BEA and Book Con 2017 Recap!

Jun 07, 2017 Main blog 10 comments

Hey friends!

As many of you know, I went to Book Expo 2017 last week and here is the promised, VERY LONG recap post! What an absolute dream come true – the product of so many years of hope, heartache, and hard work. It wasn’t my first public author appearance, since I did a school visit in May, but it was my first signing, first time talking to booksellers and bloggers, and first trip to a big convention! It was a true honor to be invited and I had an ear-to-ear grin the whole time!

It all began last Thursday morning, when I headed off to the airport bright and early to catch a flight that would put me in the city around noon. My friend Stephanie Garber and I planned to spend the whole day together walking around Central Park, getting ice cream, and checking out some of the shopping districts!



I travel LIGHT! My drivers always looked so relieved to see the bags I’d packed, LOL.





Unfortunately, despite the sunny weather, the plane was delayed for almost two hours due to poor visibility (according to the pilot). The delay meant Stephanie and I didn’t have all that much time to spend together. I felt horrible that she had waited all morning for me and had to get brunch all by herself! But the important thing is we did get to see each other and have time for a quick bite to eat in Bryant Park!



Finally reunited! <3 <3



Stephanie is one of my closest friends, and we text almost every day and have been known to have four hour long phone chats!!! But there’s nothing quite like hanging out in person again when you live on opposite coasts. We grabbed some yummy sandwiches from a kiosk in the park and caught up on everything until it was time for her to go get drinks with her editor.

I had somewhere to go, too: back to my hotel to change for dinner! All of the Penguin authors stayed at the Warwick Hotel, which is this glam, gorgeous old hotel on the intersection of East 54th Street and 6th Avenue.



Going into my hotel!



The elegant lobby



I had organized a little party that night for my Kidlit AOC friends at Donburiya, this Japanese restaurant suggested by my friend Wendy Xu, and so many amazing writers showed up! There were twenty of us, to be exact! The locale was a bit noisy and crowded, but the food was delicious and the company was even better. I’m constantly in awe of these women online (some I’ve met before, like my buddy Patrice Caldwell and a few other ladies) but I was totally starstruck when I got to see them all in person.



NBD… just hanging out with publishing superstars and sweethearts Riley Redgate and Patrice Caldwell!!! Love these ladies!



Selfie with the stupendous Tami Charles and Patrice!



Quick photo with Meredith Ireland and Natasha Razi! These two friends make my heart so happy!



Hugs with the beautiful and fantastical Samira Ahmed!



We talked about what a wonderful time it is to be in publishing. Many of us have sold books that might have been turned away years ago for being “too niche” or “too diverse,” AND the week before, 7 out of 10 women on the NYT Bestsellers List for YA were people of color. What a milestone! I am eager to see more Kidlit AOC friends’ names attached to book deals as the year goes on. Our stories are clearly wanted and needed, and we are all ready to help open the door wider for diverse voices!

Everybody went out for drinks afterward, but I decided to head home because the next day was The Big Day. I usually can’t sleep when I’m excited, but my hotel room was so comfortable, I slept soundly until the alarm woke me on Friday morning! (True story: last September, when I was going to meet my editor Brian for the first time and have lunch with him and Tamar, I woke up at 5:00AM! Seven hours early. But, I got to have a little “Breakfast At Tiffany’s” moment when I walked down 5th Avenue at sunrise.)

I knew I’d be scatterbrained before Book Expo, so the night before, I had ironed my dress and gathered together everything I needed. I skipped out to the waiting car to meet Tamar for breakfast, feeling happy and jittery, but had a sneaking suspicion I’d forgotten something important…



Yep. I forgot my Javits badge, which is the one thing I needed to get into Book Expo!!! (But I remembered safety pins, bandaids, and dental floss, naturally)



Luckily, I remembered the badge while having bagels with Tamar at Zaro’s, so we hiked 17 blocks back to my hotel to grab it. The bright side was it was a sunny day and the stroll gave me more time to chat with my awesome agent! Then, it was off to the Javits!



The Javits is huuuuuuuuuge



Happy agent-author selfie! I love Tamar!



One of my favorite series on the stairs of the Javits!



Major names and faces hanging everywhere! I didn’t get a picture of Marie Lu’s WARCROSS poster but it was E-P-I-C. I think the Penguin Teen Instagram has a photo!



I’m really hereeeeeee



The Penguin Random House booth… my publishing family!!! They had seriously lush carpeting. An editor I met gave me the excellent advice to stand on soft carpeting when possible. Better for your knees when you’re on your feet all day!



Tamar and I spent 45 minutes walking the floor and looking at everything: the stages for presentations, foreign sales booths, other publishers’ sections and cool marketing tactics (a rumor was swirling that someone had brought in a BABY GOAT!!! Possibly related to a book, but let’s be honest, it didn’t have to be), and the autographing area.

Thanks to forgetting my Javits badge, I didn’t have time to stand in line for friends’ galleys I really wanted, like LOVE, HATE, AND OTHER FILTERS by Samira Ahmed. But I did manage to snag a copy of Nic Stone’s DEAR MARTIN, and we saw Marie Lu signing WARCROSS at the same table I’d be signing at later with FOTL!

We also made sure to catch a glimpse of FOTL on this Penguin Game Changers poster:



This WARCROSS sign is hypnotic



Then Tamar brought me downstairs to find the room for my first event: Booksellers Speed Dating! She wanted me to get there early so I’d have plenty of time to prepare. The lower levels of the Javits have places to eat and conference/ballroom-style rooms for meetings:



Heading downstairs


We found the room and I gave my name to the attendant at the door, but Tamar couldn’t come in with me so I clung to her a little bit. I think I pleaded “Don’t leave meeeee” and the attendants all laughed, but they were very kind and shepherded me in to meet my publicist-for-the-day, the awesome Jennifer Dee.

The large meeting room had dozens of big round tables scattered about, each with a number ranging from 1-20. The “speed dating” event involves each author going to each table, where anywhere from 1-10 booksellers will be sitting, and pitching their book and answering questions for four minutes. Every four minutes, an attendant onstage would say “Time to rotate” and the authors would switch to the next numbered table. The idea, of course, is to network and drum up excitement for your book!

It was very loud, very intense, and VERY exhausting. I felt hoarse and achy afterward, because this went on for almost two hours, but thankfully I still had my voice! I also literally ran into Dhonielle Clayton while switching tables and we hugged briefly but couldn’t talk for long because time was ticking away (the pace of this event was frantic, as you can tell). But my sweet publicist snagged me a copy of her book, THE BELLES, which I am dying to read!



The books of all the authors doing the event!



It never gets old, seeing my name out in the world! And yes, I matched my dress and nails to my cover, as every single bookseller table realized and pointed out!



Tiring as it was, I’m glad to have done this event because it was a great experience. And I know my pitch worked because several booksellers complimented it and said they couldn’t wait to read FOTL!

When the event wrapped up, Brian was waiting for me by the door with a giant hug! I was so happy to see him (and so relieved that the two hours were over), I cried a little bit. We met up with Tamar for lunch and she gave me a big, reassuring hug, too. I must have looked really overwhelmed!



Lunchtime selfie!



I ate as much as I could, drank tons of water, and rested quietly while Brian and Tamar chatted, but we couldn’t dawdle because I had my signing within the hour! They whisked me back to the Penguin booth, where Table 1 and a towering pile of FOTL advance copies were waiting for me… and also a LINE OF PEOPLE.

It took all I had not to burst into tears at the sight of them waiting by the sign with my name on it, because I had been so worried and afraid that no one would care to come. Lots of dear friends had promised to be there, but to see so many folks there, waiting for 3:00PM, was an immensely humbling moment I will never forget until the day I die. A few people told me that the line for FOTL wrapped around the Penguin booth, which I could not believe… it was too, too much. Brian got a video of it, which you can find on my Instagram.

(I’m crying again writing this, remembering that moment. My dream came true, I thought that day, over and over and over again, my dream !*$?%!ing came true!!!!)



The line for FOREST OF A THOUSAND LANTERNS at a quarter to three!!!! U-N-R-E-A-L.



I honestly thought about stealing this sign for my mom…



That line tho






Still don’t believe it






The TV screen behind my signing table, with Marie’s lovely quote popping right out on it!



I did not pinch myself that day, because if I had, I would have looked like a walking plum. It was the most surreal, out-of-body experience of my entire life. I had dreamt this moment over and over since I was a little girl – sitting at a table, grown-up and smiling, and hearing people tell me they were excited for my book and ask for a photo – and now it was actually happening. My joy and gratitude are endless, endless, endless.

My signing probably lasted about 45 minutes, but it felt like 45 seconds. I had brought some special green and gold paint pens (which started bleeding a bit at the end – I am SO SORRY if they did that to your copy!) and I was on autopilot as Jennifer handed me each book, some with sticky notes indicating a personalization and some without.

I saw familiar faces and heard familiar names, and whenever friends appeared, we screamed and hollered like joyous banshees and frightened my team half out of their wits. Tamar whipped her head around SO FAST when Kat Cho and I were shrieking at each other… she probably thought someone was hurting me and was ready to jump into action! Brian, meanwhile, had full control of my phone and was snapping photos and taking videos of everything for me like the awesome person he is.

