Next Stop: Your Magazine Dream Job

Want to Write a Novel? Tips From an Editor Who Did

By Kelsey Mulvey

Sure, you can write lengthy features and click-bait blurbs at the drop of a hat, but a book?! As intimidating as it seems, it is possible — just ask Hannah Orenstein, dating editor at Elite Daily.

When she was a junior at NYU, Hannah interned at ELLE, where she met resident advice columnist E. Jean Carroll. After spending some time with Hannah, E. Jean offered her a position at Tawkify, a dating service she co-founded in 2012.

“It turned out to be the most exhilarating, fascinating job, and I stayed on part-time during the fall semester of my senior year because I loved it so much,” Hannah said.

Though matchmaker is an unexpected gig for an editor on the rise, Hannah took inspiration from her time meeting eligible singles and setting up dates to write her debut novel Playing with Matches (Touchstone Books), which is available this summer. Below, Hannah dishes on when she decided to write her book, the differences (and surprising similarity) between publishing and editorial, and her advice for aspiring novelists.

When did you start writing Playing with Matches?

Hannah Orenstein: I had always toyed with writing fiction, but I was secretly afraid I wouldn’t be creative enough for it to actually be any good. I enrolled in a fiction workshop as sort of a dare to myself and wrote a short story about a young matchmaker working in Manhattan. My classmates encouraged me to expand the story into something longer. That May, when I graduated, I started the first draft of what became Playing with Matches. I didn’t have a full-time job lined up right away, and figured there would never be another time in my life when I’d have so much free time to pour into writing for myself, so I really focused on writing the book. I’m glad I stuck to it because by the time I landed my first editorial job at Seventeen.com, I had half of a first draft completed.

How is writing a novel different from writing an article?

HO: It’s a marathon, not a sprint! I thought the toughest stage would be writing the first draft, but that took me just five months. The process of getting published took another two-and-a-half years! That period involved rewriting, editing, querying agents, submitting the manuscript to editors, contract negotiations, more edits, publicity, and so much more. To put that into perspective, I was writing eight stories a day when I first joined Seventeen.com.

Pitching a full novel is very different from pitching a freelance story. Can you walk us through the process of getting your agent and selling the book?

HO: Agents are the middlemen between authors and editors; they often help with initial edits, then pitch your book to editors, and negotiate with the publishing house to get you the best deal possible. If you’re writing non-fiction, you can submit just a proposal to agents, but for fiction, you need to finish the entire manuscript first (and really polish it to the best of your ability). I reached out to 20 agents with query letters, which are emails that include information about your novel’s plot and the first ten pages or so. I clicked with one of them right away and loved her ideas for how to strengthen the book during the next round of edits. I signed with her, we worked on another revision together, and then she submitted the book to about 20 editors. This stage was insanely stressful. Imagine knowing you could get a life-changing (or dream-crushing) email at any moment of the day… for months on end. Editors wrote me the nicest rejection letters, but they were still painful to read. Finally, an editor from Touchstone Books (an imprint of Simon & Schuster) reached out to say she loved the manuscript and wanted to buy it!

How does working with a book editor compare to working with a magazine editor?

HO: The scope of the project aside, it’s not that different! Both require collaboration, communication, and trust. The one part that surprised me is that I had final say over every edit that was made, down to the very last detail. It was very cool to feel like I had that much ownership over my work.

What advice do you have for Edsters who want to write a book? 

HO: For starters, just do it. It doesn’t matter if the first draft sucks. It probably will! Mine did. But you need to get a first draft out in order to edit it and eventually sell it. You’ll never have a published book if you don’t write the first draft. Beyond that, I set two rules for myself that I found incredibly helpful: I had to write the book chronologically (no skipping ahead to the juiciest chapters) and I had to finish the first draft by Halloween. If I hadn’t set a deadline, I’m not sure I would’ve ever been motivated enough to finish it.

Playing with Matches is available on June 26, 2018.  You can pre-order it here.

Kelsey Mulvey is a New York-based writer and editor. She has written for several publications such as The Wall Street Journal, Time Out New York, LuckyMag.com, Business Insider, Taste of Home, NYMag.com and Wallpaper.com. Recently, Kelsey joined J.P. MorganChase as Chase’s freelance senior lifestyle editor. Check out more of her work at KelseyMulveyWrites.com and follow her on Instagram and Twitter.

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