Penguin’s Book Country

Disclaimer: My books are published by DAW, which has a distribution agreement through Penguin.

A few weeks ago, Penguin launched a site called Book Country. From an article in the New York Times, Book Country:

“…will allow writers to post their own work … and receive critiques from other users, who can comment on points like character development, pacing and dialogue.”

So far, so good, right? It sounds like the site was launched with the best of intentions, to help writers improve their craft and learn about the business. But keep reading, and you get to this quote. “Penguin hopes the site will attract agents, editors and publishers scouting for new talent…”

Good luck with that. Writer Beware wrote about manuscript display sites back in 2006.

“They were touted as writers’ Great New Hope: a brand-new cyberspace opportunity to bypass publishers’ closed-door policies and agents’ huge slush piles. Agents and editors, the sites declared, would be eager to visit a venue where manuscripts were pre-sorted into easily-searchable categories and genres, where submissions were pre-screened for quality…”

Repeat after me: there are no shortcuts. Of all the authors I’ve featured on First Book Friday, not one sold their first book via a manuscript display site. It almost makes you think agents and editors already have more submissions and queries than they can handle, and don’t need to spend their free time surfing display sites and hunting the Next Big Thing.

Even Penguin admits their staff won’t be searching the site for new authors. From the FAQ, Book Country “is not a channel for the submission of unsolicited manuscripts to Penguin editors.” Yet discoverability is pushed as a selling point to bring new writers in. “Our members include published authors and industry professionals. You never know who might discover your work.”

You never know who’ll discover your work if you leave your manuscript in a public restroom either. That doesn’t make it a smart strategy.

Book Country does offer critiques from other writers, articles and advice from professionals, and discussion forums, all backed by a major publisher. It costs nothing to join. These are all good things. Former agent Colleen Lindsay has been helping to get Book Country off the ground, which I think adds to their credibility. ETA: Colleen pointed to this link for background on the three full-time employees working on Book Country.

But then you get to the self-publishing angle. From the About Us page, “Later this year, Book Country will offer a convenient and affordable way to self-publish eBooks and print books.”

I’m going to quote a different Writer Beware article from back when Harlequin, another major publisher, started up a self-publishing service.

“I don’t for one teeny tiny second believe that discovering new writers, or giving them a chance to ‘begin their legacies’ or ‘reach the stars,’ plays a major part here. That’s just a marketing pitch. This is about money. Now more than ever, commercial publishers need to shore up their bottom lines–and adding self-publishing divisions is an easy and profitable way to do so.”

Book Country is targeted squarely at writers. Not editors, not agents, and not readers. By itself, this isn’t a bad thing … but publishing is a business, and it’s pretty clear where Penguin hopes to make back their investment.

There’s a lot of good stuff here. I see articles from Supereditor Ellen Datlow, Lou Anders of Pyr, Colleen Lindsay, and more. Online critique groups can be helpful too. If you go in expecting some helpful articles and feedback from other amateur writers, you probably won’t be disappointed.

But don’t go in looking for shortcuts or that big break.

Has anyone here been involved in Book Country? Submitted or critiqued any work, or interacted with folks on the site? Discussion, debate, and more info are welcome, as always.