Michele Kwasniewski, author of Falling Star

When did you first consider yourself a writer?

I grappled with the idea of calling myself a writer for years; I’m basically a reader who started writing. I have no formal training in story-telling and my grasp of the mechanics of English grammar frustrate and amuse my editors to no end. It wasn’t until I had finished the first draft of my first book Rising Star that I felt I could truly call myself a writer. It felt too audacious to make that claim until I completed the manuscript. But that’s just my own personal hang-up. I feel anyone who has a story to tell and shows up to their computer or pad of paper to wrestle words onto the page is a writer. It’s not easy, staring down at a blank screen with its impassive blinking cursor waiting for your story to take shape. Writers build worlds, bridge gaps, and touch readers around the globe whom they might have nothing more in common with than a mutual love of stories. Anyone who dares offer a piece of writing to the public with no other hope than making a connection or entertaining, is a writer.

How do you think you’ve evolved creatively?

With three books under my belt, I think I’m more confident in my story-telling ability, which has opened up the door for me creatively. With my first and second books, I would overwrite excessively because I was afraid that my point wasn’t coming across. I was so unsure of the story I had to tell and my ability to convey that message, I was almost in a state of panic as I wrote. But that left me cutting out 50,000 words or more after the first draft which was just soul-crushing. Now I spend more time on word choice during my first draft as well as making sure everything I include in my story has a purpose (either to move the plot forward, create tension, resolve an issue, etc.) I’ve discovered the challenging joy of writing a more polished first draft so I can reach finish my manuscript in a shorter amount of time.

How did you decide how to publish your books?

It took me seven years to finish my first book because, for the first five years, I hadn’t really committed to writing. I was worried that I couldn’t finish the manuscript or that my story wasn’t good enough for someone to read so I didn’t dedicate much time to writing. But once I finally committed to writing and finished the manuscript, I was pretty sure that my story was good enough to be enjoyed by readers. I wanted to give traditional publishing a chance. I felt if I could find an agent and a publisher who believed in my story as much as I did, it would validate my work. I know not everyone goes that route and I certainly do not mean that if you don’t have an agent, you’re not a legitimate writer. I know many wonderful writers who have never opted to work with an agent or who have had an agent in the past and have decided to work independently. But for me, traditional publishing was the path I wanted to explore first. I queried an embarrassing amount of agents before finding my brilliant agent, Diane Nine. She found the perfect publisher for my series, Rand-Smith. As an author, it has been a really satisfying experience to have people I consider experts in the business get behind my work and show me the best way forward. I appreciate the guidance they have given me in regards to story and marketing. In the beginning, I was concerned that working with others might result in having to give up my creative voice and make compromises I might not want to make. But I’ve found that we’ve been able to work together beautifully and I’ve felt heard every step of the way. For a first-time author, I couldn’t have asked for a better experience.

How do you market or promote your books and what strategies (e.g. social media, email, blog tours, etc.) have demonstrated the most success for you? 

My first book, Rising Star, came out during the pandemic. Talk about a marketing challenge! I was an unknown name in the business, with a brand new series and the pandemic requirements tanked any chance I had of traditional book marketing. No bookstore would host a signing and there was no chance of any public speaking engagements either. A friend of mine introduced me to someone who worked in marketing and PR. She laid out a roadmap of tips and activities to help market my book. Daily posts on Instagram, Twitter and Facebook with lots of engagement with readers, bloggers and bookstagrammers slowly built a platform that I’m still growing today. I contacted, reviewed, and sent them copies of my book. I started a blog that is doing surprisingly well, detailing my journey as an author and a mom. I discovered blog tours a few months after Rising Star came out and they have been one of the best marketing tools I’ve found. I’ve used several different tours based in America and in Europe and it’s done a great job spreading the word about my books. I also email libraries around the country and ask them to carry my books. I used all these strategies for Burning Bright and those first-quarter sales surpassed my first book which was a surprise.

It’s a constant hustle, keeping my books relevant on social media, searching for new ways to promote the series, and finding opportunities for speaking engagements or book signings. One day I hope to have a big enough following that I won’t have to spend so much time marketing my books. But for now, I spend just as much time marketing my books as writing. It was one of the biggest surprises of becoming an author.

Can you share with readers a little bit about your latest book? 