It was a magical day, and I don’t know if I’m fully conveying the amazingness and exuberance with this blog post. I don’t know if that’s even possible.



Proud book family! My favorite photo of the entire conference



Celebrating with my beautiful friend Meredith!



Fangirling over Marieke Nijkamp, who came over to say hello!!!





Couldn’t wipe this smile off my face if I tried



So, so happy



How do I spell my name again? (Honestly had this thought more than once)



Jennifer is a superstar! She made the process go so smoothly



I truly hope readers enjoy the book! Everyone was so lovely and enthusiastic.



Signing away as Jennifer and Tamar look on!






We ran out of ARCs before 4:00PM and I couldn’t stick around because the next author was there waiting to sign, so as soon as I was done, I hugged Brian and Tamar goodbye and was hustled out the door to another waiting car.

I rode back to the Warwick with Elyse Marshall, Director of Publicity for Penguin, and had a great time chatting with her about how the publicity side works. I found it fascinating because although I’ve been entrenched in this world for a decade, I only know the writer’s side of things. There’s so much that goes into bringing a book to the world and so many team members who work together to make it all happen!

Back at the hotel, we had only 30 minutes to freshen up before a big car came to take us all to the Penguin family dinner. I couldn’t believe my eyes when the other Penguin authors came down, one by one: Sarah Dessen, Kristin Cashore, Renee Ahdieh, and Marie Lu! I sort of sat back quietly and watched as these incredibly vibrant, dynamic people stepped off my bookshelves and into real life. I felt so out of my depth (imposter syndrome hit me HARD) but they kindly insisted on bringing me into the conversation and including me in everything.

And when I hopped into the car, Marie came right over to sit next to me and I had the opportunity to thank her in person for her magnificent blurb! She is both kind and humble, as all of us fans of her books know, and I had a hard time holding back tears when she told me in her sweet, genuine way how much she’d enjoyed reading FOTL.

The Penguin family dinner was held at this beautiful restaurant called the Lafayette Grand Cafe and Bakery:



A candlelit display of all our books! You can see FOTL peeking out from behind Renee’s FLAME IN THE MIST (and me and Tochi in the mirror gawking)!






Cocktail hour before the dinner!



So proud to be a Penguin author!



Selfie with my friend and favorite editor in the world!!!!



Jen Loja, President of Penguin Young Readers, giving a little pre-dinner speech! She mentioned each one of our books and it was so lovely.



I got to talk more with Philomel’s brilliant editorial director, Jill Santopolo, and I met so many nice people from all different departments at Penguin. I sat a table with Stephanie Perkins, and at one point during the cocktail hour, I looked over and saw Chelsea Clinton, whose new picture book (SHE PERSISTED) is also published by Philomel. Again, if I had decided to keep pinching myself all day, I’d be purple all over.

The food was delicious and the wait staff was so respectful of my non-dairy diet, bringing over specially made dishes and even non-dairy ice cream for me for dessert! I sat next to Brian all night and it was wonderful just to have that time to talk, outside of business stuff.

I also met two authors I really liked, and was glad I liked because we are going to be spending two weeks in October traveling together (more details on that in the coming months): Tochi Onyebuchi, author of the Nigerian fantasy BEASTS MADE OF NIGHT, and Peter Bognanni, author of the YA contemporary THINGS I’M SEEING WITHOUT YOU.

Tochi gave me a huge high-five as soon as we met and is probably the happiest, cheeriest, most joyful person I have ever met aside from myself… we were both just so jazzed to be there and to have our dreams come true after SO many years of hard work!



The dinner menu!



YEAH! We’re here, we made it! (photo c/o Tochi)



Tochi, Peter, and me! Fellow debuts, future travel buddies!



Yet another happy editor-author photo!



All in all, it was a splendid night! We didn’t get back to the hotel until 11:00PM, and Peter, Marie, Kristin, Stephanie, and I had to be up early the next day, Saturday, for the Penguin Game Changers breakfast event at 7:30AM.

I think I got about four hours of sleep because I was still keyed up and energized, so it was a bit hard getting up at 5:30AM to shower. But in I went and then the car came to bring us all to this restaurant called Print at ink48, where we signed posters and had another “speed dating” event, except this time we were pitching to bloggers and librarians. I felt a lot more comfortable and relaxed at this event because there were only four tables (so one of us five would get a break every rotation) and we had a full 10 minutes to talk to each group.

I recognized many of the bloggers from Twitter! One of the highlights for me was meeting Mish (@chasingfaes) in person, because she has helped me host two #FOTLFriday events on Twitter and traveled all the way from Sri Lanka to attend Book Expo/Book Con! I got to say thank you and give her a gift in person, and I also got to meet Chelsea Fought, my awesome digital publicist.



Blogger speed dating in full swing!



Such a pretty restaurant!


So great to meet the super sweet Rebeca (@Becky_LoveDemi) in person!



I met Alexa (@alexalovesbooks) in person, too!!!!


I was trying hard not to embarrass myself and fangirl too hard over the bloggers, particularly the ones who are so well-known and respected in the community! They do great work for authors, are so giving of their time, and truly deserve all the accolades. The event was fun and informal, and I loved talking books, writing, and villains/antiheroes!

At the end of the event, I signed some more ARCs and took more photos, and then the car came again to whisk Peter, Kristin, and me back to the hotel. My authorly duties were done and it was time to just hang out and enjoy NYC!

I scheduled brunch in my hotel restaurant with Lorien Hallama, my Pitch Wars mentee from 2015, whose middle-grade mystery BITS AND PIECES caught my eye that year. She’s the fourth person from my Pitch Wars family who I’ve met in real life (I’ve hung out with my teammates Melody Marshall and Alison Green Myers, and of course Stephanie Garber was one of my coaches!). We had fun sharing a delicious breakfast, walking around the city, and chatting about everything over mango-pomegranate green teas! Lorien is ultra talented and I can’t wait for the world to see her superb writing.

Right after we hung out, I hurried over to the Broadhurst Theatre to catch the matinee showing of Anastasia! When in NYC, go to Broadway if humanly possible, right?! It was everything I hoped it would be, and the woman next to me and I cried openly the whole time. Heart, don’t fail me now / courage, don’t desert me / don’t turn back now that we’re here – the opening lyrics to “Journey To the Past” have been on my pump-up writing/getting-published playlist for a long time!

And then, as soon as the show was over, I had to run back to my hotel to meet Patrice and get ready for dinner. This text was waiting on my phone from Stephanie when I came out of the theater:



Stephanie went off in search of the FOTL-related props (a lantern and stuffed snake, as well as a placard with my name and book title!!!!) at the Book Con photo booth for me!!!


Steph had planned a dinner with some author friends at the Glass House Tavern that night, so off we went!



Left to right: Jeff Giles, Stephanie Garber, Joelle Charbonneau, Patrice, me, Lindsay Cummings, Victoria Scott, and Jeff’s friend Emem – a fun group!


I sat next to the Lindsay Cummings and got to talk to her all evening (my imposter syndrome quickly set in again!). She was so friendly and had such kind things to say about my book… I’m still in disbelief that these big-name authors have even heard of FOTL. Everyone else was very fun to talk to as well, but I was T-I-R-E-D. The nonstop go-go-go was getting to me, and though the food and conversation were both phenomenal, I was scraping the very bottom of my energy barrel.

Patrice invited me out to karaoke afterward with a bunch of mutual friends, but I was so exhausted I had to bow out. I’m a hardcore introvert and I lead a fairly quiet life, so this weekend was some serious sensory overload! I decided 11 hours of sleep and a good breakfast were in order before my flight home on Sunday afternoon:



I get so dorkily excited about ordering room service…



It’s halfway through the week and I am still recovering, but I had the time of my life. My dream came true; I got to hang out in NYC with my team, meet Twitter friends in person, and sign copies of FOTL for enthusiastic readers. As some of you may remember, I chose the word “gratitude” to carry me through 2017, and I don’t think there is a more appropriate word for everything that has happened.

The day after I came home, I found out we’d sold rights to AST in Russia, which means FOTL will now be available on three continents. I cannot possibly ask for more… I don’t dare ask the universe for any more than I’ve got already, because my heart is incredibly full. I can’t contain my joy! And I hope my joy will spread to all those of you reading this post (if you are still reading it, because this was LONG!).

And now I am off to catch up on some much-needed sleep…! Love to you all, and as always, thank you for reading and for all of your support. I hope you know from reading about my experiences that if this stuff can happen to me, it most certainly can happen to you. Keep dreaming, ALWAYS!




Blog Update Announcement

May 23, 2017 Main blog 4 comments

Hello dear friends and readers!

As some of you may have seen on Twitter yesterday, I’ve been thinking a lot about where to cut down on social media. Lately, I’ve noticed that my blog reads have significantly declined, and a number of people voted on the poll I created saying that my blog is not helpful. (It’s amazing how honest folks are when they can be anonymous!)

