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

Five Things I’ve Heard Since My Book Deal

Nov 17, 2016 Main blog 5 comments

Hey all!

I’m allowing myself no more than 30 minutes a day to respond to Twitter/Facebook messages so I can focus on Book 1 edits and Book 2 plotting, which is why I’ve been a bit quieter online. I’m keeping busy! Book 1 is shaping up nicely and Book 2 has about 100 handwritten pages of research notes, outlines, ideas, and character arcs. Drafting is my favorite part of writing because it feels the most magical, and I can’t wait to get started!

Since announcing my book deal, I’ve heard the same things from many different people. I thought it might be interesting to share here since they’ll likely come up again!


(1) Are you going to quit your job?

Not yet. Writing full-time is my dream job and I hope it’ll happen one day, but I plan to keep working for now.

It’s easy to assume a writer can coast on a big advance (and maybe some can). But (1) the payments are sporadic and (2) publishing is a fickle beast. I have no idea whether FOTL will do well or whether I’ll ever get another book deal. Nothing is guaranteed, and that’s just the reality of it.

So having a steady income is comforting. It’s safe, my job isn’t stressful, and I like the people I work with. I may reduce my hours in the office so I can write more, but that’s it!


(2) Can I have a free copy of your book?

I would appreciate it if you supported me by buying my book! I am totally happy to sign your purchased copy, doodle on it, put stickers on it… but please don’t ask me to give you something free of charge that I have worked so hard on.

My publisher will give me a few copies to keep, but if I want more than that, I’ll have to pay for them, too.

If you want to see more books from me, buying my work will show my publisher there’s interest and help keep me in business. Thank you for understanding!


(3) Can I email you for one-on-one writing advice?

Since announcing my book deal, my email and private messages have exploded with pleas for assistance and questions about how to write a query, what literary agents do, or how to get a book deal.

I love to help other writers whenever I can, but I just don’t have the time to personally coach everyone along. I’ve signed a contract and book-writing is now my second full-time job, so I have to cut back on things like social media and emails (*sniffle*) to accommodate that.

Nobody gave me shortcuts or held my hand when I was first starting out. I Googled and researched and did the grunt work all by myself. That’s how I learned what I know, and I’m still learning stuff that way. There are excellent resources available, a few of which I’ve mentioned on my FAQ page, so give it a whirl and see how many of your own questions you can answer! You might be surprised!


(4) I hope I get to where you are one day. I’m still querying… you wouldn’t understand.

I’ve heard so many variations of this in the past month, even from long-time writer friends, and it blows my mind. It’s like they’ve already forgotten how hard I struggled just to get here.

The time I spent querying and hoping for an agent to even look at my manuscript comprises about 99.9% of my writing life. I’ve had an agent for a hot second, and a book deal for even less than that. So yeah, I do understand. After all, I worked non-stop for eight years to get to where I am.

I will never, NEVER forget how hard it was. I will never not sympathize with the struggle!


(5) Can you share my manuscript with your agent or editor?

I can’t – I’m sorry! I lack the expertise and familiarity with the market that a publishing professional has, so I don’t feel comfortable recommending someone’s manuscript in that capacity. Also, to the best of my knowledge, my editor only reads agented submissions.

I recommend researching the agents and editors you’re interested in. I get questions about what Tamar is looking for right now in MG and YA, and whether she’d like someone’s specific manuscript. Honestly, I’m not sure because I haven’t had to research her in a couple of years. Wish lists can change a lot, so you will need to keep tabs on the people you are considering to get the most current info. Check out MSWL if you haven’t already!



Most of the other questions/comments have had to do with a movie deal! I will stress again that a book turning into a film/TV show is rare, even if the rights get optioned, so please don’t get your hopes up too high for FOTL. It’s nice to dream, but honestly? I’m just happy it’s going to be a book! Everything else is gravy.

Okay, it’s back to work and writing for me! I hope you are all having a lovely November. I’ll do a little music post for Book 2 soon, so come back for that if you feel like it!

Five Things I Learned On Sub

Oct 24, 2016 Main blog 8 comments

First things first: THANK YOU ALL for your incredible support over the past week! I knew you guys would be surprised because I hadn’t breathed a word, but I had no idea just how excited the writing community would be for me. I’m sorry again that I was unable to respond to each comment, but I appreciated every one. It meant a lot to celebrate my happiness with my writing family! You are all the best!



The official announcement in Publishers Marketplace!


Just so you get an idea:

 2,000+ views on my announcement blog post (my website crashed several times!)

1,300 favorites and 250+ retweets on my Twitter announcement (and tweets from people I never dreamed would know I existed)

400+ people added FOTL to their Goodreads to-read lists


The best way to describe my emotions would be: overjoyed and grateful, yet slightly terrified by the attention after years of comfortable anonymity. One book blogger tweeted at me: “This sounds amazing. I sure hope it actually is.” No pressure, right? *breathes into paper bag* I have to get used to the idea that one day soon, this book will no longer be mine. It will wander out into the world and take on a life of its own, and everyone who reads it will color it with their own experiences. But that’s a blog post for another day!

Today I’m talking about submission. I know many of you are on sub (or are about to be, or are simply curious!), so I’m not surprised that this was a highly requested topic.

What is submission? It’s the stage of traditional publishing in which your literary agent takes your book out to publishers. A good agent has connections at reputable houses, both big and small, and has an idea of which editors are looking for a project like yours.

