Book Country, Lois Lane, and Zombies

Book CountryPenguin’s Sekrit Projekt, headed by Molly Barton and Colleen Lindsay, launched for open beta Monday. Book Country is a community of writers online, giving feedback and posting their own work for collaborative critique and improvement.

One feature I think is rather cool is the genre map, wherein writers have to plot their books based on a few factors, including genre, sub-genre, then tone and style. I rather like the idea of categorizing books visually, though this is likely easier if you’re a reader looking for books than if you are a writer categorizing your own work, I suspect. The community is focused on critique and collaborative improvement, and later developments will include self-publishing options, according to a NY Times article.

One thing I very much like is that in order to receive feedback on your own work, you have to leave feedback for others. It has to be a two-way interaction if you choose to place your work there for critique and comment. It’s a huge cross-genre community – or, as Molly Barton said in the New York Times interview about Book Country, it connects “disparate pieces that writers had to go to three or four different sites to find.” Colleen Lindsay, Book Country Community Manager, emphasized the tone of the site: there’s a tone of respect and expected behavior in the criticism. Negative reviews are possible, but personal criticism will not be tolerated.

Calvin Reid’s PW article explains a LOT of how to use the site, including the genre map that I like so much. The site also emphasizes the use of color, as seen in this explanation of newly-uploaded books waiting to be discovered, using specific color shades to denote genre, heat level, or humor level.

If you’re a romance reader, what’s in it for you? Stuff to read – that you can discover through identifying exactly your favorite genres and sub-genres – and having an opportunity to respond to writing in progress, if you are so inclined. The site’s beta testers were not just writers – there’s a lot of readers in the site as well, says Danielle Poiesz, Book Country Editorial Coordinator. Poiesz was in editorial at Pocket acquiring romance and is thus very familiar with the genre. She thinks the romance section at Book Country is pretty strong already, and she’s particularly proud of the discussions going on about romance, particularly the conversations that focus on how to write fight scenes, combat, or even sex. The community, if you’re a writer or a reader, is free.

I was a beta tester for Book Country (a rather terrible one as my travel schedule heated up just as it was time for me to go break the thing for them) but now that it’s live for open beta, I’m curious if you’re interested in it, or if you’ve posted your writing for critique. What I do think is that there is room for Book Country to brand itself as an author and reader community of some worth in terms of outside recognition. For example, right now there’s no real brand recognition or vetting for self-published books the way there is for digitally or print published books through a house. There’s no “This book was edited by Name Brand Freelance Editor” for self published authors, for example, the way that a publisher’s name has come to mean some editorial and production oversight was given to the title in question. Self published folks have fewer valuable shortcuts in communicating to readers and reviewers, “Someone other than me thought this was a good book.” There are excellent communities that serve this function in the fanfic world, but not as many in equal strength in the unpublished genre fiction world.

So where there’s opportunity for Book Country is to be a branded vetting process for self-pub authors. “My book was rated with consistent four stars and received user awards for dialogue at Book Country” or “My novel was a Book Country award winner” could ultimately mean something to reviewers or agents, for example, when an author pitches their next work, based on the strength and objectivity of the community of people within it.

If the community is built in a manner that yields collaborative value and worth, being a successful “Book Country” book could be a meaningful attribute. 

The latest Hark, A Vagrant highlights a woman who gets better or worse depending on who is steering the character: Lois Lane. Either she kicked ass or she wailed and waited for Superman – but I do like this version of her. Prickly thing.

The explanation beneath the comic linked to Dean Trippe’s Tumblr, which shows some work for the proposed Lois Lane, Girl Reporter, a pitch for an illustrated YA series featuring Lois at age 11. Oh, holy mother of pearl, do I wish that had become a reality.

And finally, you know who can help you learn to use your university library? Zombies. They are good for damn near everything, really. Thanks to Carin for the link.


