Critiques are important because they will tell you if your story is interesting, holds the reader’s attention, where potential problems and mistakes are, and helps you get ready for submission (first time or otherwise) to agents or editors.
If it’s your mom, best friend or some relative that is not in any way, shape, or form in the writing business, is probably not the best person to provide you with constructive criticism. Even if they are avid readers, the types of comments you may receive from them might be something like: “That’s funny; I love your characters; and my favorite, “great!”
Those types of comments are fine, once your book is published. In fact, those types of comments from readers are golden. But they are not so helpful on the road to getting published. It’s not to say that you should not have your friends and relatives read your book. You just need to understand that the comments you may receive might not be what you need to hear to
progress on the writing path.
I recently started a new book, a Victorian Romance , that I am having a great deal of fun “pantsing” my way through. After completing a few chapters, I sent it out to various channels for critiques. Here are the types of critiques I typically look for:
1) Chapter Contests – whether they are RWA affiliated chapters or not, sending your manuscript to the right contests allows you to receive 2 to 3 critiques of your work for a nominal fee. Who knows, if your first few chapters are strong enough, it could final and be sent to the final judge in your category, who may be an agent or editor that might want to represent you in the future!
2) Writing Buddies – These can be published or unpublished friends or chapter-mates. What I have found is that I have at least 3 critique partners (if not more) because when you receive comments back, you’ll notice that each person will pick-up on different things.
I have one person that notices the legal aspects (such as that rule didn’t exist in that time), another that checks grammar and punctuation, another that focuses on characterization, and even another one that focuses on plotting and pacing. (NOTE: I didn’t ask them to look for these things specifically, it’s just what I noticed that they are really good at.)
If you are able to find all these aspects in one critique partner, considered yourself extremely blessed. Just be sure to devote time to critique their work honestly and with constructive comments as well. Notice how “Critique Partner?” It’s definitely meant to be a 2-way street.
3) Paid Critique – (I haven’t done this yet with my current WIP, but will further down the line.) You can find these a number of different ways, through chapter bulletins or newsletters, on published author or agency websites, via Twitter, Facebook, or RSS Feeds. Heck, you can even solicit your favorite NY Times Best Selling Author to ask for a critique, and tell him/her that you’re willing to donate their fee to the chapter/cause/charity of their chose. You will never know what you’ll find until you “Google it.” I have even found one listed on eBay for a chapter fundraiser.
These Paid critiques are great if you have the extra cash, because you will get an unbiased review of your work from someone that’s been in the business for a while and will be bent on making sure that you get your money’s worth.