Writing Updates!

Jun 25, 2016 Latest, Main blog 8 comments

I hope everyone’s enjoying the summer so far!

I’ve mostly been writing and working, as usual, but am looking forward to my long Fourth of July weekend with friends! It’ll be a nice break before I throw myself into Camp NaNoWriMo, which (if you don’t know what it is) is a version of NaNoWriMo that takes place in July.

I will be working on my middle-grade Adventure Book (still don’t have a real title for it yet) and I’m going to try my best to finish it or at least get close. I’ve got about 15K written so far and I’d like to add another 20-30K. It’s definitely tougher to find time now that I’m working full-time again, but it can and will be done! I’ve really missed writing in the MG voice and it’s been a blast hanging out with my characters.

And I confess I’m actually… pants-ing this novel! I always know where the story is going and how it will end, but this time I don’t have a set chapter outline when writing. I might make a loose outline this week so I can at least hit my goal for Camp NaNo. I always feel more comfortable when I have one and it helps my productivity, but I’m liking this spontaneous drafting I’ve been doing. It’s very freeing.

After that, well… I’m not sure what I’ll be working on next. I have an idea for a brand-new YA (creepy, Gothic, suspenseful… can you tell I’ve been missing ELEGY?), but I may be revising, so I think I’ll just wait and see how I feel later on in the summer.

Sometime later this year, you guys will be seeing a whole new look for my little space on the web! I’m finally going to get a new website and – eeeeek! – moving to WordPress. I’ve been on Blogger for eight years, so you can probably guess how scary that feels to me. But it’s time for a new, professional look, and I’ve got some exciting ideas swimming around in this head of mine. I’m in talks with a few different designers to see who is willing and able to do what I need, and who gets what I want. When I do the switch, I will give plenty of advance notice so if you’re subscribed to my blog, you won’t be missing out on anything.

I’d love to be graphically inclined myself (it would definitely save a lot of money), but honestly? At this point in time, I need to spend all of my energy writing, so I’ll leave it to the pros!

Are any of you going to the Boston Teen Author Festival in September? I’m planning on going for the first time and meeting up with some awesome Twitter friends! I think it’s just a one-day thing, but I’ll be there the whole weekend and hoping to meet up with lots of other writerly peeps. Two of my Lucky 13s (the agented writers group I’m part of) will be there, so that’s going to be exciting to chat with them in person!

Let’s see… what else… PPP is doing awesome, by the way! It hit a quarter of a million views a few weeks ago, which is mind-blowing. I truly love the readers on Wattpad. They are just the nicest, most generous kids and I’m praying for the chance to meet them in person one day, so I can thank them for getting me through a tough spot! Everyone knows writing has its ups and downs, and I feel like my downs have very often outweighed my ups. So I am grateful for every person and every moment that reminds me why I’m doing this.

Good things are coming our way! Just you wait, just you wait! (Couldn’t resist a Hamilton reference.)

Anyway, just thought I would check in quickly. I hope you all have a great weekend. I’m already in a full cabin for Camp NaNoWriMo, so I can’t join another or invite you to ours (I’m sorry!!) but if you’re doing it too, definitely find me and friend me if you feel like it! @juliecdao


Random Tuesday Thoughts

Jun 14, 2016 Latest, Main blog 9 comments

You know, it hit me recently that I’ve been writing this blog for EIGHT YEARS.

I think back to the early days and realize how much more free I felt to talk about everything. Nobody knew about me then, and at times I was literally writing for an audience of one (looking at you, Jessica Nelson!). I talked openly about my projects, my setbacks, and even *gasp!* querying without a care in the world.

My blog has always been a welcome outlet. Even when most of my blog buddies gave up on writing and disappeared. Even when awkward things happened, like IRL people Googling me but pretending they hadn’t. (“I found you on page 25 of a Google search about writing.” Who scrolls through 25 pages of search results?!) And even now, when the 50 comments I used to get per post have dwindled to 2. If I’m lucky.

People are definitely still reading, but the major difference is I no longer know who they are. It’s not the comfortable little community of tight-knit writer friends it used to be. I’m not an anonymous voice anymore. I’ve gained a lot more visibility since I started this blog at age 22. Now, I’m a former mentee and current mentor for the hugely popular Pitch Wars. Now, I’ve got teen writers looking up to me on Wattpad. Now, I have a well-known agent. That means even more exposure.

Don’t get me wrong: I love that more people are finding me and my work. I love that they feel inspired and can see themselves in my experiences when they come here.

But the problem with exposure? I can’t say everything I want to say anymore. I can’t write down the first thing that comes to mind. I mean, I could, but there are consequences now that I don’t want to risk. I hope one day I’ll get to a point in my writing career where I can share more, because I really do think it helps others to know the ups and the downs and the details. But the area between becoming agented and getting published is murky for a good reason. (Some friends and I discussed agented life on the Pitch Wars mentors’ blog, in case you missed it!)

All that said, I do think honesty is an important ingredient in a good blog. And I hope you will still find it here! My little space on the web is not going anywhere! ♥

Some random thoughts for you very early on a Tuesday morning 🙂


Tips On Perseverance! OR: How To Be An Ox

Jun 08, 2016 Latest, Main blog 7 comments

My Chinese zodiac sign is the ox. Most information you read about the ox tends to frame it in a flattering light. Well-liked, industrious, determined, full of integrity. And because my element happens to be wood, I’m also supposedly eager to fight for the weak and defenseless. Basically, the zodiac says I am a superhero!

But when I share this with my mom?

“If you’re an ox, you are stubborn and you’ll have a life full of hard work,” she says. “You will always have to try harder than others to get the same things.”

…Well, that’s great. I can see why they don’t put that on the paper placemats at Chinese restaurants.

But it kind of makes a strange sense. I never take “no” for an answer when it comes to my goals. I welcome hard work. And I have this obsession with seeing things through to the end, no matter how hopeless. (It’s why I stuck to running cross-country in high school, even though I was horrible and came in DEAD LAST in every race. And it’s why I always finish reading a book I’ve begun, even if I’m not enjoying it.)

As you can imagine, this bullheadedness (I mean, persistence – gotta use a nice word) has come in quite handy as an aspiring published author. I’ve been traveling the ups and downs of this road for a while now, and most years I’ve had nothing but my own furious, compulsive obstinacy to push me.

So how do I keep going? What helps me get through those dark days and low points? Here are a few things I do to live up to my ox nature:

 

  1. I reward myself. A lot! My golden retriever and I had this in common: we will do anything, anything if there’s food waiting at the end. Got a tough chapter to slog through? There’s popcorn and my TV husband, Poldark, when I’m done. Revisions giving me a hard time? Nothing a S’more can’t fix. I do try to keep the rewards in line with the accomplishments. Like, I don’t buy myself a sushi dinner or get a massage if I write 500 words; I save that for when I finish drafting the book. That way, I keep my expectations in check.
  2.  

  3. And, to go along with #1: I celebrate EVERYTHING. I celebrate every step of the way. I text my CPs excitedly when I figure out a character. I tweet whenever my Wattpad book hits a milestone. I email my Pitch Wars family when happy things happen, even if it’s “just” my idol Maggie Stiefvater following me back on Twitter. Trying to get published is a long, hard road, and it’s easier to keep going when you learn to appreciate each and every step of the way!
  4.  