Your agent will carefully compile a list of editors and imprints (which are divisions of a publishing house; for example, Philomel Books is an imprint of Penguin Random House). They will send the manuscript out and hopefully, you will hear back “soon” from an editor who loves your book and wants to buy it!

It’s an intense process, to say the least. You’ve gone through the hard work of writing a book and landing an agent, and now you are THISCLOSE to your dream coming true.

Here are the top five things I’ve learned from being on sub (twice!):


(1) My relationship with my agent is CRITICAL.


Of all the important people in your career, your agent is #1. They are your advocate and your voice. They will open publishing doors for you, put your book on the right desks, and fight to get you the best deal and contract possible. You are a team, and what benefits you also benefits your agent.

When you get an offer of representation, do all you can to ensure this is the right agent for you. Do you trust them? Do you feel comfortable contacting them and asking questions? What’s their communication style like? Because if you’re the kind of person who needs constant reassurance, and your agent prefers to email once in a blue moon with important news, this will cause you even more stress on submission. And trust me, nobody needs more stress on submission.

Tamar and I work really well together, for which I am thankful! For me, not knowing is torture. I want to see every rejection and be aware of what’s happening and where, so I asked her to share all editor communication with me. That way, if something came up, I trusted she would tell me at her earliest convenience, and if she didn’t get in touch, I would know there was no news. It’s important to me to be respectful of Tamar’s time, because she has many other clients, so this also kept me from bugging her for updates. Though I know she wouldn’t mind even then; she’s always open to my questions!

Everyone is different. I have friends on submission right now who don’t want to know anything unless it’s good news. Just make sure to tell your agent exactly what you’re comfortable with. Like any relationship, it’s all about communication.


(2) I have to be prepared for anything.


I’m disgustingly optimistic. And I’m also realistic. My first time on submission was soul-crushing, but my second time wasn’t bad because I had learned to prepare for the worst.

knew I would get rejections, so I made a color-coded spreadsheet with all of the houses we had subbed to. I made a column for the editors’ comments and reasons for passing, and every time a rejection came in, I’d fill the table out. This gave me some semblance of control over a process I had virtually NO control over. Instead of being passive, I was being active. It was like telling myself, “Look. You’re going to get rejected. Here’s a way to process the reasons and maybe find out what to fix later.”

However, I also prepared for the best (there’s that disgusting optimism!). Last year, an editor requested a synopsis to help him pitch ELEGY to his team. I was, of course, in Ireland at the time, without my laptop or flash drive (Murphy’s law, right?), so I had to write one from memory.

This time around, for FOTL, I had a synopsis that I saved everywhere: on my laptop, desktop computer, various flash drives (one of which was always in my purse), and email so I could access it via phone. I also wrote a proposal for Book 2, in case someone was interested in the duology, and a proposal for my new middle-grade project, in case they asked what else I was working on. And a good thing, too, because we ended up needing to send both proposals out!

Being prepared for anything helped me manage my anxiety levels. Again, everyone’s different, so figure out what works best for you to help you cope with submissions. (Drink responsibly.)


(3) I have to be in the middle of another project when I go out on sub.


When we took ELEGY out on sub, I wasn’t writing anything else and I was having a hard time starting something new, which added to my stress. I was emotionally and mentally tied to ELEGY, and it wasn’t a good place to be for me. I’m a resilient person and I bounce back fast from disappointment, but it took me longer than usual that time.

So when it was FOTL’s turn, I made sure to be neck-deep in another project: my middle-grade Adventure Book. It was so fun and enjoyable to write, I didn’t have time to obsess over how FOTL was doing. I was immersed in a new world with new characters, and not only that, it was a completely different age category, voice, and genre. It was distracting, and distraction is what I need on submission.


(4) I have to manage my own expectations.


It sucks to say this, but even if your book makes it to an acquisitions meeting, it still might not sell. The editor could love your project. Their editor colleagues could love your project. But if everyone else doesn’t agree for whatever reason (like maybe sales thinks your book can’t compete well in the market or something), you’ll end up getting turned down.

I know this pain firsthand. I was ecstatic when ELEGY went far at one house… and then absolutely devastated when they ended up passing.

My second time out, I decided not to celebrate anything except an actual offer. The editor loved FOTL? Great, but not an offer. FOTL went to second reads? Great, but not an offer. FOTL went to acquisitions? Great, but not an offer. Nothing is guaranteed until there’s a solid offer on the table, and once I was clear with myself on that, I felt totally calm. (Ironically, after all that mental prep, I was spared this time because things happened SO fast. Offer #1 rolled in before I even knew an editor wanted the book, let alone brought it to acquisitions!)

There’s a difference between being pessimistic and managing your expectations to protect yourself. Guarded optimism is a safe bet!


(5) Being grateful helps.


On my worst days while subbing ELEGY, I had to give myself a mental shakedown. I reminded myself I had a great agent I liked and trusted, my book had made it farther than most writers can ever dream, and I had the ability, privilege, and willpower to try again. How many people go their entire lives looking for what they love to do? I have always known, and what’s more, I had been given an opportunity to do something about it. All I needed was a different book, luck, and timing… and I could easily control the first.

So I threw myself into writing FOTL. I limited my griping to my small, trusted circle of friends (I NEVER complained or discussed subs on social media while in the midst of it all. Private Facebook groups are still public forums). I took the rejections with as much grace and professionalism as I could muster, even if I was feeling cranky and upset inside, and you know what? I got through it okay.

