There are at least three kinds of beta readers (that I know of):
1) Publisher's Acquisitions Reader
2) Publisher's Final Edits Reader
3) Author's Beta Reader
A publisher's acquisitions reader helps an acquisitions editor (AE) decide if they should contract the book for publication. The AE will send an e-mail to their group of beta readers asking which of them would like to read a 'fantasy werewolf romance' or a 'pirate historical' or a 'small town cowboy.'
Those who are interested read the book and complete a short questionnaire. The AE uses this feedback to decide if the manuscript is a good fit for their publishing house. For this job, a good sense of plot continuity and character development is essential. I'm a beta reader for a small publisher, and I love it. One week I'm reading a regency historical, the next, I'm deep into a shifter vampire story. For each manuscript I read, I am able to choose one free e-book from the publisher's website. It's a good deal!
A publisher's final edits reader performs the last check before a book is released by the publisher. The beta reader reviews the edited manuscript for grammar, spelling, and sentence structure. Usually, the beta is encouraged to point out any plot flaws that may still exist in the book. This is usually a paid position, and you may have to be tested on your grammar skills before being hired.
An author's beta reader is a trusted friend, family member, or acquaintance of an author who reads the final manuscript before it's submitted to a publisher or is self-published. By the time the beta reader sees the manuscript, it has usually been checked by the author's critique partner, and/or an independent editor. The beta reader checks for plot flaws, character issues, grammar, spelling…the whole thing.
An author relies on the beta reader to point out things they, their critique partner, and their editor missed. I have a wonderfully amazing critique partner, and we work together very well. When I send her a manuscript, she reads the entire book in a short period of time in order to keep the plot fresh in her mind. As she goes through, she makes any suggestions, such as, 'I don't think he would respond this way' or 'you brought up this point earlier but never resolved it' or 'I don't think that's physically possible.'
Then, she reads it again for grammar, spelling, typos, sentence structure, etc. and notes any errors she finds. If, when you read books, you roll your eyes at inconsistencies, or groan at typos, or hate that a plot point you'd been worried about for two hundred pages was never resolved, you would make a great author's beta reader.
How do you find these jobs? On Facebook, friend editors, publishers, and authors. Follow them on Twitter, check their websites, and watch writing news sources (such as blogs and forums.) There are online beta reading referral sites, too. They'll match you up with the perfect publisher or author. You can also contact your favorite author and offer to beta read for them. List your qualifications, your assurance of confidentiality, and your guarantee of integrity.
If this interests you, give it a try. It could be a first step into a career in editing, or a just a different spin on your everyday reading.
Secret Vegas Lives
Scandalous L.A. Desires
both available from Red Rose Publishing