  5. I make myself a little compliments board. When I was querying, I printed out every personalized rejection. I highlighted only the good stuff and blacked out the rest with a Sharpie, then tacked them on the bulletin board above my desk. Whenever I sat down to write, I would see proof that people in the industry thought I was talented and took time out of their busy days to let me know. “All it takes,” I told myself, “is for someone to think that way AND fall in love with my story.” And what do you know? It happened!
  6.  

  7. I only write the stories I enjoy. This seems obvious, I know. But I must be hopelessly in love with an idea before I commit to spending a year of my life writing it. I think this ties in to my being a plotter. I can’t just say: “Oh, hmmm, this idea seems okay. Let’s see where it goes.” I have to be starry-eyed and obsessed, because there’s always a point around the 30K mark for me where doubt and anxiety kick in, hardcore. It’s much easier to convince myself to keep going if I remember how much I adore the story concept.
  8.  

  9. I reread my old stories. I have a flash drive where I keep old manuscripts, and when motivation’s lacking, I whip it out and read them. It reminds me that I pushed through tough chapters in the past and still managed to finish the book, and I can certainly do that again.
  10.  

  11. I limit talking about writing to non-writers. Look, I love my family and friends, but it’s frustrating and discouraging to constantly have to explain why publishing is so slow and why I’m working my tail off for free. Some of my loved ones are very anxious and my rejections used to stress them out, which in turn, made me stress out way more than I would have. So now, I share no details with any non-writer friends or family and simply say, cheerfully, “Not yet!” when they ask me, “Are you finally published yet?”
  12.  

  13. I surround myself with supportive writers. Positivity attracts positivity (at least, when it comes to writer buddies), and I am very lucky in my friendships! There is nothing quite like having people who just GET you and what you’re trying to do. And coming home to a thoughtful care package, a sweet card, a check-in phone call, or a long, supportive email is the absolute best. I’m reminded that I’m not just doing this crazy writing thing for myself, but for the people who care about me and believe in me.
  14.  

 

So if you, too, sometimes feel like you’re performing in an empty auditorium, like you’re flinging your blood, sweat, and tears out in manuscript-form and there’s nobody who cares… remember that stubbornness gets things done. Persistence makes dreams come true!

At least, that’s what I tell myself: that there’s a light at the end of this tunnel (and more often than not… FOOD).

Do you have any tips or tricks to keep yourself going? And what do you think about your Chinese zodiac sign?


What to Know About Wattpad

May 11, 2016 Main blog 4 comments

I talk a lot about Wattpad. It is, after all, where I have chosen to share one of my earliest book babies with the world. But what is it, exactly? What does it do for unpublished writers, and how might it benefit you? How can you protect your work if you share it? Hopefully this post will answer those questions for you and many more!

 

Wattpad Empire

 
First, here’s a little background on why I chose to post a story on Wattpad.

Last January, I was tired. Tired of getting into every contest I entered, yet not having agent interest pan out. Tired of getting a full request from almost every query, but still no offer. Tired of worrying that publication would only ever be a pipe dream and I lacked the talent/luck to pull it off.

But you guys know I’m not one to sit around and wallow. I like to take action, and I like to be in control of the things I can be in control of. So I decided that if the right agent never came along, I would take my work directly to the people for whom I actually write: potential readers. Potential TEEN readers.

I didn’t know enough about self-publishing to jump in and do it well, since I had been focusing on traditional only. So where could I go to post my work that would be quick and easy? Where could I get immediate feedback from the people whose opinions mattered most to me?

“Aha, Wattpad!” I said. (I actually did say it out loud, because I am that crazy lady who talks to herself.) “I will build my empire on Wattpad and show those agents what they’re missing!”

I had built a huge readership on a different site when I was 20, with a super melodramatic romance, so I knew I could do it again. I believed my work had merit because every time I put it out there, people seemed to enjoy it. So I went out full force with all the confidence in the world and prepared to hit “Publish.”

“I hope you’re ready for this, agents!” I yelled.

And then I got an agent.

 

What Is Wattpad?

 
Wattpad is a social media site. Think of it as YouTube for writers. All you need to do is open a free account and BAM! You can post your work for the millions of predominantly teen/pre-teen readers scouring the feed for addicting stories.

Also scouring the feed? Big Five editors. There are some massive success stories that have come out of Wattpad in recent years, like Anna Todd, whose One Direction fanfic snagged her an enormous (I believe six- or seven-figure) deal from Simon and Schuster. Or Taran Matharu, whose fantasy swept up millions of views, an agent, and a multi-book deal with Feiwel and Friends.

The site has an editorial team that makes executive decisions on whether a book gets Featured (meaning it appears on the front page) or whether it wins a Watty, the Wattpad version of an Oscar.

 

Getting Lots of Reads!

 
Here’s the blog post I wrote when I introduced PUMPKIN PATCH PRINCESS to the world for the first time.

When I first posted PPP, it scored a decent number of views right away, thanks to amazing friends who opened Wattpad accounts just to read it. But what really helped skyrocket its popularity was the fact that I became a Featured Author after the Wattpad editorial team got in touch with me. (I believe you can also apply for consideration; check the website FAQ.)

To have your story be Featured, it needs to be well-written and almost or completely done. These qualities are determined by the editorial team. I will say that having an agent probably didn’t hurt me here, either. As soon as they selected PPP, my cover landed on the front page next to Wattpad superstars and New York Times bestselling authors promoting their published works with novellas (a trend my agent started!). Immediately, my view count exploded into the thousands, then tens of thousands, then hundreds of thousands as word of mouth spread.

I was also lucky that my book hit that website at the right time. I’d say 85% of stories on Wattpad are very sexualized. I got SO many comments from younger readers saying they loved PPP because there is no swearing, sex, or drinking/drugs. Of course not, it’s an MG, right?! But most stories there are written with racy New Adult themes (just count the number of Featured books with the words “Bad Boy” in the title), and MG may be a much-needed niche. Most pre-teens don’t have the money for books and don’t tend to read e-books, so they’re relying on Wattpad for good stories they feel comfortable reading.

Other options for getting reads include: posting a link to your story in the Wattpad forums, or commenting on other writers’ work and hoping they return the favor. You can also enter your story into the Wattys, and if you win, you’ll likely get higher readership along with that shiny badge on your cover!

When you post your work, you have the option to add tags. These will help readers find your work more easily. So, say you’ve written a urban fantasy involving vampires. You would add the tags #vampire, #urbanfantasy, #urban, etc. and anyone typing those into the search engine will have a better shot at finding your book.

You also need to have an eye-catching cover. Think about the book covers you’ve seen online. Whatever people say, they DO judge a book by its cover and if it’s pixelated or blurry with cheesy, tacky font, they will be less likely to read it. If you’re graphic design-challenged, have a friend help you or find a designer on the forums.

 

How to Protect Yourself?

 
I’ve had so many issues over the years with people stealing my ideas and work.

I had a “blog buddy” copy the look of my blog and my profile description word-for-word with her name inserted into it. If you look at her blog today, her “My Writing” page is still identical to my “My Writing” page.

I had someone enter Pitch Wars with basically a copy of ELEGY the year after I entered, subbing to my mentors (who told me about it), and borrowing lines directly from my query.

