Several months ago, when I was still too shy to reach out to other writers, I joined a website that I thought would not only allow me to stew in a huge collective pot, but it was a chance to get my work noticed by a publisher. I publicly supported this site time and again. "It's amazing, innovative, such a big help!" Naive and maybe a little desperate, I posted the first four chapters of my novel on this site which will go unnamed in this post. The platform of the website is to invite critique from other writers or readers. If the reader likes your work they leave you comments and have the option to publicly support your book. This in turn gives you a numeric score that ultimately leads you to the center ring where your first few chapters will be reviewed by a publisher.
I'm not going to say that every critique I received was a pile of poo. Actually I did receive a few useful suggestions and I made a couple of friends. But out of the 75+ crits that I got, only those few were useful. A lot of if was harsh, rash and sometimes even a little strange. One critter went so far as to dive into a dramatic monologue about how he wanted to: see, feel, touch, taste and smell every tiny detail of my story.
Being the eternal people-pleaser that I am, I dove into revisions at the speed of light. Whatever someone suggested, I changed it like they were some sort of writing expert sent to save me from self-destruction. I wish now that I had never touched a single word.
The changes I made essentially nullified my narrative voice. The first four chapters became a conglomerate of suggestions from people that didn't even have the decency to read past the first chapter and none of them had read the entire MS. The feedback that I'm getting now from honest to goodness critique partners and the few agents who've looked at the MS is that the book is much better from chapter 5 on. AFTER the chapters that I let a society of nameless faces re-write. I wonder all the time if I should go back and re-write those chapters from scratch, give my story a breath of fresh air and put more of 'me' back into it, but I think I've done all that I can. The damage done was irreparable.
Someone gave me a good kick in the pants the other day when I was whining about what "this person said" and what "that person said" about certain elements about my book. She said, "not to be mean... but... YOU'RE THE AUTHOR! IT'S YOUR STORY! Those were the words I should have had in my head all those months that I sat hunched over my computer, writing to please the mass of commenters that may or may not have actually read my manuscript.
These sort of social networking sites do nothing but damage in this humble blogger's opinion. They offer false hope of a publishing deal (which I don't think in two years anyone's landed one) plus you have to network like a fiend to get enough people to read and back your book to even nudge you up in the standings. All the site manages to do is take valuable time away from the writer that he or she could use to ACTUALLY write, join a REAL critique group and QUERY and interact with AGENTS. There is no magic formula, or website that's going to get you published. This is HARD work and that's why when it finally does happen, you hear about your friends dancing around their kitchen like they just won the PowerBall or something.
The best way to find a critique partner or group is to follow writer's websites such as AgentQuery or QueryTracker. Visit their forums. Look out for other writers on Facebook or Twitter. Read as many blogs as you can. But don't stop there. Don't just hand your MS over to someone just because their blog is cute. Do your research, swap emails, phone calls and really get to know the person before you start. This is what I did and let me tell you--it's paying off.
Some may say that it sounds like "sour grapes" because my work didn't thrive on the site. Well, it IS sour grapes. I wasted months of time and energy pushing my book to absolutely NO ONE. That's right, no one. I won't make the same mistake with my new WIP. I have friends and critters that I trust will help me live up to my potential as an author. Plus, I TRUST myself. I AM THE AUTHOR and IT'S MY STORY!