So of course you have plenty of friends and family all clamoring to read your masterpiece. And you tell them, "Please, tell me if you see anything wrong." Or "Please, tell me what you really think of it. No, really, I want an honest opinion." And you really mean it. But what do they tell you when they finally read it? It's amazing! It's so good! I really liked it!
What did you like? You ask, and they stare at you blank faced and blinking.
It's awesome to get support and the occasional ego boost from friends and family but that’s about as helpful as them telling you what you should be writing about instead. It's not helpful. Not at all. Obviously they don’t want to hurt your feelings and we all get that, sure. But what they don’t get is that by not telling you what they thought was wrong with your book - where in your book, about day walking vampires, you suddenly started talking about the awesome four foot tall rabbit passing out coupons in front of the grocery store didn’t seem to have anything to do with the actual plot about day walking vampires - they are in fact hurting you.
I have had about four people read my first manuscript. Two were friends and two were family members. Two of them pointed out typos for me. The other two just told me how awesome it was. They were wrong. Now, some two years later, I know just how much that first/second/third draft sucked. And it sucked hard. Like rotten green eggs you left in the fridge for six months sucked. And that's okay. It’s my first completed book. Of course it sucked. But no one would tell me it sucked. No one would point out the inconsistencies in the story. No one would tell me about the holes in my plot I forgot to plug. No one would tell me where my main character came off like a righteous bitch they wouldn’t spit on if she were on fire. All of those, while tough to hear, would've been helpful.
Now, randomly, I met this awesome chick, Cassie. Cassie seemed like a nice, quiet chick when I met her - at a friend's bachelorette party I was throwing - but I didn’t know much about her aside from our matching hair color. But that alone should've told me how awesome Cassie is. Then I found out that she had a Master of Letters in Shakespeare and Renaissance Literature. Dude. Hold the phone. Now personally I only have a BA in Creative writing. And yeah, Shakespeare and Ren Lit have nothing to do with current day magic and witches, which my books are about, but she managed to get a masters in some of the most daunting genres of literature. GOLDMINE!
So of course as soon as I found this out I emailed her, begging her to read my book, and if she enjoyed it, to read the next three in the series. She too is working on a crafty project with Shakespeare so I offered a crit trade with her. I asked her to give me my honest opinion and not care that I have feelings and just be brutal. I asked her to look out for typos and grammar mistakes and the annoying dyslexic mistake for me.
And she did. She found so many structural, grammatical and dyslexic mistakes I lost count. And she was reading the 4th draft! We can’t do everything on our own people!
Cassie also gave me her real opinion. Occasionally I'd get the comment [Love this description!] or [HAHAHAHA!] where I'd hoped people would laugh. And trust me; I clung to those little bits of praise like a coke junkie licking a mirror. But these bits meant so much more to me than "I really liked it!" because Cassie actually told me where the book sucked. Now of course she was overly nice about it, "Now I mean this in the nicest way possible but..." and I'd tell her not to justify a criticism, just lash out and hurt me! Never mind my huddled mass in the corner, crying and cutting myself. I’d get over it eventually. And she eventually got the hang of it. Furthermore, and probably most importantly, she helped me fix a red herring problem in the plot.
Now, just a month after I emailed her the MS with high hopes, I actually like my book. I don’t know how many times I told my husband that I was sorry for wasting time and money on prepping this for e-self-publishing but now I'm not sorry. All because I found a real crit partner. Seriously people, go find one, or two or five. You need them, we all do. They are invaluable.