You're writing your first novel, and you wonder if you'll be able to sell it to a publisher. Is your writing good enough? Will any editor or agent want to take on your story? You can't trust your mom's opinion, so where do you turn to for answers? You might want to do what I did, long before I became a published author: join a critique group.
I was just an aspiring novelist at the time, working on my first novel. I didn't know any other writers, so I when I saw a notice seeking a fourth member for a writer's group, I jumped at the chance. None of us was published in novel length, but all of us were serious about our work. One was a university professor who considered himself a literary novelist. One was a librarian writing a novel about her early years in Indonesia. One was a nonfiction editor for a university press, working on short stories. And then there was me, a self-professed fan of "popular" fiction, working on my first romantic suspense novel. We were four very different writers, working on very different projects, but we all shared a common respect for the written word, in whatever form it took. And that's the reason we all got along so well.
We had rules. If you joined the group, you had to attend every week. You had to come prepared with four new pages of material. At the meetings, every member was given ten minutes to read his work aloud, and then he had to sit in respectful silence as the other three took turns saying what they thought of those pages, starting off with their positive comments, followed by what they didn't like. The author could clarify points, but couldn't argue with the critiques. If you heard the same criticism from all three of your partners, that was a pretty good indication that, yes, you needed to fix your pages.
Every week for ten years I met with these writing buddies. They heard my first shaky attempts at a romance novel. They bluntly told me when my hero was unlikeable, my heroine was too stupid to live, and my villain too obvious. There were times when I thought they were all dead wrong, but then I'd go home and think about what they'd said, and I'd realize that yes, my story was flawed and needed work. There were also times when they'd applaud and tell me, "Yes! It's perfect!"
And then there was that glorious evening when we celebrated the sale of my first book.
None of us was a professional writing instructor, but we were all avid readers. We knew when a scene moved us, when a character engaged us, when a plot had us on the edge of our seats. When it comes to judging a story, that's all that really matters.