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Photo courtesy of Sylvie Rosokoff / Atria Books

How This Editor & Her Campus Alum Wrote Her First Book By Age 25

Her Campus alum Hannah Orenstein isn’t just an accomplished dating editor in NYC, she’s also the author of four(!) books, with her first book published by the age of 25.  Her newest book, Meant To Be Mine, is a fun summer read set in New York City that intertwines the themes of family, love, and destiny vs. free will, all amidst fabulous and emotional scenes. We sat down with Hannah to hear all about how she made her dream of being a published author a reality, her best tips, how she gets ideas for her books, and much more.

Writing a book (let alone four!) is something so many college women want to do “one day.” how did you manage to go from dream to reality so early in your career?

I always loved to read and write, but I never expected to write books professionally. I majored in journalism and history and hoped to write for magazines after college. I was already writing for my school’s blog — I had a column where I’d set up students on blind dates and write about their experiences. During my junior year, I interned at Elle, my dream magazine. One day, a massive assignment was dropped on the intern desk. Someone had to transcribe a four-hour interview between two Elle editors and the writer Erica Jong. The project would take all day, if not two days. None of the other interns wanted to do it, but I jumped at the chance. I worshiped one of those editors, E. Jean Carroll, and wanted to learn as much as I could from her. I did the transcription, sent her a note explaining how much I admired her work, and — because I knew she had just launched a matchmaking service — mentioned my amateur matchmaking at school. She replied to that email with a job offer. 

I didn’t necessarily want to work as a matchmaker forever, but I couldn’t turn down the opportunity. I knew working for E. Jean would be a once-in-a-lifetime experience that taught me a lot. (And as it turned out, I was right.) I started working for her that summer, when I was 21. My clients were in their 30s and 40s and wanted to get married. I had no idea how to get married. It was a disaster. I worked there for seven months. A few weeks later, I took a creative writing class and wrote a short story about a young matchmaker working at a luxury dating service. My classmates encouraged me to expand it into a novel. I knew I had an interesting story to tell, so I decided to go for it. That was in February; I was swamped with school work until I graduated that May, and I set a goal of finishing a first draft by November. I finished just shy of Halloween.

Although completing a whole book is a big deal, it’s really just the first step in the process toward publication. I spent the next year revising the book and finding an agent. It took another six months to land a book deal, and then I spent another year after that working on the book with my editor. Playing with Matches came out when I was 25 and at my second job in journalism. (For advice on writing a book and getting it published, check the highlights saved on my Instagram.)

The idea of writing an entire book is so daunting — did you ever feel like you didn’t know if you’d be able to do it?  How did you overcome that, both mentally and actually to do it?

Oh, absolutely. I didn’t think I was creative enough or talented enough or disciplined enough to even bother trying. When I took that creative writing class, every other student seemed so intimidating: they were mostly English majors who wore edgy outfits, chain-smoked outside the library, and wrote intense, serious pieces about things like bourbon and mid-life crises. I walked in wearing a pink mini skirt with a frothy story about matchmaking. I felt like such an outsider, so I was surprised when the feedback from my classmates was so encouraging. That was the push I needed to take my love of creative writing seriously. 

I knew I was young and had relatively few responsibilities in my life outside school and trying to land a job, and I knew I’d probably never have that kind of freedom and free time again. It felt like now or never. I set a deadline to keep myself on track, and I found that really motivating.

Tell us about your newest book Meant To Be Mine. Where did you get the idea, and what do you hope readers will take away from it?

Meant to Be Mine is a rom-com about Edie Meyer, a woman who knows the exact date she’ll meet the love of her life, thanks to a prediction from her grandma, who has accurately predicted that date for every member of her family. It’s set in New York City and revolves around a big, warm, fabulous Jewish family. I started writing it in April 2020, inspired by all the things I suddenly missed: wearing real pants, seeing live music, hugging my grandparents, and so much more. That’s why my protagonist works as a fashion stylist, her love interest is a rock star, and her grandma plays such an important role in her life. In the early days of the pandemic, our lives felt so uncertain, so it felt seductive to explore what would happen if you were very certain about how one aspect of your life will play out. How would that impact the way you date? If you were in Edie’s shoes, would you want to know your fated date? 

In hindsight, I realize that so much of the book sums up the pressure many young women feel to live their lives on a certain timeline: meeting your partner by 25, married by 30, kids by 35, or whatever. After Edie goes through a tragedy and discovers a life-changing secret, she gets to explore the possibilities of throwing away the timeline and trusting her gut. She has to balance honoring old traditions with carving a new path for herself, which is something we’re all faced with in different ways. 

While writing in lockdown, I wanted to make this book feel as vibrant as possible, packed with fun restaurants, bars, parties, and more. I hope readers feel like it’s a vacation to New York City!

How do you balance being a full-time editor at your day job while also being an extremely productive author?

I’m talking to you at 9 p.m., so… But no, really, I make good use of my weekends. I figured out I’m most productive between 11 a.m. and 3 p.m., so I set aside that time for writing on Saturdays and Sundays. If you want to write on top of school or your internship/job, figure out your best hours, then block those out as much as you can. 

What are your favorite ways to unwind?

I read in my bathtub almost every night! I also love to take long walks, practice yoga, cook, and play mah jongg with my friends. (It’s a Chinese game kind of like poker, beloved by Jewish women and passed down from generation to generation. One of my favorite chapters in Meant to Be Mine takes place at a mah jongg game.) 

What advice do you have for college women who dream of being a published author?

I think my story has two important takeaways: First, hard work (even boring, unglamorous work) and strategic networking really can pay off. Saying yes to that transcription assignment that nobody wanted truly changed my life. And second, keep an open mind. I was dead-set on pursuing journalism — and just journalism — but that detour into matchmaking ultimately led to my career as an author, which I’m so grateful for. 

Stephanie is co-founder, CEO & Editor-in-Chief of Her Campus Media, which she co-founded in 2009 as an undergrad at Harvard.