Since it takes a lot of time, effort, and care for me to put together my posts and come up with ideas, it doesn’t make a lot of sense for me to continue doing that if no one is reading anymore.

I think a lot of this has to do with the changing online landscape. When I started blogging in 2008 (almost ten years ago!!!!), the community was all about blogs: reading them, sharing them, commenting on them. But now, people are looking for information that’s quick and easy and doesn’t require a lot of reading, which is why Twitter, Instagram, and Snapchat have jumped to the forefront.

This is NOT to say that I’m quitting completely… because I really, really enjoy blogging! It’s kind of like keeping a public diary for me and it’s fun to look back and remember! Plus, BookExpo/BEA is coming up soon and I’ll be signing 200 copies of FOTL, so I’m definitely going to commemorate that day with a picture-filled post!

I just won’t be blogging as often. I’ll also focus more on sharing very brief news updates, appearances, and other happenings related to my books.

So, if you want to keep up with me, make sure you subscribe to get email updates! That would be the best way to know if and when I blog, since I don’t plan on sharing my posts on other social media sites from here on out. I’ll also continue blogging at Pub(lishing) Crawl for as long as I’m able, and those posts will be focused on industry pro interviews and craft.

Thank you to all those of you who have stuck with me for a decade! It’s been a wild ride and I’m looking forward to all of the amazing things to come.




Highlights Foundation Retreat: Cabins, Cuisine, and Public Speaking, Oh My!

May 22, 2017 Main blog 6 comments

A couple of weeks ago, I attended the “Crafting Successful Author Visits” workshop at the Highlights Foundation! If you follow me on Instagram, you probably saw all of my photos and captions raving about the food. I was invited to attend last spring by my good friend and 2013 Pitch Wars teammate Alison Green Myers (follow her on Twitter here!), but I couldn’t go because I had just started a new job. Fortunately, the stars aligned this year and I was able to pack my bags for a week in Pennsylvania!

I’ve never been a fan of public speaking. Standing alone in front of 10, 20, 30, 40+ people and talking at them is not my idea of a fun time, especially because I was painfully shy in middle school. I bust out of my shell in high school and am now very social and outgoing (on the Myers-Briggs scale, I am almost exactly in between an introvert and an extrovert), but public speaking still isn’t my favorite thing.

When Alison invited me to do this workshop, I thought: Here’s a chance to improve, learn something, and maybe not throw up in front of a crowd, even if I don’t ever LOVE being front and center. Plus, speaking to readers is a major part of author life and something we will all have to do at some point.

SO, I made the drive to Honesdale, PA, and fell head-over-heels in love with my accommodations:


One of the little rings of cabins all over the Highlights Foundation property!


This is Cabin 14, where I stayed for the week!


Each cabin had comfortable twin beds, but none of us had to share! (I don’t think)


The cabins had everything we needed: a writing desk, heat and A/C, coffeemakers, and a fridge stocked with soda and beer!


There was a journal on my bedside table that had entries from every single writer and illustrator who had ever stayed in Cabin 14. So I happily added my own entry, with a little quote from FOREST OF A THOUSAND LANTERNS to help encourage the next person! So if you ever stay in Cabin 14, let me know if you see what I wrote!

All of our meals and classes were held in a building called The Barn, which was conveniently right next door to my cabin! The architecture is gorgeous, as you can see:


The Barn!


The interior of the Barn… such a beautiful space! You can see the loft up top where yoga sessions were held a couple times weekly.


We had farm-fresh, chef-prepared meals every breakfast, lunch, and dinner. Yes, I am now spoiled for everyday life.


The view from the loft!


The buffet table again!


A little snack bar that had coffee, tea, lemonade, snacks, and chocolate 24/7…


Before I go into what we actually learned (yes, we DID learn something, I wasn’t just sleeping and eating and lounging on repeat… though that sounds like a perfect retreat), I want to share the most important pictures from this week-long experience.



The food was RIDICULOUS. Like, five-star quality, three meals a day every day. I was on a restricted diet and had no problem finding fresh, healthy food to eat.


With the comfortable cabins, out-of-this-world food, and idyllic nature setting – with woods, fields, and trails by the stream – you’d think it would be the most relaxing week ever, no?


The path leading up to my cabin


A pretty stream in the woods


The lilacs were in full bloom


We had gorgeous weather 4 out of the 5 days! It did get very chilly at night (into the 30s)


Everything was in bloom


The cabins at night! It was like looking at a cozy little village through my window


My workshop had six students, including me: all published or soon-to-be-published authors. And as relaxing as it all might seem from my pictures, we were stressed out. The curriculum is intense and it was clear we were there to work hard. We spent all day every day in lectures with our brilliant faculty: Peter Jacobi, Carmen Oliver, and Jan Cheripko. On two occasions, Peter made us get up without warning and give an impromptu speech, which Jan then videotaped so we could all critique as a group. We also had to learn how to properly read out loud (since readings are another big part of author life) and of course had to get up and be videotaped for critique!

Any spare moment we had was spent working on our presentations. We were each assigned to a different group of students at nearby schools and had to prepare a talk based on our books. The faculty gave me forty – yes, FORTY – eighth-graders at Wayne Highlands Middle School. I nearly passed out when I saw that number, having expected 15-20 tops. I’m sure you are laughing at me as you read this, but honestly, I have never in my life spoken to that many people at once!


Everyone in our group was wonderful! Going around the table starting at 12 o’clock: me, LaTisha, Aram, Andrea, Leah, Jan, Carmen, Peter, and Cindy


I made a PowerPoint presentation entitled “Villains as Heroes,” which was all about villains and antiheroes in honor of Xifeng and FOTL. I picked bad guys and girls from stories I thought the kids would enjoy, including the Marvel universe, Harry Potter, Disney, and Hamilton the Musical!

I was very, very concerned about keeping them interested while teaching them something valuable at the same time. And then the faculty had me make some super last-minute changes (like, literally the night before) So I was struh-ESSED. I broke down into tears because it was all so overwhelming, and my ultimate dream was coming true but also terrified me, and what if the kids hated me and I did an awful job???

As it turns out, I worried WAY too much.


Talking about Magneto’s backstory!


The kids were so wonderful and attentive. Best listeners a newbie presenter could ask for! Also, they asked some truly excellent questions about villains, backstories, and the writing process.


I’ve internalized Peter’s two biggest tips: “You should be nervous!” (as long as you let nerves push you to perform better) and “Be prepared.”

I had the first one in spades, but I also had the second. I had rehearsed over and over until I nearly lost my voice. I knew my material inside and out. And, contrary to almost all school and work presentations I had ever done … I cared about what I was saying. I was passionate about my subject, for once. And when Jan finished introducing me and left me alone in front of forty eighth-graders, their teachers, librarians, and school principal… I was 110% ready to go. I won’t say I was on autopilot, because I was actively thinking about everything I said, but it felt so natural and easy.


I like to pace when I talk (it helps get rid of that nervous energy)! Plus I get to make eye contact with and stand near everyone.


Probably talking about Maleficent and Aaron Burr


The anticipation is the worst part, I think, of public speaking. Once I got up there, it was a cinch. Jan told me afterward that the teachers enjoyed the talk, too; one of them said she wished the entire school had been there! I spoke for 45 minutes straight and the students seemed engaged and interested and made eye contact with me the whole time. THANK GOD! I was so worried I would bore them. Nothing is worse than a boring speaker when you are in middle school with a zillion things on your mind, but they were so bright, attentive, and thoughtful, and asked me some phenomenal questions at the end.


Trying so hard not to cry when this lovely student and her friend ran up to hug me at the end of the presentation


What an experience!!! I told you I was scared, overwhelmed, and stressed to the point of tears, and yet I would gladly go back and relive this if I had the chance. It was exhilarating and fulfilling, and I nearly cried again at the end when two students hugged me and another signed a drawing he’d done for me.

It was the moment I realized: I am literally living my dream.


Me and the brilliant, gracious Peter Jacobi. I am so lucky to have had the opportunity to learn from him! (And talk classical music, too!)


Carmen, Jan, and me!


We were like a little family! I will miss all of these folks and cannot wait to read their books!


All in all, it was the experience of a lifetime. And now that I’ve been thrown into the deep end, I honestly don’t feel scared of public speaking anymore!

The Highlights Foundation has a lot of other workshops running all year, too, so if this is not your cup of tea, check out some of the other programs they have on their website. There was a YA fantasy workshop going on at the same time as my own (I think it was being taught by Laura Ruby and Anne Ursu) and everyone seemed to be having an amazing time!

And now I’m planning out when I want to go back…

What I’ve Been Up To!

May 04, 2017 Main blog 2 comments


I feel like I blinked and then it was May, but I am not complaining in the least. Spring is my absolute favorite season, especially when it’s still in the 40s: plenty warm enough to go without a jacket, but still comfortable for sleeping. I took a walk the other day while I was on the phone with my friend Stephanie (and our epic phone calls have been known to last four hours) and it was grand being outside for that long, smelling the tulips and enjoying the sunshine.

