Book Country: How to Share That Book in You

5 years ago

As we've been planning and discussing BlogHer Writers '11 (presented by Penguin Publishing in New York City on October 21), we've been asking, "Do you have a book in you?" If you're a genre fiction writer, your life just got easier -- I had a chance to talk to Molly Barton, VP Digital Publishing, Business Development & Strategy at Penguin Publishing and president of Book Country, a community for genre fiction writers (if you're confused by that term, think categories like mystery, sci-fi, romance, thriller) that could vault your novel to new heights.

Book Country's Genre Map

BlogHer: How did you get the idea for Book Country?

Molly Barton: We've been thinking about ways to use the Internet in a smarter fashion to find new talent and to give writers better information and tools to help them with their publishing tasks for the last three or four years. We started working on Book Country about two years ago. It's funded by Penguin's parent company, Pearson, and it came from innovation funding -- it's great to have a corporate parent who is also a book publisher, because they understand what it takes to make a book a success.

The overarching reason we're so excited is that we recognize that aspiring authors may not live in big cities and may not have a lot of time to themselves -- they're working, they have families, they don't have a lot of time to connect in person. Book Country allows genre fiction writers to connect with readers so they can make choices about how and what to publish.

The Book Country community has been live in beta since about May.

BlogHer: What benefits does Book Country provide to an emerging novelist?

Molly Barton: With Book Country, there's a reputation system operating in the background -- it's not a popularity contest. You can't post your work and invite all your friends to just vote you up without participating in any other way. As soon as you start participating in Book Country, we're tracking how people are interacting with you and how much you are helping other people -- if you help other people, your comments and reviews have more weight. You can use Book Country to get feedback on your novel by uploading chapters at your own pace, reading industry blogs from well known writers, participating in discussions, raising your profile by earning badges and points and making it onto the top list featured on the homepage and using the genre map to find things you want to read based on your personal interests.

BlogHer: Why genre fiction vs. nonfiction or memoir or general fiction?

Molly Barton There are lots of sites out there that focus on a broader swath, but you'll see a picture book next to a cookbook and it just doesn't have context. We wanted to create a place where you could be publishing into a community of people who already understood what you were trying to do, similar to what BlogHer does so well -- creating communities and affiliations between different writers with similar goals.

Genre is niche but the way it translates to other forms of media isn't. It translates into television, movies, etc. very well. Also, it works: Romance writers were some of the earliest writers to find readers and use the Internet for their own process.

BlogHer: Do you see any similarities between what a writer can get from Book Country and what she could get from a MFA writing program?

Molly Barton: That's an interesting question. We're doing a mailing to MFA programs -- Book Country could be a component to the way they teach, but Book Country is definitely more about writers helping writers in a well structured and moderated environment. It's more about peer-to-peer collaboration than it is about instruction. Our community manager, Colleen Lindsay, is very active about participating in the discussions and making sure the tone adheres to community guidelines -- because of that, it has more education value definitely.

BlogHer: Is there a risk of getting your idea stolen if you post chapters on Book Country?

Molly Barton: One of the reasons I thought it made sense to start with fiction is that it's really all in the telling -- there are only so many plots. It's all about the individual voice and imagination. You can control as a writer how much of your work is visible to other people, and you can post as little as one chapter. Visitors to the site can only read five thousand words on average. The only people who can read your whole novel are those you've chosen to connect with. We've disabled cut and paste and you can only read chapters in our reader on our website.

BlogHer: Any success stories?

Molly Barton: We've had some authors picked up for representation by agents off the site, which is a very promising sign. My team has been talent spotting and referring manuscripts to editors within Penguin. It's working just as we'd hoped -- that's all I can say for now!

BlogHer: What's next?

Molly Barton: In November, we'll be unveiling the self-publishing tools. You'll be able to self-publish your ebook and your print book, and we'll be distributing Book Country ebooks and print books via major retailers' websites.

Book Country Community Manager Colleen Lindsay will be at BlogHer Writers '11 next week in New York City. Register today! If you have further questions, post them in the comments and I'll make sure she sees them!

Book Country is a subsidiary of Penguin Group, a Pearson company. The BlogHer Book Club is currently sponsored and supplied by Penguin Group (USA) and its subsidiaries.

Rita Arens authors Surrender Dorothy and is the editor of Sleep is for the Weak. She is BlogHer's assignment and syndication editor.

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