Who are you when no one is looking?  

My new book, Falling Star, the final book in my YA series, The Rise And Fall Of Dani Truehart asks that very question. When scandal threatens to destroy the dazzling career of the world’s most beloved popstar, sixteen-year-old Dani Truehart must choose between accepting responsibility for her disastrous choices and possibly destroying her fame and fortune, or sacrificing those who made her famous and everyone she loves in order to preserve the stardom she has spent her entire life working to achieve.

Falling Star brings to a close Dani’s journey from an unknown teen singer to a world-famous pop icon. With Rising Star(Book One) and Burning Bright (Book Two), Falling Star pulls back the curtain of fame, detailing the toll a life in the public eye can take on one’s mental health and personal development. It is an unusual coming-of-age story, in that Dani’s choices play out in front of the paparazzi. While her fame affords her certain benefits, the pressure of the media and maintaining her career plays an important part in shaping Dani’s choices.

What made you decide to sit down and actually start writing this book?

Social media has made fame more accessible today for the average teen than ever before. My series shines a light on the darker side of celebrity – the pressures of growing up in the spotlight, the temptation to do whatever it takes to achieve and maintain fame, and the dangers of navigating the cutthroat business of entertainment as a young adult who is still developing their sense of self. Morals can become surprisingly flexible when there’s a lot of money at stake and the income of adults depends on their young star to succeed. Dani Truehart is based on what I’ve seen and experienced in entertainment after a career spanning over fifteen years. I believe sharing my time in Hollywood, warts and all, is important for any readers interested in becoming famous.

Who is your favorite character in your book and why?

Jodi Truehart is my favorite of all my characters. She’s Dani’s grasping, thirsty stage mom, and I’ve had the most fun writing her. I was fascinated by the idea of what could drive a mother to train her child in a marketable way in hopes of monetary gain, eschewing the normal protective instincts we associate with parenthood. There’s a whole backstory to Jodi that was deleted from my original manuscript because it pulled focus from my main character. But even though the storyline of why Jodi became a self-serving, calculating parent, she was edited out, her actions and words are weighted with angst and greed from that backstory so readers connect with Jodi in a visceral way. Almost every reader has commented on how much they hate her and cannot believe her actions as a mother. I am proud of how I’ve built this character and love Jodi’s character arc in the final book.

What was the hardest thing about writing your latest book?

Falling Star is the final book in my trilogy and I had a hard time getting started. I was reluctant to finish the series – I started working on the first book, Rising Star, in 2011. I’d gotten comfortable in the world I’d built and fallen in love with my characters, even the despicable ones. Plus I had some readers who were very opinionated on how they wanted to see the series end, which was not at all what I had planned. I vacillated between making the readers happy or being true to the story I had set out to write. In the end, once I finally committed to a path forward, the words flowed and the story came together. I’ve heard from several people that this is their favorite book in the series and the best writing I’ve done. I think all the stress and worrying were not in vain because the book is very thoughtful and true to the ending I had set out to create.

How successful has your quest for reviews been so far?

As an unknown writer (how I long for the day when I never have to use that phrase again), getting reviews has been a struggle. Like every writer, I get contacted by services willing to guarantee me hundreds of “real” reviews for a fee, but that kind of feels like cheating to me. Knowing that the reviews I have received so far are genuine is a really wonderful feeling. It affirms that readers are connecting with my books/characters. I just wish I had a greater number of reviews because they really do help sell potential readers on your book. If you had to decide between a book with five hundred reviews and one with forty, which would you choose? Since becoming an author, I now review every book I read, even if I just leave a star rating. I never knew how important reviews were until I had to sell my own books. I wish I could figure out how to get more eyes on my books and increase the number of reviews. I ask every writer this same question to see what they’re doing. If I ever find the answer to more reviews, I will gladly share it with you.

What is one thing you hate about being a writer?

Marketing! I am a private person by nature so I was never on social media before I became a writer. But interacting on social media, blogging, interviews and so many other cringe-worthy activities for an introvert are all a major part of promoting your work and selling yourself as an author. You cannot get away from it if you ever want to build a large readership. It’s something I live with grudgingly, like exercising or seeing the dentist. It’s not something I necessarily enjoy, but I know it needs to be done (and done well) in order to thrive.

Want to learn more about Michele and get the book?

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