Writers tend to be cooped up inside, and sometimes we even prefer it! But it’s nice to get outside once in a while and remember this world, even with all the different universes swirling around inside our heads. I had just finished my first draft of FOTL Book 2 when I took that walk, so it was a much-needed, clear-the-cobwebs kind of meandering!

Plus it’s good for my health, which I have been really trying to focus on lately. I got really, really sick last week, and it’s all because I’ve been eating crap, not listening to my body, and just being stressed in general. It’s good stress, but stress nonetheless. My dream is coming true, my life is changing, and people out there are reading and reviewing FOREST OF A THOUSAND LANTERNS. I have written my book to the best of my ability, worked hard to revise it with my editor to the best of my ability, and now I must let it go… to the best of my ability. It belongs to you guys, the readers, now and I completely respect and understand that! And I’m happy about it, too! It’s wonderful, but it is also overwhelming.

There’s a certain kind of surreality that comes with seeing people tweeting about FOTL or taking pictures of the ARCs out in the world. Brian let me know a few days before YALLWEST that my book would be there, and then on Saturday, friends sent me photos of the long line in front of the Penguin Teen table! Penguin Teen had this fun little game called the Penguin Pond, which I understand they’ve done before but I had never heard of it! They have a little pool of water full of rubber penguins, and each penguin has the title of a book attached to it. Whatever you pick, you get! So that was how lots of readers snagged FOTL and it was so cool to see! I wish I could have been there!

Last month, the Junior Library Guild picked FOTL as one of their Fall 2017 selections, which completely blew my mind! I’m glad this will help the book reach more librarians out there, and through them, more young readers. I’m so grateful to the folks there, because it’s an immense privilege to write for teens and I will never lose sight of that. JLG is a huge honor, especially when they have picked amazing books by writer heroes of mine like Cindy Pon. (If you don’t have her upcoming novel WANT on your to-read list, make sure you add it and preorder it! It’s gritty fast-packed science-fiction set in Taipei, and there’s a cute Asian boy right on the cover!)

I can’t wait to tell you guys about some of the upcoming things that are happening! I’m beginning to realize just how much of this business is keeping mum about stuff… it’s pure torture. I know it must be for good reasons, but… I’m bursting! Rest assured, it is all wonderful and exciting!

Right now, Book 1 is completely out of my hands and off in the world (goodbye, book baby! *sobs uncontrollably) so I’m working on revising FOTL Book 2. You always hear about how Book 2 is the worst, authors hate it and are afraid of it tanking – and I am no exception. And yet I’ve begun to see that part of this fear is based on the expectation that Book 2 needs to equal Book 1, which is an impossible feat.

All books are different, even if they belong to the same series, and if we continue with the book baby analogy – it’s like expecting your second kid to be exactly like your first. It’s not happening. They are different, with different stories and different personalities, and it’s unfair to lay all of this pressure on this book simply because it happens to follow the debut. I’m trying to tell myself to breathe every time I start panicking and thinking “Oh god, oh god, it’s terrible… my editor will wonder why he bought three books from me… my readers who liked Book 1 will wonder what the hell they’re reading and if it’s by the same author…”

As my mother once wisely observed: “The stress doesn’t seem to go away when you get a book deal, and then when you get published. It just gets worse and worse.”

SPOT ON, Mama!

But I also believe stress is what we make it. So, as part of my new health regimen, I am blocking off time before bed every night to be quiet, turn off electronics, and read for pleasure or color. I can’t seem to stay off social media for long, though. It’s so addicting! And it’s hard, because as a debut, you want to be present and you want to be on the pulse of things as your book begins circulating more widely. But I think it’s going to help immensely with stress relief and I’m going to keep trying to take occasional Twitter breaks.

Next week I’m going on a writing retreat/workshop and I won’t have great reception, which I think will be a godsend! It’ll give me a chance to unwind, unplug, and focus on learning all about public speaking as an author. And maybe get cracking on my revision battle plan for Book 2! I will also be doing my first school visit ever. Can’t wait to talk to teens about my book and villains as the heroes of their own stories!

I plan to catch up on some reading, too. Stephanie introduced me to Tessa Dare’s books, since I’ve been wanting to expand my TBR to other genres like romance. She and I team-read WHEN A SCOT TIES THE KNOT and I enjoyed it! It was really fluffy, fun, and cute, though I wonder what Scottish people think of the constant one-note depictions of Highland men as aggressively lusty alpha-male types.

I’m currently reading THE KILLER IN ME by Margot Harrison, which is a YA psychological thriller I’m enjoying quite a lot, and THE GAUNTLET by Karuna Riazi, which is a Jumanji-inspired MG with a Muslim lead character! Definitely check those out; I am liking them both so much!

Anyway, this was a very verbose stream-of-consciousness post and I hope you’ll forgive me for that! It’s just felt like so long since I have blogged and I wanted to catch you all up on what was happening. Hopefully I can share some fun things soon, but until then, I hope you’re enjoying May so far!


FOTL Blurbs, Updated Cover, and GIVEAWAYS!!!

Apr 10, 2017 Main blog Comment

Happy Monday and happy April!

I have a couple of quick updates to share with you today, and then I have TWO giveaways to announce! One of them is a HUGE joint giveaway with two other fabulous 2017 debut authors, so scroll to the bottom of this post for that!




We have three official blurbs so far for FOREST OF A THOUSAND LANTERNS from three very gracious authors. I know how busy they all are, so the fact that they took the time to read FOTL and write me a thoughtful paragraph means the world to me. Here are their wonderful words below:


“Dark, lush, and intense, Forest of a Thousand Lanterns draws you into a world filled with mystery and intrigue, led by a heroine determined to grasp her destiny. A stunning debut!” — Cindy Pon, author of WANT and Serpentine


“A richly developed fantasy world coupled with an ambitious anti-heroine of complex agency, this story shines and surprises at every turn. Julie C. Dao is a talent to watch.” — Marie Lu, #1 New York Times bestselling author of The Young Elites


“A stunning reimagining of the Evil Queen. Filled with treacherous courtesans, dark magic, terrible choices, and bloody hearts, Julie Dao’s exquisite take on this classic villain rises far above the average retelling.” — Stephanie Garber, New York Times bestselling author of Caraval


I’m a huge sap, as you all know, and this writing journey has gotten particularly emotional over the past several months as my dream moves closer and closer toward becoming realized. So I’m not ashamed to admit I cried over each of these blurbs! I’ve worked desperately hard for eight years and struggled through so much disappointment and failure. I put absolutely everything I had into this book, and to know that these authors genuinely enjoyed it made me so happy!

A quick little pep talk for those of you who write, if you need it: this time last year, I was convinced no one would ever want to buy any of my books. When it happens, it happens in a flash. We never see what’s coming around the corner (or the “bend in the road,” as Anne of Green Gables refers to it), so we might as well expect good things. Be kind to yourself.

I know how hard it is to see friends moving past you and feel like you are being left behind. Trust me, I KNOW. But all you can do is keep at it and know the stories you have to tell are worth telling. Also, don’t let anyone scare or intimidate you from your dreams or writing the story that’s in your heart. Those folks operate on fear and jealousy and you frankly don’t have time for their small-minded nonsense because you’re busy writing, being positive, and building yourself an incredible life!




My cover designer, Lindsey Andrews, tweaked the font a bit and FOREST OF A THOUSAND LANTERNS now has a glorious textured appearance! The font for my name and the series title also changed, as did the snake’s eyes… they got redder and bloodier looking! I’m told the final hardcover will have some cool special effects, too. I’m in love with Lindsey’s changes. Check ’em out below!





Last month on Twitter, I gave away two signed and personalized advance copies of FOREST OF A THOUSAND LANTERNS! Congratulations to my winners Stephanie Plotkin and Sarah K, who were chosen with Tweetdraw!

For April, I will be giving away two more signed ARCs!

To enter, please make sure you are subscribed to my blog by email. And that’s it!




Here it is, the big announcement!

Back in March, my friends and fellow 2017 debuts Heather Kaczynski and Tracey Neithercott and I decided we wanted to have a joint giveaway for our books. Heather’s YA sci-fi DARE MIGHTY THINGS, about an Indian-American teen competing to win a coveted spot on a classified space mission, and Tracey’s darkly suspenseful YA GRAY WOLF ISLAND, about five kids searching for legendary treasure, happen to be coming out on the exact same day as FOTL: October 10, 2017!

Hence: our 10/10 giveaway!



There will be THREE lucky winners, each of whom will win:



– Special book-related gifts and exclusive signed swag from the author of the preorder they won!



Click on the graphic above to be taken to the Rafflecopter, or go HERE.

The giveaway ends May 10th so there is plenty of time to enter and spread the word! May the odds be ever in your favor!

Quick Updates and Some GREAT News!

Mar 27, 2017 Main blog 2 comments

I cannot believe how fast this year is flying by already! Soon it will be April and that means FOREST OF A THOUSAND LANTERNS is that much closer to publication!

Earlier this month, Marie Lu tweeted about the book! (YES. THAT Marie Lu!!!) I was fangirling pretty hard on Twitter because I really enjoyed her Young Elites series, which also features an anti-heroine! I read it for the first time last year while neck-deep in revisions for FOTL and loved the way she executed Adelina’s characterization. What a treat to find out Marie was enjoying my anti-heroine, too!



