Recently I gave a copy of my finished manuscript to a couple of friends to read. I wasn't expecting a full critique and neither of the two friends who were reading felt comfortable providing a critique. So, in this instance, we (myself and my friends) were in harmony with our expectations.
I was amazed at the twenty or so small comments each of my friends provided. They read something like, "PG 136, Took the fight out "of" Ashby, 1/2 way down page." This meant, my reader had spotted that missing word "of" in this sentence. Or, "PG 230, "has" accomplished a miracle, 4th line from bottom." On looking, I realized I had left off the "h", making "has" read "as."
Small things, but they add up.
Now, I can tell you with 100% certainty that I could read my work countless more times and NOT see these small, but pesky errors. Even with my reader's notes, I had a hard time spotting the error; my eyes ran right over it and "corrected" it in my mind like a tricky word game. You can spell check, read it out loud or read it backwards (I haven't found that very helpful), and still those errors slip through.
The answer is fresh eyes. Granted, your critique partner may catch these errors also, but it boggles my mind in a frustrating, pound your head on the table kind of way how these little things slip through with each revision. Even more frustrating is realizing that the error may have been added after a critique. And, as tempting as it may be to ask your CP for "one more look," there are only so many times you can give your manuscript back for a critique! There comes a time to move on.
As shy about showing your work as you may be, the last step in preparing your manuscript is handing it off to a proofreader. Vastly different than a critique, you aren't looking for major mechanical difficulties or plot holes. If those exist, you aren't at the final step. But when all is as clean as you can make it, a proofreader will relieve your mind you've done all you can to find those errors you can't "see" anymore.
I think there are two important criteria to keep in mind when offering your manuscript to a proofreader (rather than a critique):
- Your reader must like the genre of story you are telling. (Similar to looking for a critique partner, you still want a friendly audience!)
- Your story must be finished and as polished as you feel it can be.