Do you really need a beta reader? No one is perfect, so yes, you need a beta. Even if you are an experienced and talented writer, a second (or third) set of eyes on your work is a must. Even J.K. Rowling, Nora Roberts/J.D. Robb, and Stephanie Meyer have agents and editors who read what they've written--several times--before it goes to print.
In the real world, getting a book into the public's hands can take upwards of two years, although the norm is generally twelve to eighteen months. On FanFiction.net, Live Journal, or your personal Web site, it could be hours, sometimes less, from your first word on the page to that first review.
We all love feedback and those uplifting, ego-building reviews. Sometimes, those provide inspiration for the next plot idea or serve as motivation to keep going until the story is complete. But the desire for feedback should never outweigh the desire to put forth one's best.
The first beta reader should always be...you!
Once you've written a chapter or the whole story, put it aside for several hours--or better yet, a couple of days.
Once you've taken a suitable break from your work, go back and read it out loud to yourself.
It may seem strange or may even be embarrassing, but reading aloud will force you to read every word. This will allow you to find missing words and help you catch word flow issues--places that don't read smoothly. If your tongue gets tripped up, you can bet the reader's eye will also stumble.
If you're a good speller (and don't already have spell-check turned on) you may also find misspelled words. Don't forget, though, about homophones--they may be spelled correctly, but you might have the wrong one in there.
Okay, so once you've read your chapter out loud to yourself and found missing or misspelled words, and corrected word flow problems, then what??
If you already have someone who betas for you, consider the things that he or she marks/comments about over and over. If you have a problem with capitalizing words that don't need to be, go through your work and look for those yourself. You may not catch them all, but as you do this for yourself over and over you may learn not to do it in the first place. Repeat the process for each issue you might have.
Once you've caught/corrected everything you can, contact your beta reader and go from there.
If you don't have a beta reader, you can find one. FanFiction.net has its own BetaReader system. Go to this page: http://www.fanfiction.net/betareaders/ and click through the appropriate links. It may take some time, but a good beta reader can be worth his or her weight in gold.
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