Really Bad Advice: Hannah Orenstein, Author of 'Love at First Like', Was Told to Stop Writing Her Book

If you’re ambitious and going after something, there’s a likely chance that you’ll end up on the receiving end of someone’s advice—and sometimes, it’s really bad. In this series, we talk to successful twentysomethings who pushed past negativity and (often unsolicited) advice. 

Author Hannah Orenstein, who tactfully explores careers, relationships, and being a young woman in her books, was once told readers won’t care about stories of females in their twenties. Rejection after rejection, Hannah ultimately decided to ignore that advice and is currently working on her third novel. Read on for how Hannah pushed past bad advice to publish two books. 

In your mid-twenties, you've written not one, but two books. I'm sure you have an incredible network of people who have given you really good advice—but what's the worst advice you have ever received?

I write novels about women in their twenties. The worst piece of advice that I've ever received is that "nobody cares about women in their twenties." Seriously—that's a direct quote, and I will never forget hearing it! It's completely wrong. (I mean, hello. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez? 29. Kylie Jenner? 22.) 

My first novel, Playing with Matches, takes place the summer after my protagonist Sasha graduates from college. The book follows her struggle to find a job and navigate the changes in her friendships and relationship. I was writing the book during the summer after I graduated from college, and it was such a weird, turbulent, exciting time in my life. It felt really important to me to capture that specific post-grad experience. 

But over and over again, editors rejected the book, explaining that they just couldn't connect with Sasha's story because of her age. One even said that she couldn't think of five people who would want to read the book. 

Upon receiving that advice, what was your reaction? 

After 15 rejections, I actually gave up on Playing with Matches and started working on a YA novel instead. I figured that I might be able to write about teens instead, even though my heart wasn't fully into it. I was really crushed that Playing with Matches wouldn't come to fruition, but I hoped I'd be able to make another project work. 

Two months later, though, Playing with Matches landed in the hands of a twentysomething editor, and she decided to publish it. I'm really grateful that she immediately understood why I wanted to write about post-grad life, and I'm very glad that I pivoted back to writing about women in their twenties! 

At that point, I shelved the YA project. While it was fun, and I'm glad that I had something to keep me busy during that lull, it wasn't my passion. It didn't make sense for me to continue pursuing YA if I could establish myself as a writer of novels for adults, which is what I really wanted to do. 

My second book, Love at First Like, is about a 27-year-old jewelry designer who accidentally convinces her 100,000 Instagram followers that she's engaged, and then sets out to find a fake fiancé to play the part. I'm currently at work on my third book, which is set in the world of elite gymnastics and stars a 27-year-old woman, as well. 

Image courtesy of Atria Books

What about the demo you were writing for kept you going, and made you not give up on them?

I wanted to read a novel about a character finding her first job right after college graduation, and I couldn't—so I wrote it. I'm exactly my demo, and I always have been. (Proof: When I was 17, the summer before my senior year of high school, I was Her Campus's first-ever editorial intern. I was a little too young to convincingly write about college life, so I started writing about high school life for the site.) 

I'm really drawn to writing about 20-something characters because the possibilities are endless. This is the decade for climbing the career ladder, falling in love, having amazing experiences with your friends, traveling the world, learning new skills, making mistakes, and exploring who you are and what matters to you. What could be more exciting than writing about all of that?

What's something about rejection you think every twentysomething should remember?

Everyone gets rejected. It hurts in the moment, but getting through rejection makes you stronger and more resilient in the future. The important thing is to remember that one rejection isn't the end of the road—if you can keep going, you'll hear the right "yes" eventually. And along the way, you'll pick up the skills you need to be savvier, smarter, and more successful. 

The mantra for your twenties in 5 words: 

I'll do it in four: Fortune favors the bold. Take risks and try new things! You never know where they'll lead you.