I’ve had people stealing my blog posts and rewording them slightly to pretend they’d written them themselves.

This is why I no longer talk freely about the projects I’m working on and why I have made all of my important Pinterest storyboards private.

So when concerned readers messaged me a few weeks after PPP got popular, telling me there was another story entitled “PUMPKIN PATCH PRINCESS” with MY characters’ names, MY kingdoms, and MY plot (except with extremely poor grammar and spelling), I was not surprised.

I got in touch with my kick-ass lawyer friend, Susan Spann, who runs the #PubLaw tweets on Twitter. She was one of my mentors in Ireland and I knew she’d have the answer. She advised me to file a copyright registration on PPP through the U.S. Copyright Office (copyright.gov), which costs about $55. Although this would not stop plagiarism, I would be able to take the person to court and win in the most extreme case, like if someone were to make and sell e-books or physical books of PPP on Amazon or something.

So I did that (and got my official certificate just yesterday!), and I also got in touch with the Wattpad team. They are good about cracking down on stuff like that. They contacted the person and she took her version of PPP down immediately.

Just be aware that when you post work publicly, there will always be thieves. So weigh the risks against the benefits.

 

Other Considerations

 
The biggest pro I can think of is I’m building up a huge readership for any future books I may publish. Readers who enjoy PPP will likely go out and buy a physical copy of another story I write, or tell their friends and classmates. Wattpad is an immensely powerful marketing tool for that purpose because you’re hitting your target demographic directly. On my other social media sites, my following is mostly writers in their 30s and up, so posting PPP benefited me hugely because it gave me access to my audience that I wouldn’t otherwise have.

This direct contact with pre-teen and teen readers has also given me a ton of insight into the way they read. What do they want? What attracts them most? How do they behave when they like or don’t like something? I’ve learned that they LOVE to compare… they’ll say, “Oh! This is just like that Barbie 12 Dancing Princesses movie” or “This is like Brave/Frozen/Tangled!” or “Kit reminds me of this guy from Teen Wolf…” So comp titles can be a huge benefit, because I’ve reeled in readers by including ELLA ENCHANTED and THE PRINCESS DIARIES in my story description.

If you want to be successful on Wattpad, plan on devoting time to answering comments. Be kind, be patient, be funny. It makes readers SO happy and they are likely to keep coming back and to tell all their friends about you and your story. I try to answer every single one because I figure if they can take the time to read my book and tell me they loved it, I can take a few seconds to say “Thank you.” (This is a good rule of thumb on all social media. How much does it suck when you congratulate or compliment someone and they ignore it completely? That’s an automatic unfollow on Twitter for me, by the way.)

Also, if you post a story on Wattpad, be aware that some publishers consider this to be “previously published.” So don’t post anything you’re hoping will be traditionally published one day. Huge success stories like the ones I mentioned above are extremely rare, so don’t go in expecting you’ll be the exception. The great thing is, if you build up an enormous readership, you can definitely tell agents this when you are querying another book or maybe even have your agent mention it to editors when you’re out on submission. This is, of course, assuming you have MILLIONS of reads; anything less should not be mentioned because it likely won’t help you.

 
 

I hope this gave you guys a good basic introduction to Wattpad! Let me know in the comments if you have other questions or if there’s anything I missed.


Thank You!

May 06, 2016 Main blog 3 comments

Last week, I wrote a pretty terrifying blog post and tweeted about it to the world:

 

 

This is something that has always been so extremely personal to me that I never even talked about it to my closest friends. Many of them texted after seeing that post go live, saying “Why didn’t you tell me how much you were hurting back then?” But I’ve had to build up my courage and have only found the right amount just now.

Honestly, I didn’t think the post would take off the way it would. There are no words to show how grateful I was to get all of that love and support, and the many messages saying “I went through the same thing” from people of all cultures and walks of life. It turns out the pursuit of creativity is a struggle for many, regardless of where they come from or how they’ve been raised.

And some CRAZY things happened, like… oh, I don’t know, SOLEDAD O’BRIEN tweeting to me!!!

 

 

 

It took me more than ten years to find the strength to share that. But the act of sharing my experience, I feel, has finally completed the healing process. And now that’s all behind me and I am looking forward to GREAT things happening in the future!

So this is a quick thank you to everyone who retweeted my post and messaged me to show their support. It means more to me than you know.

I’ve wrapped up one book (hooray!) and am jumping into another, but you will be seeing more blog posts from me this summer for sure. I think I’ll talk about Wattpad and its benefits next, so if you’re thinking about joining and sharing some of your work there, stay tuned.

Hope you all have a fabulous Mothers’ Day weekend!


What Will Your Verse Be?

Apr 26, 2016 Main blog 22 comments

Blogging has died down over the years, but every now and then, readers still email me to encourage, be encouraged, or let me know they’re enjoying my posts. Every so often, there’s one from a young writer. I’m really drawn to those. I wrote a blog response back in 2013 to a high schooler who didn’t know whether a writing career was right for her. Since joining Wattpad, I’ve gotten lots of messages like that because of all the teens who hang out there. The messages are almost always from other Asian-Americans, drawn in by my Asian name and my photo, and almost all say: “I want to be a professional writer, but my family doesn’t like it. Do you have any advice? How did you push past your parents’ disapproval?”

Answer: I didn’t.

This post is one I’ve wanted to write for a long time, but it always seemed to come off as a whiny generalization that all Asian parents are as strict and crazy old-school as mine. So here’s a disclaimer: I am not whining or complaining. I am grateful for all my parents have given me. What I share is the truth, but only from my own experience, and I hope it helps a teen writer somewhere push past their own obstacles, parental or otherwise.

In my family, children are taught to be 1,000,000% obedient. Parents are gods. Any disrespect, whether it’s talking back or being sarcastic or sighing in their presence, is like spitting in your mother’s face. I used to freak out when I heard the way my black and Caucasian friends spoke to their parents, because I would be dead and buried if I ever tried that with mine.

If you are born a girl, these rules are compounded by another 1,000,000%. In my family, girls are not as valuable as boys. Don’t get me wrong: my parents loved me very much and spoiled me rotten, but they made no secret of the fact that they preferred my brothers. As males, my brothers had freedom, they were served first at dinner, they never had to do any housework, and they were never, ever subjected to the emotional and verbal abuse I constantly got from my father. (See what I mean? It sounds like I’m whining, but that’s the way things were.)

One rule, however, remained the same regardless of gender: the only careers we could pursue had to do with math or science (read: doctor or engineer). Anything else was strictly forbidden, ESPECIALLY the arts.

So here I am, only a girl. Let’s add to that the fact that I’ve always been a natural at reading and writing; let’s add all the writing contests I won in school, the spelling bees I dominated, and the high school level reading list my third-grade teacher had to create for me because I was already too far beyond the other kids.

My parents thought it was cute at first. My dad used to take me to Waldenbooks (yeah, remember them?!) and Barnes and Noble and let me pick out whatever I wanted. I had my own bookcase packed with everything I wanted: Nancy Drew, Babysitters Club, Sweet Valley, Saddle Club, and all of my favorite classics like The Secret Garden and Anne of Green Gables. I had expensive leather journals for Christmas and top-of-the-line art supplies for my birthday, and I was allowed to keep my head in the clouds all through my childhood.

