I'm waiting on two readers to reply to different stories I sent to them. I can't wait to hear what they say, bad and good. One reason I hate to wait is because I LOVE those stories. I want to encorporate those suggestions, I want to improve what I have, evolve it, read it again myself and find changes no one else suggested.
The two pieces I'm waiting on are of very different lengths. One is short, 5k maximum for a contest. The other is long, a 60K novel. They are very different styles. One is high fantasy, filled with Manticores and Gryphons and Unicorns. The other is contemporary fiction, a family dealing with the sexual abuse of their eldest daughter by a classmate. And I have very different pre-readers! Miranda Gamella pre-reads all of my Picture Prompts and has read some of my fanfiction prior to posting. I've known her for over a year. Tammy Lee on the other hand, is a wonderful lady I met at the Get Publishing conference at the beginning of May and this is the first work of mine that she's read (as far as I know). Two very different stories with two different pre-readers and I'm excited for both!
I'm going to take a moment here to thank David Kirk, author of Particular Stones, who pre-read both for me. And apparently neither was of the sort he reads normally! Thank you so much, David!
Which brings me to the other thing I love about Critique, the ability to explore other genres, other styles, and other authors. I'm Workshopping a novel written by Alicia Golden, through Fictionista Workshops. Not only am I reading paranormal, not my usual free reading material, but I'm working with others to synthesize our critiques, giving Alicia even more information on exactly where we had problems with a given chapter. I hope to one day have a novel of mine worked on this intensely. It's great for showing me mistakes I make, similar to Alicia's, and tips on how to improve what I'm writing. Although I am quick to offer to pre-read or beta read almost anything, I seem to be in need of readers more often than I receive manuscripts. Please, keep me in mind if you need something read!
And now, the sad part of critique, which was pointed out by Amy Sundberg in the second of her 'backbone' posts, you can't accept every piece of advice you're given. It's true. Some people will suggest things that will completely destroy the story you're trying to tell, turn it into something else, possibly something you don't want. Sometimes the advice is simply jaded. They haven't read chapter six so they don't know why you need this exchange in chapter three. Sometimes its just out of date. I had one reader insist I needed a double space after every period, but then my publisher turned around and told me to take them all out. Current word processors increase the space after a period automatically. How did we know! Those too too smart processors. Sometimes the suggestions 'sanitize' your story. If your character speaks and thinks in fragments and you have a grammar nazi come through and tell you to fix them all, you're going to lose your character's voice or that you use known terms for things even though your created titles are part of the world you're building. Your world can lose its uniqueness.
It is sometimes hard to know which advice to take and which to ignore. I've found, in the critiques I've received, that there is always one of the suggestions given that I will implement. Usually there is at least one that I won't fully encorporate. It's why I love having more than one reader, more than one set of suggestions. I can make some changes, have another person read it, and see if the problem is caught again, or if I've ameliorated it enough that it no longer impedes the story.
Critique is such a wonderful tool and I am still sad that I didn't have more people read my soon to be published work before it reached the final stages. I wish I'd been less tentative and given it a wider audience, gotten more response. I'm sure what I have is fine, I have had a pair of editors work with me, but how much better if I'd had eight or ten? I will for the sequel, you can be sure.
Are you a fan of critiquing? Are you reluctant to let others read your work? How well do you know your pre-readers? Do you let family read your manuscripts?