Why I’m thankful to Patrick (who did not love my book)

As an author, it’s easy to get caught up in who loved your book and who didn’t, and to worry (especially at this time of year) when your book is or isn’t part of the discussions about notable lists and awards and things like that.  I got a letter in the mail a couple weeks ago that I have set aside. I know I’ll want to read it over and over again, because it puts the whole issue in perspective.

It’s not the kind of letter you might expect to be an author’s favorite. It was part of a packet of follow-up letters from a Vermont classroom I visited this fall, the kind that are neatly written and edited for spelling and packaged in a tidy envelope. I read every one of those letters, and I appreciate and keep them all.  But Patrick’s stands out.

It’s a lovely, friendly letter.  He thanks me for coming to visit.  Then he writes about my presentation, how much he enjoyed hearing about my research and how books come to have the covers they have. The next paragraph says:

I am sorry, but I didn’t really like your new book, The Brilliant Fall of Gianna Z.  I like books with a lot of action, and I felt there wasn’t enough in The Brilliant Fall of Gianna Z.  I think you could make it more exciting by adding sectionals and have Gianna win by a centimeter or something like that.  It’s just not my type of book. But if it was, I would have thought it was a great one.

Merry Christmas,

~Patrick

I love this letter.  I love that Patrick was honest, and I love that his teacher let him tell the truth.  And I love the way this friendly note, in Patrick’s voice, reminds me that not all books are for all people. And that’s okay. We can still be friends.

Even though sharing the news about someone who didn’t like your book is a little unconventional, I wanted to pass along Patrick’s thoughts as a gift to my writer friends.  The next time you get a rejection or an especially critical review, remember that not all stories connect with all readers.  And that’s okay.  Then imagine the rejection or review written on lined paper in number two pencil, with Patrick’s words tacked onto the end.

It’s just not my type of book. But if it was, I would have thought it was a great one.

P.S. to Patrick…  Thanks.  And also…there is an airport chase scene in my novel-in-progress that you are absolutely going to love.

31 Replies on “Why I’m thankful to Patrick (who did not love my book)

  1. What I love is that his letter shows he TOTALLY GETS your book. Like, he read it and thought about it and has specific and appropriate ways it could have been more “him”. So often adult reviewers who don’t like a book say “I didn’t like it because it was A instead of B, in which B is something entirely opposite to the book, and the author should have written B instead of A”. (Like my dad, who said Gone With the Wind would have been a good story if it weren’t for THAT WOMAN [Scarlett O’Hara]).

    Thanks for sharing, Kate!

    (Wendy / Six Boxes)

  2. Love it!

    I love what Patrick wrote, and that you celebrate it. It reminds me of when I share one of the books I treasure with my fourth graders and someone will tell me that they don’t like it for whatever reason. At first I am usually crushed, how could they not love it? And then I realize what you just wrote. Not all books are for everyone. I especially love that Patrick’s teacher honored his opinion and included his letter. Bravo.
    Katherine

  3. Me too – as a teacher, I remind kids that there are a LOT of books out there to be tasted, and not every one is going to hit the spot. (But somehow as authors, we sometimes miss that point…or decide it shouldn’t apply to our books!)

  4. Re: Love it!

    I love that she didn’t ask him to change it – and trusted him to express himself in a way that was honest and still kind. This letter’s a keeper…

  5. Kate, thanks so much for sharing this. These are exactly the kind of rejection letters I’ve had to my resent submissions, and you know, I’m okay with them. Because they mean that my work will be fine with someone–all I need to do is find that agent or editor.

  6. Kudos to Patrick for writing it, the teacher for sending it, and to you for sharing it. Please remember to share the one he writes after reading that airport chase scene!

  7. You are in Good Company

    I’m a bit of an Alice in Wonderland fan (er, educating alice?) and have read it aloud to all my classes. One year I had the kids write letters to Carroll and one wrote very apologetically about why he didn’t like the book for the same reason Patrick gave you — not enough action. He then gave Carroll a suggestion to have a spring at the bottom of the rabbit hole that would have caused Alice to bounce and would have created more drama and excitement!

    Monica of educating alice

  8. I love that Patrick can explain why he didn’t like the book (which is not always easy to do!). And I love that he knows what kind of books he likes (and, apparently, what kind of books he doesn’t like!).

    And you’re perfectly right – sometimes a book just isn’t someone’s type of book. And that’s okay.

  9. Action/adventure

    This is why language arts classes should think twice about assigning everyone the same novel! Patrick was very brave to read Gianna Z. A novel doesn’t have to be everything to all people. This is exactly what my 6th grade daughter loves, but my 8th grade son would give up by page 3. If something doesn’t explode by then, he’s done! I thought it was a fabulous book!

  10. Re: Action/adventure

    True confession: My own 8th grade son will not read GIANNA Z. He, too, is sure it is a delightful book – just not his cup of tea, no matter who the author may be or how many dinners she cooks for him.