Book Country, an online writing community and self-publishing service launched by Penguin in 2011, is relaunching and redesigning the site in stages. The Book Country self-publishing site will relaunch today with reduced fees for each tier of service while adding a free self-publishing tier, higher royalties for authors and plans to eventually add an online bookstore. By late summer 2013, the site will also relaunch its writing community, opening the site to more fiction genres.

During a visit to the Penguin offices to preview improvements to the site, Book Country community manager Colleen Lindsay told PW that Penguin was working “to improve the user experience” on Book Country and fix “technology issues” on the site. Launched in late 2011, the self-publishing side of the site “was shut down last June to address some of the problems,” she said, noting that “the company has built a database of suggestions and bugs," from members of the online community. Book Country offers writers a place to upload work and receive feedback on their writing, a place where agents and publishers can search for new artists and it is also a free and fee-based service that provides aspiring authors a way to self-publish their writing as e-books and distribute them to all major e-book retailers.

Lindsay showed off a completely redesigned site with several major changes—in particular Book Country has increased the author royalty to 85% from 70%, added a free tier to Book Country’s self-publishing services and reduced fees for all its tiers. Now Book Country offers self-publishing packages that start at free, $59, $149, $249 and $399 (which includes 100% royalty if sold through the Book Country retail channel) for its top tier, which was originally $549.

All the self-publishing tiers offer a variety of services that can include custom covers, copy editing and search engine optimization assistance, depending on which tier the writer chooses. The new service will also feature an automated online editor that identifies bad page or line breaks in the copy or other text problems, provides image insertion ($1/image) for illustrated books and more. The author dashboard is being redesigned and, Lindsay said, it will be more “intuitive,” to use, provide tax information and Book Country provides direct deposit for its quarterly royalty payments. Book Country is, however, dropping the option of print on demand publishing, Lindsay said, because of lack of demand. “Not too many wanted POD, there are other places to go for POD and e-books are easier to produce. We want to offer the best e-book solution for authors."

The launch of Book Country made Penguin the first big New York house to move into the self-publishing market. The move predates the acquisition of Author Solutions, Inc. by Penguin in July 2012. Since the acquisition, Lindsay said the Author Solutions technology team has worked with Book Country to improve the technical infrastructure of the Book Country site.

Book Country’s online writing community has attracted about 800 manuscripts and about 5800 active writer-members, according to Lindsay. She said at least two writers have received book deals after posting on the site and about another 20 have managed to secure agents. Lindsay said Book Country “has been an incubator for writers and the writing level is high. Many Book Country members workshopped their books on the site and then went on to other services or found agents. Book Country has worked well and we will work to support it and improve it.”