried?
Kristen Bonardi Rapp:
I looked for agents who were interested in women's fiction or historical fiction with female protagonists, who were also open to novels with a bit of a love story in them.
QT: Did you tailor each query to the specific agent, and if so, how?
Kristen Bonardi Rapp:
Yes, whenever possible, I would mention a book the agent represented that I felt was similar to my own. If I couldn't find something specific, I'd look at their bio on their agency's site or their Twitter feed to try and pick out some genre or style they were specifically looking for and then mention it in the query.
QT: What advice would you give other writers seeking agents?
Kristen Bonardi Rapp:
I know this is the advice everyone gives, but seriously, don't give up. Really don't give up. And don't let the waiting destroy you. Find something that takes your mind off it, whether that's writing something new or just playing some Candy Crush on your phone.
QT: Would you be willing to share your query with us?
Kristen Bonardi Rapp:
Sure thing! Here's the query I sent specifically to Kevan Lyon:

Query Letter:

Dear Ms. Lyon,

Because you represent historical women's fiction like AFTER THE WAR IS OVER by Jennifer Robson, I hope you will be interested in representing my novel. THIS IS ALWAYS is set in the late 1950s and is complete at about 100,000 words. Told from the perspectives of the three main characters, the novel is a love story, as well as a love letter to New York.

Here’s a brief synopsis:

New York City, 1958.

Alice Woodward is young, beautiful, and about to graduate from Columbia University. She's married to a handsome, confident man who loves her, and she lives in the greatest city in the world. But, for reasons she can't understand, she feels lost, unsure what to do with her life.

Father Walter Donovan is still adjusting to his new life in the city. More than anything, the priest wants to help people, but like Alice, he feels adrift, like something's missing. When he and Alice meet, they find themselves confronting feelings, and longings that could tear their both lives apart. At the same time, Alice's husband, Jim, struggles with his own secret desires—ones that he won't even admit to himself.

THIS IS ALWAYS takes them from the campus of Columbia to the bohemian Greenwich Village, from the sanctity of St. Patrick's Cathedral to the seedy underbelly of Times Square. It's a story of making a home in the world, of desperation and despair, of passion and betrayal, of heartbreaking loss and, finally, love.

As for me, I live in Brooklyn with my husband and daughter. I’m a freelance writer whose non-fiction work has appeared in the New York Press and the Manhattan Times.

Thanks so much for your time!