I’ve well-established how I feel about the importance of a writer getting constructive feedback; I think it’s absolutely crucial. An author is simply too close to his work to catch everything, and the process of trying hard to create something perfect and having that work picked apart is the fastest way to improve.
That being said, where you do find critiques?
1. What helped me the most was a critique group. The live interaction and meeting face to face with other authors provides me with input and motivation that no other source can match. Go to meetup.com and search for writer’s groups in your area. If there isn’t one, consider trying to start one. Note that you’ll be required to critique others just as they critique you.
2. Every writing forum I found has some kind of method of displaying your work for critique. These are a great place to get a variety of opinions on chapters or short pieces of work. Don’t be a user, though. If you’re going to get benefit from the community, give back in the form of helping others and generating content for the forum.
3. I offer detailed coaching for short pieces on this blog (see Submissions). Frankly, I’m surprised that more people don’t take me up on it. Flourish Editing also offers to critique small samples for free every Monday. Take advantage of these kinds of offers. (If you know of any other blogs or editors that offer this kind of service, please comment with a link.)
4. There are many online critique groups. I haven’t used any of them, but a simple Google search can start your research.
All the methods above are best for short pieces or portions of your novel, and, even if you use any or all of them, you still need beta readers for the complete finished draft of your novel. Here’s how you find them:
1. Ask friends and family. I know that some say this is a bad idea, but it can work as long as you use this resource as only a part of the feedback you get. That friend or aunt may spot a mistake that you and your other betas missed or come up with a cool insight. You probably need to send your manuscript to four or five people, and supplementing other sources with this one is an easy way to increase the quantity.
2. Writing forums have hundreds of authors in the same position as you. The best way to get a quality beta reader is to become one and do an exchange of services. You read his novel, and he reads yours.
3. Editors are expensive, but there’s no better source for professional input on your work than paying for it. It’s my opinion that you’re best served waiting until you have an advanced draft that has already passed through several layers of revision and beta reading first. You want to maximize your money spent, and, if your uncle can point out your grammar mistakes, the editor won’t have to spend his limited time doing it. (Look for my two part series on editing coming as early as next week after I receive feedback on Abuse of Power.)