There’s a piece of advice that gets traded around on writers’ FB groups, attributed to various famous authors (but mostly Neil Gaiman) that “beta readers” can tell you what is wrong, but editors tell you why and then how to fix it.
And I always nod and not comment because my tried-and-true betas are really good about this: they’ll note that something seems off (and even say, in comments, that they have a PhD. In whatever, and can offer details if I need them, but leave the subsequent queries up to me). They know better than to tell me *how* to write it.
But, then again (keeping in mind that this was the first run at the scene, in the first draft of a novel):
One time, I threw out a general request for some people with some experience in something to read a short snippet and tell me if the terminology was all right, and if it “felt” realistic enough.
Most of the people that responded ignored the specifics of the question and jumped in with anecdotes that were not even slightly pertinent, given the parameters I asked for.
Most gave me advice about what the characters “should” do, ignoring the fact that – being a short excerpt with no surrounding context – I hadn’t asked for solutions to avoid the situation, but for whether or not, given some poor decision-making, the feel of the scene was accurate.
I pointed that out.
I got two more people chiming in with what the characters ought to have done to avoid the problems.
And then, several people gave me contradictory advice, anyway, which suggested to me that perhaps some of them knew a whole lot less than they thought they did.
But the real kicker was that one person gave me a long screed that was essentially an edit. They objected to a descriptive phrase, not because it was inaccurate, but because it seemed out of place to them. They ignored the really salient details, and gave advice about a different environment that I specifically said this wasn’t. They felt that the reader would need to know a lot of details that are, in fact, treated much earlier in the chapter, but were not germane to my writer’s dilemma or to the question I had posed.
It was also an edit that suggested that they would hate, hate, hate my books because frankly, in no reality whatsoever would I interrupt a scary, life-threatening action scene to deliver a lecture on meteorology and how storms form over the North Atlantic (which is not where my characters were, anyway.)
My instinct is this: that open queries are a mistake, and that people need to read those queries really carefully when they do come up.
Because now I have a whole lot less respect for some people’s reading comprehension skills, and that’s a little bit sad.