The whole time, my father thought he was simply spoiling his daughter. What he didn’t know was he had planted a seed that had taken hold for life. He and my mom figured it out when I entered high school. I was 16 years old when they asked me what I wanted to study in college.

“Creative writing, so I can have a career as a published author.”

Can you guess how well that went over?

I fought as hard as I could against the box they wanted to put me in. They had trained me to be unquestioningly obedient, yet something inside me said: You WANT this. What they’re doing is wrong. You need to live your own life. But when you’re a girl in my family, especially a nice, gentle girl, you have no choice but to give in to your father’s nonstop barrage of bullying, teasing, threats, guilt trips, and insults. No choice.

I still cry, remembering the time he dropped me off at school after literally screaming at me for fifteen minutes in the car about how I’d be worthless and poor and not able to afford even McDonald’s if I chose writing over being a doctor. Somehow I found the guts to get out and slam the car door in his face. He went after me in a violent rage, and I don’t know what would have happened next if teachers and students hadn’t been standing there.

“Just GO,” he spat, in a beyond disgusted voice, to show me I was an utter waste of life.

Have you guys ever seen the Dead Poets Society? I watched it again recently and I cried and cried and cried at the storyline about Neil Perry, who’s a boy pressured away from acting and into medicine by his rigid, ruthless father. There are some people who do not understand the choice this character makes at the end of the movie. They are the same people who ask me: “Why didn’t you fight harder? Why did you let your dad bully you like that? You should have been stronger.” But only when you have LIVED an existence like this do you understand how utterly small you feel, how trapped and hopeless, and how you escape any way you can.

I gave in. I declared pre-med, and when my dad left me at my dorm on the first day of freshman year, he kissed me and told me how very proud he was of me. He didn’t care how unhappy I was. He preferred that I be wealthy over being content, and he told me to become a heart or brain surgeon (strangely enough, he was flexible there) and then be appointed president of a hospital so he could brag about me to his friends.

It was misery that saved me. Complete and utter misery at studying so hard yet never excelling, filling my brain with organic compounds and mathematical formulas I couldn’t possibly care less about, and struggling to grasp concepts that came so easily to my friends, the ones who went pre-med because they were passionate about being healers and caretakers of humanity… not because their parents jerked their puppet strings. Choosing to let my father control me would make me worthy and enough for him. But when would I be worthy and enough for me? What was the point of even living if I was so hopelessly miserable?

I know this sounds dramatic. I know it sounds like a caricature, an overblown perpetuation of the strict, be-a-doctor, Asian parent stereotype. But this was my reality. I lived through this and I came out the other side even more determined. A lot of people praise my discipline and resolve. “You’ll definitely make it as a writer,” they say, “because you want it so bad.” Well, now you know why I want it so bad. Now you know it is the only thing I have ever wanted, and being bullied away from it has only made me want it more. Now you know that when I pursue this dream relentlessly and struggle through all of my setbacks, I am reassuring myself: This is ME.

Looking back, I realize now my father lived a life of fear. Maybe he still lives one. Who knows? I don’t particularly care. But I refuse to live that way. I refuse to be so afraid I don’t even try. I refuse to settle into a certain way of life and squeeze myself into a box just because it is safe and it pays well.

I will stand up for anyone I see struggling the same way I did. At a family wedding in September, I talked to my youngest cousin, who is a fantastic soccer player like her brothers and dreams of being on the U.S. Women’s Soccer Team. I overheard one of our uncles instructing her to go to Yale or Princeton and study pre-med, and then her mother chimed in to insist that she be an accountant. Believe me, I took my cousin aside and shut that down REAL QUICK, respect to elders be damned. “I hope you play in the World Cup one day,” I told her. “Go to the school you want to go to. Do the things you dream of doing. At least TRY. Don’t ever be anyone else but yourself.”

I don’t know why some parents push and push and push against their children’s natural inclinations. I guess it’s because their fear is stronger than their desire for their kid’s happiness. Maybe it has something to do with the immigrant mindset: “Hey, we’ve made it. We’re in America. Go big or go home – but only with the three things on this checklist.” Anything else is a risk, a gamble, a possible gateway back to being poor and destitute in a friendless foreign country. But they brought us here for freedom: freedom to believe what we want, to live in comfort and security, to have better lives than the ones they had before.

I don’t know if I’ll ever be successful as a writer. But I’m starting to understand that I’m already successful when I’m being true to myself, and the last decade of my life has been spent learning that. So if you’re out there reading this and some small part of it resonates with you, just know that you have the ability to make your own choices. Maybe you’re stronger than I am and you’ll fight for it in your teens, or maybe you’ll come to it later like I did. But know that our parents brought us here to live the lives WE want, even if they don’t realize that themselves.

This is why #OwnVoices is so desperately needed and important. We need more Asians in the arts. We need people to share their experiences and breathe life into stories others can’t even imagine until they hear them, because they have never lived them like we do. If you are Asian with artistic inclinations, don’t ever, ever let anyone kill that part of you. LEAST of all your parents. You and your voice are needed, and even if it’s a gamble – even if you’ll never be rich and successful – at least you’re doing what you love, and at least you’re living life by your own rules. Life’s just too damn short to live a fake existence. Be odd and weird and nerdy and quirky and strange and unique and beautiful, and do it on your own terms.

I hope, I HOPE, this helps somebody out there.


Update Time!

Apr 20, 2016 Main blog 5 comments

Hey, guys! It feels like it’s been a while since I last blogged, so it’s high time for an update:

WRITING

 

Since my last post, I have finished the second draft of FOTL and sent it off to another round of CPs and beta readers! I’m happy with how smoothly revisions went. Basically, I took the feedback I received in January for my first draft and went nuts: I added in more details to enrich the mythology of my world, fleshed out some supporting characters’ motivations, made my already crazy main character a touch crazier, and worked on making the narrative less internal. I also tightened up the language and managed to bring the manuscript from 106,500 words down to 104,500 (a shadow of its former self… kind of? Not really).

I’ve already gotten notes back from my fabulous CP, Dianne, who is a super tough, sharp reader. That’s what I need at this point in the game – people who are unflinchingly honest and not afraid to tell me what doesn’t work. She’s given me a lot to think about in terms of world-building, especially with social mores, so I’m eager to see if anyone else has picked up on these issues.

The more I revise, the more I see how much stronger I’ve become as a writer. I think with each manuscript, it’s going to take me fewer drafts to get there… “there” being where I want to be in terms of having the story I’ve written match up to the story I’ve envisioned in my head. Because we all know that takes time and a lot of learning and mistakes! (ELEGY had a dozen different drafts!) I’m proud and happy to see things coming together. I am still hopeful that good things will happen (read: maybe a book deal sometime in the next five years??), but I will celebrate this in the meantime 🙂

So what’s next for me?

ADVENTURE BOOK, my new MG project! There are still a couple weeks left of Camp NaNoWriMo. I don’t think I’ll get to my 20,000 word goal because wrapping up revisions for FOTL took longer than I expected, but I can still get a good chunk written. I’d like to have a completed rough draft before the end of summer, but we’ll see what happens. I can’t wait to hang out with Clip and Sadie (my spunky, competitive MCs) and see what fun and ridiculous obstacles I can throw in their path!

READING

 

Here’s a little confession: my TBR (to-be-read) pile changes every week.

