I have not finished the albatross that is my second novel. Let's get that out of the way first. Had the book been completed, this essay would not be necessary. Anyway, I submitted the first two chapters to a writing contest recently. This was the same contest where I won the book review award for The Dawn Patrol by Don Winslow (my review here). I knew that the judges were the same and I tried to take into account some of the suggestions from the spring contest. I liked what I wrote and submitted it.
The judges didn't. Nothing wrong with that. Judges are people and potential buyers. If they don't like a book, they won't buy it and, more importantly, they won't tell other people about it.
But it's thrown me off my game. I was all jazzed up and blowing through chapters at a rapid clip. I was going to finish this dang book and start selling it next spring. Now, I've started doubting, yet again, the book as well as the story I have to tell.
I *like* the story I have in my head and I'm still going to tell it my way. And that's the lesson here. Yes, submit your manuscripts to contests and pay that fee. It's a good way to get unbiased feedback even if you don't place. But do it after you've completed the manuscript. Then, at least you'd have the skeleton of the book around which you can adjust scenes and such. I'd suggest not doing it *while* you are writing. You might get discouraged. It's much easier to get thrown off-track when you are still building than it is to review a completed book.
Linda Richards over at The Rap Sheet wrote something similar today, about writing over your head. Write what you like, regardless of genre or how you'll sell it. Just. Write. What. You. Love. If you can't satisfy the first reader--YOU--then you'll likely not get anywhere.