You Are the Expert
Updated: Dec 25, 2022
Many years ago as I led a design presentation to an important customer, I said something about “guessing.” Afterward, my management scolded me, telling me I was to present myself as the expert, that the customer wanted me to be the expert. One of my trombone teachers told me that if I made a mistake when performing a musical number, the audience wouldn't know I did anything wrong. Instead, they would--without knowing why--not like my performance as much. The point is, your readers want to know that you know what you’re doing. They won't say to themselves, “The dialogue-to-introspection ratio of this scene is skewed.” Instead, they’ll think,
"I’d like to keep reading, but I have to get to those dishes.
And what to do about Mrs. Ketner’s dog?"
Most people who review my stories get through them well enough. But to those few loyal souls who get stuck part way through I lavish with appreciation. I let them off the hook with multiple thank-you's. They feel badly even after I tell them they've given me vital information based on where they struggled to get through my story. What does it mean when someone stops reading one of your stories and turns to more pressing tasks like dusting cabinets? It means your story—in his or her mind—isn’t that good. They want you to be the expert so they tell themselves, “I must not be that good of a reader.”
Your readers want you to lead them; they want to follow you. They probably won't know what went wrong during their reading. They can't imagine you're at fault, so they blame themselves.
A reader not getting through a story is pure gold. Ask him or her where they stopped reading. Try your best to get the person to open up, but realize you’ll likely not get much from him or her. Most often they can’t tell you why. If several readers slow down in the same area, consider it a miracle. Treat the issue with the respect it deserves and try to determine the problem.