Writing a book is a very solitary journey. It stays that way until the first of many critiques is sought. It is a scary time as no one cares about the hours you put into crafting the next best seller. Here is a rundown of the types of readers I have used and the dangers lurking with each:
MYSELF Yes, you can critique your own work. First though you need to let it sit for 3-4 weeks. This allows you to forget all the dreadful sentences you may have constructed. Once opening the file again you will at once wonder who wrote those words. Other times you can sit back and bask in their brilliance. I am my own worst critic so this source often leaves me bruised and battered.
FRIENDS/FAMILYI run into them every day but do I want them to continue being friends? Having a trusted companion read your work is wrought with danger in unchartered territories. Will they be honest? Are they doing this just to get a free lunch? Why is it taking them 8 months to read 160 pages? Friends who have read my work have always been way too nice. Comments like “I loved it” or “I found a typo on p. 28” are not much help to improve my story. The problem is friends don’t want to hurt your feelings since they already have some of the blood, sweat, and tears back story that went into each draft. My suggestion is to try other sources. Let your friends and family read your story once it is published.
CRITIQUE GROUPS I have used both Internet and live reviewers. This is where honesty begins to creep into the process. Most are nice and frame their concerns into questions- “Was there a reason for the protagonist being an alien?” or “Did this seem a bit long to you?” Questions are criticisms and they are something to mull over. A few have already rewritten your story in their minds and will tell you exactly how you should change the plot- “Kill this character off.” “Make it a fantasy.” “Start over, the first 20 pages were a disaster.” Take each suggestion and treat it as such. If after a few days it still seems plausible then reread your manuscript and make improvements.
The final two areas are where I have gotten the best feedback but you will need heavy armor to survive:
PROFESSIONAL EDITS You can find may authors, agents, or unemployed English majors waiting to pounce on your work. Most charge per page but the feedback you get is invaluable, honest, and cutthroat. They will be abrupt and don’t mince words. Be ready to defend your work but also be ready to make changes.
TARGET AUDIENCE My novel is for kids 10 and up. I have used their insights to make my story become fuller and more alive. They live and breathe honesty and tell you exactly how they feel both positive and negative. Many of their critiques are based on personal preference but they have always helped me eliminate scenes that were not working and reinforce those that shine.
Critiques are a necessary component toward crafting the best story possible. Get a variety of opinions and soak up all the advice. In the end you will make the final decisions.