There are two aspects to this question: before publishing, and after publishing. Today I’m talking about before publishing. Next time, we’ll discuss what happens after publication.
Having someone else read your work before it’s published can be excruciating. But it’s worth doing. Getting opinions from other people who love to read is at least as important as having opinions about other people’s work. Both aspects are crucial – see other blog posts about critique groups.
Writers spend a lot of time alone with their fiction, trying to get it right. If you read a lot, that becomes easier, because you have examples of how things are done in fiction, what works, and because you’ll have developed ideas about what works for you in particular. That’s the process of learning to broadly understand fiction and have broad opinions about it.
Having someone read your work is the process of getting specific feedback on your individual story. If that makes you quail, I understand. It’s tough to invite someone to push you repeatedly off a cliff in the hope that at some point, you’ll evolve wings. But consider this: publication is the process of jumping right OFF that cliff, and having no way to get back up again. Best if you’ve got some feathers.
I already discussed critique groups and peer readers at length in other articles. Let me also briefly mention editors, a subject close to my heart, as you might imagine. To continue this analogy, having a substantive content editor on your side is like having someone shove you off the cliff who already knows how to fly, and who will shout helpful instructions about flapping on the way down.
Next week: Who Are You Writing For?