Thursday, February 12, 2009

Classic Overachiever: An interview with author Suzanne Young

I met Suzanne Young at the SCBWI Conference in LA and I swear to god I never saw her without a huge grin on her face. I don't think I could even picture her without a smile. But, now that I think of it, I’d smile all the time too if I were her.

Suzanne is a classic overachiever—you’ve got a book deal? She’s got a four-book deal. You’ve got a book coming out in 2010? She’s got two books coming out in 2010. This is not all luck; to have this kind of success you also have to also have her skills, which include the ability to write a draft of a book in a week—with two young kids, a husband, and a full-time job. [Insert silent scream here.] Suzanne is now writing full time and if you stop to do the math you realize this means it might only take her a day, instead of a week, to get a first draft out. Crazy!

Let's start with the deal report from Publisher’s Marketplace:

Suzanne Young's SMITTEN KITTENS, a new series about a group of girls who spy on cheating boyfriends, to Ben Schrank at Razorbill, by Melissa Sarver at the Elizabeth Kaplan Agency (World English). [Note: Working title Smitten Kittens is now officially changed to The Naughty List.]

Now, on to the questions.

Your how-I met-my-agent story is really interesting (and bumpy). Can you share it with the readers?
Well, when I first started writing, I had no idea what I was doing, (that hasn’t really changed) so I sent out these awful queries to agents and editors. Nada. I busted out a few more books, learned how to write a kickass query letter and started over. I got picked up about 7 months after I’d written my first book. Only… It didn’t work out. I wrote fast. Really fast. And unfortunately my break-neck speed and aversion to following rules got me in trouble. My agent dumped me and told me that maybe I should join a critique group. Ouch.

Two weeks later, I decided to never speak to another literary agent. I went directly to the editors. Luckily, this WONDERFUL editor over at Razorbill along with a couple other lovely editors decided to look at my book immediately. (Guess I didn’t need the group after all.) Just when the editors had decided to offer, an agent emailed me. Yes. EMAILED ME! She’d been reading my blog, but of course, I told her that I never wanted to speak to another literary agent. She was understanding, and then told me WHY I needed one. I put her through the ringer. (SORRY MELISSA!) And eventually, she won me over. I signed with Melissa Sarver at Elizabeth Kaplan Agency. Four weeks and three offers later, I had a two-book deal with Razorbill. How’s that for a reason to have a blog!?

So in 2008 you landed a two-book deal with Razorbill, and then last month you scored another two-book deal for a total of four books (!) all before the first one is even in print. Can you tell us how this went down?
I should probably know the answer to this, right? Luck? Good timing? Getting fired from my regular job? Actually, the last one is sort of true. Basically when I sold the first two books, I made sure the editors knew I had seven others. I’m not sure they believed me at first. So as I waited for my revision letter, I let them know again. And again. And for good measure, just one more time.

Then I lost my job. I emailed to ask if there was any freelance work available because… well, I had a lot of time to write! Turns out they had given SMITTEN KITTENS (Now Titled THE NAUGHTY LIST) another look and decided they loved it. They asked about my other books. I told them that I had an idea for a sequel. Then… it just sort of happened. THE NAUGHTY LIST became a series. And again, just to make sure they wouldn’t forget, I sent them a few more books. Have I mentioned how much I love Razorbill?

How did the story that became THE NAUGHTY LIST come to you?
Ninja Cheerleaders. Seriously, I had a vision of cheerleading ninjas and laughed myself silly. At the time, I was strictly into love stories. So I started writing about these cheerleaders and then decided, she needed a super hot boyfriend! Then the love story evolved in my head. The sweetness, the heartbreak, the hurkies. When the book was done, it had become something entirely different, but so much better than I could have ever imagined. A cheerleader that doesn’t swear? Get the eff out of here!

