Nothing in this story is exaggerated.
On Christmas day, I gave my nephew Dylan his own personal novella, featuring him as the protagonist, along with all of his family members. It was called The Boy Who Was All Alone, and it was a story about how Dylan rescued his mom from a magical shape-changing monster. When Dylan opened his gift, he smiled bashfully, as if he had been caught on camera. The book was passed around the room, the various guests raising their eyebrows over how much work I put into it. That was the first day, and it was quite satisfying.
On the morning of the 26th, I got a text message from Dylan's mother (my sister-in-law). The first chapter scared Dylan so much that he cried and refused to sleep alone. Not to worry, though! His parents stayed up with him and read two more chapters, which resulted in Dylan rolling on the floor with laughter, according to this text.
But, I would see 6-year-old Dylan later that day, for lunch, and as soon as he saw me, he told me the book was "awful." He said it three times. When I apologized for scaring him, he told me "sometimes saying 'sorry' isn't good enough." Oh--and to top it off, he told me during the car ride to the restaurant that I should have gotten him the fifth Harry Potter.
Yes, that squishy sound you hear is the knife going into my heart.
The entire episode reminded me of a rule I made for myself when I was painting more seriously. I promised that I would never give anyone a painting that they didn't request because, really, you just never know if such a gift will be a pleasure or a burden.
Slowly, over lunch, Dylan would forgive me. He eventually told me that he liked chapters 2-12, and really only chapter 1 was the culprit. But, he did repeat that this was not a gift I should have given him. While he could read about other people in high risk situations, he did not want to see himself in those same situations.
So much for my readership of one plan. On the bright side, Dylan's parents, maternal aunt, maternal grandparents, and neighbors have all read the book. So, I did get some mileage out of it. Not to mention Michelle reading and giving me feedback as I was going along.
This adventure has made me rethink the self-publishing route. I don't want to feel like I'm forcing my friends and family to read my work when they might not want to. Right now, traditional publishing seems like there's less pressure put on people in general, especially the ones closest to me--the only ones who would know if I self-published. Let readers decide if they want to buy my book. And, while I was hurt over this whole thing, I have to remind myself that scaring a little child isn't necessarily a bad thing. Maurice Sendak and Beth Revis seem to agree. Dylan will thank me later. Or, I'll make him rue the day.