We can easily spot talent in others, but accepting our own is a much steeper climb. Some have an overinflated self image, while others seem much too timid to accept that they have plenty to be proud of. The act of writing is a largely solitary craft. A book can take a year or more to write. Talk about getting too close to something to get an accurate perspective.
Even a blog post or some flash fiction that I have spent only a day or two tinkering with can use some distance to more realistically gauge its validity. You’ve invested time and effort, and hopefully some of your soul, into a project so you are the last one who will be constructively critical. There are certainly agents and editors who are worth what they charge, but there is another way to get some perspective on what you’ve written.
Long before you even get close to the point of editors, you might want to take advantage of beta readers. A beta reader is someone willing to look at a first or early draft or even a work in progress. Their feedback can be invaluable, but only if you find someone who is not afraid to be honest, even if means telling you that it simply isn’t working. Choose someone that you are not related to unless you have a good, strong relationship with that relation. The proud parent or spouse is likely to be blind to mediocrity or find themselves reluctant to point it out and give you a glowing review despite downfalls.
The kind of feedback that you are looking for from a beta reader is not the editorial sort such as spelling and grammar (however, if they happen to point out the odd error or two then so much the better) and should be more about whether the structure, plot and character development is working. I had started on one project and was 100 pages into the novel when I asked my mother-in-law (I know, I said no relatives but she is not afraid of honesty) to take a peek and she told me that she simply couldn’t relate to the main character and that she would have put it down well before the 100 page mark that I was at if she wasn’t doing this as a favor. I could see that she was right and after trying several different things to correct and resurrect it I came to the realization that I was better off burying that one.
It doesn’t all have to be bad news either. Validation from an unbiased source is another benefit of using beta readers. I have been posting Five Sentence Fiction every Tuesday since April and received plenty of feedback that has been encouraging. There have been a few where I pushed myself and the boundaries of five sentences not sure how well accepted they would be, yet readers found positive things to say about them.
Do yourself a favor, find and take advantage of a beta reader. Constructive criticism that is honest and valid will only improve your product and possibly save you some embarrassment. And if the feedback is nothing but positive, again if it is honest and valid, that will hopefully spur you on to get it out there for others to read all the more quickly. If you can find more than one reader, you will have a better gauge of how valid the feedback is. If you give the same work to three people and one says the work is great and the other two tell you it was enjoyable but go on to point out similar flaws with your story, you will know that your first reader is either afraid to hurt your feelings or didn’t read it. Find a good Beta reader or two and hold onto them tightly. They are worth their weight in gold.