I know, I know, 2 out of my first three posts have seemed like shameless plugs for other tools/websites. I assure you they are not. I discovered Critters.org back in May, when I was wondering how other people than my friends and family would view my work. Critters.org was suggested as a great of doing this.
Basically it involves you joining a mailing list and getting other author's short stories etc sent to you for you to critique. Not only is it a great way to read other people's styles etc, it also helps with your own writing. As you critique other's work, you begin to realise how others might view yours.
I submitted a short story to the queue, to be read back in June. Providing I kept up with my own critiques, it would be read mid-July and critiques would come in to my mailbox around the end of July.
To cut a long story short, they did. I got 23 critiques on my short story, some varied wildly in opinion - it is amazing how 2 different people can read the same paragraph, one can love it and the other can hate it. Most of them liked my work, there were many that suggested the same things to improve the story, which has proved invaluable. The important thing was that all of them liked my story telling and characters. To me that has always been the most crucial element to a book.
If you want to check out my early first draft, sign up and look for Ritual 246.