The Link-O-Lator

Comments are Closed

  1. Mireya says:

    Given the way things are going as it pertains to publishing, with more authors looking at self-publishing as a definitive and more viable alternative, a site like Book Country most definitely could be of extreme value for both authors (the potential for multiple critiques without having to spend money or invest a lot of time looking for a critique partner) and readers, as the site hopefully will end up improving the quality of the books submitted for critique there, pre-publication.  I don’t know how often I’ll visit, but I like the idea a lot.  Of course, I am no writer, just a nosey reader/occasional reviewer.

  2. Suzan Isik says:

    I’m a #betafish. I probably was one of the first hundred or so. My BookCountry experience has been interesting so far, because I did upload a book and I got quite a few reviews on it, most of them good. I made it to being a “Buzz” book. So, you know, I got that good little feeling in my stomach that authors get when people like their work. I also got a couple bad reviews too, but they were pretty professional and constructive.

    Now, I’ve tapered off my use of it too, because school exploded on me, but I really like Book Country a lot. I’m still on the fence about self-pubbing, mainly because I’m lazy and I don’t want to do the publisher’s job, AND my job. It’s definitely something on my list of things to consider. Maybe once school has stopped Exploding and I can breathe again.

  3. Dr. Zoidberg says:

    Loved the library of the living dead! I work for a university library…we use the Library of Congress cataloging system, but maybe I could make some changes…

  4. Gianisa says:

    Argh, it ate my comment.

    If they’re still taking feedback, you should tell the BookCountry people that using only colors in the genre map is problematic.  I can disinguish mystery, thriller, and romance, but not SF and fantasy.  If they added in some left/right cross-hatching, just to show that the genre has changed, it would help immensely.

  5. Red says:

    I followed a link trail from NPR’s Monkey See blog and to Project: Rooftop and then to Dean Trippe’s Lois Lane, Girl Reporter.  I, too, would read that book, if only it got the green light.

  6. Kerry Allen says:

    Book Country: Ah, so that‘s what the latest deluge of slimy “if you give me 5 stars, I’ll give you 5 stars” emails has been about. Thus, I predict that will be about as reliable as Amazon reviews as an indicator of quality.

  7. Jenn LeBlanc says:

    @Kerry: I certainly hope that type of bartering won’t start here, because it will undermine everything Book Country is supposed to be about. Not to mention the fact that it means nothing.

    How am I supposed to work on my manuscript if I know the critiques are all junk? This is not a popularity contest. Yes, there are factors that set it up to be, and my book has been a buzz book for several days, which is exciting for me, but the IMPORTANT part of Book Country is the feedback. I really hope people focus on that.

    I am also a Betafish, have been in for awhile, watching it grow and change. I think if used properly it will be great, but as with anything you have to weed through the bad. I try to give the best and most honest and helpful reviews I can, that being said, it is hard for me, I’m not very good at technical reviews, and I try to explain that as well. On the other end of that, if your review sucks people can tell you that, with a little thumbs up or thumbs down, so watch out. (and those thumbs down hurt if you worked hard on a review….but it gives you a taste of what it feels like to be reviewed.)

    I know Colleen tweeted last night about thoughtless reviewing and that has been a concern of mine as well, since you have to review to be reviewed, some aren’t taking the job to heart and are just pushing through reviews to get their book up = not helpful. I would hope more readers get involved because that would help balance that out.

    Anywhoo, here’s hoping the ‘popular kids’ don’t screw this up by turning it into something it isn’t meant to be.

  8. Mireya says:

    @Jenn and Kerry:  Thanks for bringing attention to this.  Sadly, I already lost interest.  If that is what is ALREADY going on, when the site is still in Beta, I will not be able to trust any opinions there any more than I trust Amazon’s reviewes.  Oh well, I guess I’ll continue avoiding anything self-published, and only looking at the bad reviews FIRST.  Which is what I always do anyway. *sigh*

  9. Kerry Allen says:

    @Jenn: As the news spreads, I’ve been tagged another two dozen times since earlier this morning. The problem is, the business of writing has become more about getting noticed than getting better. It’s inevitable that making a public affair of what is intended to be the latter will attract droves of those only interested in the former. This is far from the first “post your work for critique” site, and they’re all prone to cliques and mutual back-scratching. Since this one is advertised as having a professional eye on it, I would anticipate the “networking” to become even more of an influence than elsewhere.