This is a thing that is true about me: when people tell me “no” or assume I can’t do something, it makes me even more determined to prove I can. So I let that drive me, I stayed grateful for everything I had, and I focused on writing the best book I could. I left everything else up to the universe.



If you’re on submission right now or are about to be, I’m wishing you all the best of luck! Keep your friends close and your chin high. And I hope this post helps you a little bit. It’s hard to give publishing advice because the experience is so different for everyone, so please take this as only one angle of insight and a few techniques that personally helped me. Only you know what is best for you. But I genuinely believe that if I can get a book deal through sheer will, hard work, and persistence, then you certainly can, too. Don’t lose hope, okay?

In a few weeks, I’ll be blogging about the top five things people have said to me since I announced my deal. I hope you’ll come back for that! You can also subscribe to get email updates as soon as I post if you go HERE. Thanks for reading, guys!


Oct 13, 2016 Main blog Comments Off on I HAVE A THREE-BOOK DEAL!!!!!!!!!!!!

Um, so… I’ve been keeping a little secret from you guys since June…




I am going to be a published author.




After eight years and five manuscripts, my ultimate dream is coming true in the biggest, most glorious way!

FOREST OF A THOUSAND LANTERNS, the first book in my YA epic fantasy duology, will be published in Fall 2017 by Philomel Books, an imprint of Penguin Random House! And, if all goes according to plan, Book 2 will follow in 2018 and a third YA fantasy will hit shelves in 2019. (I feel like I’m talking about someone else’s books. THIS IS SO SURREAL.)

I’ve spent the last decade of my life trying to get my writing out there. Just last year, I signed with my brilliant agent. And in all that time, reading about pre-empts and massive six-figure debuts, I NEVER dreamed it could happen to me. All I dared ask was to see my book on a shelf at Barnes and Noble. So my heart is overflowing with joy and gratitude!

You guys know it hasn’t been easy. If anyone tries to tell you I’m an overnight success, there are eight years’ worth of blog posts on this website to prove otherwise. I don’t plan on taking those posts down because I want people to see the reality of this business… and to take heart from it, too.

Note: If any friends or family are reading this post and don’t understand the publishing terms, check out this glossary. And here is a helpful Publishing Crawl post about the acquisitions process.





As I’m sure you guys have guessed, ELEGY did not sell. It will always be one of the books of my heart and the manuscript that won me my beloved agent. And I haven’t lost hope that it may still find a publishing home someday!

When Tamar and I took it out on submission last year, the paranormal element turned almost everyone off. We had three interested editors who brought it to second reads; one of them took it all the way to editorial board, but they eventually passed in favor of a similar book they were considering. Months later, when I saw the deal announcement for that other book, I burst into tears. It sounded exactly like mine, minus the ghosts.

Over the summer, rejection after rejection came, and some editors didn’t even bother getting back to us.

I dealt with a lot of sadness and despair afterward. I had loved ELEGY so much and had worked so desperately hard on it, but it still wasn’t enough. Even with the talent the editors claimed I had, and even with an amazing agent in my corner, I still wasn’t getting published. It’s tough not to feel depressed when you’ve tried your utmost at something, only to fail anyway.

But here is what I told myself, when I glued together my broken heart for what felt like the hundredth time:


1) A lot of first books don’t sell.

2) My very first book on submission got strong editor interest, which means I was CLOSE.

3) All of the rejections were complimentary about my writing.


I had done everything right. Tamar had done everything right. We just needed the right story.





I’ve never thought of myself as a particularly brave person. But something about knowing that my book had made the rounds in New York City, about knowing big editors had read it (even if they didn’t want it) gave me courage like I’d never had before. Truth be told, I went a little nuts and did something very scary.

In July 2015, I left the city I’d called home for five years, said goodbye to my friends, and moved back home to write full-time for a short while. I’d been working non-stop since graduation and had never been able to prioritize my writing, so I wanted to completely focus on an idea that had eaten away at me since I was 13 (you can read about that here). Something told me NOW was the time to write that story.

I’d already been outlining and researching for months, so in August, when I returned from my writers’ retreat in Ireland, I put down a 95,000-word draft in five weeks. Never has a story poured out of me that fast! I promised Tamar I’d send her a clean version before the New Year and revised feverishly (even stealing time away from my family on Christmas Eve and Christmas Day) to meet that self-imposed deadline.

By February I was working full-time again (having insurance is a really, really good thing!) and revising once more with Tamar’s edits. When we hung out in April, she told me she felt very confident. And then in late May, a little after the anniversary of when ELEGY had gone out, she informed me we were going back on submission.

I hunkered down and prepared for the whiplash of the Publishing Rollercoaster, but I was determined not to stress out. Whatever was going to happen, was going to happen, and I didn’t see any point in being upset or anxious about it. I had put too much of myself into ELEGY and it had nearly wrecked me emotionally. This time, I focused my energy into the one thing I could control: writing a new book. So I felt calm and collected, probably through osmosis from Tamar (who is the calmest, most collected person EVER).




The editors began sending passes within a week or two, but they were so nice and glowing and complimentary, I almost didn’t mind that they were rejections. Tamar told me they were some of the nicest passes she’s seen!

One called my book a “lush, sweeping epic” and Xifeng “an empowered female character.” Another said I was “a star on the rise” (!!!). One editor was pleased to see an Asian fantasy written by “someone with nuanced understanding of the world” (something I’d been worrying about, being Western-born and insecure about being qualified to write this).

