Looking to support and develop writers of genre fiction, Penguin is launching a public beta of Book Country, a free online writing community and publishing services venture. In development for more than a year, Book Country offers writers a place to upload new works and receive feedback and criticism from a community of writers and readers; a place for agents and editors to look for new talent; and eventually the venture will offer a suite of self-publishing services that will offer e-book and print publication for a fee.The Book Country online community is focused on supporting writers of genre fiction—from romance, fantasy, science fiction and thrillers to a range of contemporary hybrid genres like paranormal romance, urban fantasy and Steampunk. The site is free to use and anyone can get an account and begin uploading writing. However, the site is focused on providing feedback and support to developing writers and all Book Country members must first comment and review at least three works by different writers before they can start uploading their own works.
In a phone interview, Barton acknowledged that while Book Country is focused on developing writers, she expects to find new authors for Penguin through the site as well. But she also emphasized that Book Country will be “publisher agnostic” and encourages editors from Penguin as well as other publishers and literary agents to join the Book Country community.
Although Barton said that Book Country will eventually offer writers self-publishing services (e-books and print-on-demand) for a fee, she said the soft launch of the public beta site will focus initially on building the community.
Book Country members build a profile based on the genres they like to read and can then seek out writers working in that area. Members can “follow” writers, much like other social media platforms, and review their works and receive merit badges for a variety of contributions to the site. Barton emphasized that the review process has been designed to not only highlight the best writers but also to track and rate the most effective reviewers, those whose feedback has been deemed by the community to be the most useful and highlight them as well.
Book Country also features a Genre Map, a cleverly designed interactive literary “map” of the known literary world, that uses a variety of landmark titles in various genres (say Walter Mosley’s Devil in a Blue Dress for Hard Boiled Noir) to point Book Country members to literary stars as well as literary hopefuls working in the genre.
...Book Country is an effort to discover and nurture writers of sometimes hard to categorize genre fiction. Barton said that when she was an editor she often encountered writing she liked, but didn’t think she could sell. She said that Book Country will offer writers a chance to “prove us wrong when they get rejected. They can show us there’s an audience for their work.”