Last week, we got some more AMAZING NEWS: FOTL sold in a three-book deal to Roca Editorial in Spain! The book will be published in Spanish! I had heard that Asian books occasionally have a harder time selling overseas, so I’m ecstatic about this foreign deal and immensely grateful to the subrights team at Penguin for all of their hard work. And I think this means I should start saving up for a trip to Spain to visit my book baby at some point in the future!

I also have an awesome official publicist at Penguin Young Readers as of last week. Her name is Katharine McAnarney, she is fantastic, and her contact info is HERE if you ever need to reach her.

In case you missed it on Friday, I interviewed my editor Brian for the Pub(lishing) Crawl blog! Brian shares some excellent insight into the life and day-to-day work of an editor, so if you are a writer who is (or will soon be) on submission to publishers, definitely check the post out to gain some valuable information. I totally lucked out having him for an editor!

And, finally, here’s a reminder that my first #FOTLFriday Twitter event will take place this Friday, March 31, at 8pm EST! Come join Mish and me as we discuss Women in Fairytales! I will tweet some lines from the ARC and there will also be a fun little giveaway at the end. I hope you can join us for it!

That is it for now! But I can promise many more ARC giveaways, fun events, and amazing news in store. Thank you as always to each and every one of you for your support and excitement! MUAH!

FOTL ARCs!!!!! Plus A Giveaway And Eight Ways To Prep For Your Book Deal

Mar 14, 2017 Main blog 8 comments

Hey, guys!

As you may have seen on Twitter and Instagram, my editor sent me an early ARC of FOREST OF A THOUSAND LANTERNS! But it came later than it was supposed to, so I had to live vicariously through my agent and the Philomel Books team first:




But come it did, and I got to hold my book in my hands for the very first time!


A friend told me, “You look like you’ve just given birth in this photo.” I think that is the most accurate comment so far!




This snakeskin spine was a TOTAL surprise! My editor didn’t breathe a word!


No big deal, one of my all-time writer/kick-ass lady/awesome person rolemodels Cindy Pon just blurbed me, is all.


What an amazing, surreal experience! You can probably tell from my proud, beaming face that it was one of the happiest moments of my life so far! I could not stop looking at the ARC. It felt like holding someone else’s book… until I flipped through and recognized the words as ones I typed!

One year ago, ELEGY had failed on sub and I was still revising FOTL. I didn’t have anything but hope and Tamar’s confidence in me, and now I have more than I ever dared ask for. To say I am grateful is a complete understatement. I am especially thankful to all of you who have preordered, reached out to share your excitement, and/or took the time to read my excerpt. (The entirety of Chapter One is now available on Amazon, by the way!) I hope with all my heart that you’ll enjoy the book when it comes out!

I should be getting a few more ARCs in early April. Expect giveaways! I’m offering a signed ARC (U.S. only this time) on Twitter right now, so if you are interested, click here to check it out. Otherwise, follow me on Instagram, Facebook, and Goodreads, and also subscribe by email because a couple of surprise giveaways may pop up anywhere at any time…


♥ ♥ ♥


Last week, I pitched an idea on Twitter about starting the hashtag #FOTLFriday. I’m thinking about doing a monthly Twitter event where you ask me questions about FOTL, writing, or life in general, we chat about fairy tales and bad-ass ladies, and/or I share lines from the ARC! Many of you liked the idea (THANK YOU!), so the first #FOTLFriday event will be Friday, March 31, at 8pm EST. The lovely Mish from Chasing Faerytales will be my first guest host, so make sure you follow her on Twitter.

Ooh, and I got my very first “fan art” for FOTL, courtesy of Kat Cho (LOLOLOLOL). This is Samuel L. Jackson, who has HAD it with these #*%$!@ snakes on these #*%$!@ book covers:



♥ ♥ ♥


Now, let’s get down to business!

Today’s blog post addresses a question I often get from both agented and unagented writers: “What is your advice for someone who is prepping for a book deal in the near future?”

I’ve come up with a list of eight ways to mentally, emotionally, and professionally prepare yourself for that happy day:


(1) Find your writing groove NOW. Are you a morning or night writer? Do you write best at home or in a coffee shop? Does an outline help or hinder you? Do you work well with word count goals, and if so, do you prefer daily, weekly, or monthly targets? Streamline your process, find out your most efficient working conditions, and get to know your preferences, because once you sign a contract, this will be key to being productive and meeting deadlines. Of course, processes evolve over time, but it’s good to know the basics of how you work best.


(2) Embrace all parts of the writing process. A lot of writers either love drafting and hate revising, or vice versa. I’ve always preferred drafting, myself! But when you’re a professional writer, you will have to do A LOT of both, so you might as well learn to accept it all now. You don’t have to love it – I certainly don’t love revising and how messy it gets, but I DO love the clean, polished draft I get when I’m all done.


(3) Build your community. Find friends to share your journey with you. It’s a huge help if a few of them are at the same stage (or a little beyond), because believe me, you’ll need people to commiserate with! Getting a book deal is a wonderful, joyful accomplishment, but it launches you into a different world and it’s nice to have buddies you can ask, “Did this happen to you, too? How did you deal with this?”


(4) Don’t get attached to a title or a cover concept. Your title will change if your publisher believes that’s what’s best for your book. Come up with some alternate titles just in case! Also, authors do NOT get to choose what their cover looks like. You might be invited to give your opinion, but the entire concept (images, fonts, colors, etc.) and the final decision always rests with the publisher. Some of you asked whether I came up with the cover for FOREST OF A THOUSAND LANTERNS… now you know!


(5) Hope, don’t expect. You’re probably familiar with this if you’ve been querying! It is impossible not to compare yourself to others, and it never ends. Maybe another writer got a ritzy international tour and you didn’t, or they were on a panel and you weren’t invited to the conference, or someone sold movie rights to Hollywood and you didn’t. There is something to compare at every level, if that’s the way you think, but you’re setting yourself up for a LOT of heartache.


Plus, you just can’t bank on things like film rights and foreign rights. Expectation is like saying, “This thing that is 100% out of my control HAS to happen.” No, grasshopper. Reframe your thinking: “I HOPE this thing that is 100% out of my control happens, but no matter what, I’ll focus on writing the best book I can.” That’s literally the only thing about publishing that is in your power.


(6) Save your pennies now. Open a savings account if you don’t have one and keep your day job if you can! Then when you get a book deal, put aside a nice fat chunk of that advance check (what’s left after taxes, anyway *sobs forever*). No matter the size of your advance, you’ll most likely need a little cash for swag/self-promotion, travel, etc. Not to mention eat and pay for electricity so you can plug in your laptop!


(7) Prepare to transition. I have found it seriously weird, crossing the line between aspiring author and public figure. I’ve been part of this community for ten years, during which I interacted with a LOT of people and enjoyed it! But now, with more demands on my time and greater visibility, online interaction has become a bit draining.

The author-reader barrier is painfully thin because of social media. Sometimes, you come across certain individuals who don’t understand boundaries and think they own you and are entitled to your time, your words, and your attention. It’s just not conducive to good writing or mental health to always be within easy reach via DM or tweet.

Setting boundaries for communication is an important and necessary part of author life. I am still teaching myself that it is okay not to respond to every single message. It is okay not to auto-follow (yep, learned that lesson in January, as you guys know), and it is okay to mute or unfollow someone if I need to, without justifying or explaining myself. See this Pub Crawl podcast for some excellent insight on this topic. And to go along with this…


(8) Accept that you will not be liked by everyone. I’m nice. I make friends easily and I’m well-liked everywhere I go. But it is IMPOSSIBLE to be universally liked, especially when you’re a public figure. This has been hard for me to accept. I’m still coming to terms with it.

See, people are going to hate you for things you can’t control: because you’re young, because they wanted you to be a different ethnicity, because you got a big book deal, because you have the agent they want, because you wrote a unicorn novel and they had a traumatic childhood experience involving unicorns.

If they hate your book (or the mere idea of your book), they might judge you for that. They don’t have to know YOU, the person. They just don’t like you. You. Cannot. Control. This. And it is okay! You the private person are separate from you the public-facing author… KEEP THE IDENTITIES SEPARATE. (Telling myself this at the same time)



That about sums it up! And as always, what I post on my blog is from my experience only. Publishing is unique to each person, so these items come from my perspective. Still, I hope this is helpful to some of you!

Next Friday, you may want to visit the Pub Crawl blog because I am interviewing someone very special: none other than my awesome editor, Brian Geffen of Philomel Books. Brian is going to give some insight into the book acquisitions process as well as how he became an editor, so definitely come check that out if you’re interested!

Cover and Excerpt Reveal, Pub(lishing) Crawl, and Fighting Book 2 Syndrome!

Feb 28, 2017 Main blog 7 comments


In case you missed the announcement yesterday, Bustle revealed the official cover for FOREST OF A THOUSAND LANTERNS! They also shared an exclusive quote from me about the inspiration behind some of the cover elements, as well as a very hefty excerpt taken from Chapter One. You can head on over to Bustle to check all of that out!