When I was growing up, my mom would compare my reading habits to eating because I would devour books. Now that I’m a “grown-up,” I still link the two because I often get cravings – sometimes for specific books I’ve read a hundred times (I satisfied my Jane Eyre hunger pangs not long ago) and sometimes for just a general genre. Also, if I go to the library and something catches my eye, or if a book I’ve had on hold finally comes in, I have to drop everything else and read it first because of the time restriction.

So as much as I’d like to stick to one solid TBR, it shifts all the time.

 

READY PLAYER ONE by Ernest Cline: I’m a little over halfway through and LOVING. THIS. SO. MUCH. I’m not much of a tech geek and I wasn’t alive for half of the 80s (the decade heavily referenced in this book), so I was afraid most of it would go over my head. But this book is phenomenal and such a compulsive page-turner. It’s set in a bleak future where everyone lives their lives plugged into the OASIS, a high-tech version of our Internet, and competes in a high-stakes video game with billions of dollars on the line. It’s so deliciously nerdy and wonderful!
 
THE YOUNG ELITES by Marie Lu: This is one of those aforementioned library books, but I ended up tearing through it not only because of the due date, but because I really enjoyed it. As some of you may know, the MC in FOTL is morally complex, so I was curious to see how it has been done. I loved Adelina. She’s so dark and yet you can’t help but feel for her. And the ending…! I can’t spoil it, but I was totally blindsided and didn’t think what happened would happen. I’m not in a rush to read the sequel, simply because I have so many other books to read, but I will make a point to do it someday for sure.
 
UPROOTED by Naomi Novik: Another library book that caught my eye because people have been raving nonstop. I’m on Chapter 3 and have laughed out loud several times already, so that’s a good sign! The book has a very old-timey, fairy-tale feel that I love. I actually had to look at the publication date to make sure it wasn’t published in the 80s, because it reminds me of Robin McKinley’s work. Even the aesthetics of the book – the cover, the type, etc – feel old, which I totally love.

OTHER STUFF

 

Public Speaking (aaaahhhh): I was recently invited to attend an AMAZING, prestigious writing workshop focused on public speaking. The coolest part? It’s usually exclusive to people who are published, not noobs like me! What an honor, right? Unfortunately, I can’t make it this year, but I am hoping to attend next spring and will of course be blogging about the whole week!

It’s kind of crazy how these things have just been landing in my lap. Last spring, I decided I wanted to go to Ireland, and BAM! I see a tweet from Heather Webb about the Ireland Writer Tours and she encourages me to book a spot for August. And then this winter, I’ve been working up my courage and actively looking for public speaking classes (without telling a soul) and suddenly I get an email offering me this workshop spot! “Be careful what you wish for” indeed!
 
Asian and the Arts: I am thinking of doing a blog post soon about growing up creative as a first-generation Asian-American. I’ve gotten so many messages from lovely Wattpad readers who also come from Asian backgrounds, also love the arts (creative writing in particular), and also have been strongly discouraged from them by parents, and want my advice on what to do.

I’ve wanted to write something on this subject for a long time, but I didn’t know how to do it without sounding first-world-problems-whiny (“Waaah, Mommy and Daddy will only pay my entire college tuition if I study pre-med” etc). But seriously, I think it’s an important thing to address, and it’s a big part of my life that still affects me and my self-esteem, so I will plan to talk about it at some point. I need to think about it some more first.
 
Pitch Wars 2016: I will be mentoring middle-grade again this year! I thought about switching to YA, because that was my first choice for last year, but I had such a genuine blast doing MG. The stories are wonderful, the MG mentors are so much fun, and I’m about to write an MG myself (not to mention the word counts are much shorter, which means I’m able to read more full manuscripts AND it frankly makes it easier on my schedule and balancing work/family/real life). So keep your eyes open this summer for the wish list blog hop!

 

Okay, I think that’s a long-enough update! I hope everyone is doing well and writing/revising like the wind!


My NaNoWriMo Pep Talk!

Apr 03, 2016 Main blog 5 comments

Happy April, friends!

As most of you who follow me on Twitter and Instagram know, I was in New York City for a few days. You can follow all of my adventures there in photograph format.

I’ve fallen a bit behind on responding to blog and Wattpad comments, but I’m going to try to catch up this week!

In the meantime, I wanted to share something really cool. Last month, the lovely folks at NaNoWriMo asked me to write a pep talk for everyone who’s participating in April’s camp. I found out today that they’ve chosen my pep talk to kick off the entire month!

It was mailed to everyone who has a NaNoWriMo account, but if you do not have or want an account, I’ve re-posted it here for you guys to read.

I hope it helps you write and/or revise this month no matter what your personal goal is!

 

Pep Talk: The Beginning of Your Story

 

Camp NaNoWriMo is nothing without you, our incredible participants. Today, Julie Dao, a fellow Camper, offers you some pep:

 

When I first heard about NaNoWriMo, I thought it was the craziest idea ever.

Sure, I’d written 50,000 words before. It’s totally doable in a year or a few months. But 30 days? It sounded to me like a road straight to Carpal Tunnel Valley, floating on a sea of tears, sugary substances, and/or alcohol. And maybe it is for some people. But you know what? It’s also possible.

What you have to remember is by entering Camp NaNoWriMo, you’re already doing something most people can’t even dream of. How many times have we all heard, “Oh, I could write a novel if only… [insert lame excuse here]”? Here’s the truth: someone who constantly needs to make excuses about why they’re not writing will never write. Simple as that.

You… you’re different. You don’t make excuses, you make time, and it doesn’t matter whether you’ve ever written a word before. You’re here now, committed, because you truly want to do this. And whether you “win” or not, whether you put down 50,000 words or 50, you’ve taken a step most people don’t bother to take.

Remember that when you open up a blank document or a new notebook. Remember that when you’re struggling to find the words to put down. Remember that your story is one that only you can tell, and it will never exist if you don’t bring it into the world.

What you’re doing requires stamina and courage, because writing is essentially holding up a mirror to see what you look like on the inside. It’s tough and raw and brutal, and it’s a kind of pain—and a kind of peace—no one else really understands unless they write, too.

Be gentle with yourself, and keep your writer buddies close. Anything’s possible if you want it badly enough, and who knows where this road might lead? You might have so much fun that you decide (gasp!) to do it again in November.

Because that’s the thing about writing: it becomes a compulsion, until you can’t not do it. And as hyperbolic as this sounds, it becomes air that you can’t not breathe. At least, it has for me. Maybe this, too, will be the beginning of your lifelong love story with writing.

Wishing you an amazing Camp NaNoWriMo, friends. The world will be a better place for having your words in it!


I’m Over at the Writing With the Mentors Blog Today!

Mar 24, 2016 Main blog Comments Off on I’m Over at the Writing With the Mentors Blog Today!

Happy Thursday!

Today, I’m over at Writing With the Mentors, home of the Pitch Wars mentors!

The post is all about what it’s like working with a literary agent. What has changed? What hasn’t changed? What are some pros, cons, and even newer ways to feel neurotic and insecure? (J/K about that last one… maybe.)

I’ve gathered testimonials from my agented author group, so head on over and check out their pearls of wisdom. Shoutout to Heather, Jordan, Mara, Kati, Austin, and Kevin for their help with this post!