This went on until Week 5, which was one of the best weeks of my entire life.

That’s when my offers came in!

Offer #1 came on a Wednesday in late June. Tamar sent me an email with the subject line “Great News!” I opened it, thinking someone was taking my manuscript to second reads, and found out an editor had actually offered to buy FOTL in a two-book deal! I called Tamar and cried as she described the details. I cried even harder when she mentioned how much she liked this publisher’s beautiful covers. It didn’t seem real that I would have a beautiful cover, too. And when I talked to Editor #1 on the phone, it felt like chatting with a new friend!

On Friday, another editor asked to chat with me on the phone. I felt nervous all through the whole call, seeing as they hadn’t put in a bid yet and whether they would or not depended on talking to me. But they were nice and had great insight on my book. After the call, the editor got approval from their boss and put in Offer #2.

I called Tamar again and cried (are you sensing a pattern?) as she helped me hash out the details of both offers. She also gave me an update: three additional editors were interested, and one of them (we’ll call him Editor #3) was taking FOTL to editorial board.

The following week, Tamar set up a call for Editor #3 and me, and I (what else?) cried during it because he said the most wonderful things about my book. He was incredibly passionate about the story and made sure I knew it. He mentioned in detail scenes, characters, and even specific lines from the book that he enjoyed. I got the sense he loved my story almost as much as I did (I say “almost” because FOTL is my baby, but Editor #3 was kinda like its cool uncle). His edits and vision for the book fit beautifully with mine, and we really connected on a personal level. Although he hadn’t made any kind of offer, and although I knew it was too early to set my heart on anyone, I had a gut feeling he was the one I wanted to champion FOTL.

The next day, Wednesday, I was stuck in a training session at work when Tamar sent me a blank email with the subject line: CALL ME ASAP!!! As I said, she is one of the calmest people I’ve ever met, so I knew something huge was going down to make my super chill agent use multiple exclamation points. I endured a torturous wait before I could call her, and when I finally escaped, she picked up before the first ring was even finished. “Are you ready?” she asked.

Apparently Editor #3 shared the gut feeling I’d had after our call. He told Tamar he’d gotten full permission from his boss to buy the duology and a third book, making this Offer #3, and – AND!!! – they wanted FOTL to be their house’s lead title (!!!!!) and were throwing down a pre-empt to stop the auction from even taking place.

You guys think I was crying a lot before this? YOU HAVE NO IDEA. I broke down into full-on ugly-crying and all I could say was “Oh my god, oh my god, oh my god.” After so many long years of toil, often without the slightest hope or encouragement, my dream was coming true all at once and in the biggest way. Tamar had to remind me to breathe at one point because she could hear me hyperventilating. It did not seem real, nor did it feel like I deserved any of it. I felt sure I was about to wake up in a few seconds and find that it was all a dream.

But that is the story of how FOTL sold to my editor, Brian Geffen, and publisher, Michael Green, at Philomel Books! Philomel published Brian Jacques’ Redwall series, which I read and loved as a kid, and more recently they published SALT TO THE SEA by Ruta Sepetys, among other fantastic titles. It feels like everything has come full circle and I am the luckiest, happiest, most grateful writer!





It was REALLY HARD to keep my good news to myself! I told only a few of my closest friends and family. I liked the idea of surprising everyone else with the announcement, so I kept quiet and focused on getting FOTL into the best shape possible. I had done that with each previous round of revision, but this time it felt like the stakes had been raised to emergency levels, what with the tight deadline. After all, I was now revising a book that would be published!

Brian sent me my seven-page editorial letter and marked-up manuscript in early July, and I got cracking. We hashed out plot issues on the phone and over email, and his ideas, patience, and love for the book confirmed I’d made the right choice in picking him for my editor! Once we figured everything out, I began my intense sticky note outline (you can read about my basic revision process here) and dove in.

The book ballooned to over 110,000 words with all of the new scenes I added. That’s almost 400 pages in Microsoft Word! Yep, that is a monster book! I apologized to the trees and printed them all out:



A beast of a book



I will plant many trees to make up for this


I edited non-stop for four weeks and brought that word count down to a much more palatable 100K. Basically, any second I wasn’t working, eating, or sleeping, I shut myself up in my office with the manuscript. I allowed myself a week off (during which I had to fight hard not to open the Word doc! Geez, Jules, learn to relax!), but still managed to send Brian my revised version ahead of schedule.

Then it was on to another smaller round of edits with an even tighter deadline. That version is now done and back with Brian as of early October, and we’ll be doing line edits and then copyedits next. So by the time you guys read this, the manuscript is already well on its way to being done and turning into a real book!

In early September, Tamar called me with great news: Jon Cassir and Sarah Luciano, film agents with the Creative Artists Agency (CAA), wanted to represent FOTL in Hollywood and the foreign film market! Jon represents another client of Tamar’s (Sarah J. Maas) and she knows him well, so I was 1,000% on board to entrust my series to him and Sarah.

I also liked their enthusiasm and confidence when we all spoke via conference call, and the fact that they respected my wish that any project would have significant Asian talent attached all the way through (actors/actresses, directors, producers, screenwriters, composers, etc.). This is no promise that a movie or TV deal will be coming, but it’s still cool that this top talent agency (which reps clients like George Clooney, Cate Blanchett, and J.J. Abrams!!!) believed in my book enough to take it on!

