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Success Story Interview - Meredith Jaeger

An Interview with Meredith Jaeger (Luckynumber3 on QT) upon receiving an offer of representation from agent Jenny Bent of The Bent Agency.


QT: Can you tell us a little bit about the book for which you've found representation? What inspired you to write it?
Meredith Jaeger:
Sure! SARAH'S HEIRLOOM is women's fiction, and it's a dual narrative, set in both present-day San Francisco and in Victorian-era San Francisco. Sarah Havensworth is a journalist with a dark secret, who suspects that her heirloom engagement ring holds the answer to an unsolved mystery from 1876—the disappearance of two seamstresses. The deeper Sarah digs, the more she realizes the Havensworths have secrets of their own. She also discovers that she and one of the immigrant seamstresses, a German girl named Hanna, might be linked in unexpected ways.

I was inspired by my own engagement ring, which is an heirloom from 1903. It belonged to my husband's great-aunt, and I'm in love with it. I started imagining...what if there were a really fascinating story behind this ring? What was the life of the person who owned it like? I'm also the daughter of a Swiss immigrant, and my grandparents and great-grandparents came from Germany. The immigrant experience is part of the fabric of American history, and I wanted to show the lives of the working class. I've worked in San Francisco for ten years, and I'm enamored by the old brick buildings in Jackson Square that used to be saloons, warehouses and dance halls. There is so much more to the city than startups. It has an incredible past.
QT: How long have you been writing?
Meredith Jaeger:
I've been writing with the intent of traditional publication for 6 years, but I've written for pleasure all my life. If you visit my mom's house, you'll find childhood notebooks full of stories. In sixth grade I wrote a creepy one about a mean girl who drowned!
QT: How long have you been working on this book?
Meredith Jaeger:
Two years. The first draft took me about five months, but then it went through several revisions.
QT: Was there ever a time you felt like giving up, and what helped you to stay on course?
Meredith Jaeger:
Many times I thought about self-publishing, because chasing traditional publication was just too difficult. But I would never give up on writing. I'd still write novels, even if no one read them. It wasn't easy though. Over the years, I had my moments where I broke down and cried after receiving really tough rejection letters. One agent said she was "so torn" about whether to sign me or not, before rejecting me. Getting an R&R from my dream agent helped me stay on track, because I knew I was close. I also had the support of my amazing critique partners, friends and family. My husband is my biggest supporter, and he's very proud of me right now!
QT: Is this your first book?
Meredith Jaeger:
No, it's my third. I've actually written four, but I landed my agent with this one!
QT: Do you have any formal writing training?
Meredith Jaeger:
I have a degree in Modern Literature and I've taken a few courses through The Writing Salon in San Francisco. But the most helpful tools I've learned about writing have come through reading books on craft, reading within my genre, and getting whipped into shape by my critique partners!
QT: Do you follow a writing routine or schedule?
Meredith Jaeger:
I'm usually pretty tired when I get home from work, so I save my writing for the weekends. When I began this book, I was working full time at a quickly-growing startup, so I wrote the first draft in a fevered frenzy every Saturday and Sunday at my favorite coffee shop. I had to turn down invitations to do fun things outside with friends, and that was hard. However, I did have the amazing opportunity to write full-time for a year (thank you, husband!) and during that year, I finished the draft of a new novel in two-months, because I could write all day. I also got a lot more sunshine!
QT: How many times did you re-write/edit your book?
Meredith Jaeger:
Many times! I have a system with my critique partner where we swap what we're working on every 50 pages, then go back and revise, so I turn out somewhat polished rough drafts. However, I rewrote this book from 2013 until 2015. My final rewrite before representation was an official revise and resubmit request from my agent. I was so excited by her suggestions, I just knew she *got* my book, and would make it the best it could be.
QT: Did you have beta readers for your book?
Meredith Jaeger:
Yes. I have two official critique partners who tear my drafts apart with their tough love, and then I have a handful of trusted beta-readers who make me believe in myself again!
QT: Did you outline your book, or do you write from the hip?
Meredith Jaeger:
I love to outline! I am a full on plot-planning with Post-its outliner. Before I start writing, I like to know the midway crisis, the three-quarter climax and the ending of my novel. I always have an idea that inspires me first, and then I think about my characters, their motivations, and their backgrounds. I often don't know how I'm going to get from point A to point B, but I know what those two plot points are before I sit down at my keyboard.
QT: How long have you been querying for this book? Other books?
Meredith Jaeger:
I started querying SARAH'S HEIRLOOM in March 2014, and queried until May 2014. Then I took a long break and wrote another novel. I began querying SARAH'S HEIRLOOM again in March 2015 and didn't get my agent until August 2015. So, six months, or 1.5 years depending on how you look at it!