I am grateful to Jacey, the cover artist, and the Philomel team for their hard work on this and everything else they have been doing for FOTL. And I am thankful for each and every one of you who reached out to let me know how much you enjoyed the excerpt! I sincerely hope you will like the rest of the book, too, when it comes out in October! (Or earlier, if you snag an ARC 🙂 I think they’re coming soon.)



In other news, I was invited to join Pub(lishing) Crawl! I was thrilled when my friend Stephanie asked me to take her place when she stepped down! This blog is one of the best resources on publishing out there, so if you haven’t read any of their posts or listened to their podcasts yet, I encourage you to do so. Here’s the introductory post where S. Jae-Jones interviewed me. Current contributors include fabulous authors like JJ, Sona Charaipotra, and Jodi Meadows, as well as many other amazing publishing professionals!

I have been hard at work on Book 2, which is still untitled. Unless you count “Something of a Something Something,” to match the rhythm of FOTL’s title! I have a feeling I’ll need to come up with a much better placeholder eventually, but right now, I’m just enjoying the journey. As some of you may know, I talk a lot about how drafting is my absolute favorite part of the writing process. I think there’s something almost magical about seeing the story begin to take shape on paper, and although I know there is a LOT of revision to be done, I’m happy with what I have so far!

Book 2 Syndrome is a REAL thing, though. Symptoms involve: stress-eating (or stress-not-eating, since I tend to lose my appetite when tense), imbibing elevated levels of caffeine and/or alcohol, and asking myself kind, gentle questions like “Is this book going to suck? Is anyone even going to care about my heroine who doesn’t have half as many issues as Xifeng? [Sorry, Xifeng] Will my editor regret buying more than one book from me? Can I even write AT ALL?”

But then I get to a scene that I’ve been looking forward to writing, and the fear and doubt melt away. Yesterday, for example, I finally wrote a desert chase scene that I’d envisioned in my head since before I started writing Book 1. It was exciting, terrifying, and wildly fun, and seeing it come to life was also emotional. Will I keep it? I hope so. Will I end up revising it heavily? Most likely. But the process of laying it down and weaving together the strands from my brain was so enjoyable that I just relished the moment. That’s one thing my years of participating in NaNoWriMo have taught me, and that is that if I want to hit my word count goals, I have to keep going. No dwelling on how much there is to fix, and no freaking out over how I’m at 70K words but probably only about 50% into the actual story…

Speaking of word count goals, I have found it very helpful to make a weekly goal rather than a daily one. If I tell myself “I’ll write 1K every day this week,” and then there’s one day where I’m busy or too tired or just uninspired, then I’ll feel really guilty and bad about myself. But if I tell myself, “I’m going to write 9K this week,” and then try to chip away at that goal whenever I’m able to, that has worked much better for me. Your mileage may vary, of course, and I know lots of people don’t do any goals at all because it just doesn’t work for them. Everyone’s writing style is different!

Book 1, I wrote when I was taking time off work, so I finished the first draft in five weeks. But that is impossible to repeat with a full-time job, so for Book 2, I have been aiming for that 9K-a-week word goal and doing the heaviest writing on Saturday, Sunday, and the occasional Monday I have off. So far, so good!

Other than working my tail off on this new book, I have been enjoying the ride for FOTL. I’m incredibly grateful and happy about all the wonderful things that have happened so far, and I’m thrilled to say there are a couple more things I know about that we’ll hopefully get to announce in the coming months.

Oh, and I’ll probably be making a brand-new Goodreads account soon just to keep track of my reading. I want one that’s separate from my author account and I’ll be accepting friend requests there, so I’ll let you guys know if you’re interested in following along with what I’ve been reading. Recently I finished and enjoyed FLAME IN THE MIST by Renee Ahdieh, a fantasy set in feudal Japan, and I will be reading MASK OF SHADOWS by Linsey Miller next, a fantasy about a gender fluid assassin! This week I will be waiting with bated breath for my pre-order of THE HATE U GIVE by Angie Thomas (crossing all crossables that Barnes and Noble delivers at least somewhat on time) and also starting BROWN GIRL DREAMING by Jacqueline Woodson, which I’ve been longing to read for a while now.

I hope you are all doing well and that you had a great February!

First Pass Pages, Giveaways, and FOTL Out in the World!

Feb 07, 2017 Main blog 1 comment

February has been a happy and exciting month so far!

Last week, I got my first pass pages for FOTL in the mail! This is a print-out of the entire manuscript with the cover page, copyright, dedication, and acknowledgments included. And each page is laid out as it will be when the book is printed, with font/margins, chapter header art, page numbers . . . the whole nine yards! It was a cool preview of what FOTL might look like as a book someday soon.

I’m not ashamed to say I hugged the massive stack of paper when I pulled it out of the envelope! It’s kind of crazy to think that these pages (all 370-odd of them) were once only ideas floating in my head. I’ve worked very hard on this book and I can say that no matter what happens, I’ve done my absolute best and I am proud to call it mine!




I’m in love with the lantern art for each chapter. Jenny Chung, my interior book designer at Philomel, did a wonderful job and I cannot wait to see this manuscript in its final form!

I hope to have ARCs soon, and I hope to have enough that I can do a giveaway! I’d like to do one giveaway (either an ARC, a pre-order, or other book-related goodies!) each month leading up to the book’s release in October, so if you are interested, follow me on Twitter and Instagram for all the details on each one!

Last month, I gave away two pre-orders of FOTL, and this month, I am giving away the following:



These are handmade flower combs I put together myself, and no two are alike! Check out my Instagram if you want to see how they look on. I’ve had a blast making them and I plan to give away two this month as a thank-you to those who pre-ordered FOTL. I may be giving out more since there is a lot of interest!

If you’re interested in winning one, please send a screenshot of your pre-order receipt to julie (at) juliedao (dot) com. If you haven’t pre-ordered yet and would like to do so, the hardcover is currently on sale for $11 on both Amazon and Barnes and Noble. The giveaway is open to U.S. and Canada until Tuesday, February 28, so there is still plenty of time!

It’s really important to me to show my appreciation for those of you who have supported me and been interested in my book since the beginning. Every email, every tweet I’ve gotten from someone who is excited about FOTL (especially ones from young Asian readers and writers who are pumped to see more Asian rep in YA) makes me so happy. I am wishing with all my heart that you guys will enjoy the read!

Two authors I greatly admire were kind enough to post pictures of FOTL as a bound manuscript! It’s kind of blowing my mind that people are reading it. I wonder what it’ll feel like when it’s an actual book out there in the world?!




All in all, February has been a grand month . . . and we’re only a week in! I can promise a lot more exciting stuff to announce in the weeks and months to come! Can’t wait to share it all with you! Thank you from the bottom of my heart, as always, for your excitement and support!




A Few Updates, and a Note About Last Week

Jan 26, 2017 Main blog Comments Off on A Few Updates, and a Note About Last Week

Happy Thursday, friends!

As some of you may have seen on Twitter last week, I made three big announcements about FOREST OF A THOUSAND LANTERNS:


(1) The series title will be Rise of the Empress! This encompasses both books in the duology and I am thrilled with how epic and lovely it sounds.

(2) The official release date is October 10, 2017!

(3) The pre-order link is up on the Penguin Random House website! If you click on the orange pre-order button, it’ll give you a bunch of selections on where to buy, including Amazon and Barnes and Noble.


Many of you have asked me about my cover reveal. I’m not sure when or where it will be, but rest assured, there is a lot going on behind the scenes and I hope we can share something with you very soon!



Okay… I’m going to make this as brief as I can, because I want to return to happiness, positivity, and joy about my accomplishment in achieving a book deal after so many years of working endlessly toward my dream. But for the sake of transparency, I want to talk a little bit about what happened to me last week on Twitter.

I have been vacillating between longing to write an entire furious post complete with screenshots (oh yes, I took screenshots of our ENTIRE conversation), and being upset and anxious and not wanting to say anything. But I think that does everyone a disservice, because this is an important topic to discuss.

The basic gist of the drama is: a young agented writer followed me on Twitter and I auto-followed them back, wanting to support up-and-comers (this was my first mistake). They began interacting with me, and we talked in quite a friendly way. Their messages steadily became more and more intense, and it was soon apparent that this person (who was born in China, lived there for 10 years, and spoke Mandarin as their first language) thought it their God-given duty to educate me on all things Chinese, under the guise of caring about me and not wanting FOTL to get called out like “all those other books.”

They felt that because I was Vietnamese (and, to add insult to injury, born American), I would definitely screw up what they saw as their culture, their property. They accused me of not choosing a meaning for Xifeng, the name of my beloved main character; they were irritated by my tweeting about “dim sum,” which they considered offensive (I checked this with numerous Chinese friends, all of whom let me know they use the term themselves or, if not, do not consider it the least bit racist since it originated in China); and were upset about the fact that I used the Romanized spelling of qilin, a mythical creature, in a tweet (that would be ki lin, which showed up in all of my research).

