I'm the USA Today bestselling author of BOARDWALK SUMMER and THE DRESSMAKER'S DOWRY. I'm traditionally published (HarperCollins) and I write historical fiction. Curious about how to get an agent, my writing process, or how to balance writing with a full-time job? AMA!

Meredith Jaeger
Aug 30, 2018

Hi everyone! My debut novel was described in a starred review by Booklist as “a gripping read" that  "sends readers quickly and completely into San Francisco’s history." I write historical fiction with strong female protagonists and I live in the San Francisco Bay Area where I grew up. I wrote my debut novel THE DRESSMAKER'S DOWRY while working for a San Francisco startup. I wrote my second novel BOARDWALK SUMMER while caring for my newborn daughter. She is now two years old and has hit the "terrible twos." Ask me anything! I am happy to talk about how to get an agent, the query letter process (I got SO many rejections, we're talking six years worth), balancing writing with motherhood or balancing writing with a full-time job. 

Ask me anything writing related!  I am happy to help, especially if your end goal is a traditional publication. If you'd like to learn more about me, here is my website.

Buy my books

Follow me on Instagram 

or my author Facebook

or Twitter, though I'm not one there much anymore.

If you need query letter help, I offer critiques. Email me for rates! 

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Hi Meredith, 

You used the phrase, 'Show, don't tell...'   I wonder if you can explain that a wee bit?

Sep 1, 2:13PM EDT0

Thanks for your question! "Show don't tell" means not to be lazy with description, which is something I am guilty of in my first drafts. Telling would be: "it was cold outside." Showing would be: "The bitter wind stung her cheeks, and she burrowed deeper into her jacket." The same thing goes for emotions. If a character is distracted: "she couldn't concentrate at work" is not as good as: "She stared out the window, away from her computer screen, and watched a couple of kids playing soccer." Instead of writing that someone is sad, or angry, or tired, show it by describing their facial expressions, body movements and actions. I hope this helps!

Last edited @ Sep 3, 4:24PM EDT.
Sep 3, 4:23PM EDT0
What was your favorite part and least favorite part of the publishing journey?
Sep 1, 12:40AM EDT1

Thanks for your question! You are going to laugh, because my favorite and least favorite part of the publishing journey are the same: revisions! Getting a manuscript full of red notes is SO intimidating. At first I am afraid to open it and I think, "I'm a terrible writer, look how many changes I have to make!" But then once I read my agent's notes, or my editor's notes, I realize how smart and insightful they are, and how lucky I am to work with such talented people. Revising a novel is a slow process, and sometimes difficult, but even in the midst of doing it, I realize how much stronger I am making my novel, and that knowledge makes it one of my favorite parts of the publishing journey. Seeing my cover art for the first time is another favorite!! My least favorite is also waiting. Haha, I am such an impatient person. There is lots of waiting in publishing! :)

Last edited @ Sep 3, 4:27PM EDT.
Sep 3, 4:16PM EDT0
What techniques do you employ to write productively?
Aug 31, 3:49PM EDT1

Thanks for your question! When I research, I'm using the internet a lot, so I let myself do that from home. I have notebooks completely filled with notes from research. But when it comes to my actual writing time, I like to keep distractions to a minimum, so that I am productive. I will write from the library, where it's quiet, and where I'm less likely to start browsing online. I remind myself that I am paying for my writing time, by paying a babysitter to watch my daughter, and therefore it is a waste of money if I am not productive! It also helps when I am on deadline, because I do not want to slow down production or disappoint my editor. But I find that having an outline, and having lots of research done helps me write my first draft. Then I'm not stopping to look things up, or to wonder what happens next in the plot. ;)

Sep 3, 4:13PM EDT0

How do you come up with the titles of your books? Do they come to you before, during, or after you finish writing?