At the end of September, I took a couple of days off to go to the Boston Teen Author Festival (BTAF). I am sorry to say I blatantly lied to people’s faces the entire weekend. Someone would say, “So what’s going on with your writing, Jules? You’ve been awfully quiet” or “Are you on submission?” And I would only smile and shrug and say, “Yep, submission, fingers crossed, hope it sells, can’t talk about it, sorry.” All the while sitting on a GINORMOUS three-book deal. I am so, so, SO sorry, guys, but it had to be top secret!

And y’know, since I was lying so much already, I also lied about the REAL secret purpose of my trip, which came afterward: hopping on a train to NYC to have lunch with Brian and Tamar and meet some of the Philomel folks (or is it “pholks”?!) at the Penguin USA offices!



Secret lunch with my agent and editor in NYC!!!



My delicious Mocha Burger burger



Outside the beautiful Penguin offices



The Penguin Random House sign!



Brian in front of the case where MY book will be next year!!!!!



We are such a great team, we even color-coordinate without planning to!



Cool swag from Brian!



This is a box of cookies he brought me from Japan. SO GOOD.


Meeting Brian in person was the BEST! He is one of the nicest, coolest people and got along so well with Tamar and me. The best part of finding an agent is knowing you’re not alone anymore and you’re in a partnership. And the best part of finding an editor is knowing you’re part of a whole team!

We talked business (like me flying back to NYC soon to meet with my marketing/publicity teams, and also my ideas for COVERS!!!), but mostly we just chatted and all got to know each other as people. I’m incredibly grateful to have Tamar and Brian by my side as I start this new chapter, because I think of them not only as my agent and editor, but also as my friends and cheerleaders.




That brings me to today. I am beyond thrilled to finally share this news with you guys!

Thank you to all of you who have supported me over the years, whether you’re a close friend or simply stopped by my blog once in a while to say hi. And a very heartfelt thanks to those of you who recognized me at BTAF and took the time to tell me how my blog has helped you keep going. There are so many uncertainties in this field and I have no idea what will happen. What I DO know is I probably would not be here fulfilling my biggest dream if it weren’t for all of you.

I’ll be taking up a lot of space in the book for my acknowledgments, but here are some of the most important thanks I owe!


Mom, Jon, and Justin. My mom generously let me move home to focus on writing this book. She is my rock and my rolemodel and I love her more than anything in this world. My two amazing brothers told me, “Go get famous!” every time I went off to write. It means so much to me to share my happiness with the people I care about most!

My superstar agent, Tamar Rydzinski. I’m SO THANKFUL you were on Twitter the day you found me via #PitMad! You are the best cheerleader and advocate I could have ever hoped for. Thank you for believing in me, working so hard on my behalf, and making my lifelong dream come true at last. It’s such a comfort to know you’ll be with me every step of the way. Hugs and thanks as well to everyone at LDLA!

My incredible editor, Brian Geffen. Thank you a million times for giving me this chance. I am the luckiest writer alive to begin my career with you and I hope I continue to benefit from your wisdom and insight for a long, long time to come! I’m gonna make you proud! Thank you also to Michael Green, Jill Santopolo, and my new phenomenal “Philomel phamily”!

My all-star writer squad. There are too many wonderful people to name, so I will save them for the actual book acknowledgments. But I especially want to give a shout-out to my very dear friends Marisa Hopkins, Erin Fletcher, Melody Marshall, Dianne Salerni, and Lola Sharp. You were there when I had no one else to turn to for support, and you were the first in the world to read FOTL. Your astute, detailed critiques helped make this book stronger and I am beyond thankful for you guys!

Thanks also go to Stephanie Garber and N.K. Traver, who are always among the first people I go to for advice. Steph, thank you for calling to check in on me often; Nat, thank you for our loooonnng emails. Big hugs to both of you for inspiring me, encouraging me, and guiding me at every stage of this crazy process. I’d be lost without you two.

My agented authors group, the Lucky 13s. Mara Fitzgerald, Kati Gardner, Jess Rubinkowski, Kevin van Whye, Austin Gilkeson, Jordan Villegas, Heather Kaczynski, and Rebecca Caprara (who I loved meeting at BTAF!): I am SO fortunate to be a part of your group! Thanks for keeping me sane with our epic email chains.

The Kidlit Authors of Color group. You work tirelessly to promote diversity and educate others, and you have each other’s backs (and mine!) no matter what. You inspire and teach me to be brave every single day. It was so fun having Korean BBQ with some of you in NYC! And a very special thanks to Emily X.R. Pan, Wendy Xu, and Eileen Lee for vetting my Chinese name pronunciation list for FOTL!

My Ireland writers’ retreat group. Big thanks for your friendship and encouragement, and a special shout-out to our fearless and inspiring tour leaders: Fiona Claire, Heather Webb, and in particular, Susan Spann, who gave me the idea for the final scene of Book 1 (one of my absolute favorite scenes to write in any book, EVER).

My Wattpad readers. I was going through a tough spot when I posted PUMPKIN PATCH PRINCESS, an early manuscript, on Wattpad. I am grateful to have found so many amazing, kind-hearted teen readers to bolster my spirits and encourage me to keep going. I hope I get to meet and thank some of you in person one day, and I hope you like FOTL, even if it’s vastly different from PPP!





I’m still processing all of this. I joked with Tamar that the book deal probably won’t sink in until I see FOTL on a shelf. My life has completely changed in the BEST way possible.