There was also a very long lecture/tirade about me using the term “Asian fantasy” to describe FOTL. “Grouping the whole of Asia as a single thing is terribly offensive. China is not the same as Korea not the same as Japan not the same as Thailand not the same as Phillipines not the same as Vietnam not the same as Egypt… Just because you’re Asian does not entitle you to write other cultures.” (Taken verbatim from a screenshot of the last DM before I blocked them.)

I unfollowed them, which made this individual even angrier. They expostulated at length on Twitter about what a horrible person I was, how the fact that I claimed to care about young Asian readers was just a “publicity stunt,” and how I cruelly dismissed their concerns (just ignore the fact that I spent an entire day DMing back and forth, reassuring them I had done extensive research and hired multiple sensitivity readers, apologizing if I hurt them at all, listening politely). They also went on a fierce smear campaign to relentlessly DM/email every Asian author and friend they believed to be close to me, lying that I had hired them as a sensitivity reader and had ignored/attacked them, and trying to convince everyone I was appropriating Asian culture.

All this, without having read a single word of my book.

All they needed to know was (1) I had a big book deal for a Chinese-inspired fantasy that I was getting a lot of attention for, and (2) I was not Chinese or, indeed, Asian-born. For all intents and purposes, I had taken a space on the shelf they saw as rightfully theirs.

That’s all it took for the lies and slander and accusation to begin.

Why this expectation of absolute perfection? Of ownership over a person and her writing? I hear all the time about harsh, mean, hyper-critical reviews for Asian-American stories from (very often Asian-born) readers who expected a “purer” voice, someone more connected to the ancestral homeland and therefore more “valid” and “deserving” to tell the story. There simply isn’t enough representation out there, so when an Asian person makes it into the spotlight, they are claimed and held responsible for every single thing these particular readers don’t agree with or haven’t experienced.

I have never claimed to have written a perfect book. I have never claimed to be anything other than what I am: an Asian-American person, with an Asian-American lens, trying to introduce more Asian stories and culture into my books. These tales, too, are ones I grew up hearing from my parents and dearly love and respect, and I have every right to reclaim them for myself. I have done everything I possibly can to portray these characters and this culture in a careful, respectful light, and I am ready to listen and learn if mistakes are made. But I cannot represent an entire group of people comprising billions of individuals across the planet. All I can do is write my book, my way, with my experiences and knowledge. And if you are looking for a “pure, absolutely perfect” viewpoint, I’m sorry to say you won’t find it in my work. I cannot be anything other than what I am.


“so, here you are
too foreign for home
too foreign for here.
never enough for both.”

– Ijeoma Umebinyuo, “diaspora blues”


By the way, I will never, ever be sharing this person’s name or various Twitter handles publicly. My agent and editor are both aware of the whole situation, and I’m not interested in instigating a massive public pile-on. I have also been told that this person is a teenager. They have a great agent and I sincerely wish them well in their writing… I know that may be hard to believe, but I really do. We need more Asian books out there from ALL viewpoints. However, this is a small industry with a long memory, and should they need assistance or a blurb in the future for their Chinese fantasy, these will be coming from some other Asian author, not from me.

This is hopefully the last time I will need to talk about this situation. I consider it to be over, and a good learning experience and something to be aware of and look out for in the future.

There was an outpouring of support afterward that made me feel so fortunate to be a part of this community. I can’t tell you how many wonderful messages I got from other young Asian writers, readers, and bloggers in the wake of this mess, telling me how excited they are for FOTL. If my book is lucky enough to do well, I hope with all my heart that this opens the door wider for their books. Representation is about having a spectrum of voices, and I am beyond honored and excited and overjoyed to be adding my own voice to the mix this year!

Onward we go!

Life After the Book Deal: Part One

Jan 12, 2017 Main blog 10 comments

Happy New Year!

It’s 2017, which means… MY BOOK COMES OUT THIS YEAR!!! It’s feeling more and more real every day, so naturally, the terror is building as well. But it’s good terror, I think?

As much as I dreamed all my life of having a book out in the world, it is also what scares me the most. The certainty that some folks out there will hate my book strikes fear into my heart, as does the fact that some trade reviewers are notorious for being extremely harsh. (If you follow me on Twitter, you’ll see that one of my recent nightmares reflected this!)

But I also have high hopes that others will love FOTL as much as I do, and I am incredibly grateful for the enthusiasm that has followed in the wake of my announcement. Here are just a few of the places FOTL has been mentioned:


– My book was recommended as one of Bustle’s 16 Young Adult Novels to Read in 2017!

– YALSA’s blog, The Hub, included FOTL in their Diverse Debuts of 2017 post!

– Ashley, who runs the YouTube channel Tomorrow Is Another Read, mentioned FOTL in her Most Anticipated 2017 Releases vlog!

– Asian YA Tumblr listed FOTL as one of 2017’s Awesomely Asian Books!

– Book blogger Ceillie kindly included FOTL in her Top Ten 2017 Debuts post!

– The YA Wednesdays blog mentioned FOTL in its 2017 Crystal Ball list of upcoming diverse reads!


So if you have tweeted, blogged, vlogged, or otherwise shared or spread the word about FOTL, THANK YOU from the bottom of my heart. I hope I get the chance to meet you guys in person someday and express my appreciation for making an author newbie feel so welcome and so loved!

Speaking of being an author newbie, these past six or seven months (yes, I’ve had this deal for that long already!) have been . . . quite the learning experience. Some things I expected and some things I didn’t, but it has been endlessly interesting being on the other side of the fence, so to speak, and see how a manuscript slowly transforms into a finished product.

I will say again, for those of you who are querying, that your agent is the #1 most important person in your writing life. This is the individual who will listen to what you want (for your book and your career), be there for you when you need them, and go to bat for you when necessary, and it should be your topmost priority to find somebody with whom you can work well. DO NOT rush into things, DO NOT sell yourself short. Wait for the best agent possible. I can’t even begin to describe what Tamar has been to me these past several months. She is my rock and someone I trust wholeheartedly to be on my side, and in the tumultuous Sea of Flailing, Uncertainty, and Extreme Anxiety that a debut author’s ship often ends up in, that is what you need.


I had a poll going on Twitter last week to find out what sort of blog post people would like to read best. An overwhelming majority wanted a breakdown of what happens after the deal, so since this is still ongoing for me (obviously!), I will give you a quick look at the earlier stages you and your book may go through after acquisition. Here’s a disclaimer: this is written from my experience only, and as we all know, the publishing road can be very different from person to person. So don’t take everything below as gospel, because when it’s your turn, your process might look nothing like this.


Stage One: The Book Deal

A publisher agrees to buy your book! If you had other offers, you weigh the pros and cons and make your choice. The deciding factor for me was 1,000% Brian, my awesome editor, who I liked and connected with immediately.

The terms and acceptance may be first laid out in an email before the contract comes, which can take several months (it was about four for me). You read over the contract yourself with a fine-toothed comb, jot down questions, and get your agent to explain everything you don’t understand. Sometimes you’ll be asked to keep the deal secret for an extended period of time, for a variety of reasons. But that makes it even more fun when you finally get to announce it to the world (and friends yell at you for not telling them while you were staring at them across the dinner table)!


Stage Two: Edits, Edits, Edits!

To quote my mom, every time she hears that a new round of edits has come in: “You have to fix your book again??????

Yes, you have to fix your book again.

But if you’re like me, you’ll feel grateful for every single round of edits, because with every stage you are getting closer and closer to that time when you can NO LONGER make changes. I’ve already had nightmares in which I’m holding a finished copy of my book and I’ve mixed up something stupid like they’retheir, and there – not that anything like that would slip past my eagle-eyed editor and copyeditor! – but mistakes happen, so take advantage of these revisions.

Brian and I spent a lot of time via phone and email hashing and rehashing plot points, characterization, and world-building, and I can safely say that this latest version of FOTL is truly in the best shape it can be. I had two rounds of big-picture edits (in which larger, overarching changes are made, though mine weren’t too intense or extensive) and one round of line edits (with smaller, frame-by-frame type changes). It’s a lot like working with your CPs or with your agent, so just remember it’s nothing you haven’t seen before.

Then it’s on to copyedits, which is when a copyeditor goes through your manuscript and checks for grammar, spelling, and smaller details you may have missed. For example, you may mention there were three candles on the character’s nightstand at the beginning of the scene, but then you say there were only two at the end of the scene, and the copyeditor will point this out. Sometimes there is more than one round of copyedits, which will be true in my case, as I’ll have my second one soon. This is also the point in the game where you get to write your book dedication and acknowledgements!

I also made sure to hire sensitivity readers during the editing phase. I am so grateful to each and every person who helped me out and they are of course all going in the book acknowledgements!


Stage Three: Foreign & Subsidiary Rights

This isn’t exactly a stage in and of itself, because it can be ongoing while you do all the editing. But your foreign rights team will submit your manuscript to publishers overseas, and Brian explained that the process is similar to being on submission to publishers here in the U.S. There’s a lot of waiting!