Aug 31, 3:37PM EDT1

Thanks for your question! Often, titles are changed by agents and publishers to something catchy that they think will sell well. That was what happened to me! My original title of The Dressmaker's Dowry was Sarah's Heirloom. I thought it had a nice ring to it. But my editor changed it! Boardwalk Summer stayed the same. My titles come to me before I start writing, because I don't think I could work on a book without a title. I like to write something that captures the tone of the manuscript. Also, a great title will catch a literary agent's attention when you are querying, so it's a good idea to have a strong one. :)

Sep 3, 4:08PM EDT1
Has writing always been something you saw as doing for a career? How has your work being released impacted your relationship with writing?
Aug 31, 3:10PM EDT1

This is a great question! When I was younger, I loved to write, but I did not think about doing it as a career. I worked in the field of International Education for a number of years. Around 2008, I tried to get a writing internship and I couldn't get one! I felt discouraged, and I ended up working for a startup instead. By 2009, I was working on my first novel. I knew that I wanted to sell it, and that my dream career was to be a novelist. But that first book didn't sell, and neither did my second. I couldn't even get an agent for either manuscript! Now that my work is released and I am published, my relationship with writing has been impacted because I am conscious of the market and what is selling. I miss the freedom of my early writing days when I wrote whatever I wanted, without thinking about sales. I still write the stories that inspire me, and the stories that I want to write, but in the back of my mind I am also thinking about my literary agent, my editor and my readers. I am no longer writing only for myself. However, I still feel immense joy writing novels, and that hasn't changed. 

Last edited @ Sep 3, 4:36PM EDT.
Sep 3, 4:33PM EDT0
What ingredients do you think make for a successful historical fiction author? Do you deliberately plan for these ingredients in your writing?
Aug 31, 1:39PM EDT1

This is a hard question! When I think of the historical fiction authors that I love to read, they all have one thing in common: beautiful prose. I get so swept up in the historical details and the description, that I fall in love with the story. But, the second ingredient is a great plot. Sometimes historical books that I would have given 5 stars slip down to 4 or 3 stars because the plot has too many coincidences, or a sappy ending. However, fantastic description can make up for a lot. I deliberately plan to have great descriptions and an exciting plot in my novels. I also think a strong character goal is important, as well as character arc and a setting that feels alive. 

Sep 3, 4:40PM EDT0
What are all the ways you help people with their writing?
Aug 31, 10:05AM EDT1
What is needed from an author to get their book traditionally published?
Aug 31, 4:33AM EDT2

Great question! First, your novel must be finished. Agents do not want to read an unfinished novel. Second, your novel must be polished. This means that you have edited and rewritten it again, and again and again, usually with the help of a critique partner and beta readers. Your manuscript should be the absolute best, most polished version it can be. You get only one chance to impress a literary agent. Read craft books like On Writing by Stephen King or The Plot Whisperer by Martha Alderson to self edit. Third, write a great query letter. Research literary agents, so you know who is accepting books in your genre. If an agent says "no science fiction" and you've written science fiction, then don't query them! Agents will list the genres they are interested in on their website. Fourth, email out that query letter, and begin the agonizing six-week wait. If an agent is interesting in seeing more, they will request a partial manuscript or a full manuscript. Congratulations! Fifth, sign with a literary agent you connect with. You will be working together for a long time. Then, you and your literary agent will revise your novel again. Finally, it will go on submission to the "Big 5" publishers. Cross your fingers, and hope there is a sale!!

Sep 3, 4:04PM EDT1
In what ways are historical novels inherently different from contemporary novels?
Aug 31, 3:58AM EDT1

Thanks for your question! While some things are the same (your character must have a goal, and set in motion to achieve that goal) I think what sets historical novels apart is that the stakes are heightened. Women did not have as many opportunities in the past as they do now, and it was harder to break free from gender roles. Also, with many WW2 novels, there was the very real fear of a loved one being killed at war. In my opinion, it's more difficult for contemporary novels to have the stakes be as high, unless maybe it's a thriller and the main character is in danger of being murdered! I also love researching the food and fashion in historical novels, and the way of speaking. In contemporary novels, the internet is such a way of life that social media, texting and email is usually included in the narrative. But because technology is always evolving, this means the book will soon be outdated. I know authors who had to change the mention of things in their novels (like MySpace) to Facebook or Instagram when their book got reprinted!

