Genre fiction, e-books and self-publishing comprise the holy trinity for indie authors—just ask Amanda Hocking or John Locke, who have each sold over a million e-books of their self-published paranormal and thriller titles respectively. The portability and ease of e-readers cry out for the page-turning power of pulp, and the lower price point of digital books gives self-pubbers a better chance at luring audiences into unfamiliar waters.
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So the recent arrival of Book Country, the online community dedicated to genre fiction that Penguin launched earlier this year, seems only natural. And while we don’t endorse any particular route to publishing (just like Fleetwood Mac said, “You can go your own way”), we have to say that Book Country has some pretty cool features.
“My intention in launching the site was to create a bridge between some of the writing communities out there, in the self-publishing world and traditional publishing," Book Country president Molly Barton said as she showed me the site this fall. "And give writers the information that they need to make the choice that’s most appropriate for them, and the tools and environment they need to be able to improve their work."
On Book Country, authors can upload their work in the genres of sci-fi, fantasy, mystery, thriller and romance and request feedback from the community. But while the site is free to join, it’s not for freeloaders—members must review the works of three other members before their own work will be visible on the site. To date, Penguin reports that 120,000 unique visitiors have been to their site since the beta version launched in May, and they have nearly 4,000 members and 500 works of genre fiction.
“I wanted it to be a collaborative place, and I wanted to stem the tendency that I’ve seen on some other websites for blatant self-promotion,” said Barton. “It’s a free website, but the cost of entry is spending time helping others.”
While assisting others is always to be applauded, Book Country also helps authors help themselves in a crucial component of self-publishing success—discoverability. And when it comes to discovering things, it’s nice to have a map, hence the site’s innovative “genre map” that granulates its five core genres; for example, it breaks mysteries down into “noir,” “cozy,” “hobby,” “police procedural” and more. To place a book on the map, authors choose between the dichotomies of light/dark, innocent/sexy, funny/scary and fantastic/realistic.
“The idea behind the genre map is to make it easier for somebody coming to the site to find something that they’d like to read,” said Barton. To help situate potential readers on the genre plane, the map not only features members’ books but is also populated by “landmark” books of the genres from well-known authors such as Neil Gaiman, Thomas Harris and Janet Evanovich.
The site also features a discussion area where members can compare writing strategies, get tips on finding an agent, learn how to utilize social media and more.
“Some of the other sites that have tried to get into this space are general interest; anybody who is writing a book can post there,” said Barton. “I really wanted to focus on a community that’s working in the same area as one another so that you don’t have a poetry writer next to a thriller writer. It’s a likeminded community that has a lot to say to one another.”
And once the community has helped shape a book, the author can usher it right along to publication with Book Country’s newly launched onsite publishing tools. As a part of Penguin, Book Country draws from its parent’s network of industry professionals to offer professional formatting and design of print and e-book simultaneously.
But if you’re a true blue self-pubber, you can create the book yourself, utilizing genre-specific templates made by Penguin, such as “The Riddler” for mysteries. And by taking the book through the entire Book Country experience, “from inspiration to publication,” as Barton says, the published work will come packed with metadata developed through the process, enhancing the book’s discoverability once its goes into Book Country’s extensive distribution network. Also aiding in discoverability is Book Country’s Big Six lineage.
“I’m really excited that a number of editors have written to me about manuscripts that they’ve read on the site and are interested in reading more of to consider for traditional publishing path,” Barton said.