Your film agents will also be submitting the manuscript to producers and studios in Hollywood, which seems to me quite a lot like the typical submission process as well. You may be sent a list of potential folks, and you may have heart palpitations from seeing some names you’ve only ever seen in movie trailers. If there is interest, your film agents will keep you and your literary agent posted, but otherwise it too requires a lot of waiting. And I believe foreign sales help in this area, so if you’re waiting on those, you’ll definitely be waiting on this.

For audio rights, I found out we had sold FOTL to Random House’s Listening Library before Thanksgiving! I can’t believe someone will be reading my entire book aloud! Sometimes an author will get to choose the narrator, and sometimes they don’t – it really depends on your publisher so make sure you ask.


Stage Four: The Cover

I think this must be very different for everyone, but sometimes your editor will ask you for some examples of covers that you like and don’t like, and what specific things you prefer or don’t want on each. (I recommend making a Pinterest board and captioning each image with your thoughts.) Then you’ll get to see an early mockup and discuss it with your agent and editor, and if necessary, your editor will bring your notes and suggestions to the art and design folks so they can come up with a revised cover. There may also be further discussion about your book title if your publisher thinks a different name would suit better.

If you know what you want, and you know what’s important to you, then it makes the process easier because you and your agent can verbalize this clearly. I knew I wanted a very striking, clearly Asian cover, so I made sure Tamar and Brian both knew this.

As for cover reveal dates, I think they vary greatly from book to book, which is why some ARCs have the final art and others just have the title or a placeholder image. You may discuss potential outlets for your cover reveal. I believe we’ll have my cover for the ARCs, but everything is still in the works so I can’t promise anything just yet.

(For those who may not know, ARC stands for “advanced reader copy.” It’s an early printing of your book that is used for promotion prior to the official publication, and it is given out for free to booksellers, librarians, bloggers, etc.)


Stage Five: Blurbs

At some point, your editor might ask you for a list of folks to potentially blurb your book. When you buy a book, sometimes there is a quote by a more established author across the top of the cover, on the back of the cover, or inside the book (something like “FOREST OF A THOUSAND LANTERNS is the best book I have ever read in my entire life.” – J.K. Rowling . . . I WISH). I’ve read differing opinions on whether a blurb can help sell a book or not, but regardless, it’s pretty cool and may be a good way to introduce your story to someone else’s existing fanbase.

I’m not 100% sure, but I don’t think it’s common practice for an author to reach out to other authors for blurbs themselves (and may be frowned upon?) unless they are close friends. You’ll want to make a list of likelier folks and then pie-in-the-sky folks, and they will typically have books that are close in genre and theme to yours. Your publisher will have some ideas, too, and then your editor will reach out to people for you.



While all of this is going on, you may be writing subsequent books. Before you get a deal, you can write whatever you want, whenever you want. But once you’re under contract, you will have to learn how to juggle two books at once (or maybe even more, for some people!) in addition to a full-time job, family, and/or other responsibilities. I’ve had to remind myself to breathe sometimes and talk to real people every now and then!

I’ve been drafting FOTL Book 2 continuously over the past few months, but have had to keep putting it aside whenever Book 1 comes back and requires my attention. It’s nice in a way, because it keeps things fresh, but I do admit it’s hard to switch gears at times when I’m focused on one project. I’m still learning!

Anyway, I hope this gives you a basic idea of what may go on after you get a traditional book deal. And I plan to share what I’ll learn in the coming months as my publication date (still not solid yet, but definitely Fall 2017) draws nearer and nearer!

A Little Write Music #36: FOTL Playlist Edition

Dec 03, 2016 Main blog 4 comments

Happy December, friends!

I’ve been hard at work drafting Book 2, as most of you know, but I had to take almost a whole week off unexpectedly. I’ve been having a lot of pain in my right shoulder and neck from all of the computer use (my full-time job is also desk work), so I had to rest. I’m feeling better, but trying to be more cautious. I tend to lose myself in my writing and don’t realize 3-4 hours have passed with me sitting in the same exact position!

If you are a writer, make sure to rest and take care of your body. And make sure your workstation is as ergonomic as you can make it (monitor at eye level, elbows low and near your sides, feet flat on the floor, etc). I’m planning to buy a standing desk and ergonomic chair for writing soon, but until then, I am trying to switch positions often, take breaks, and stretch as much as possible. Check out this post I did about stretches I often use.

Aside from that, things have been going well! Book 2 is a continuation of the story of FOTL, but it’s told from a different main character’s perspective, so drafting it feels totally fresh and new to me. It still blows my mind that I am finally writing a story I’ve had in my head and heart for almost 20 years. Book 2’s story (of an exiled princess reclaiming her kingdom) is actually the story I envisioned when I first had the idea for FOTL. Xifeng’s story (the name is pronounced SHE-fung) came after that, when I decided I wanted to tell the queen’s tale as a prequel.

My playlist for this series is growing and growing, and I thought it might be fun to share some more pieces from it!

Coldplay’s “Paradise” has been a mainstay on the playlist since I first heard it. Something about the lyrics (When she was just a girl, she expected the world / But it flew away from her reach, so she ran away in her sleep) made me think of Book 2’s main character, Jade.

Here’s a cover of the song I really enjoy from the Piano Guys:



I have loved Loreena McKennitt’s music since the first time I heard it in the film version of THE MISTS OF AVALON (terrible movie, wonderful book and my Holy Grail fantasy). When I went to Ireland, our tour guide Fiona brought along her copy of Loreena’s 1994 album, The Mask and the Mirror, and we listened to it often while driving through beautiful Galway.

What I love about her music and about Yo-Yo Ma’s Silk Road Ensemble is that they incorporate lots of different instruments from China, the Middle East, India, Eastern Europe, and many more. It’s so perfect for FOTL Book 2, which is more of an epic fantasy than Book 1 in that it features a quest across a sprawling continent and weaves in many different cultures and countries.

This piece, starting at the 2:45 mark, is a perfect example:



I have about seven stations on Pandora with all kinds of instrumental music and movie soundtracks. Here’s one that popped up on my Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon station (Tan Dun’s music is unbelievably beautiful, by the way, if you haven’t listened to it).

It’s called “Saiun” by the Yoshida Brothers, who are shamisen virtuosos. My brother, who plays guitar, told me they also have a lot of great guitar stuff:



If you follow certain high-profile authors online (like Susan Dennard and Sarah Maas), I’m sure you have heard of Two Steps From Hell, a group that specializes in epic/trailer-like music. That’s how I learned about them, because I had never heard of them before!

Honestly, most of TSFH’s work is hit-or-miss for me, but there are some excellent pieces I enjoy and “Casablanca” is one of them. This is one that incorporates some cool vocals and makes me think of a certain scene I’ve planned in Book 2 where Jade and her guardians race across the desert:



I fell in love with Jan A.P. Kaczmarek’s score for “Finding Neverland” the first time I saw the movie. It’s the perfect blend of whimsical, hopeful, and melancholy, and here’s a piece that perfectly encapsulates that feeling. This is “Peter,” and it’s perfect for a scene I’m about to write where Jade makes it through the forest and finds a benevolent guardian who may mean more to her than she knows:



And, last but not least, here’s a super epic one that came up on my Hans Zimmer Pandora station. This is “Lacrimosa Dominae” by Immediate Music, and I need more music like it to get me through this gigantic battle scene at the end of Book 2. If you have recommendations, feel free to share them in the comments or DM me!



That was fun! I love sharing all the music I write to and I’ve been doing it since 2010, so if you want to see all of the “A Little Write Music” posts over the years, click here.

Of course, I have also been listening to the Hamilton Mixtape, which I purchased the day it came out. I LOVE it, so so so much. Some highlights for me: Regina Spektor and Ben Folds’ exquisite cover of “Dear Theodosia” (what a GORGEOUS song to begin with); Usher’s version of my favorite song in the entire musical, “Wait For It”; Kelly Clarkson’s heartbreaking rendition of “It’s Quiet Uptown”; Ashanti and Ja Rule reuniting for “Helpless”; Dessa’s amazing turn as bad-ass older sister Angelica Schuyler in the song “Congratulations”; and the phenomenal “Immigrants (We Get the Job Done),” (We are America’s ghost writers, the credit’s only borrowed) which made me want to go out, fight tyranny, and punch a neo-Nazi or two.

On that note, I’ve been thinking of doing a 2016 recap post, because it has been such an amazing year in my life. Yet it has been a truly awful year for our country and it frankly seems disrespectful to be so joyful. I know many of us feel helpless and hopeless in the face of so much rampant bigotry and intolerance. The truth is that hatred triumphed this year, and I don’t know what else to do but to keep on keeping on. In the midst of calling reps and signing petitions and donating what we can (whether it be time or money), I do think it’s important to remember what makes us happy.

All that is to say… I’m not sure whether I will blog again this year. If I don’t, I want to thank each and every one of you for reading my words and cheering me on. This success belongs to you as much as it does to me. I fully credit the writing community for helping me achieve my dream, and I am proud to stand alongside many of you as 2017 comes nearer. May it bring us more dreams fulfilled and friendships forged, and help us make it through the difficult times ahead.

Love to you all.

♥ J

Julie C. Dao