Book Country is an online community for writers of romance, fantasy, sci-fi, thriller, and mystery novels. The name gives the website a sense of being a real place. The site opened its beta site to the public one month ago, and already it has 2,500 users. That’s a lot, especially considering the site is run by six tech guys, and four editorial staff–only two of which work full-time. But, take a tour of the site and you will see that this team has put a lot of thought and effort into this. While these features are not necessarily new to sites on the web, they are certainly new in the book publishing world and a necessary progressive step in bringing the industry into the 21st century.
I had the pleasure of sitting down and talking to Danielle Poiesz, editorial coordinator, for an hour to discuss the site. Book Country first caught my attention a month ago, when I was working on a final project for NYU. The project was a business plan to launch a social media website around Gotham Writers’ Workshop, and it was very similar to the ideas and concepts of Book Country. So naturally, they were our biggest competitors, theoretically.
So what exactly is this site about?
“It’s a way to foster talent,” Danielle said. It’s an opportunity to help people grow, as writers, and help everyone in their community.
Although Book Country is a subsidiary of Penguin, it is an agnostic publisher, meaning it doesn’t take into account publishing companies or even literary agents. Yes, some agents and editors frequent the site and look for new talent. After all, Book Country users are dedicated to their craft and intent on improving their skills, which is valuable to those in the publishing industry. But this is just an added bonus.
The coolest feature of Book Country is the genre map. For each genre (thriller, fantasy, etc.) there is a map. All of the books uploaded to the site are placed on the map based on certain characteristics. For example, some books may be funny, others sexy, others scary, etc. Users can then explore their maps to decide which books they want to read or review next.
But there are many other features, all of which serve to make the community more active and engaged in each other’s work. The site is incredibly easy to use, with explanations of what to do or how to do it placed on each page. And everything has been broken down into sub-categories and is very detailed. For example, forums are broken down by topics such as industry, insider tips, and the craft of writing, which are then broken down even further into topics such as the business of writing, what editors look for, voice, characterization, plot, and so on.
Users of the site will learn to become better readers, which will ultimately help them improve their writing. The site is about giving in order to get. Before writers are allowed to upload their own books for feedback, they must provide feedback for three books. In their feedback, writers must give a general overview, including whether or not the book fits its chosen genre and subgenre, as well as three other elements. The author chooses which elements he or she wants comments for. Elements can include plot, character, setting, etc. Book Country also wants to make sure everyone has a chance to be reviewed, so they promote books which have yet to receive feedback.
One of the main goals of Book Country is to foster a safe environment. Therefore, they constantly moderate the forums to ensure comments are appropriate and constructive, and if necessary, will kick off users. But the site has a built in way of ensuring everyone provides constructive comments. After leaving feedback, users can vote a thumbs up or thumbs down on the comments. The more thumbs up a user receives, the more weight their ratings on anything on the site will have in the future. This is all part of one of the many algorithms that make this site so amazing.
Writers don’t have to fear of other people stealing their work. There is no way to copy or download anyone’s book, and when reading and reviewing, the text is presented in such small chunks that it would take too much effort to want to retype anything. Non-members can only read up to 5,000 words, and members can read up to 30,000 words. But, members who want to read a whole book can ask to connect to the author, similar to the way people connect in LinkedIn. Once connected, members can read each other’s full profiles and have access to all of each other’s work on the site.
Membership is free, and there are no ads on the site. So it is very user-friendly. In the future Book Country will also offer self-publishing services, for a reasonable fee.
There is a lot more to the site, but the best way to learn is to become a member and see for yourself. I plan on convincing my co-writer for Teeny Genies and joining the community myself as soon as possible!