Why I’m glad I was not an overnight success – Meredith Jaeger

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By Meredith Jaeger

When I was in my twenties, I decided I wanted to write a novel. I loved creative writing and I’d earned my bachelor’s degree in Modern Literature. But I ended up working full-time as an administrator at an English language school. ♥

I wrote the first draft of my novel (sometimes surreptitiously at work!) going wherever the plot took me. I used to be a “pantser” as in flying by the seat of my pants. I joined a novel writing class in San Francisco to meet other aspiring authors and I felt creative energy pouring from my fingertips. Six months later, I had a completed manuscript. I was well on my way to becoming a published author!

Except all the joy I felt when writing my novel seeped away when I sent out my first batch of query letters. Rejections from literary agents began to trickle — and then pour — into my inbox. After reading my pages, each agent told me kindly that my novel wasn’t for them, and another agent might feel differently.

Not one to give up easily, I found a critique partner, cut 20,000 words from my novel, and tried again. But even with my new and improved manuscript, I always received the same reply: “I’m sorry, but I’m going to have to pass.”

When I reached 200 rejection letters, I made the painful decision to banish my novel to a folder on my laptop, never to be seen again. How was it that I could love my story so much, yet no one in the publishing industry felt the same way? I realized something, writing was an absolute dream, but the publishing business was a cold, harsh reality.

I didn’t wallow for long. I had a second novel to write — one that would get me a literary agent. I wrote that novel with the intention of being published. I attended the 2012 San Francisco Writers Conference and I got manuscript requests from every agent I pitched in person. I was on a high! I celebrated by drinking champagne in the (now closed) Gold Dust Lounge, once frequented by famed San Francisco Chronicle columnist Herb Caen.

But once again, the rejection letters piled up. On my thirtieth birthday, I shed some tears. I hadn’t told anyone, but I really wanted to be on a “thirty under thirty” list. Because that was never going to happen, I felt like a failure.

I took a year off writing. I got a job at a San Francisco startup, worked long hours, and planned my wedding. Keeping myself busy, I managed not to miss dreaming up stories. But on my honeymoon in Greece, my creativity sparked again. I opened a little leather notebook and began to outline The Dressmaker’s Dowry.

When I returned home, I was still working long hours at the startup, but I had a fire lit inside of me. This time, I became a “plotter” creating an elaborate outline for my novel with Post-It notes to tackle the dual timeline. It was the first time I had attempted to write historical fiction and I was nervous I couldn’t pull it off. But I didn’t let doubt get the better of me. I wrote every single weekend until I had a finished and polished draft.

Once again, I queried. Rejection letters followed. I was impatient. Against my better judgment, I signed a contract with a small press. Something in my gut felt wrong. Then one day, the owner of the company called me. “I’m sorry,” she said, “but we’re going to have to drop you from your contract. Your writing isn’t up to par with our other writers.”

I was shocked, then angry. This woman hadn’t even read my novel! Neither had my editor! Instead of listening to her harsh words, I saw the opportunity as a blessing in disguise. Free from my contract, I revised The Dressmaker’s Dowry a final time. Then I decided to shoot for the moon. I queried my dream agent, Jenny Bent. She had rejected my first two novels, but I had grown as a writer over the past six years.

When Jenny Bent told me she wanted to take me on as a client, it was one of the happiest days of my life. I was still working full-time (at a different San Francisco startup) but I began Jenny’s revisions right away. Once again, I spent every weekend in a café with my laptop. Jenny sent the novel off to publishers. And we waited.

Two weeks later, I got the news I’d long dreamed of. HarperCollins wanted to buy The Dressmaker’s Dowry! I felt both joy and relief. In the two years between signing my contract with HarperCollins and my book launch, I got pregnant, gave birth to a beautiful baby girl, wrote another book, and continued to work.

When my editor asked me to rewrite half my novel, I didn’t flinch. I had learned that good writing is rewriting and not to be precious with my words.

The Dressmaker’s Dowry debuted in 2017. By then, I was a sleep-deprived new mother in my mid-thirties — a far cry from the fresh-faced twenty something I’d been when I started my writing journey. When I became a USA Today Bestseller, I could hardly believe it! All those years of writing and accumulating rejection letters while working full-time taught me a lesson in perseverance — I can do anything if I put my mind to it (including writing with a baby on my chest). I’m just getting started. My second novel, Boardwalk Summer will be published this month.

I’ve earned my bestseller status (along with a few grey hairs) because I never gave up on my dreams. Neither should you. I wasn’t an overnight success — more of an over-a-decade success — but I wouldn’t have it any other way.

Meredith Jaeger is the USA Today bestselling author of Boardwalk Summer and The Dressmaker’s Dowry. She was born and raised in the San Francisco Bay Area, the daughter of a Swiss father and an American mother. Meredith lives outside San Francisco with her husband, their feisty toddler (who is not a fan of wearing socks or shoes) and their lazy English bulldog. She has left the startup world to write full-time.


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