Okay you've poured your heart into a piece of writing, and you know it's just perfect. It flows, the words are elegant, and even John Steinbeck would be jealous over the prose you have graced the world with. All that remains is to show the world what you've produced. So what's the first thought that goes through your head?
If I show it to someone and they hate it, I'll probably die.
I don't know a single writer who doesn't think like this. We tend to view our creations the way most folks view their little brother - I can mess with it all I like, but nobody else better do so.
It takes a bit of a thick skin to allow for honest criticism, and then to apply that criticism in a way that actually makes the piece better. A bit of a thick skin? Who am I kidding? It takes a shell thicker than that of a Triceratops. You have to be able to deflect silver tipped rounds aimed for your heart and somehow manage not to take any of them personally.
Critiques from friends and family are usually not the most helpful. Why? Because hopefully your friends and family love you and don't want to crush your dreams. If one of them doesn't like it, they'll usually hem and haw about what a great bit of writing it was without getting into anything specific. When you try to pin them down, most will respond with, "Well, I thought the whole thing was good." This kind of feedback is rarely helpful and why, with most friends and family, I measure the enthusiasm with which they read and whether they ask for more.
Sherry is not an avid reader, and she'd be the first to admit this. Like a good wife, she dutifully tried to read my first novel, On Freedom's Wings, and she barely made it through the first page(I told you it needs work). Sci-fi is pretty specifically tailored to a certain kind of audience, but not being able to make a dent in my spouse was deafening.
However, she picked up Salvation Day and gave it a go. Much to my delight, she not only asked for but demanded more. It took me some work to keep up with her demands for it. She's currently reading Akeldama with similar enthusiasm, and that tells me others might enjoy my work. Several friends have Salvation Day now, although one has said she could only read it in chunks since it was "too heavy."
While I freely accept all critiques, I also take them with a grain of salt. After all, I'm the author, and it's my story. If a suggestion makes sense, I'll happily massage the story accordingly. However, if someone suggests wholesale changes that ruin the story's consistency, they can go write their own book.
Summing up, taking criticism about something you've labored over is tough, but every writer that shows his or her work to anyone will face some at some point in their careers. Yes, I'd love everybody to gush over my novels, but I'd also like to have a shiny white unicorn who shits gold nuggets too.
One day, maybe some agent or publisher will read what I wrote and give me the critique I want - a publishing contract.