A common thread: Reader response to SOPHIE’S SQUASH

SJPAs a debut author, you spend large chunks of time getting ready for your book to go out into the world.

You edit, proofread and spell-check. You mail postcards, blog and promote. You check your sales numbers and Amazon ranking regularly.

But one part of being a debut author took me a bit by surprise. While I had spent a lot of time getting my book ready to go, I hadn’t spent a lot of time thinking about how others might respond to it.

Sophie's Squash by Pat Zietlow MillerBut soon after SOPHIE’S SQUASH, my tale of a little girl who falls in love with a butternut squash named Bernice, was released in August, I started hearing from readers. They contacted me through Facebook or my website with stories. Among other things, I received:

  • Video of a girl reading my book and saying how all she wanted was a squash for Christmas.
  • Pictures of beaming children holding squash, pumpkins and watermelon with drawn-on faces. (The picture with this blog is just one example.)
  • Stories from parents about how their now-grown children had fallen in love with apples, heads of garlic, bananas and other forms of produce.
  • Mentions that the book was going to a real-life Sophie (usually a younger girl) or a real-life Bernice (usually an older woman).
  • Hand-drawn cards.
  • Photos of librarians who had created displays featuring Bernice and her friends.
  • Wonderful blog reviews.

I was pleased to know that kids and their parents could find some truth in my book. And I am grateful for each and every story that was shared with me. But the one below might just be my favorite. It arrived in my inbox yesterday from a woman I went to high school with. I haven’t seen her in years, but here’s what she wrote:

A friend of mine has a 6-year-old boy who is on the autism spectrum. He fell in love with a small pumpkin around Halloween and was reading to it, sleeping with it and asking if he was being a good daddy to it. His mom started to get worried about what was inevitably going to happen. I gave her a copy of SOPHIE’S SQUASH, and it was perfect. He totally got it and was excited to plant his pumpkin. His mom bought copies of the book for his school and synagogue, too!

And that, I think, is why writers write. In the hopes that their story contains something universal that will help someone else understand something better, handle a difficult time more successfully or remember something they’ve always known, but have temporarily forgotten.

This isn’t something you can control as a writer. It’s hard to say, “Now is the time in my revising where I’m going to add the part that will strike a chord with like-minded readers.” But you can increase your odds of success by always being true to the story you want to tell and not shying away from feelings that are uncomfortable. Because, often, that’s where the common thread of humanity is — in the less-than-pretty parts.

And you may not know if you got it right until the cards and emails start arriving.

I’m saying goodbye to EMU’s Debuts with this post so other authors with bright-and-shiny new books can use the space.  As I go, I thank every person who has read my posts, supported my efforts and been so very positive. Some of you I know well, while others I haven’t met. But you’ve all made being a first-time author even more fun than I always hoped it would be.

I have more picture books in the works — two will be published in 2015 and one at a yet-to-be-determined date. They’re all quite different than SOPHIE’S SQUASH, but I hope their readers find something in them to connect with as well.

And if they do, well, that will be better than any sales ranking could ever be.

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11 Comments

Filed under Farewell, Happiness, Thankfulness, Writing

11 responses to “A common thread: Reader response to SOPHIE’S SQUASH

  1. Pat, Bravo. What a great way to say Farewell. So wise. So Loving. Thank you for reminding me what’s important.

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  2. kevanjatt

    Sophie’s Squash is such a beautiful story/beautiful book inspiring wonderful feedback.I hope my debut book will be received even half as well as Sophie’s Squash! I pine for little readers to send me their drawings or stories telling me they like what I’ve created. Well done, Pat!! I feel lucky to know you and have you for my agency sibling. Can’t wait to read what comes next…

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  3. Sophie’s Squash was one of my favorite picture books of the year.
    It’s brilliant, and beautiful, and FUNNY, and the message of loving WHOEVER (or whatever) you want to makes my heart go pitter-patter, thumpa-thumpa. Watch anyone read this book, and you’ll see a huge smile come over his/her face. I have bought Sophie’s Squash for many, many, many friends this year, both squash-lovers and non. Just GOURD-GEOUS.

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  4. Pat, you knocked it out of the farmer’s market with Sophie’s Squash! It is a precious story full of sweet humor. I’ve read it too many times to count and think every child should have it on their shelves. I’m excited about your upcoming books!

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  5. It’s always hard to say goodbye to my EMU blog friends — for that’s how I come to think of you, reading your words so frequently — but I wish you the best of luck with your future books!

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  6. Pat, I’m so sad to see you go, but what a lovely note to go out on. I’ve always said that my definition of success will be to receive at least one letter saying my book mattered to at least one child. That’s all I wish for. I’m so happy that you’ve already achieved that and so much more. The world is a far better place with you, Sophie, and Bernice in it. All the best in your future endeavors! ❤

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  7. Bye Ms. Miller! I’m glad all is going so well! 😀

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  8. Pat, it is with sad meeps that I watch your majestic feathers disappearing into the wide world beyond the EMU nest. Thank you so much for your awesome posts and general awesomeness. I’m so glad Sophie is finally in the hands of readers everywhere, and I can’t wait to read what’s next! 🙂

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  9. Glad to have met both Sophie and Bernice and looking forward to all that is to come.

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  10. I love this! What an incredible message to get.
    I just want to keep imagining that boy reading Sophie’s Squash. It makes me feel like all is right in the world.

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  11. That’s a beautiful story, Pat. It has me in tears. I’m glad for many things about your debut – the good reviews, the happy kids with the drawn-on squash faces – but it’s very special to hear about that little boy and his pumpkin. You saved a small heart from breaking, there is no doubt. You’re a good one. Here’s to you in all your ventures!

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