  10. bungluna says:

    As a reader, I found it a fun place to go peer into the mind of writers.  I’ll keep an eye on it for a while before I decide to ‘join’. On the positive side, I’ve already found two new authors there that I plan to try out.  Since I’m a readaholic, it’s always good to find new sources of my drug of choice! ;-D

  11. P. Kirby says:

    Book Country: Ah, so that‘s what the latest deluge of slimy “if you give me 5 stars, I’ll give you 5 stars” emails has been about. Thus, I predict that will be about as reliable as Amazon reviews as an indicator of quality


    I think I saw on a forum or blog elsewhere, a mention that this was happening there.  The impression I was got was that, as with most things on the web, it’s potentially a huge drain on time.  I.e., just another thing to do that isn’t writing.

    Not saying it’s a bad idea; just not right for me.

  12. Christina says:

    Generally, I’d say I’m interested in a community geared towards critique. But I have concerns and later when I have time, I’m going to sit down and give the General Terms of Use a more thorough reading b/c parts like this caught my eye:

    “By posting or uploading any Content on the Website: … and (iii) you grant to us a non-exclusive, worldwide, royalty-free, irrevocable, perpetual, transferable right and license (A) to display the Content on the Website”

    (emphasis mine)

  13. Colleen Lindsay says:

    Kerry –

    If you can please forward me the names of the users who are doing this, this falls under harassment in our Terms of Service and Community Guidelines and we will suspend these accounts.

    I’m sorry you’re experiencing this.


    Colleen Lindsay
    Book Country Community Manager

  14. Colleen Lindsay says:

    Christina –

    Re the Terms of Use – “Content” refers to the reviews you post, the discussion comments, etc. “Work” refers to your own creative works, which you’ll note our General Terms of Use does not include in this clause.

    Basically, if you delete your account, your book (or chapters or short stories, etc) get deleted but your posted reviews and discussions remain on the site.

    I hope that helps clarify things for you!


    Colleen Lindsay
    Book Country Community Manager

  15. Hell Cat says:

    Man, I would love to have Lois Lane, Girl Reporter on my bookshelves. Something about it centering around a girl with sense is appealing. Odd, that.  I couldn’t get into comics because of the heavy-handed maleness of it all. (Then again, I liked Huntress, Power Girl, Terra and Catwoman so I’m kinda stuck in weird land.) Lois was always so boring in the comics and I never understood if it was an action to mimic Smallville or the other way around.

  16. AfroQueen says:

    I’m a big ole Comic geek, with thousands of comics in my home.  But, I have to say I’ve never like Lois Lane…the only time I did like her was when Terri Hatcher was portraying her in “Lois & Clark”.  Saying that, the book looks cool.  Even though I’m a Marvel gal, I would totally pushed a teen Lois Lane graphic novel.

  17. Sharon says:

    Gosh, I wish someone could figure out a way to guarantee straightforward, honest reviews online, but I guess there will always be those who find a way to “work the system”.  As an avid reader I’m used to the nonsense that goes on at Amazon, et al., but it’s a shame to see that the same kind of stuff goes on at writers’ communities. What’s the bloody point? What value does this have to anyone once they know it goes on? That’s why Amazon reviews are a universal joke—everyone’s on to the bogus glowing, 5-star reviews and bogus “unhelpful” votes on anything that isn’t a glowing, 5-star review.

    Sad. It’s just sad and it hurts everyone. It hurts the author/reader relationship, it makes readers cyncial, and it keeps authors stuck in the immediate gratification of a few extra sales garnered by a handful of phony reviews while their overall career suffers.

    This is why I stick to mainstream, traditionally published books only.

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