You are well-known for being able to crank out a first draft in a week. How long did THE NAUGHTY LIST take you to write?
The funny thing about this book… it was my hardest task. I fought against it. The idea and first chapter sat in my files for months. I had a good friend (Heather, I love you!) who kept telling me to work on it. So one day, I sat down and started to write it. It took about two weeks to write the first draft, which was about 29,000-words. Really just a glorified outline. I had tons of great friends who read it and after a month and four more passes through, I had the finished project that I sent to editors.

You sold the book in 2008 and your pub date is Summer 2010, where in the process are you now?
Well, my date just got moved up to Spring of 2010 for book 1 and summer for book 2. I’m about to work on the line edits of book 1, but even more interesting than that, I’m getting close to seeing my cover. Which I will love all over.

Where do you get your sweet and adorable disposition?
Why thank you for that question, Christy! It was so nice of you to say! I believe I get a lot of my personality from my grandmother, but she sadly passed away before my book sold. It will be dedicated to her, of course. She was my heart, my soul and my guide. And she was the funniest bitch you could have ever met! Thanks, Grammy!

Can you give aspiring writers some nuggets of advice?
I’m sorry if you’ve heard this before, but JUST WRITE. Don’t stop. When your book is on submission, keep writing. When you’re sick of it, keep writing. My first book didn’t sell. Neither did my second, third, fourth, fifth… get it? THE NAUGHTY LIST was the sixth book I wrote. So if I could tell you anything, it’s to have an arsenal! It makes for great agent stalking!

Suzanne has a fantastic blog that you should all check out. To get a taste of her writing style, read Going Green, the story she’s publishing serially (just like Dickens!) on her blog. The minute you start reading, you'll see the woman has a serious gift for dialog.

Congratulations on your great success, Suzanne! And thanks for the interview.


jennie said...

Hugely inspiring interview!

I was surfing the 'Net, but now I'll go back to writing.

29,000 words in a week? Ay caramba! Give this girl the Speed Award!

Suzanne Young said...

Oh,Christy! You make me smile! :D Huge grin.

Thank you, thank you!!!!! You rock! And um...I'm pretty sure you have a few books coming out yourself!

PurpleClover said...

Can't wait to see the cover! Your story is inspiring!

I love reading about how someone found their agent. Your experiences (and your blog) are very entertaining!

AC said...

This is great, Christy. How-I-found-my-agent blog posts are my very favorite kind of posts.

Plus Suzanne sounds awesome and her book sounds exactly like something I want to go read. Can't wait to see it on bookstore shelves :)

Tyler said...

The second I saw this on my little feed thing I had to tune in. Great interviewing, Christy! And great responses, Suzanne! A wonderful Monday post.

Lisa Schroeder said...

Great interview. I love her advice for other writers - SO TRUE!

She is one happy, sweet girl, and I hope many more great things happen for her!!

Anonymous said...

Love the interviews, Christy. Keep 'em coming!

Shelli said...

Good job you guys :)

Daisy Whitney said...

Suzanne, you inspire me!

Hardygirl said...

Great advice! Love reading the whole agent story--sf

Carrie Harris said...

Y'all are BOTH fabulous. I gnash my teeth in envy and cheer for you at the same time. Which sounds weird, but I'm sticking with it. :)

Christy Raedeke said...

No no, *you're* fabulous, Carrie. And anyone who has ever been to will agree.

Anne Spollen said...

Just write, just write, just write...said to the tune of "I Think I Can, I Think I Can..."

Great interview!

Vodka Mom said...

That is a fantastic interview, and I am SO damn jealous! However, more than anything, it's a great success story that inspires us all.

Kudos and we look forward to your stuff!!!

Carrie Harris said...

Awww. How about we all be fabulous together? ;)

Anonymous said...

I LOVE Suz's story! How original and awesome that her agent contacted her. Thanks, Christy!

Anonymous said...

GREAT interview!!

I love the part where she's like, "I have 7 more books at home."


Dude, girl!

You rock. looking forward to more fun!