Writing Workshop: The New and Improved Book Country

Book Country, Penguin's writer's workshop, has undergone extensive changes. The changes are so numerous where updating the old guide is an impossibility. The old guide will remain on my site as a memorial for the original incarnation of the site.

Rest in peace, original Book Country!

I haven't been using the new version of the site long enough to say whether or not I like it. In some ways, it isn't as easy to navigate, but I suspect this may be because I'm so used to the old way of doing things.

This guide will cover what has changed and how to get the most out of this writing workshop. However, I recommend that you read up on the how to improve your critiquing skills in order to help you learn the most from critiquing others. I also recommend you check out this page on writing a good critique.

To begin, here is Book Country's new home page (when you are not logged in):

Book Country Landing Page

If you don't have a login, it is time to make one. Click on ‘join now' and fill out the form. Login if you are already a member.

Once you log in, your new home page will look a little like this:

book Country Landing Page

The notifications and connections parts are updates of old features. Private messaging is a new feature to the site. I'll cover these later. For now, I want to focus on the heart and soul of the site: The workshopping.

In order to access the books, click on the ‘read & review' link in the first header option. It will take you to a page that looks a little something like this:

Book Country - Read and Review Listing

Below the page fold, there is a list of books that have yet to be reviewed. In Book Country's system, critiques are called reviews.

One change I do like is that there are a lot of new icons to show genres, instead of just colors. The colors are still present, but they're partnered with black and white sketches to help show what type of genre the book belongs to.

Even more interesting is the fact that instead of the default icons, it is now possible to upload your own covers to Book Country. This is a nice improvement.

Clicking a a book from this interface will take you to the reading and reviewing pane, which looks a little like this:


There were some major changes done to the book pages, including the appearance of the rating system. Instead of stars, we have pen nibs. Honestly, this is one o my favorite changes. It's a bit more unique, even though it does the same exact thing it used to do.

The read & review icon has gotten smaller, and is now located directly under the cover. This book has a custom-made cover, demonstrating the ability to add new covers to books.

The true heart and soul of this site is reading books and leaving critical, constructive feedback on them. If you are new to the site, you need to leave a review before you can post a book of your own. This is new, as it used to require three reviews to be able to post a book. Clicking read & review will take you to the story's reading interface.

This is one part of this site that has really, really improved. The difference is like night and day, and i think it is a lot more intuitive now than the previous version.

When you read a story on Book Country, it'll look a little like this:

New Review Pane - Book Country

Like the old site, there are three dialogues you need to work with in order to post a review. Fill out your thoughts on the book for each of the three sections and select the appropriate nib for your rating. The higher the number of nibs you assign a category, the stronger you believe that category is.

A good way of viewing the nibs is ranking the book on how close you feel it is to publication.

Three nibs is a perfectly respectable score. It isn't quite ready for publication, but it's not doing bad, either. Four nibs means the person thought the book was getting close, but isn't quite there yet. Five nibs means they think it doesn't need hardly any work at all.

One and two nibs represents that there are a lot of errors and that the book really needs a lot of work. At first, you may feel guilty about leaving one or two nib reviews, but the point behind Book Country isn't to get the highest number of nibs. Nibs are nice, but the point is to improve your novels and to help others improve your novels.

Being too generous with the nibs helps no one.

Once you've filled out your review, click post review. This will give you the ability to post a new book to the site to be reviewed. (Note: Every time you wish to post a new book, you will have to write a new review in order to do so.)

A really highly-anticipated change to Book Country is the inclusion of new genres. There are a lot of them, but this image shows them in a list format. Book Country used to only include science fiction, fantasy, horror, mystery, and romance.

New Genres - Book Country

As you can tell, there have been a lot of new genres added, which is really a great thing for the community. Keep this list in mind, as you will need to select a category for your novel to be uploaded under.

Part of the delay with getting this post ready was familiarizing myself with the new submission system. Unlike the old book country, once you reviewed three books, you could upload as many titles as you wanted. This has changed. Now, it is a tit-for-tat system. To upload a novel, you need to leave a review for a member.

