My writers' group did some revolutionary "re-writing of its by-laws" recently. (Translation: we all stood around the kitchen eating brownies and complaining how long it took to get a full novel critiqued) Now, instead of submitting a novel piecemeal, three chapters or so at a time, over the course of a year and a half or more, members with completed novels (or just a big-ass chunk) are now permitted to submit the entire MS for immediate critique. Two consecutive sessions are devoted exclusively to one novel. Then everyone brushes their hands together in satisfaction and the critiqued author goes away for another six months or so.
Lucky me, I was the first to benefit from this new process. Everyone agreed that not only is it more helpful to the author to receive a critique on the book as a whole, it's more insightful and just plain more fun to read the book all at once versus three chapters here and there. Imagine watching one episode of "Lost" every three months and trying to make sense of it.
Shockingly, this was the first time my writer's group had read "Ring of Fire" in its entirety. I had gotten their invaluable input on problematic sections in the past (notably the backstory-riddled first few chapters, when the damn thing was still 184K words), but this was to be the true test of if my book merited agent representation or not. No matter that I already had an agent--if my group trashed the book, I had some revising to do.
Last night, I got their feedback on the first half of the rest of the book. They liked it. Cue swelling violins/relief music. Sure, they pointed out a few things that stuck out, didn't flow, etc., but nothing egregious plot-wise, character-wise, or structurally.
At least not in the first half. Next session, they tackle the rest of the book, through the end. Not out of the woods yet...