I’ve noticed something over the course of the years that writers do. I didn’t really think about it until I was watching Ruby on The Great British Bake Off. Remember how she always took her bakes up to the judges and went “Oh, it’s just dreadful, isn’t it?”
And then they’d be all, “Ruby, you’re mental. This is delicious and beautiful.”
And she’d be all, “Really?”
So many times, I open my inbox to find a revision I’ve been waiting for (yay!) and it’s filled with a couple of paragraphs of what’s wrong with it (boooo!). Or it’s the complete opposite. It’s a revision or draft of something I’ve been waiting for (yay!) filled with all the praise beta-readers and critique partners have sprinkled all over it (booo!).
(I mean, none of MY clients do these things. I just want to clarify that point. My clients are all perfect.)
How could either of those things be bad? In the first case, the writer is giving me a heads up on what to look for, what they think might not be working yet and would like a hand with. In the second scenario, they are feeling pretty good about things and isn’t that also important to know?
So let’s address that first part: what’s the matter with someone telling me where the dents might be that they need help un-denting? Well, my first thought is usually, “Why didn’t you fix it if you know it needs fixing?” But also, and maybe bigger, I now have things in mind to look for, so I can’t read with a truly clean slate. If this draft or revision is from someone I know, generally we’ve spoken about what needed attention. I have some things in mind to keep an eye out for. But now I’m looking for different things, and instead of just feeling the bumps when they come along, I’m looking for them and anticipating them and way more focused on them than I might normally be.
So what’s wrong with the other way? Why shouldn’t you tell me that expert reader #1 thinks this draft is shining and perfect and whole? Two reasons: If I don’t agree, then I think your expert reader might not be the genius I was led to believe and that’s just unfair of you to taint their reputation. [insert winky face here] But moreover, I start to read with the attitude of “I’ll be the judge of that” and that’s a dangerous place for your reader to begin. If I don’t think the draft is glowing perfection, I may wonder whether we’re on the same page regarding glowing perfection.
When you set expectations, either low or high, you’re not allowing the reader to come at it with clear vision for a pure reading experience. And isn’t that the whole point of asking another person to read it?
It’s totally fine if, after I’ve read it, you think I’ve missed something huge and you say “did you notice the thing I thought was a big problem?” I might say yes and we can discuss, or I might say no, and it’s not an issue and we can move on to other things.
It’s not always possible to pass on a draft silently, and it’s probably never easy. The urge to explain changes is powerful. But 99% of the time, if you can simply say, “Here it is,” without setting expectations, you’ll get a better read from an agent or editor.