As for my other books, it took me six years of querying before landing my agent. I think I queried my first novel for two years and my second novel for one year. I won't tell you how many rejection letters I have!
QT: About how many query letters did you send out for this book?
Meredith Jaeger:
About 45. 38 through Query Tracker, but some agents were not available through QT. All agents should be, because I love this website!
QT: On what criteria did you select the agents you queried?
Meredith Jaeger:
I searched for agents seeking women's fiction first, then looked to see if I could find overlap with historical fiction. I also am a BIG fan of the #MSWL hashtag on Twitter. You can find agents who are looking for exactly what you've written!
QT: Did you tailor each query to the specific agent, and if so, how?
Meredith Jaeger:
Yes. I made a point to read agent blogs, follow agent Twitter accounts, and to focus my query on something specific they'd mentioned online, making sure it tied into my book. (Also, over the years, I have re-queried many of the same agents).
QT: What advice would you give other writers seeking agents?
Meredith Jaeger:
Remember why you wrote your novel. Continue to write for the love of writing, and don't let rejections send you into a depressive spiral that takes away from the joy of creating stories. If an agent requests changes (such as an R&R) only make those changes if they feel true to you and the spirit of your book. Be open to critique. Sometimes the best critique hurts, a lot, and you will have to kill your darlings. Agents' tastes really are subjective! It's not just a line in a form rejection letter. I was rejected by many, many agents, before landing my dream agent. What if I'd given up because I thought that "no" would be universal? Know when to shelve a novel. I got form rejections on my first two novels when I queried my current agent! I'm so glad I moved on (even though it was heartbreaking at the time), came up with a better concept and tried again. Sometimes the third time's the charm!
QT: Would you be willing to share your query with us?
Meredith Jaeger:

Query Letter:

Dear Jenny Bent,

Because you part

icularly enjoy women's fiction, I've been keeping an eye on your #MSWL tweets! Based on the two below, I think my novel, SARAH'S HEIRLOOM, will be a great fit for you.
#MSWL historical fiction (for adults) with a strong female lead and lots of plot
#MSWL high concept women’s fiction, with a strong plot, great pace and lots of emotion. Like THE LIFE LIST by@lnelsonspielman

SARAH'S HEIRLOOM is women's fiction and complete at 81,000 words, the past and present woven together in a plot-driven dual narrative.

San Francisco, 1876. German immigrant Hannelore Schaeffer hugs her best friend Margaret goodbye after a long day mending dresses at the tailor shop. But when Margaret doesn’t show up for work the next morning, Hanna fears the worst. Braving the squalor of the Red Light district and daring to enter the mansions of Nob Hill, Hanna stops at nothing to find her missing friend.

San Francisco, 2015. Spirit of the City associate editor Sarah Havensworth is hiding a painful secret from her past. Having married into San Francisco’s most prominent family, she plans to keep it hidden forever. When she’s assigned an article on San Francisco’s infamous Barbary Coast, Sarah discovers the disappearance of two seamstresses in 1876. The deeper Sarah digs, the more she suspects the Havensworths have secrets of their own. In the process, she finds that she and Hannelore might be linked in unexpected ways, and that her heirloom emerald engagement ring holds the key to the answers.

This book will appeal to fans of Blackberry Winter by Sarah Jio, The House Girl by Tara Conklin, and fans of the BBC show The Paradise. I live in the San Francisco Bay Area with my husband, and many of the places visited by the characters are real, including "The Saloon" San Francisco's oldest bar! I hold a BA in Modern Literature from the University of California, Santa Cruz, and I attended the San Francisco Writers Conference in 2012.

The full manuscript is available upon request. I have pasted the first ten pages into the body of this email. Thank you for your time, and I look forward to hearing from you!