I joined my first critique group a year ago and my biggest regret in life is now officially NOT JOINING SOONER. Here’s why:
It’s an eternal question for authors about which services we should pay for and which we should do ourselves, but a few common sense answers apply. (For example: Social Media- do yourself. Cover Art- pay someone. (Unless you’re so good at Photoshop you spend hours doing your cover and have no time for social media)). A critique group will be your free sounding board, support system, and yes, editor. And unlike your uncaring family and too-nice friends (haha, kidding, thanks for all the help!) your critique group will not hesitate to rip your story apart.
They will call you out on that not-so-genius thing you were so sure would work if the reader just THOUGHT hard enough, they will correct your references to outer space and mythology, and they will tell you your protag would probably have died from that cool jump or by-the-way hasn’t slept in three days.
That doesn’t mean don’t pay for professional editing services if you want them. But realize that no story is complete and no professional editor is worth the cost without first ironing out the small issues with a group of people invested in your work.
However, the critiquing is not even the best part of joining a critique group. You will become a better writer through critique, yes. But you will also have a support system of writers in all stages of their writing careers.
For example, you will have someone ask you what you write. You will answer fantasy (the best answer…) and they will say, “Yes, but what kind?”
No one had ever asked me “what kind” of fantasy I write. When it happened to me, I was so surprised I momentarily forgot how to answer, despite hours wondering if my work should fall under the steampunk umbrella, and what the difference was between high fantasy and epic fantasy.
This is the most important aspect of being in a critique group: the support and understanding of your writer’s journey. If you’re currently going it alone, know that you don’t have to. Join a critique group, in person or online, and really take yourself and your work to the next level.