There are some things in writing you should never pay for.
Never pay agents a reading fee to read your work. That is not how good agents work.
It’s up to you whether you choose to pay for a literary editing service. If you aim to self-publish, it’s probably a very good idea; a good literary editor will push you hard and help you iron out the technical kinks you never knew you had. It’s a lot of expenditure for a full manuscript, but getting an eye cast over those first three chapters can work wonders.
It’s entirely up to you whether you enter writing competitions which charge an entry fee. Check the cost of entry versus the sum of the prize, taking into account the prestige of the competition. If it’s £25 to enter a competition you’ve never heard of and the 1st prize is only £10… forget about it.
If a writing competition offers you a critique as part of either the prize or the entry fee, TAKE IT. Research the judges, obviously. Research the site/resource/publication in general. But they’re offering you gold, so TAKE IT.
I entered the first chapter and synopsis for two unpublished novels to the Novel Rocket Launch Pad Contest.
I didn’t win, but the critiques I was offered were so insightful that I felt like I had won anyway. They ripped my work apart, those master butchers, and they had clearly been wielding their knives with skill and clear-eyed dispassion for some time. They dissembled my musty old cadaver of a first chapter and showed me how to rebuild it into something that will soon not only stand up but walk.
I’ve been on plenty of online writing forums and I’m sure you have too. They’re great. They’re tough. They’re loving.
But they’re NOTHING like this.
This was my very first taste of high-level feedback from industry insiders , with highlighting of action beats and DNA-level sentence structure and stuff I’ve never before seen covered in forum critiques. I felt like Eustace in Voyage of the Dawn Treader when Aslan strips away his dragon flesh layer by layer, finally returning him to the form of the boy he was meant to be.
Industry-level criticism is objective and it is there to make you improve. If you see an opportunity to get it via a writing competition, you’d be silly not to take it.
It’s a game-changer.