It does not matter how good a writer you are or how easily the words flowed when you started putting them down on paper. You should have someone else read it before you even think about sharing it with the world. Whether you write novels, fanfiction, or poetry, having somebody who can give you feedback can be the difference between a few sales and a bestselling breakout.
When you write, you are just too close to it to see the sometimes nitpicky little flaws that will throw your reader right out of the story. Those tiny flaws exist even after you have taken breaks and gone through a round or three of editing. Hopefully, you have already caught the simple problems of missing or wrong words or accidental changes of tense or point of view before you get to this point. It is still entirely possible that you have missed some of these things.
There are other, more major issues a good beta can help you with, too. Things like problems in your plot or pacing that you can fix before your story “goes live.” A good beta reader can be a life saver, the difference between a pretty good fic and a great one. I have heard it many times, “Oh, I don’t need a beta. I’m just doing this for fun. It’s not like I’m getting paid for it.” I may be true that you are just writing fic for the fun of it. But why would you want something as easily fixable as Peter Mellark being with Katniss in the arena instead of Peeta? (Unless, of course, you are writing a “crack” fic that stars some guy named Peter Mellark from Jersey.) Beta readers can fix any plot whole and help clarify areas that don’t shine within a poem.
Ask your friends to read
The easiest way to find a beta reader is to ask your friends or family to read your story. Request that they make a note of any mistakes they come across or write down any questions they may have. Of course, this may not always work. If it is for fanfiction, they may not be part of, or at least familiar with, your fandom for whatever reason. It is also a possibility that they may be familiar with the fandom but not interested in reading the story. Or they may not have the time, especially if it is a longer fic.
For poetry, they may not be your target audience. As an example, Rupi Kaur is a poet who has blown up lately. There is so much hate for her poetry online yet she does extremely well and is a very talented poet. She has millions of followers and readers who swear by Milk and Honey. Make sure you’re getting feedback from somebody who actually would want to read your works.
Ask for help online
If you use social media — and who doesn’t these days — you can go online and request a beta reader. Often, this will be a better route for you. You will only receive volunteers who have the interest and the time for the project. You can usually find volunteers to provide this service on sites like Tumblr or LiveJournal. Goodreads sometimes has beta reader groups that you can use to cross promote stories for people to give feedback on.
These and may others are sites that provide a virtual community where people with similar interests can gather. If someone you have interacted with before in a positive way
volunteers, that can be even better. There will already be a level of trust between you. Several fandoms have story competitions or gift exchanges throughout the year. Exchanges are a lot of fun to take part in, but it is almost universal that they require you to have your fic read by a beta before posting. Good online communities will often provide you with a lot of resources on your publishing journey as well. For example, I found out about Squibler’s book templates through one such writing community and got my query letter done because of another resource shared within that community.
One such site for poetry is Commaful. On the Commaful poetry page, there are many amateur authors posting and getting feedback. Many are growing huge audiences as well while getting feedback and practicing their craft. Other sites like AllPoetry can also be useful on the poetry end. You can find a full list of places to try on this list of poetry sites.
If that’s the case, it is not unusual for the competition or exchange to provide a list of beta readers who have volunteered their time and talents. If you sign up for one of these and need a beta, you can search the list for someone who matches your fandom, characters, and story type. You will also have the option to contact the moderators for recommendations. You will often find opportunities like this around Archive of Our Own, Fanfiction.net, Wattpad and Tumblr.
Make sure your needs are clear
Once you find a beta — or two, depending on the complexity of your work — you will want to let them know just what kind of a read through you want them to do. If you are good at spelling and grammar, maybe all you will want them to do is make sure there aren’t plot holes. If it is fanfiction, maybe you want them to check that your fic makes sense, works with canon events, or the characters are faithful to the originals.
If you are good at making up stories but you can’t form a correctly written sentence to save your life, don’t worry. A good beta can help you with that, too. Keep in mind that your beta is a volunteer. If you have them look at everything and the kitchen sink, you might need to buy her or him some pizza afterward.