The first step to upload your novel is to click on Read & Review. From there, you will select the dashboard option.  On the right hand side of the page, you will see a link stating “Workshop a book”. Click this link. You will be given an option to begin the upload process, which looks like this:

Book Country Upload Novel Step One

Once you have uploaded the appropriate file, click upload manuscript.

Book Country Upload Novel Step Two

You will be taken to this page. This allows you to set the font styling. This is a WYSIWYG (what you see is what you get) editor.  Once you're satisfied with the appearance of your novel, select the two additional criteria you want reviewers to comment on. This helps your reviewers target their feedback to subjects you want. Remember, you must select two options and only two options.

Do not leave this page until you click the save button. Bad and wonky things may happen. The error message will look a little like this:

Intuitive Error Message

In order to fix the problem, I had to reupload the manuscript and change the title. I cut out the ‘The'. It could be a phantom error due to the fact I had this project up on Book Country a long time ago, but deleted it during the complete rewrite process.

If you get this mysterious error, first try uploading the manuscript again. Then, change the title a little to make it unique, especially if you've had a book of the same title once upon a time.

Once you have successfully saved your project, click on Book Details.

Book Country Upload Novel Step Three

Once you have filled out this, you'll be ready to post your novel. Publish Now is for e-book submission for their self-publishing unit. Use post if you're workshopping your novel. There is a big difference here.

Before you post, there are a few things to remember. All of the following information must be filled out:

  • The Manuscript (This is the .doc or other file with your novel or story.)
  • The Title (What is the name of your book?)
  • Pen Name (What is your author's name?)
  • Genre (What category of book did you write?)
  • Keywords (What keywords can people use to search for your novel?)
  • Audience Level (Who is the intended target of your novel?)
  • About the Book (The back of cover blurb describing your novel.)
  • About the Author (Include a little something about you! Third person biography.)

Once you've filled out all of this, you're ready. If you don't have a cover, don't worry about it. Obviously, having a cover will be much nicer for drawing attention to your book, but if you don't have one, you don't have one. I don't often use covers for workshopping books, but some people find better results by having a cover. Honestly, I feel that having a strong “About the Book” and a solid writing style will draw in more readers than the cover in a workshopping environment. Most importantly, leaving thorough reviews for other writers will earn you the highest rate of reviews.

While not everyone will return a review, it's far more likely for you to get a review in return if you take the initiative and review someone else first.

Updating your Manuscript

Many people like to update their manuscripts. To update your manuscript, simply go to your dashboard, click the edit button next to the work you want to edit, and reupload the manuscript per the above instructions. It's a very simple process.

Outside of Books & Reviews

There is a lot more to Book Country than the reviewing and book posting systems. While Book Country has always had a forums, the new system has expanded the forums, replacing the old system with a far superior system. The changes in the forums is worth taking a few minutes to talk about. To access the forums, click connect and discuss. This will lead you to the discussion boards.

One of the notable changes to the discussion forums is the expansion of the subjects available.

Book Country Discussion Forums - 1

To join in discussions with other users, just pick a category you want to talk or read about and click the appropriate link. Because I enjoy Setting & World Building discussions, I'm going to use that as an example. Once you're inside the category, pick a thread you want to participate in or click new topic on the top right of the discussion boards to start a new topic of your own.

Book Country Discussion Forums - 2Once you click to the thread you want, you have a few options. You can follow the thread, you can reply, or you can quote. In addition to this, you can see the books someone has written (and their info page) by clicking on their name.

Book Country Discussion Forums - 3

The Book Country Blog

Once you've played around with the discussion forums, I really recommend you visit the book country blog. You can access the blog by clicking learn and then clicking on blog. There is a lot of interesting information and interviews available on the blog, so it's definitely worth checking every now and then.

Book Country Blog

These are the very basics of the new book country. In the interest of getting this up, I'm posting it as is — this post will expand as I have more time to explore the new site and show you all of the neat things I find.

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