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?