Successful Author Talk With Elissa Sussman

I'm lucky (or cunning) enough to have lured yet another successful writer over to my blog for an SAT- Successful Author Talk. SAT authors have conquered the query, slain the synopsis and attained the pinnacle of published. How'd they do it? Let's ask 'em!


Today's guest is Elissa Sussman. She's a writer, a reader and a pumpkin pie eater. Her debut novel, STRAY (Greenwillow Books/HarperCollins), is a YA fantasy about fairy godmothers, magic and food. She received her BA from Sarah Lawrence College and in a previous life managed animators and organized spreadsheets at some of the best animation studios in the world, including Nickelodeon,  Disney,  Dreamworks and Sony Imageworks. You can see her name in the credits of THE CROODS, HOTEL TRANSYLVANIA, THE PRINCESS AND THE FROG and TANGLED. She currently lives in Los Angeles with her boyfriend and their rescue mutt.

Are you a Planner or Pantster?

Definitely a planner, though all my outlines and chapter breakdowns usually go out the window once I start writing. Any planning I do is under the illusion that I know what I’m doing, which is never actually the case.

How long does it typically take you to write a novel, start to finish?

I’m hoping this won’t be typical, but STRAY took about four years from rough draft to final galleys. Nine years if you count the five years I took to “plan” it. Oy.

Do you work on one project at a time, or are you a multi tasker?

So far just one at a time, though I’m planning on exercising my multi tasking muscle in the near future.

Did you have to overcome any fears that first time you sat down to write?

I always have about four days where I feel like everything I write is just awful. Powering through that isn’t always easy – especially for a champion procrastinator like myself – but if I can, I usually get into a pretty satisfying groove that can carry me through a draft or batch of rewrites.

How many trunked books (if any) did you have before you were agented?

None really. There was an alternate version of STRAY (with dragons!) that I consider a very rough draft since there is a scene or two that still made it into the final manuscript.

Who is your agent and how did you get that "Yes!" out of them?  

My agent is the fabulous Samantha Shea of Georges Borchardt, Inc. and I grabbed her attention through a traditional query.

How many queries did you send? 

I sent about 60 queries over five months before getting my first offer.

Any advice to aspiring writers out there on conquering query hell?

It’s twofold: don’t give up, but be aware of the response you’re getting. If you’re not getting any bites – re-examine your query. If you’re not getting interest on requested pages – re-examine your pages. Polish your query, polish your pages and keep trying!