All right, I think we've pretty much covered all the angles of crit groups and why they're important, and what they show you.
Thing is, you have to realize whether or not you're ready for a critique on your novel. Here's a quick quiz to help you out.
Your friend, Bob the Published Author, shows interest in your current novel. He wants to read it. You:
A) Faint out of terror
B) Tell him to please not tell you if he hates it and send it on. And spend the next six weeks rocking in the corner of your writing room.
C) Shove it into his email without giving it a second look and say "Be brutal, baby!"
If you had to pause and think about any of the answers except for C, perhaps you're not really READY to have your stuff critiqued. And that's okay.
Let me tell you a story. This story will be about er, an author we'll call Bill Jyles. Sure. Bill was in the middle of writing his first novel, a 600-page romantic ripoff of Outlander. With dinosaurs and Puritans. Bill Jyles was very proud of this novel, and so when Bill heard about one of his friends that just got accepted by an agent (which made this friend VERY important in Bill's eyes) and the friend offered to read Bill's pages.
The friend was not kind to Bill's pages. The friend said that Bill's book sucked. The friend said that Bill's main character was an asshole, and unlikeable, and the motivation sucked, and he couldn't keep reading.
Bill was crushed. Determined, but crushed. Bill asked the friend what specifically was wrong, and the friend (being a nice person) pointed out all kinds of things that puzzled Bill. Things that Bill was intending on fixing on the next draft anyhow. So why is that such a stopping point, Bill wondered. But the friend was vehement in the hatred of this novel, and it ruined Bill's love for this book.
Bill decided to try and write some short stories. Bill joined a group - let's call them WOW - that were professionals that helped each other with critiques. You post critiques, you get critiques back.
Bill posted three or four stories in rapid succession (after he earned the points, of course), and waited for the applause and adoration to come back. The first friend was obviously stuck on the fact that the manuscript wasn't edited, so someone else should see Bill's brilliance.
Actually, maybe not. The reviews that came in said that the stories were a mess. Bill was terribly derivative. Unoriginal. Flawed. His stories were all over the place. A hideous clusterfuck of nouns and adverbs, but not a real story. Heck no! There was no plot! No point! No redeeming moral value! They suxxored!
And you know what? They did. Bill was a noob writer. Bill didn't know any better. But Bill wanted praise! He didn't want honest critiques. And you know what happened to Bill when he got real critiques?
He stopped writing. For about a year. All that happiness and budding career writing? Smooshed.
Bill's friend meant well. The people on the critique site? Meant well. They encouraged Bill, but all Bill saw was the criticism.
I...I mean, BILL wasn't ready for critiques.
Bill eventually got back into the swing of things. He started writing again (though short stories were forever ruined for him) and Bill wrote a few more novels. But Bill got smarter. This time, Bill revised before someone read it. In fact, Bill revised so many times that he was sick of the novel and couldn't see anything else wrong with it. So Bill sent it to a trusted friend. "Read this and tell me where it sucks!"
And the friend did. The friend was mighty cruel, because, admittedly, Bill was still learning. But.
When the friend pointed out, "Bill, your character sucks. Look at how selfish he is." Instead of Bill screaming and running to the corner to suck on his thumb in woe and pity, Bill re-read. And a light went off. "YES!" Bill cried. "MY CHARACTER DOES SUCK! AND NOW I KNOW HOW TO FIX IT!"
Bill was now sold on critique groups.
However, Bill learned a few lessons in the meantime. And here's what he learned.
1) You don't send it out until it's done and ready. Really done. Really ready. Like you've looked at it a hundred times and you can't tell what's wrong with it at all. Two or three drafts is Bill's minimum. NO ONE SEES THE FIRST DRAFT because they won't see past it.
2) You're sending it out, asking people to tell you what's wrong with it. They're GOING to find something wrong with it. Trust me. If you parked someone in front of a Van Gogh and asked them to critique it, they'd find something wrong with it. It's human nature, and honestly? It's what you want.
3) Every critiquer is different. Some people have brains like a steel trap and can point out where you've erred in your timeline and how many minutes are in the day and Car X was travelling at twenty two miles per hour, and it takes 30 miles to get to this city so he couldn't possibly have gotten to the train station in under Y amount of minutes. Some people, on the other hand, will be more abstract. I didn't like this character's feelings. I didn't want to root for him. This is all good information. You need multiple critiques to get multiple angles, sometimes.
4) You're not going to take everyone's advice. They're looking at it from their perspective as a reader/writer. Yours might be different. This is ok too.
So there you go. Learn from Bill's mistakes. After all, it's your book you're sending out into the world. There's no wrong/right way to handle how it gets edited, so whether you wait one year to send it to critiquers - or four, just ask yourself the basic question.
Do I want my book shredded and picked apart?
If your answer is not "Woohoo!!" then rethink. And send out in a few months, instead of tomorrow.
And if you really want an "Attaboy" rather than advice? Send it to your mom (this is okay too).