I started writing at age 8, stopped at 16, and started again at 22. I got my agent at 29 and my book deal at 30. A few weeks ago, I turned 31. For over 20 years, I’ve made the same wish while blowing out the candles on my birthday cake. Now that the wish has come true, I’m not sure what else I have the right to ask for. All I know is this whole experience has been so deeply humbling and rewarding.

I hurt, and then I healed after talking about my struggle to write. I hope young Asian writers who don’t have the support they need will take heart from my story. There are many rewarding paths out there for the creative, and yes, they CAN make you money and (most importantly) make you happy. If you know deep down that you love something and you were born to do it… THEN DO IT. Don’t let small minds frighten you. Don’t let limited imaginations limit yours. Dream as big as you can, because one day YOU could be encouraging someone who needs it.

I am over the moon with joy and I cannot wait to share FOREST OF A THOUSAND LANTERNS with you guys next fall!!!!

Why Subjective Passes Stink… And Also Make Sense

Aug 31, 2016 Main blog 4 comments

One of the toughest rejections a writer can get, in my opinion, is: “I didn’t connect to the story.”

I don’t know a single person who has queried and hasn’t heard this at least once. Just for fun, I searched for “didn’t connect” in the Gmail folder where I keep my old query responses (yes, I still hang on to them, and no, you don’t want to know how many there are!). The phrase showed up in roughly 30% of the emails.

Here’s another fun one: “I didn’t fall in love.” That popped up in twice as many emails as “didn’t connect” did.

Numerous responses included the agent telling me how much they enjoyed X, Y, and Z, and how I did A, B, and C well. A compliment sandwich, if you will, but two slices of kindness on either side of “no” is still a “no.”

And man, did it hurt. I came up with all kinds of explanations for what “didn’t connect” and “didn’t fall in love” REALLY meant. There didn’t seem to be a good reason for why someone would say that. Surely they hated my characters, or thought the plot was weak, or couldn’t take on my manuscript because they already had a client writing about such-and-such. Those would be solid reasons, and at least I’d know what was wrong. I could even work on the first two.

But what could I do about “connecting” and “falling in love”?


And then I got the opportunity to jump on the “other side,” so to speak, when I volunteered to mentor in the Pitch Wars contest this year and last.

As the queries and chapters began rolling in, I finally understood what it meant to not connect… to not fall in love. I began to see how someone with hundreds (maybe thousands) of queries and very little time could possibly pass on a good story.

I read entire manuscripts where the writers clearly had raw talent and an excellent premise, but something just didn’t click for me. There were good stories, but I didn’t feel the need to read them over and over again. I saw solid characters, but I didn’t stay up all night thinking about them. I noticed writing that had a lot of potential, but I had no idea how to help the writer improve it, with my particular skills and experience.

And then a certain manuscript appeared – one I wanted to read again, with a main character I thought about even while waiting for my car inspection, and whose weaknesses I felt sure I could help because I’d struggled with the same things in the past. So I chose it.

Look, there are a lot of things a writer can control. You can write the best book you can. You can revise it as best you can. You can send it to people you think might be a good fit.

But, similar to real life, you can’t make someone fall in love. You can’t make someone connect to your story. Think about the books you’ve read this year. You may have enjoyed some of them, but did you love every single one the way you love your favorite books? Of course not. Look up a popular book on Goodreads; look up your favorite book of all time. I guarantee they have one-star ratings. Not everyone in the world is going to love any one book.

This is why it’s magical when you find someone who does connect and fall in love with your story. Don’t give up just because you haven’t found them yet. And don’t stop writing until you do!

A Little Write Music #35: Muse and “Rise”

Aug 24, 2016 Main blog 2 comments

I know I say it every year, but this summer has seriously FLOWN by! I thought it would be different this time around, what with all of the exciting stuff I’m looking forward to in the fall (like the Boston Teen Author Festival and hanging out with my diverse kidlit group in NYC, among other things!). And you know how time crawls when you’re looking forward to something. But here we are, almost September, and I swear the last time I blinked it was June.

Part of it must have to do with how busy I’ve been. In addition to working, I’ve been writing non-stop and reading Pitch Wars submissions! I’m happy I chose to mentor middle-grade again, because what with the shorter word counts, I was able to read several brilliant full manuscripts! I have picked my mentee and I will be introducing them to you on Twitter when the announcements go live tomorrow. I can’t wait to share their story with the world and hopefully help them get an agent — if not during the contest, then sometime soon!

It’s been a while since I’ve shared any writing music, so I thought I’d do that today 🙂

I have been adding to the FOTL playlist on my iPod constantly. I don’t listen to it when I’m writing, because a lot of the songs have lyrics and I find those too distracting. But I listen to it at the gym or in the car, and I’ve found a lot of inspiration for my main character, Xifeng (pronounced SHE-fung). She is my absolute favorite out of all of the characters I have ever written in any book. She’s what many would consider a villain; her character arc spirals downward and her morals are questionable at best. It has been fascinating (and FUN) exploring the psyche of someone who will stop at nothing to get where she feels she ought to be.

I had a feeling while drafting that I’d really miss her when the book was done. True enough, I haven’t been able to stop thinking about her, and these songs are evidence of that!

