I entered some RWA chapter contests earlier this year. I wanted some feedback from objective strangers who were knowledgeable about historical romance. I still find it emotionally easier to take criticism from people I do not know personally.
Some judges really liked my excerpt and were rather encouraging overall while pointing out some specific weaknesses that I should address. Some judges really disliked my entry and were not shy about telling me what they disliked or found problematic.
Both types of feedback were ultimately very helpful. The critiques with higher scores and more positive comments were easier to take in right away (after all, a spoonful of sugar helps the medicine go down).
I had to take a step back and wait a day or so before focusing more closely on the negative critiques. It helped that I had taken Sarah Wendell's workshop at Chicago Spring Fling on romance reviews. She discussed how to take a bad review in a positive way. While right now I can only hope to one day have bad reviews to face, her advice largely applies to critiques as well. Getting low scores and negative comments from some judges tells me that they are willing to be honest and not just blow sunshine. Hopefully, that means the higher scores and more positive comments were also honest.
Also, negative feedback does not automatically mean that I suck at this. It means that a particular scene or chapter did not have the impact that I intended. I need to ask myself why that might be. Did I assume that the reader would interpret my characters' words and actions the same way I do, without giving them enough to go on? Is there something I could do to better guide the readers' conclusions? Are the problems cited intrinsic to my book, or something I could fix with some editing? Can I rewrite some scenes or rearrange some chapters without destroying the integrity of my story? Is it simply a matter of the judges' personal taste and preferences?
I'm thinking hard about those questions, and I hope to figure out the answers soon.