After my silly rant, it's only fair to have a more positive post. And lucky me, I've got one right here!
As you all know, I entered Miss Snark's First Victim Secret Agent Are You Hooked competition (MSFVSAAYHC). And the feedback there has assured me that my work is (after a few very minor tweaks) ready for submission, which is really the kind of assurance that I needed.
Here's the run down:
People who were hooked/would read on: 19
People on the fence: 4
People between being hooked and on the fence (seemed to like it, but had serious reservations): 2
People not hooked: 0 (!!!)
People who didn't say one way other the other: 1
General things people liked:
-Cafeteria lady saying "change"
-Belle talking to the corndog
General things people thought needed work:
-Cut down on the word change in the first paragraph
-Move narration in first paragraph to somewhere later
-Worry that the book is about the new kid at school
You know what this tells me more than anything? That my revisions have worked. That first chapter--especially the first 3 or so pages--has been written and revised and rewritten and repeat so many times that I really have lost all perspective on it. But with this many people hooked or willing to read on, then that tells me I'm finally almost there. The vast majority of reservations people had dealt with easy fixes: I am going to revise the first few sentences--take out the word change, incorporate the friendless bit a little later.
And one of the biggest worries that people had with the first page was that the story would just be new kid deals with bullies at school--which, although a significant part--is really not what my story is about. My story is a fantasy, and Belle's outsider-ness is no more significant than Percy Jackson's. So I'm not worried about that!
In the end, I'm walking away with a huge amount of confidence that this book is ready. I am going through one more read through with a check list of little things to make sure fit and an eye for the grammar, and then...
I think all writers have these niggling fears of "is it good enough?" This contest and the commenters helped me to see that the answer was finally "yes." I highly recommend doing this, or something like it, whenever possible. No matter what stage your writing is in, feedback always helps.