We sat down with author of upcoming novel, Playing With Matches, and dating editor of Elite Daily, Hannah Orenstein in her apartment on a rainy day in New York City. She shared with us her success story and some advice for fellow ambitious wom*n. Hannah is our first amazing interviewee for our new series, Successful Wom*n, running from March 2018 – March 2019. Email us if you or someone you know would like to be considered for an interview at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Can you tell us about your field/work and how you became involved in that field/career?
I’ve always been a writer, ever since I was a little kid. I would fill up books with short stories and keep diaries. Magazines, however, were my first big love. I remember being around 11 and scribbling in the margins with my glitter gel pen – “This story should be more like this” or “this photo needs to go over here.” The summer between junior and senior year of high school, I did two internships – one was editorial, one was in fashion because I thought that might be an interest as well. I loved the editorial internship and quickly realized fashion was not for me. When I went to college, I stayed really involved with the site I had interned with in high school, Her Campus. I was their first intern and through them I became an editor and writer as well as founded and managed their high school ambassador program. While I was at NYU, I kept interning at different magazines and websites. By the end of college I knew I loved working in women’s digital media. The summer after graduation, I landed a job at Seventeen.com. I was a full-time freelance writer and was eventually promoted to assistant features editor. After about two and a half years, I left to work as a dating editor at Elite Daily, where I am now.
Do prefer your work as an editor or a novelist? What is your passion?
I want to do both even though it is challenging. They are two different exciting. creative worlds and I want to be involved with both. Financially, I can’t only write fiction. That’s not where I’m at. But I like the dynamic of both jobs: writing fiction is more creative, while editing is more organized and structured. I like that mix.
How do you define success in your own life?
For me, success is creating something that I can feel proud to share with others. I think the thing about being a creative person is that you can be really excited about what you have done… but then you want to keep going to the next step.
What is your success story? What brought you to this point in your career?
After college, I left editorial and worked as a matchmaker for a dating service. It was a once in a lifetime opportunity and I figured if I don’t take this now, I am going to regret it. So I did that for seven months. It was the most exhausting but exhilarating job. It’s very personal – you want your clients to all fall in love and you want them to have really good experiences. Throughout this whole time, and as I transitioned back into editorial, I was thinking about how much I wanted to write a book. Matchmaking was the perfect subject. It was really inspiring to me, it had themes – specifically love and career – that I wanted to write about. When I graduated, I was unemployed searching for a job for two months. I figured I’m never going to have this time where I have nothing to do all day but write a book, so I started writing it then. By the time I got my job at Seventeen, I had about a hundred pages written. That made it easier to finish the book.
What advice would you give another woman entering into your field?
Number one, intern. Intern wherever you can, especially if it is small and local. I learned so much at my first internship because it was just the three co-founders of a company and me. I got to see everything that was happening and it opened up plenty of learning opportunities I might not have had otherwise. I would also say that whatever it is that you want to do, just go do it on your own. If you want to write, photograph, pursue social media – you can do that on your own just with your computer or your phone. So why not do that every day? No one is going to hire you to do that unless you can prove that you are already doing it every day and you are good at it.
What advice would you give to another woman who was seeking a life she deemed as successful?
Network. I think that networking gets such a bad rap but it doesn’t have to be sleazy or gross or transactional. All of the interactions that I have had are really just people that I met and stayed in touch with through work. Follow everybody on social media – both people that you have met and people that you want to meet. Then it’s not work to reach out and “research” them or network. You can see what they do every day. so then when you do run into them or if you reach out, you can not only talk business but also say, “Oh hey, I saw that amazing piece you wrote last week.” It feels organic and natural. If you constantly like their stuff, they will eventually figure out who you are.
Has being a woman affected your success? If so, in what way and how have you dealt with this?
Only in a positive manner. I haven’t worked with many men. Right now I am really lucky to be in this community of authors that is all women. Every month they get together at somebody’s apartment and it’s really comfortable to be in a circle of all women — not because I wouldn’t want to talk to a male author but because we all can innately bond and connect.
Why do you think that men are not in those circles and how do you feel about it?
Eeryone asks “What is your genre?” I consider my book to be just fiction because it’s not fantasy, mystery, or thriller, but the genre is actually called “women’s fiction.” There is no category for “men’s fiction” since all fiction is men’s fiction. But my book is considered “women’s fiction”. When I was looking to get published, the first thing my agent said to me was, “I am not going to let anyone put a shoe on the cover of your book.” You know those types of covers where it’s a high heel to make the point that this is about a woman? And it wouldn’t make sense, anyway, because my book isn’t about shoes at all.
What is the most important lesson you have learned thus far?
You teach other people how to treat you. I feel nervous sometimes reaching out to someone when I think about my age or experience compared to theirs. What I’ve learned, though, was that the person you are talking to does not know that you are afraid. They don’t know that you are so nervous to come up and say hello or to talk to them about a job. If you go up there and you look the part and speak with confidence, they’re only going to see a strong, confident, qualified person. That’s true for all situations – job opportunities, networking, whatever it is. People are going to see what you put out there.
Tell us about your new book, “Playing With Matches”.
Playing with Matches is about a young matchmaker who works for an elite dating service in New York City. She has this amazing boyfriend, but when he betrays her, she realizes she has feelings for a guy who’s completely off-limits because she set him up with one of her clients. It’s about matchmaking and being a 22-year-old hot mess, figuring out your career, your relationships, your friendships, and your family.
Playing with Matches will be released June 26. It’s available for pre-order now on Amazon. There will be a launch party at WORD Brooklyn on June 28 at 7 pm, as well as other events on the East Coast over the course of the summer.
All images Ⓒ Kirra Kimbrell, 2018.