Last edited @ Sep 3, 3:58PM EDT.
Sep 3, 3:57PM EDT0
Since you write historic fiction, how important is research to you when writing a book? And how was your process when writing Boardwalk Summer?
Aug 31, 2:36AM EDT1

Thanks for your question. Research is incredibly important when writing historical fiction! For Boardwalk Summer, my process was reading a number of archived newspaper articles from the 1940s, along with watching old news reels. I especially liked this one: 

The books The Story of Hollywood by Gregory Paul Williams and The Santa Cruz Beach Boardwalk, A Century By the Sea, helped me so much in terms of old photographs and information about Hollywood and The Boardwalk during 1940. I also visited Santa Cruz in my research. I try to do most of my research beforehand, along with outlining my novel, so when it comes time to write I can focus on my draft. 

Sep 3, 3:53PM EDT0

Are you writing a new book as of the moment?

Aug 31, 12:24AM EDT1

Yes! I'm writing a new book that I am really excited about. I can't give much away about it at this point, but I will say that it is set in 1945 San Francisco and 1923 New York. I am absolutely loving the writing process and the historical research right now. :)

Aug 31, 1:18AM EDT1
What are the most important lessons you have learned from critics of your work?
Aug 30, 11:39PM EDT1

Thank you for your question! Every opinion is subjective, so once my books are published, I get all different types of criticism, but I recognize  there's nothing I can do to change the book at that point. However, there are people whom I work with who have been invaluable to me in terms of constructive criticism. One is my critique partner, one is my literary agent and one is my editor. With their feedback on each novel draft, my work becomes stronger, and I learn so much through revising. A common critique is "show don't tell" and "make sure the character's motivation and goal are clear." I actually love to revise! Even though it can seem daunting to receive a marked up manuscript, I know that making all the changes will get it that much closer to being the polished book I know it can be! 

Aug 31, 1:17AM EDT1
How do you feel you have evolved as a writer?
Aug 30, 11:19PM EDT1

Thank you for your question! When I was in my 20s, I loved "chick lit" like Bridget Jones's Diary. When I wasn't reading for my literature major, I was devouring women's fiction by Jennifer Weiner, Emily Giffin and Marian Keyes. I used to write chick lit, but my first two novels did not get me an agent. I evolved in two ways: one, my reading tastes changed. I began reading more historical fiction, and decided I wanted to write historical. Two: I became a plotter, whereas before I went wherever I felt like. Also, years of revision and rejection have helped me hone my craft, along with reading many craft books on writing. Also, the experience of becoming a mother has allowed me to write more multifaceted characters. I hope to grow and evolve as a writer. 

Aug 31, 1:13AM EDT1
What techniques do you use to ensure that conflict, plot, setting, dialogue, and characters are true to the time period?
Aug 30, 8:30PM EDT1

Great question! I watch newsreels from the time period for dialogue, and I read archived newspapers in the CDNC to see how people spoke in print. I also read books from the time period. 

cdnc.ucr.edu/cgi-bin/cdnc

I have lived in the places in which my books are set. So while I am far removed from Victorian San Francisco, I can still walk the streets and see the buildings that existed in the 1800s. I look at old maps to make sure that my geography for the time period is correct.  However, conflict and plot is where I take liberties, because sometimes you need to have a character make a choice they may not have in order to move the plot forward. I love Jane Austen novels, but those are not the novels I am trying to write. Therefore my heroines definitely get into more trouble and dangerous situations! 

Aug 30, 10:01PM EDT1
Anonymous

How many rejections did you get from agents on THE DRESSMAKER'S DOWRY before you found Jenny?

Aug 30, 3:14PM EDT1

Thanks for your question. I began querying The Dressmaker's Dowry, then stopped (I took a break to start Boardwalk Summer) and then I started querying again. In total, I received about 45 rejections.  Fun fact: I had queried Jenny with my first two novels, and received form rejection letters from her on both. She has long been my dream agent. In our phone call I asked her if she remembered my early queries. She didn't! ;) But she gets so many, I have no idea why she would, haha. 

Aug 30, 3:17PM EDT1

When writing how do you choose which next step is the best for the story? To extrapolate on what I mean- say your character can respond to another character in a number of ways that you've come up with. How do you choose and settle on one way over another?