I’ve copied the blog entry below for your convenience 🙂


Queries! Pitch contests! Form rejections!

Wherever you go as a writer, whether you’re online or attending a conference, there’s a wealth of information about how to get an agent.

But what happens when you get to that next level? What comes after getting The Call and signing your name on that elusive contract?

There isn’t a whole lot out there about the In-Between. Agented writers aren’t supposed to talk about being on submission, and some aren’t even allowed to announce when they sign with an agent. There’s a lot of mystery surrounding the people in limbo between “unpublished” and “published.”

So, to shed a tiny bit of light for those of you who are on your way, I’ve polled some of the Lucky 13s, my posse of newly-agented authors. They’ve shared some excellent insight into working with an agent and climbing the next mountain of publishing, so special thanks to all of them!

Here are some of their testimonials:

 

“The surprising thing to me about being agented is how little has changed. My agent’s an amazing person to have in my corner. Our partnership is valuable and validating. But I’ve reached the top of the mountain and realized there are much bigger mountains ahead. When I sit down to write, it’s nice to know an industry professional who trusts me will read it, but it’s still the same. It’s still me, alone in front of a word processor. The process of working with my agent has been a firsthand lesson in the fact that this is a long journey that can be very much out of your control. If you want to be published, having an agent’s eyes on the market is a huge help, but if your first priority is not writing something you love and making it as good as you can make it, you’re in for a lot of frustration.” – Mara Fitzgerald

 

“For me, it’s been what I expected: like working with a critique partner who’s also your business partner, just a lot more intimidating. Once the shine of being newly agented wears off, it can actually get mundane… with the ever-present fear of failure to keep things interesting. More than anything else, I’d advise always being open and honest with your agent, and to not be afraid to discuss things with them. But also remember that they have other clients and lots going on, so be patient with them 🙂 Find other people in your situation because you gotta talk to somebody who’s going through what you’re going through, else you’ll lose your mind. And keep writing. That one’s hard, with all the self-doubt you’ll be building up, but it’s also the best cure for it, in my experience.” – Heather

 

“Write write write, it’s all you can do. But now you have someone to tell you which ideas might sell and which are sinking ships. An agent knows what’s selling and what’s not, which saves you from falling in love with a story that might not work. Both you and your agent are working toward a book deal at the end of the day, so that’s a huge amazing thing. I must say that my personal experience has been amazing, but the doubt and the fear still lingers. It’s sort of like querying, but on steroids. Every rejection from an editor is a bruise, but this time you have your agent holding the band-aids, telling you, “It’ll be all right. We’ll get them next time.” Newly agented writers should be aware that each agent experience is different, so don’t fall into the pit of doubt that you’ve made a mistake because your relationship is different from person A or B. You’ve chosen to be represented by your agent, so trust that.” – Kevin van Whye

 

“Realizing that a flesh-and-blood professional was willing to stake their time and professional reputation on me was kind of revelatory. Having spent years with a number of manuscripts with only my perspective, working with an agent everything feel more real. I became more serious about writing in general, ramping up productivity and becoming less sentimental about weaknesses in my prose and other bad writing habits. My confidence also grew immensely. I took narrative risks and experimented with voice, cadence, structure. I finally worked up the nerve to call myself a writer. While becoming agented is not the panacea it appears from the query trenches, it’s a truly amazing accomplishment that should be recognized as such and celebrated accordingly… especially when one considers the number of people who imagine writing a book but never even make the leap to put words on a page.” – Jordan Villegas

 

“The great thing about having an agent is you don’t have to query anymore. Not only do you now have an agent, but they usually do the heavy lifting of creating submission lists and letters to editors. After your revisions are done, all you have to do is sit back, relax, and be gnawed ceaselessly by relentless paranoia, fear, and self-doubt. But it is really wonderful having a professional in your corner, and in the darker moments you can remind yourself, “Hey, someone believes enough in my book and my career that they are willing to put in hours and hours of labor with the hope of an eventual payday.” But if I can impart one piece of advice to writers, it’s: DON’T RUSH IT. I know the drive of wanting to just be done with your book and get an agent and get a deal. But publishing is a slow industry. You’ll wait months to hear back about queries. You’ll hear months to hear back about full MS requests. You’ll wait months to hear back about submissions. There’s a lot of waiting ahead, so make sure your book is as good as you can get it. Don’t rush it. Nobody else is.” – Austin Gilkeson

 

“Getting an agent was affirming to me. It meant I wasn’t just spinning my wheels or playing at being a writer. I come from a theater background, so I need that type of validation from people. My relationship with my agent is full of him assuring me constantly that I am good at this. That I write stories that are worth being told. My agent totally understands that he’s going to get random emails from me that mostly mean I just need some reassurance. And he gives me that. But, other than having like the most invested critique partner ever, not much changed. No one magically thought of me as some amazing writer. I didn’t even post about it on my Facebook page until recently because if you’re not in the industry, people just don’t get what it means when you say you have an agent.” – Kati Gardner

 

Aren’t they so wise and brilliant? I’m lucky to be in their group!

Here’s my testimonial:

Although nothing really changes, the stakes are higher. With an agent, anything you write could now potentially sell. No pressure, right? *breathes into paper bag* This is why you MUST surround yourself with people who know what you’re going through. You should not do this alone. Find your writer friends and hang on tight.

The first rule of Submission Club is you do not publicly talk about Submission Club. Don’t slyly hint about it on Twitter. Don’t complain about it on your blog. And don’t rant about it in “private” Facebook groups. You never know who could be reading, and all it takes is a screenshot to blow your cover. Some people are no holds barred, and I admit it helps to know different situations, but keep quiet if you can. If you must vent, do it privately with trusted CPs and writer friends only.

Don’t be afraid to talk to your agent. Everyone is different, and some writers have more anxiety about contacting their agents. This is why it’s so important to find someone you’re comfortable with and to carefully assess your chemistry during The Call. Your agent is your champion and advocate, and you should never feel like you are bothering them. I’ve been lucky in this regard because my agent is so open and available to me whenever I need her, and I always feel better after talking to her. I bounce ideas off her, get her expert opinion on different paths for my career, and more!

However, you should be professional and independent wherever possible. Remember that your agent is neither your parent nor your therapist, and they are juggling dozens of clients and projects all at once. If what you need is a quick shot of reassurance that no, you in fact do not suck at this, that’s where writer friends come in handy. So make use of your posse!

Also, you should always have been professional online, but it’s even more important now that you’re on a different level. I noticed after I got agented that editors, publicists, published authors, and other pros began following me on Twitter and other social media. Don’t whine or complain publicly and don’t overshare, because there are more eyes on you now and publishing is a VERY small world.

 

And that’s pretty much it! I hope this post gives you a little bit more of an idea of what the In-Between is like! If you have any questions, please leave them in the comments and I’ll do my best to answer them.

Thanks for reading this, and good luck with your writing journey, whatever stage you’re at!


Invisible Returns

Mar 17, 2016 Main blog 8 comments

You know in those cartoons when someone’s torn between choices, and a little angel and a little devil appear over their shoulders and duke it out?

Most days, that’s how I feel about writing. It’s this constant struggle between “I’m good at it!” and “I suck, big time.” It doesn’t have to be triggered by anything. I don’t need glowing validation or crushing rejection to buy a ticket on the Emotional Rollercoaster; it’s just there all the time. I have to constantly act as mediator between these two parts of myself.