Here’s an oldie but a goodie (I think) from Muse called “Space Dementia”:



The lyrics remind me of Xifeng and how others feel about her:

You make me sick because I adore you so
I love all the dirty tricks and twisted games you play on me

I’d cut your name in my heart, I will destroy this world for you
I know you want me to feel your pain


And okay… I know some of you out there are going to roll your eyes at the fact that I am posting a Katy Perry song. But I love, love, LOVE her new single “Rise.” I heard it during the Olympics and I could not believe how perfect it was for Xifeng:



I think it’s so epic and inspirational, especially when set to those clips of struggles and triumphs.


I won’t just survive, oh you will see me thrive

Oh ye of so little faith, don’t doubt it, don’t doubt it
Victory is in my veins

And I will not negotiate, I’ll fight it, I’ll fight it
I will transform

When the fire’s at my feet again and the vultures all start circling
They’re whispering, “You’re out of time”
But still, I rise


Throughout the book, Xifeng is represented by the phoenix (an important symbol), so how perfect are these lyrics? Still, I rise. It gives me chills!

Anyway, I hope you’re all enjoying the rest of your summer! Make sure you subscribe here (or just follow me on Twitter) if you don’t want to miss any upcoming posts!

First Blog Post On the New Site!!!

Aug 05, 2016 Main blog 2 comments

Guys! This is my first blog post EVER on my brand-new website!

I am thrilled to finally show you how gorgeous it looks! Tessa Elwood of did a phenomenal job on the design, didn’t she? I’m in love with everything: the glowing apple blossoms, the elegant lantern, the backdrop of the forest and the moon and the mountains. I told Tessa my basic idea for an aesthetic and she went WAY above and beyond with it. It is exactly what I asked for and more.

If you’re in the market for a web designer, I highly, highly recommend her. Her prices are unbeatable for the quality of her work – and believe me, I shopped around for quite a while, looking at jaw-dropping prices of $3,000 and up. I taught myself how to switch from Blogger to WordPress and do the initial set-up (via Google and the tech support people at WordPress and Bluehost), but if you’re not into that, I believe Tessa can do that bit for you too.

I also taught myself basic coding over the years (thank you, LiveJournal!), so I’m having a lot of fun tinkering and customizing while trying not to break anything she laid out for me. The conversion to WordPress rendered a lot of the formatting wonky. I am slowly but surely checking through all of my pages and my (dozens… maybe hundreds?) of blog posts to make everything neat and readable. Feel free to let me know if you come across anything that looks weird!

And if you would like to subscribe to my blog and get email notifications whenever I post, you can do that HERE. Otherwise, just follow me on Twitter and I will tweet out a link every time I update 🙂

What else has been going on with me?

Well, if you do follow me on Twitter, you know I’m mentoring in the Pitch Wars contest once again. The submission window opened this week and I’ve been having fun reading the MG entries! However, this will be my second and final year as a mentor. It’s tough juggling the contest with a job (I wasn’t working when I did it in 2015). And, from here on out, I will need to focus as much of my time on my own writing as possible.

But you know I love this contest because it gave me confidence and introduced me to some of my closest writing friends. I will find ways to help however I can, even if I’m not guiding a mentee to the Agent Round next November!

I’ve been writing quite a lot, as you can see from my sticker calendars on Instagram. I’ve talked about the technique before, which I learned from V.E. Schwab. It may seem silly for a grown woman of 30 to rely on stickers to keep her productive, but I am telling you IT WORKS. And who I am to question something that helped me write an entire manuscript in under five weeks?

I’m excited for next month because I get to meet so many awesome writerly peeps! I’m going to Boston Teen Author Fest to hang out with some lovely Twitter friends. Then, I’ll take a train to NYC for a couple days. My diverse kidlit writers group has set up a Korean BBQ event and I cannot wait to meet them all. So keep an eye out for that post, and I’ll make sure to take lots of pictures! I also have a new music post planned since it has been FOREVER since I shared anything I’ve been listening to.

I hope you guys are all doing well and enjoying your summer!


My 2016 Pitch Wars Wish List

Jul 19, 2016 Latest, Main blog 6 comments
Letter T 2
SCAVENGER HUNT: Here’s a “T” for “Be on my TEAM!”


I am VERY excited to be a returning mentor in this year’s Pitch Wars!

I will be accepting middle-grade submissions only. I love to read and write MG and I consider these books to be every bit as important and compelling as those for older kids. So I am hopeful you will send your manuscripts to me!

I’ve been in many contests myself and I know how scary and intense it can be. But I promise that if you’re willing to work hard, you’ll emerge on the other side an even stronger writer.

I’m here to help you do that. Yes, YOU!


So, Who The Heck Am I, Anyway?




I’m Julie, but friends call me Jules and so can you!

I am an MG/YA author represented by Tamar Rydzinski of the Laura Dail Literary Agency. The book Tamar signed me with was mentored by N.K. Traver, author of DUPLICITY, and Stephanie Garber, author of CARAVAL, in the 2013 Pitch Wars. So I’ve been right where you are!

I’m a New England girl and a proud Vietnamese-American on the lookout for diverse writers and diverse books. I love running, cooking, eating, and wearing pajamas around the house at all hours of the day. I enjoy anything written by J.K. Rowling, Laini Taylor, Maggie Stiefvater, and Philip Pullman. Name any BBC period drama and I have most likely seen it!

I am a rabid fan of The Lord of the Rings (Bilbo Baggins and Samwise Gamgee are my high fantasy counterparts) and I can quote any line from the movies on command. In high school, my best friends bought me a life-size cardboard Legolas for my birthday and I will forever regret recycling him before college.

