Book Country, an online writing community introduced by Penguin in 2011, outlined the features of their updated site for members of the press and book industry at a re-launch event at the Norwood Club on July 22. The site itself, currently in beta mode, will make its revamped debut on July 24.

Initially conceived of as a meeting spot and editorial tool for writers of genre fiction, the re-launch opens up Book Country to over 60 categories, including nonfiction and young adult, which were among the most requested from early users.

The initiative was the brainchild of Molly Barton, Book Country’s president and global digital director at Penguin. The re-launch involves several key differences from the original site, all which work toward simulating the supportive process an author experiences when working with a traditional publisher.

In addition to expanding the category offerings, the refurbished site features a new online bookstore, which goes live on Wednesday. Members's books will be sold through retailers such as iBookstore and Amazon, and though Book Country will be listed as publisher, the author retains rights to his or her content. The site’s publishing packages include a free option, and grant an 85% royalty rate for titles sold through Book Country. The top-tier package, which costs $399, allows for a 100% royalty rate.

“It takes some of the best aspects of self publishing and some of the best aspects of traditional publishing and gives writers a new way forward, said Brandi Larsen, director of Book Country. “We’re supporting the writer throughout the entire journey.”

Larsen, who moved from the Chicago Tribune in January to join the Book Country team, walked the audience through a typical writer’s experience on the site, which begins with locating a category on the rollover genre map, and from there, a specific subgenre. A mystery writer, for example, is able to connect with other like-minded authors who write within his or her specific category, such as cozy mysteries or police procedurals.

“That taxonomy matters,” said Larsen. “It matters when you self-publish, and it matters when you publish and you send to agents and editors.”

Book Country currently has more than 8,300 active members, and has grown by 34% since the beginning of 2013. The site maintains its one to one policy -- writers who want to collaborate can only share their work once he or she has read and reviewed work by another member. Each manuscript workshopped receives an average of about six member reviews.

“Because this platform fosters strong early bonds between writers and the people who appreciate their stories and ideas, this community is actually writing better books together online,” said Barton.

Other features new to the updated site are the capability for members to privately message each other, as well as a tool that allows users to either upload their own cover art, or overlay text on a member-chosen image or one provided by Book Country. Barton also “cherry-picked” services provided by self-publishing vendor Author Solutions, Inc., which Penguin acquired in July 2012, including cover design consultation, line editing, and promotional features such as book stubs (gift cards for free downloads of a particular e-book).

The merger between Random House and Penguin, which took effect July 1, won’t result in any immediate changes for Book Country, according to Barton. She did add that it does pull together a larger pool of editors now under the same “proverbial roof” who are actively looking at Book Country authors. Since its launch in April 2011, eight Book Country members have sold books to traditional publishers.