I promised to keep you posted so here we go:
In February, I agonized for weeks over how many $1 "lottery tickets" I wanted to buy to win a manuscript critique by super-agent Mr. Stephen Barbara. The critique was worth A LOT to me because it'd be the first time a professional pair of eyes would read my story. With the economy the way it is though, I didn't want to spend too much. If it were an auction, at least I'd know that my $200 will either win me something or I would lose the bid, but get to keep my money. With a lottery on the other hand ... if you buy $200 worth of lottery tickets and your number doesn't come up, game over.
Anywho, I spent an amount I was comfortable with (if you're wondering, I did not spend $200) and on the night of the drawing, refreshed the results page like mad. To my extreme delight, I won and Mr. Barbara contacted me a couple days later. Wee!
I have to admit, a big part of me hoped that he would fall in love with my story and that the critique would turn into an offer of representation - a girl can dream, right?
Even though that didn't happen, I still bounced with joy over the feedback he gave me. BONUS: he said some very nice things:
"In terms of my critique, I think you have a big premise here and potentially, a novel with a strong chance to succeed in the market ... I also like your line by line writing."
Another SUPER-DUPER-BONUS: he recommended a handful of agents he thinks may like my story.
He was very kind, very professional, and as he listed the things I could work on, I nodded along. This was what I was hoping for: some direction.
Even though his feedback was my-novel-specific, I thought I'd share some of his great advice to help you with your writing.
1. To help improve pacing, he recommended that I read books by Eoin Colfer and Kenneth Oppel - authors he called "masters of tension." He stressed the importance of moving the story forward and establishing a strong and urgent sense of pace.
2. Avoid genre cliches - show readers something they haven't seen before! Got a gorgeous vampire in your story? A white wizard? Sprinkle them with *special* dust and make them edgy and different. Fantasy is a crowded market and you don't want to be "stale."
3. As your heroes get stronger toward the end of the book, be aware that there will be a lot less tension. To counter the strength of your protag, make the obstacles greater. Basically, the big, bad, nasty monster needs to grow, too. It'll make the battle at the end much more powerful.
Hope this helps you!