Remember To Celebrate the Small Joys

I say this every time a new season rolls around, but I cannot believe how quickly the time goes. It has been almost a year since I got published! Eleven months and change since October 10, 2017, when FOREST OF A THOUSAND LANTERNS came out in hardcover and my lifelong dream was realized. And yesterday, on September 11, 2018, the paperback version hit shelves:

I’ve talked a lot on social media about public trophies vs. small joys. What do I mean by these terms? Well, I think of public trophies as the glitzy milestones and accomplishments that everyone seems to think of when they think of getting published: going on a national book tour, hitting a bestseller list, getting optioned by Hollywood, winning a prestigious award, and so on and so forth. These are obviously and absolutely worthy of celebration.

But so are the small joys: quieter, contemplative moments that give you a thrill of happiness down to your core. Moments that might not be so splashy or spectacular, moments you might witness alone, moments that aren’t included in the author life highlights reel — and yet they are moments that shape and define you and make you think: “Yes, this is the reason I write.”

And now that I am looking back on my first year as a published author, I thought I would share some of the small joys I have experienced:


  • Getting to see my book on a store shelf for the very first time
  • The moment someone bought a copy of FOREST OF A THOUSAND LANTERNS right in front of me at Powell’s Books
  • When an Asian-American teen approached me at Boston Book Festival and tearfully shared her writing dream with me, saying “I didn’t know we could do this”
  • When a favorite author drew me aside, pulled a copy of my book from her bag, and asked me to sign it for her
  • Getting recognized by a reader on the street at YALLWest, signing her copy, and chatting together while waiting for the pedestrian light
  • Burning an FOTL-inspired candle made by a reader
  • Weeping over the “Also written by Julie C. Dao” page in my second book
  • The two eighth-grade girls who came up to hug me and chat about Hamilton after I gave my talk on villains and antiheroes
  • Watching “Ever After,” one of my favorite fairy tale retellings, with my students at my Highlights workshop
  • Receiving a drawing of an original superhero by a middle-grader, who shared with me his dream of becoming a comic book artist
  • When Tochi Onyebuchi, Libba Bray, and I all simultaneously burst into tears on a panel, talking about how much it meant to us to write for young readers
  • Sending in a final draft and knowing it is going to be a book and that I did my very best on it
  • Sitting quietly with my agent and editor at Book Expo, and just feeling how proud they were of me
  • When my local indie bookseller’s face lights up when I walk in and we chat about every new YA book under the sun
  • Facing my fear of public speaking and conquering those butterflies, over and over and over


It is so important to acknowledge the small joys. I think of them as fuel for the hard days, and I’ve taken to scribbling them down in my journal, just so they don’t get lost and forgotten. It reminds me of how lucky I truly am, and how grateful and happy I am to get to share my story with the world — something eight-year-old Julie dreamt of for the first time, and twenty-eight-year-old Julie (a few years ago, before getting an agent) never thought would come true.

Small joys have big returns.

If you are published, what are some small joys you’ve experienced? And if you are not yet published, what small joys do you hope will come true?

9 Responses to Remember To Celebrate the Small Joys

  1. Chris Bailey Sep 12 2018 at 7:14 am #

    This is a heartwarming list of reasons to celebrate! I hope one day to have a similar list, with the addition of finding my book in a library catalog. To know that my book would be selected by librarians and made available to readers who might not be able to afford to buy it. (BTW, your book, print and CD, are available in my library!)

    • Jules Sep 13 2018 at 1:56 pm #

      I hope the same for you, Chris! Thank you for reading the post, and for letting me know that your library stocks my book!!

  2. Alexia Chantel Sep 12 2018 at 7:35 am #

    Reading your list made me smile. There are so many difficult pieces to this process but there is also so much good, as long as you take a moment to recognize them. Thanks for sharing this post, Julie!

    • Jules Sep 13 2018 at 1:57 pm #

      So very true, Alexia! Thank you for your kind words and for reading the post!!

  3. Ilona Bray Sep 12 2018 at 12:17 pm #

    Lovely article, thanks, especially since I too am exactly a year from the pub date of my first kids’ book! The sweetest moments for me have been when friends send me photos of my book on the shelves of stores in far flung places. And the time when some littles came to a bookstore having followed the instructions in my book on how to fly a magic carpet, all dressed up for their first ride. Their backpacks were stuffed with maps, energy bars, and dental floss. A lot of dental floss.

    • Jules Sep 13 2018 at 1:58 pm #

      Oh, congratulations on your one-year publishing anniversary!! So glad to hear you have such wonderful, supportive friends, and your story about the kids dressing up makes me smile.

  4. Ronni Sep 12 2018 at 1:48 pm #

    I LOVE this post, Julie!! The little quiet joys are so important and meaningful. <3 People talk so much about the stress of debut year, it's awesome to see some beauty as well.

    • Jules Sep 13 2018 at 1:59 pm #

      There is a lot of beauty, but it’s easier to focus on the negatives unfortunately. I hope you find lots and lots of joy and fulfillment, Ronni!

  5. Martine Sep 15 2018 at 3:31 pm #

    This is such a great list! My debut is not coming out until next year, but I know exactly what you mean. My best “little” moment so far was getting a blurb from an author I ADORE. Her words were so kind, and I admire her so much, that I started to cry. This was a private moment that made everything more than worth it. This one person—who had never even met me—enjoyed the book I wrote. I’ll look back on that feeling forever. ♥️

Leave a Reply

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.