I have been working on two manuscripts recently. Initially, I thought them both to be pretty solid stories. However, I had them critiqued and now I can say they are stronger than before.
If you decide to be a traditionally published writer, you will have to take criticism of your work. You must be prepared to make changes: switch around language, grow some characters and shrink others. There is no getting around it; you need to have your work reviewed and critiqued. A great critique partner will objectively assess your story and highlight what works and what could be better. Often, we are too close to our own stories to spot these on our own. Our story lives in our heads. We have seen it played out in our minds; we know the characters and their motivation. However, that may not be reflected in our written work. An excellent critique bridges the gap between the story in your mind and the one on paper.
Now there is some debate about whether you should pay for critiques. The argument is that there are great critique partners you can find for free. I have the experience, albeit limited with both. From my experience, a paid service was more valuable than unpaid. For your critique partner to help you grow, ideally, they should have more experience in writing /publishing in your genre than you. From what I note, a lot of the online critique groups consist of persons like myself figuring this out. While they do provide useful insight, it may not be enough to push your story to the next level.
On the other hand, I have also paid for critiques, where the feedback wasn't helpful. They patted me on the back and sent me on my way. Perhaps it was a marketing strategy to get future critiques. I want genuine feedback ..brutally honest. Help me take my story where it needs to go. Give me something I didn't think of before; help strengthen my characters and my plot.
I believe I have found that with Lynne Marie (www.literallylynnemarie.com). She does a great job of a balanced critique. She has a published author in my genre with tonnes of notches in her belt. She points out where your manuscript shines and where it needs to improve. Her zoom consultations are also very insightful. I feel confident that she will help me grow and take my writing to the next stage.
I don't know what the future holds for these two little stories, but I do know I couldn't be prouder of how far they have come without losing their essence.