It’s hard out there for a writer of genre fiction. You rarely get much respect in the “literary” circles and even though some of the greats – Jonathan Lethem, for example – started out writing what would be termed sci-fi and fantasy, we forget this as they bring out massive magna opera about Park Slope and love. Besides, vampire books are huge moneymakers right now and why not ride that train until it derails on a Transylvanian mountain pass?
And so we have Book Country, a site run by Penguin that offers a free way for writers of genre fiction to talk about and share their work. The site is limited to romance, thrillers, fantasy, and sci-fi so this is not the spot to upload your Mythbusters slashfic. However, it is a fairly robust service that attempts to keep things fair for all involved.
It’s all fairly simple: you create an account and you can, if you so wish, upload your work. To have it “read” or “critiqued” by others you must complete a series of steps including reading three other works by other writers. You can, obviously, game the system and just type in gibberish but that’s not very sporting.
Once your book is up (here is a bit of piffle I’m writing for my son) and you complete your required reading, other users can read and comment on your writing. There are forums for discussing various genres and you can build a fan base. You can also follow writers and books as they change on the site.
Interestingly, because this is a nominally Penguin product (it’s not run by Penguin officially, but is a spin-off), I think it will garner a bit of attention in the massively insular world of publishing and, barring that, it lets writers get out of the basement and in front of an audience.
Writers are protected by anti-copy/paste measures although one can only assume this is a plagiarism lawsuit waiting to happen. It’s also a bit mercenary on Penguin’s part as it heads off the burgeoning self-publishing movement on the Kindle and Nook and ensures that they’ll get a first look at any massively popular authors who percolate up through the system. Like a farm team or a the drama group from Waiting For Guffman, you’re basically dealing with a bunch of people in clamoring out to be discovered. How many of them make it out is hard to say.
Molly Barton, director of business development at Penguin “runs” the site but the real power is in the readers’ hands. It’s an interesting concept that should – one hopes – help the literary cream rise to the top and, if it doesn’t, give us a place to enjoy some fresh cyberpunk. Win-win, either way.