Here are some things I’ve learned about writing over the years:

 

(1) Luck matters. Maybe not as much as talent and hard work, but it does matter. In the minestrone soup of publishing, talent is the broth you start with, hard work is the vegetables you sprinkle in generously, and luck is the flavoring that takes it to the next level. Unfortunately, it’s out of our control. So much of this is out of our control!
 
(2) Obvious rewards and milestones are few. I’ve been pursuing this passion nonstop for years and have not seen a single penny for my trouble.

 

Meanwhile, my baby brother will soon graduate with a Master’s in his passion, engineering, and right away he will make three times as much money as I do in my full-time job. He will love his work, be able to afford to buy and do anything, and sleep at night knowing that every ounce of his effort will pay off tangibly.

That’s called non-writer privilege, my friends.

But here’s another thing I’ve learned:

 

(3) Just because you don’t SEE rewards the way you do in other fields of work doesn’t mean they don’t exist.

 

It’s just that in writing, they tend to manifest in smaller, quieter ways that build up and hit you when you least expect it. That’s what happened when I got an agent. That’s why I didn’t feel – and sometimes still don’t feel – like I deserve one. I had been working so hard for so long, with no tangible reward, that I achieved the milestone before I got used to the idea that I’d earned it.

You see, I’m used to putting in effort and seeing something for it. I study, and I become a straight-A student. I put in 100% at work, and I get a raise and/or promotion. I spend time at the gym, and I run faster, longer, and farther.

But writing and publishing don’t work that way. Not immediately, and not for everyone.

I am not an overnight success. I am not a groundbreaking sensation. I’m not even that young of a writer anymore. If I get published now, at the age of 30, no one will write a raving article about my youth. Also, in some ways, the deck is stacked against me as a woman of color, writing about characters of color.

But all that aside, I have quite a collection of invisible returns. They’ve built up silently in dusty corners and appear when I’ve had time to reflect after another bout of feeling like a worthless failure. You can’t work and work and work for years without gathering these. It is impossible NOT to get better when you keep pushing yourself, even if you don’t have an agent, or a book deal, or an international world tour to show for it, a.k.a. the visible markers of success.

Want to hear some of the invisible returns I’ve racked up over the years?

 

I’ve developed crocodile skin when it comes to criticism about my writing. Rejections will always sting, but I bounce back faster now. I know they aren’t personal and and I know they’ll help me, even if it’s just by giving me closure. I’m actually suspicious now of feedback that is overly positive, because it doesn’t help me improve. “Ok, great, but what I can fix?!
 
My pitches are leaner and meaner than ever. I’ve always enjoyed writing query letters, and now I’m getting comfortable with synopses, too. All of those contests I entered are coming in handy!
 
Resisting the urge to edit while drafting is now a cinch. I credit NaNoWriMo for this. I have no trouble putting a draft down fast, even if I know certain sections suck. I just keep my eye on “The End” and look forward to cutting out the stinky stuff later.
 
My rough drafts are WORLDS apart from what they were a year ago. They still need work, of course, but I’ve gotten better at getting a good foundation down that I can build upon later. What’s really rewarding is my CPs have noticed it, too!
 
I’ve reached a point where giving up is no longer an option. Not just because someone else is relying on me to write now, but because I’ve gotten so far that it would be crazy to stop. There’s that saying: “I didn’t come this far to just come this far.”
 
I’m nice. I attract needy, lonely people, both online and in real life, for whom I am their only friend or a sponge to absorb their insecurities. Dude, I have enough insecurities of my own. When it comes to writing – my lifelong, pathological passion – I refuse to let anyone stand in my way. The road is hard enough without toxic potholes trying to keep me down. I’ve learned to weed those out and surround myself only with people who lift me up.
 
I’m better at recognizing issues in my writing before they can spread. See: Backstory Dumping, Too Many Dialogue Tags, and the Overuse of “Smiled,” “Nodded,” and “Shrugged.” (You don’t want to know how many of those I found in my rough draft!!)

 

And there are so many, many more.

The point of this post is: I’m going to remember my invisible returns. I’m going to fight those feelings of failure and inadequacy harder than ever.

I will smile (with clenched teeth) and change the subject when people tell me, “Oh, you’re still doing that writing thing? Huh. I wonder why nothing’s happened for you.”

And when my younger brothers are wildly successful and buying mansions and sports cars, and I’m still a nobody struggling with revisions, I will remind myself of the word I chose for 2016: TRUST. Trust that my hard work will pay off. Trust that I’m doing what I love. Trust that one day things will become clearer.

What are some invisible returns you’ve collected over the years?


Thoughts On Pitch Contests

Feb 20, 2016 Main blog 12 comments

You guys know that I’m a veteran of the query trenches, but that I got my agent through a pitch contest. I think querying is the most surefire way of getting your manuscript on someone’s desk, and you get to decide who you want to see your project, as opposed to putting it out there for anybody who’s interested. That being said, pitch contests can be super fun and rewarding! (Clearly, in my case!)

So here are some pros and cons I’ve come across during my time on the contest circuit:

 

PROS

 

It’s a fast, easy way to hook interest. It’s basically querying on crack. When you send letters out, it could take up to 2-3 months to hear back (if you ever hear back at all). But generally pitch contests take place within a compact, designated time frame, and if you get interest, you know it’ll come within that hour/day/week. That being said, even if you get a bite, you still will have to wait after you send your pages. In my experience, agents who requested from me during contests tended to be more excited and read faster, but this is not a hard-and-fast rule.
 
If you’re good at writing short book descriptions, this is the way to go. Pitch contests favor those who are skilled at condensing their novel into a very short space, whether that’s 140 characters on Twitter or 30-word paragraphs. If you’re not into writing queries or synopses, and/or if your book has amazing comp titles that pack an immediate punch, pitch contests are a good thing to try.
 
It’s a great way to make friends and find CPs. I’m still friends with both of my Pitch Wars mentors (I’m meeting one of them in person next month!) and most of my Pitch Wars teammates, and one of my coaches for Cupid is now my CP. It’s a fantastic way to find people whose books you’d be interested in and who might like your books, too. I recommend exchanging a few pages or chapters before diving in headfirst, though. Just because you’re great friends doesn’t always mean you’ll suit perfectly as CPs.
 
You can build up interest and a potential readership. My #PitMad pitch was one of the most highly requested in March 2014, and I saw a huge spike in Twitter followers and blog views. I also started following a ton of new people after I read their pitches. Plus, it’s fun to see careers begin that way! I actually first started following one of my mentors, Nat, when I saw her popular pitch in a contest that won her a big agent. A year later, she mentored me in Pitch Wars and her book (that began as that pitch!) landed on my doorstep.
 
It’s a good way to attract agents you might not otherwise have queried. I don’t know if I would have queried my agent with my project. I was intimidated by her client list and sales, and didn’t know if she’d want a quieter story like mine. I almost didn’t do #PitMad that day, and I’m so, so glad I did.

 

CONS

 

It’s open to the public. So EVERYONE will know if you don’t get requests. If this is something that bothers you, you may want to consider straight-up querying, because at least then whatever happens is restricted to your inbox. Also remember that having no requests is not tied to your talent, self-worth, or likelihood of getting agented. (See the post I linked to at the top.)
 

