What a year it has been! I got a little farklempt drafting this post because I couldn’t help remembering this time in 2014. That December, I was beyond burnt out and discouraged from the endless, maddening cycle of querying, revising, and entering contests, and I’m pretty sure this week was the week I texted close writer friends to tell them I was giving up on traditional publishing at last. I simply didn’t have what it took.
“If it was meant to be,” I told them, “then it wouldn’t be this hard.”
If I ever publish an autobiography one day, it would be titled “Close, But No Cigar: The Julie Dao Story.” There is nothing that punches the heart harder than getting riiiight up there to that elusive door, and then having it slam in your face, over and over and over. Honestly? I would have preferred not getting into every contest I entered. I would have preferred form rejections over R&Rs that never panned out. At least then, I would have known what to fix. I would have been able to move on. It drove me CRAZY that I was clearly doing everything right, I had a query letter that worked, and I had written a tight manuscript, and still couldn’t get over the hurdle for some reason.
This Adele song, “Chasing Pavements,” was my freakin’ anthem in 2014.
There is nothing quite like being a depressed writer… unless it’s a depressed writer with a broken leg. Last winter was quite possibly the worst winter of my entire life, and keep in mind I am a native New Englander. But there is nothing anyone can do to prepare for EIGHT FEET of snow. It was nor’easter after nor’easter, and I wouldn’t be surprised if some Bostonians broke out into hives at the words “winter storm warning.”
And, because snowbanks twice as tall as me weren’t enough, there was also plenty of ice! Yay! I was on my way to work when I became a landing cushion for a woman who had slipped. Let me rephrase that: my left kneecap became a landing cushion for a woman who had slipped. Luckily, I worked at a hospital, so a doctor checked it out right away. My x-ray showed a horizontal crack right across the patella. My first broken bone!
I am so grateful I didn’t need knee surgery, though. I just had to shuffle around with a brace (to keep the two pieces of the bone together, and prevent them from cracking apart further) and go to physical therapy. And I’m happy to report that my knee is pretty much back to normal, except for the fact that I still can’t kneel on a hard floor. Found that out the hard way when I dropped a pen under my desk… OUCH.
I won’t go back into this story, because you guys know all about it. Suffice it to say, I was in a state of complete and utter disbelief for two weeks. I kept pacing, panicking, and wondering how I had tricked these incredible agents into liking my book and liking me enough to offer. They were supposed to say “no” like everybody else! I was 100% sure they would back out and say, “Oh, sorry, I didn’t mean to offer to you. I confused you with someone else.” But they didn’t. They opened the publishing door for me.
The day I posted this on Twitter felt unreal. I remember it took me three whole days to respond to all of your comments and messages on Twitter, Facebook, email, and this blog, because I wanted to make sure you all knew how much I appreciated your words. Luckily, I was snowed in and couldn’t go to work because the trains had been shut down all over the city (big surprise), so that was what I spent my time doing! It was glorious!
I dove into final revisions with more enthusiasm than I ever thought I’d have, considering I had read this manuscript approximately 85 billion times. But this time, I had Tamar to tell me if I was screwing up or not. What a world of difference that made, to not have to go it alone anymore.
It also hit me then that this was getting pretty real. Like… I was one step away from literally achieving my dream. (Well, not one step, technically. But still a LOT closer.) So I kept doing what I was doing with my online “platform,” or whatever (meaning I messed around on Twitter when I should have been brainstorming my new project). And, after Googling myself and finding a hundred other Julie Daos, I officially added my middle initial on all of my social media.
And then this happened in April:
What Happened In My Head
Friend: So, why are you going to New York again this weekend?
Me: (casually picks at nails) I’m trying on bridesmaid dresses with my cousin, and catching a Broadway show. Oh, and I might grab coffee with my agent. No big deal.
What Happened For Real
Friend: So, why are you going to New York again this weekend?
Me: (incoherent babbling)
Yes, I am a dork and I get REALLY excited about things that other people probably just take in stride. I’ve actually been criticized before for being too cheesy and sappy and rose-colored-glasses-y on my blog. But you know what? That’s who I am. When big things happen in my life, I am going to celebrate them to the fullest. Life’s too short to be cool and collected, and my writing road has been too hard. So I took my over-excited self on a train to NYC and got to meet Tamar and Laura and tour their office!