I adore Harry Potter (proud Ravenpuff here!) and make it a point to reread the series every other year.



What Manuscripts Am I Looking For?


Here’s a look at what I want to mentor this year!

OwnVoices MG. I want to see a manuscript that includes POCs in important, dynamic, vibrant roles. I want to see these characters’ experiences written in a beautiful, dignified, nuanced way. The book does not have to focus on their diversity. Funny, realistic stories about regular kids growing up – like the show Fresh Off the Boat – are 100% awesome, too! Diverse writers, send me your stories!

MG Horror/Gothic/Suspense/Mystery. Give me your ghosts, your ghouls, your huddled goblins yearning to freak me out! I love anything atmospheric, where the setting could be a character itself. I like locked rooms, old mansions and boarding schools, and windswept moors. I like whodunnits, noir-ish thrillers, and supernatural-tinged action/adventure. Right now, I am reading THE NIGHT GARDENER by Jonathan Auxier, which is a perfect example of what I’d love to mentor. Basically: CREEP ME OUT, PLEASE.

MG ContemporaryI’m craving some good ol’ middle-school stories. I want to see characters forming friendships, learning about themselves, and dealing with conflict on field trips, the playground, awkward school dances in the gym, classrooms, the library, the cafeteria, etc. Bring me back to those days!

MG Magical Realism. I would love to see a gorgeous magical realism that tugs at the heartstrings, like HOUR OF THE BEES by Lindsay Eager. Something with the whimsical, timeless flavor of Big Fish, The Night Circus, or Amelie, but for the younger crowd. Does it exist? Have you written it? SEND TO ME!


Other things I like in my MG:

– Stubborn, determined kids with big dreams and goals. Characters who are passionate about something!

– Books that make me FEEL THE FEELS, whether it’s laughing or crying.

– Strong relationships that shape a character’s life. These could be with a friend, grandparent, teacher, pet, etc. (but please, human protagonists only).


If you write fantasy/science fiction and your manuscript doesn’t fit any of the above criteria, please check out the other mentors first. I bet you’ll find someone who is specifically looking for these! I will prioritize the manuscripts I asked for above, but if you feel strongly that I’m the mentor for you, go ahead and submit your fantasy/science-fiction to me and I’ll consider.

I am not interested in mentoring the following: dystopian/apocalyptic, religious/spiritual, or non-ghostly paranormal (like vampires, werewolves, angels, demons).

Please note that I will not be giving feedback for every single submission, as I did last year. I am so sorry! I have too much going on this summer and I only have time to give feedback on the partials/fulls that I request. Just thought I would mention that in case it helps/affects your decision 🙂



Why Should You Pick Me? No, Really!


Here’s where I get to shamelessly brag about myself!

You should pick me to be your mentor because:


– Lorien Hallama, my first-ever mentee from Pitch Wars 2015, signed with an agent last month! She is so talented and it was an honor to be a part of her journey!

– I write a MEAN pitch and query. I signed with Tamar after #PitMad, and I also had an 80% full request rate at one point when I was querying.

– I have a big social media presence. Being a writer requires knowing how to present yourself online, and I will help you with this and promote you during Pitch Wars!

– I want to help you get an agent… if not now, then in the future. Remember: it doesn’t matter how many contest requests you get. All of my Pitch Wars teammates got more requests than I did, but I still got an AWESOME agent. It just didn’t happen until a year later.

– I have critiqued DOZENS of manuscripts over the years. Friends often tell me my critique matches point-for-point with what their agent or editor told them.

– I am a positive person. I will push you to work hard, but I will also encourage you when you need it. Writing is a brutal journey. My Pitch Wars mentors still send me advice/support, so that’s what I want to do for you.



What I Want In a Mentee


I am looking for:

A hard worker. This is an industry full of dark days and rejections. I want someone who is realistic and resilient, works extremely hard, and doesn’t give up easily.

Someone who is positive. I’m here to help and encourage, but you yourself should be kind, upbeat, and enthusiastic. No amount of cheerleading is gonna help if you’re gloomy and pessimistic!

Someone who is SERIOUS about getting published. You must be willing to do the research and grunt work yourself. This is an uphill climb and there are no shortcuts!

Someone who genuinely wants to get better at writing. My ideal mentee takes feedback in a graceful, mature way. If you can’t handle constructive criticism or think your manuscript is perfect, we won’t be a good fit.

Someone who is independent and works well alone. I’m here to be your advisor, but we are adults and I can’t baby you through every step of the process. You won’t learn anything that way! Also, please understand I am volunteering my time and am busy with my own writing.

Someone who reads this post carefully and sends me what I ask for.


If you feel you match this description, I would be honored to have you on #TeamHobbit! 🙂 Looking forward to seeing your submission!

Check out the complete list of the 2016 MG Mentors at Brenda Drake’s blog!



Jul 05, 2016 Latest, Main blog Comments Off on UNDER CONSTRUCTION AS OF JULY 2016

My blog is currently under construction! Please excuse its appearance!

I am fully aware that the website is missing a “Follow” button, many links are broken, and paragraph breaks are wonky. It all goes with the territory of switching my posts from Blogger to WordPress!

Hopefully these problems will be fixed in time, when the new design goes up! The website should be complete sometime in August and I can’t wait to show it to you guys.

Thanks for bearing with me 🙂

– Julie

Julie C. Dao