  • You may be giving someone ideas. This shouldn’t come as a surprise to anyone, because what you’re essentially doing is sharing the premise of your unpublished manuscript with the world. And where there are ideas, there will be people who steal them, either unconsciously or on purpose. It’s never pleasant to see a pitch that has your hook, your premise, and your “unique” spin on it (and even a direct phrase from your query) a year later in the exact same contest you entered, being sent to the exact same mentors who mentored you. Yes, this happened to me, and yes, my Twitter inbox and email were spammed by people saying “OMG Jules did you see this pitch…” But this is a risk we take, and in my case, it paid off because I got an agent! And just remember, only YOU can write the story in your head. Someone else might have the same concept, but they can never copy your style.
     
    You may feel pressured to submit to people you don’t want to submit to. In my case, it was editors. I knew — I knew knew KNEW — I wanted an agent to manage my career. But it was still tempting when editors from great, reputable imprints requested from me. I had to resist submitting to them because I knew they weren’t what I wanted. Some friends got requests from very green agents, when they preferred more experienced agents from better agencies who had actually made deals before. That’s okay and a totally valid thing to want. If someone gets annoyed because they requested and you didn’t send, well, that’s unfortunate for them. You did them a favor by not wasting their time.

     

    And here are some more things to think about if you’re planning on doing a pitch contest:

     

    Have someone who has read your manuscript also read your pitch. Does your pitch do justice to the story? Does it include everything it should?
     
    Have someone who HASN’T read your manuscript read your pitch. Do they get the gist of the story? Is it confusing? Does it make them want to read the book?
     
    Look at what’s been done before. You can usually find pitches from previous years in the archives or on the contest hashtag. Which ones got the highest requests? What do they have in common? How were they phrased?
     
    If you’re having trouble writing a pitch, talk about your manuscript out loud. It doesn’t matter if you’re talking to your boyfriend, your dog, or a mirror. Describe the book in a concise, exciting way. Sometimes talking it out can help you through a block on paper.

     

    I hope this helps those of you who are thinking about doing one of the many pitch contests this year!

    P.S. This is super early, but I am planning to mentor again in Pitch Wars this August. So if you have a middle-grade manuscript, think about submitting to me maybe? 🙂

    If anyone has more advice or feedback on contests, please feel free to sound off in the comments!


    A Few Updates, and a Cool Microsoft Word Thing I Learned

    Hey, everyone! It’s been a while since I’ve updated, so I thought I would check in and catch you up on what’s been happening lately!

     

    ♥ PPP On Wattpad

     

    PUMPKIN PATCH PRINCESS is about to hit 200,000 views on Wattpad. Which means that it’s well on its way to reaching a quarter of a million views or more within less than a year of being posted there. For a book that multiple savvy people assured me would not do well, that’s pretty amazing!!! I’m so grateful to be able to share the manuscript with my target audience this way!

    I’ve got something fun planned for my readers once we get to 200K. Not a sequel, not yet, but hopefully something they will enjoy. If you have been reading, commenting, and/or spreading the word, thank you SO much for doing that.

    I know this is, in reality, a very small accomplishment (it’s not like I sold 200,000 copies of a book or anything like that!) but it makes me happy and it makes me feel like a REAL WRITER. Wattpad seems to be a truly valuable marketing platform to reach potential readers, and if anything, it’s a great way to find validation. It’s a lower priority than the projects I do hope to get published, but I will 100% keep it up.

     

    ♥ Current Projects and the Pomodoro Technique

     

    Speaking of projects I do hope to get published, I’ve been trying something new this week: alternating between revising my YA and drafting my new MG. It’s actually been a really helpful way to work nonstop without getting mentally exhausted, because switching to the other manuscript has a weirdly refreshing effect on my brain.

    Have you guys heard of the Pomodoro technique for time management? It involves setting a timer for 25-minute increments, during which you work intensely, and then take a 5-minute break before beginning again. After four increments, you get an hour-long break or something like that.

    There’s a fancy app you can download and a timer you can buy, but honestly? I just use my phone. I prefer to set it for 30 minutes (because then the number of increments you do calculates nicely into hours a day) and write hard during that half-hour. I’m not as easily distracted because I know I have a time limit and the minutes are ticking away. Then I get a 10-minute break to stretch or walk around (or read a chapter or two, as in the case of this week, since I was obsessed with E.K. Johnston’s A THOUSAND NIGHTS… highly recommend).

     

    ♥ 25 Steps to Traditional Publishing

     

    Chances are, if your boss / co-worker / friend / boyfriend’s little sister / mother-in-law knows that you are a writer, you have been asked for publishing advice. Multiply this by 100,000 if you are represented by a literary agent and/or actually have a book or book deal.

    The way they see it, you have the Magic Formula (ooh!) and you must, MUST share it with them, so that they may too quickly become agented and/or published. Emphasis on the quickly.

    This was discussed in one of my writer Facebook groups, and somebody suggested that when faced with these overzealous would-be writers, you should send them this blog post written by Delilah S. Dawson. It’s called “25 Steps to Being a Traditionally Published Author: The Lazy Bastard Edition,” and it is HILARIOUS. Most importantly, however, it reinforces the idea that writing and publishing are much harder than people expect, and require a lot of work.

    I don’t know where the misconception comes from that publishing a book traditionally is easy. But I admit I had it at one time (straight A’s in English and creative writing mean nothing in the real world) and some of my loved ones still do. “There are SO many books at Barnes and Noble! Look how easy it is! Everyone can do it!”

    NOPE.

     

    ♥ Real-Life Updates

     

    I am hoping to go back to work full-time soon! This writing sabbatical has been glorious and amazing and everything I’ve dreamed of, but it’s time to jump back into the real world. I will be forever grateful that I got to experience what it might be like to be a full-time writer, and I managed to write an entire new novel during these months off. But, fingers crossed, I am looking forward to juggling work with writing once more. Whoever said “The less time you have, the more you get done” is completely right. Nights and weekends have always been my special allotted writing time, and I’m looking forward to hopefully having that again.

    Next month, I am heading back to NYC for a couple of days. I’ll be meeting up with some writer friends, and I think it will be an absolute blast. We’ve had this planned for quite some time and will definitely be photo-documenting the hangout! I’m hoping to pop in and say hi to Tamar, too, so it’ll be a fun time!

     

    ♥ Microsoft Word Trick!

     

    This is a pretty neat trick I learned for revisions.

    When I send out my manuscript to CPs/betas, almost all of them leave bubble comments in Word as they read. So a couple of weeks ago, I got my manuscript back from four people at once, and I wanted to see whether they had the same reactions to certain sections of the book. I had heard of merging multiple Word documents into one before, but didn’t know whether this would carry the Tracked Changes and comments over.

    I hopped on Google to find out how to do this, and BAM!

    Merge comments and changes from several documents into 1 document

    My favorite part of doing this is getting to see “OMG!” “OMG!” “OMG!” “OMG!” in four different comment bubbles on the same sentence.

     
     

    How are you guys and your writing projects doing? If you’re on Wattpad, send me a message there and I’ll follow you. Also, let me know if you try the comment-compiling trick in Word and whether it helps you or not!


  • Julie C. Dao