This year has been a phenomenal one, but also a really hard one in different ways. (See: autobiography title above.) My manuscript and I reached a point that some writers never, ever get to. After all this time, I was getting signs that… maybe I do have what it takes. I wanted to give my full attention to my next project, FOTL, and just get it written. The idea had been in my head since I was 13, but I had never felt ready enough to write it. Now, at last, I had the confidence to try. So I made the choice to do something a little crazy and maybe not so smart, but something I needed: writing full-time for a short while.
After consulting with Tamar, I also decided to post PUMPKIN PATCH PRINCESS on Wattpad. It terrified me because I wrote this book when I was still learning how to write well. The thought of posting a beginner effort for the public was scary, but having it languish away on my hard drive made me sad because I love it so much.
Well, it turned out to be the right move because within months, it got Featured Story status on the front page of Wattpad, hit #39 on the Teen Fiction list out of millions of books, and got almost 150,000 views. Those numbers, and the overwhelming response I’ve gotten from teen and tween readers (the people for whom I actually write!) gave me the boost of confidence I needed. Many of them have been kind enough to jump onboard and follow me, saying they’d buy a print copy of PPP or anything else I publish. I knew if I could convince them to like a book I had written years ago, I might be able to write something else they’d also enjoy, now that I’ve spent all this time learning the craft.
In August, I got another boost of confidence. I went on the Ireland Writer Tours trip led by Susan Spann and Heather Webb, and their feedback on my early pages of FOTL was amazing and smart. Heather told me that when my pages came in, she called Susan and they discussed how much they loved the story on the phone! I did have to tone it way down, though, because they thought it was adult epic fantasy (it’s YA). And then Susan gave me the idea for the ending of Book #1 and helped me figure something out that I’d been stuck on for months. I returned home with a better understanding of my characters and the whole arc of the series I’d envisioned. I am hoping I get the chance to write the second/companion book one day!
Also, this is a thing that happened over the summer:
If you know me at all, you know I am the BIGGEST Maggie Stiefvater fangirl. It’s no secret that I think she’s one of the greatest YA writers living today, and SCORPIO RACES ripped me apart and changed me as a writer. Basically, she is just a little below J.K. Rowling on my list of author heroes, and that’s saying a lot. I won a sheet of her Tarot card illustrations on one of her Twitter contests, and she mailed it to me with a gracious note, and has been following me ever since! I sometimes wonder if she’ll catch on to the fact that she never unfollowed me and has been seeing all of my annoying inspirational tweets and Instagram pics littering her timeline…
I was a dutiful Pitch Wars mentee to N.K. Traver and Stephanie Garber, and gave them what they’d always wanted: a GRAND-MENTEE! Yes, I added the lovely and talented Lorien Hallama to our little writer family tree. Her query and full manuscript knocked my socks off when I was in Ireland. I got so many amazing entries that I wish I could have picked them all, but in the end, I chose Lorien.
What an experience it was to help someone through the hurdles I’d jumped myself just a year ago. To this day, I still email Nat and Stephanie in a writing crisis, and I knew just how important it was to have a mentor and friend who’d gone through the same thing. I wanted to be that for someone else, which is why I jumped into Pitch Wars mentoring. And I intend to do it again next year!
Finally, just short of 95,000 words, I finished the rough draft of FOTL. I have been revising ever since (read: rewriting almost everything because I didn’t really figure the true plot out until I finished drafting) and will do one more read-through before I hit “send.” Self-imposed deadline is end of 2015!
In summary, this year has been pretty great. Things happened that I honestly believed never would. And amazing things happened to many close writer friends, too: several of them snagged agents and/or book deals, some self-published, and one scored an enormous book deal AND movie deal. So if you are in the boat I was in last year, just remember: next year could be your year. Anything can happen.
After all this time, I’ve at last learned not to make goals based on things I can’t control. So my resolution is to write three brand-new books next year — I’m planning two middle-grade books and a YA — and to make them as great as possible. I’m going to go back to work, but even though writing will once more happen only on nights and weekends, I am determined to accomplish this goal!
Thanks, as always, for sticking with me and my blog. I will never forget how much you guys have helped me! Here’s to a bright and happy 2016 for all of us!