The Magic of Letter Writing

By Lindsay Zier-Vogel

The Magic of Letter Writing by Lindsay Zier-Vogel banner. Background of crumpled tan paper with photo of author framed at center, woman with ponytail and large smile waving hands triumphantly at letters that are clipped onto rows and rows of clotheslines behind her. Above a solid horizontal header with text overlaid and Open Book Logo at bottom left corner of banner.

Summer challenge: Write a letter to your favourite author

When I was in Grade 3, I loved Jean Little’s books. So I did what I always do: I wrote her a letter. I told her all of my favourite things about her books, and asked her if she would come and do an author visit at my school. Not only did she write me back, the following year, she came to my school and did a reading, and I got to introduce her to my classmates. I decided then that I wanted to be a writer.

Fast forward to earlier this year, where I set up a table at the Forest of Reading Festival, a celebration of Canadian kid lit, and asked students to write letters to their favourite nominated authors. They wrote THOUSANDS of letters—the most thoughtful, meaningful missives—that I then collated for each author. Imagine getting an envelope FULL of letters from readers who love your book. Honestly, the thought gives me goosebumps.

“I knew the official Silver Birch Award was coming in the mail but the stack of incredibly kind letters from kids made me cry,” prolific author Kevin Sylvester said after getting his package of letters in the mail. 

A number of young people writing letters to authors on a table with Lindsay Zier-Vogel in the background facilitating and rows of letters on string behind her.

Sarabeth Holden, author of Benny, the Bananasaurus Rex and winter of the 2024 Forest of Reading Blue Spruce Award has received her fair share of fan mail, and says it’s always thrilling to receive mail from readers, and that she makes it a priority to write back whenever she can. 

“I feel like I've made an impact, that I've reached a young mind in a way they hadn't seen or thought of before,” says Loretta Garbutt, author of many picture books, including Wake Up, Little Pin, and Jeffrey Loves Blue, about getting fan mail. 

And kids’ authors aren’t the only one who loves getting letters from readers. Julia Zarankin, author of Field Notes from an Unintentional Birder says, “I'm not sure there is anything more gratifying than receiving emails and letters from readers. It's honestly the greatest honor to have readers. Writing is such solitary work, and just knowing that my words resonated with a reader is so rewarding and wonderful. And to think that someone was moved enough by my prose to take the time out of their day and let me know that ---there's nothing better. I'm not sure readers realize how much their notes energize me and give me faith. I should be thanking them for choosing to spend their time with my words and engaging with my story!”

And Ann Douglas, author of Navigating the Messy Middle, adds, “Books can change lives by bringing people together: by letting some other heartbroken soul know, ‘You are not alone.’”

A number of letters pegged to a string.

Writing can be hard and lonely, and there’s less and less money in the industry. Every one of my author friends feels so defeated by the industry right now. So, here’s a summer challenge: write to your favourite author. Send them a letter telling them that their book meant something to you. Tell them the part of their book that made you cry, the character that reminded you so much of your sibling, that you stayed up until the wee hours of the morning/missed your subway stop because you couldn’t put their book down.

You can address letters to their publisher but if pen and paper isn’t your thing, send them a DM, or look on their author page for a contact page and send them an email. 

The views expressed by Open Book columnists are those held by the authors and do not necessarily reflect the views of Open Book.

Lindsay Zier-Vogel is an author, arts educator, grant writer, and the creator of the internationally acclaimed Love Lettering Project. After studying contemporary dance, she received her MA in Creative Writing from the University of Toronto. She is the author of the acclaimed debut novel Letters to Amelia and her work has been published widely in Canada and the UK. Dear Street is Lindsay’s first picture book, and is a 2023 Junior Library Guild pick, a 2023 Canadian Children’s Book Centre book of the year, and has been nominated for a Forest of Reading Blue Spruce Award. Since 2001, she has been teaching creative writing workshops in schools and communities, and as the creator of the Love Lettering Project, Lindsay has asked people all over the world to write love letters to their communities and hide them for strangers to find, spreading place-based love.