My 2016 Pitch Wars Wish List


19, 2016 |

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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!


Speak up:




05, 2016 |

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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

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Writing Updates!


25, 2016 |

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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

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Random Tuesday Thoughts


14, 2016 |

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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 🙂

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Tips On Perseverance! OR: How To Be An Ox


08, 2016 |

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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.

  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!

  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!

  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.

  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.

  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?”

  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.


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?

Speak up:



Julie C. Dao