Aug 30, 2:53PM EDT1

Thanks for your question! I used to be a "pantser" as in, flying by the seat of my pants and going wherever the characters took me. But neither of the novels I wrote that way got me an agent. I am now a plotter. I write detailed outlines before I write my novels. I know what will happen at the 1/4 mark the 1/2 mark, the 3/4 mark and the end. So I am always writing scenes with action and high stakes to propell the story forward. My agent will point out if I have a scene that's just dialogue and not moving the story forward at all, and then I am asked to cut it! I focus on my plot, and on character development as I write. Because I already have my crucial scenes plotted out, I write to get from point A to point B. 

Aug 30, 3:03PM EDT2

How many hours in a day do you allocate to writing? 

Aug 30, 11:56AM EDT1

Thanks for your question! I wish I allocated hours to writing every day, but the truth is, I don't. I only write on the days that I have childcare available. I pay another mom to watch my daughter and her daughter. Her schedule changes, but normally I can get 3 days a week (not full days, 5 hour days). Of those 5 hours, I try to spend at least 3 of them writing! But sometimes I spend the time doing other things, like work emails or social media marketing, or--let's let's be honest--laundry and paying bills! Before I became a mom, I would spend up to 8 hours writing in my local cafe on weekends. It was how I completed my debut novel, The Dressmaker's Dowry. My husband didn't mind, because he is a black belt in Brazilian Jiu jitsu and so he spends most of his time training. :) But now that I have my 2-year-old, we spend weekends together as a family!

Last edited @ Aug 30, 1:45PM EDT.
Aug 30, 1:44PM EDT1
Did you ever think any of your books would become best sellers? Why or why not?
Aug 30, 8:33AM EDT1

This is a good question, and one that has been talked about a lot in the writing community. The sad truth is, the title "NYT bestseller" can be bought if someone has enough money to finance their own campaign.  Check out this scandal here: www.theguardian.com/books/2017/aug/25/handbook-for-mortals-by-lani-sarem-pulled-from-nyt-bestsellers-list

Authors who receive huge advances (1 to 2 million dollars) whose publishers put tons of money into their marketing campaigns, they usually hit the lists. But smaller authors? It's much, much harder for us. I had dreams of becoming a NYT bestseller without really knowing how many books would need to sell in order to hit the list. Sales are measured in the span of a week (not over time) so even if someone sells really well over time, they may never be called a bestseller. 

After doing more research, I figured it was unlikely I would ever become a bestseller. So I was thrilled and surprised when The Dressmaker's Dowry hit the USA Today bestseller list in 2018! Mind you, this was a whole year after its launch date. It hit the list because the sales price was reduced to $1.99 that week, so I had a huge amount of e-book sales in the span of one week. 

I would love for another one of my books to become a bestseller, and I will continue to experiment with different marketing techniques and to write great fiction! 

Last edited @ Aug 30, 1:23PM EDT.
Aug 30, 1:21PM EDT2
How does it feel to be a best selling author?
Aug 30, 5:24AM EDT1

Thanks for your question! It feels great, especially in that I feel vindicated for all of the years of rejections. I was rejected by the owner of a small press. She said my writing was "not up to par with their other writers" and instead of internalizing that feedback and feeling like a failure, I decided to keep trying. Now I feel like the scene in Pretty Woman where Julia Roberts returns to the snobby shopkeepers who wouldn't help her and she says, "Big Mistake, Huge." Haha! But really, it's just a title. It hasn't changed anything about my life (I would have to sell MUCH more to earn a lifechanging amount of money!) I am happy to have reached a wide audience of readers. :)

Last edited @ Aug 30, 1:03PM EDT.
Aug 30, 1:02PM EDT1
How does reading all the praise about your writing make you feel?
Aug 29, 12:48AM EDT1

Thanks for your question! I'm always thrilled to see that someone enjoyed my novel, especially when it comes in the form of a personal note from a reader. But with good reviews come bad reviews, and like any other writer, I am not immune to them! I try not to read my reviews (good or bad) because I like to stay creatively focused on my next project and not get bogged down in the one that's already finished and can no longer be changed. But it's always a big relief to get a good review from a trade publication! 

Aug 29, 3:40PM EDT1
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