As I began to think this could actually work (once I had written a scene suggested by the protagonist), I started looking for some people to review it. I had been talking with my kids about the book for a year and a half and one of them in particular, my 12-year-old daughter, was particularly interested.
I thought, why not, and let her review the first few chapters. I was quite surprised at how thorough she was and how many constructive comments she sent back my way. I remember sitting in a Barns & Noble one evening with her telling me what was wrong with a particular chapter I had written and I couldn't help but smile. There I was, a 40-something-year-old father being corrected, rather adamantly, by his (at the time) 13-year-old daughter. It brought tears to my eyes.
After she started reviewing the chapters, I found two adults, one an avid reader and the other a Jew (by heritage, not religion), at work to review them as well. So, I had three reviewers who received the chapters as they came out. Of course that took the next year and a half.
Then, once I had a completed novel, and had rewritten the first three chapters at the initial reviewer’s insistence, I started looking around for more reviewers; this time with specific intent (subject matter experts, various religiosity (since this is a novel about Christianity), age, gender, reading habits, etc.). I wanted feedback from various types of people to see how they would react and what they thought of the characters.
After revising for all of the comments I received from the various reviewers, I had a book club here in town review it en masse. That was the most difficult. Book clubs are notorious for trashing books, and they didn't disappoint. The first words by one of them were something like "I couldn't get past 90 pages it was so poorly written." So much for all my work with other reviewers…
After getting past the initial really-negative comments from this first guy, it got a little better. Many of them agreed that it got better and better as the story went along and they really liked the second half of the book. I wrote down two pages of single-line bullet points from all of their comments. Some of the comments were about writing style and were things I had already seen and figured out from having read some books on writing fiction. Others were interesting in how they perceived the story and the characters (e.g. there wasn’t a consensus on who the protagonist was, which was a surprise to me since I thought it was pretty clear).
The review was disheartening, but an important step. It taught me, if nothing else, that I had a ways to go to hone my writing skills. I had accomplished the first part of what books on writing say: "just write." Now I needed to fine-tune the art of writing.