I’m going to be blunt. You’ve written a novel. Whether you think it’s the most perfect book ever written or are nervous and uncertain about the quality of your work, get it critiqued.
There are a very few people who can just write a book and have it be perfect and ready to go. I’m not one of them. Chances are, neither are you.
But, you might ask, where do I get a critique?
Fortunately, there are several options.
Hire an Editor
One option for critiques is to hire an editor. You can pay for a manuscript critique or a developmental edit. The former is less expensive, but less helpful. But either will help you learn the strengths and weaknesses of your story and writing style. If you have the money, go for it. I’d love to have your business. But not every author can afford to pay for a professional review.
Ask a Friend
The usefulness of this option varies with the skills of the friend. Someone who reads the type of book you’ve written will be better than a friend who knows little to nothing about that genre or style. Even so, they probably aren’t trained or experienced as a writer. You’ll get some problems pointed out, but others will be missed. So understand the quality of the critique you’re getting when you ask a friend.
Ask a Writer
This is a step up from asking a friend. A fellow writer, best one writing in the same field or genre you are, will be an excellent person to discuss your writing with. Trade critiques and learn from your fellow writer’s strengths and weaknesses as they learn from yours. This is a solid second set of eyes to review your manuscript and help you improve as a writer.
Ask Your Family
Honestly, you can. But really, don’t. Unless your loved ones are familiar with the field and writers themselves, most of the time asking a family member just gets you worried and confused about your writing. If you write science fiction and your parents don’t read or like it, they won’t like your book no matter how good it is. While you need another pair of eyes, you need a pair of knowledgeable eyes and listening to the wrong advice will just mess you up. Don’t ask family to read your book until you’re much closer to done.
Join a Critique Group
This is my favorite option. I run two groups locally, one in science fiction and fantasy, the other in romance. I get knowledgeable comments from multiple people working in the same fields I am, all of whom are working towards publishing. We learn from each other and improve with every meeting. The regulars bring solid understanding and familiarity with my work, while new people from time to time bring new insight and ideas. What one person misses, another can catch. And while I don’t follow every bit of advice, it all makes me think, and in the end my books are better for it.
So, to find a writing group, check an online presence or ask around at your local libraries and bookstores. Major groups of writers in an area will often host a critique group or two. Beware, finding the right group can be tricky. The wrong group of people with the wrong focus will mess you up as badly as the comments of the wrong family or friend. You may have to try a number of groups before you find the right people. But keep trying. Found your own if nothing local works for you.
Another option if there’s nothing local is to joining an online group. There are websites for writers that will provide critiques and reviews of your work. One such place is writing.com. There are others. Keep looking until you find the right group. Some people like this option because they don’t have to look the person reading their work in the eye. Others prefer a face to face meeting. Experiment until you find what works for you.
It only takes a few good critiques to see how far you need to go to develop as a writer. But it only takes a few more to realize how far you’ve come.