This can come in several ways:
- A group who meet to give feedback on submitted writing
- Writing assessments/reports
- Competitions where a report or feedback may be part of the competition, or supplied for an additional payment.
Beta-readers are people who will give you honest feedback, and who read a lot, preferably in your genre or area. The difference between beta-readers and a writing group is that the writing group sees your work in various stages, and in smaller chunks. Sometimes a problem only becomes visible when someone reads your book from beginning to end.
Writing assessments or reports are very useful as you remove the friendship element. The person writing the report isn't trying to spare your feelings or stroke your ego, though hopefully they will phrase the feedback in a constructive way. The report should acknowledge what is good about your writing, and point out the areas that need work. I'm a member of the New Zealand Society of Authors, and after finishing Driftwood I applied for one of the Manuscript Assessments available through the society each year. I was fortunate to have my manuscript assessed by a published author, and her feedback was invaluable in a further edit.
I enjoy writing short stories. There's something satisfying about creating a story in a shorter timeframe than a novel, and sometimes I write a short story for a specific competition. Over the years I've received a number of feedback reports through competitions. Sometimes there is an additional payment required, but I've also entered competitions which offer a sentence or two of feedback, written by the judge on the entry, included in the entry fee.
In whatever form it takes, feedback is essential for writers. We get caught up in our story and characters, and this makes it very difficult to be objective.