Book Country, a free online writing community and publishing services venture launched by Penguin in April, has now added a suite of economically priced, easy-to-use self-publishing tools for its members. The launch of the fee-based self-publishing service makes Penguin the first big New York trade house to aggressively enter the self-publishing market with an online community aimed at developing aspiring genre fiction writers tied to the ability to self-publish their works.

Penguin CEO David Shanks said, “With its focus on nurturing and supporting new voices, Book Country is the perfect vehicle for introducing a new kind of self-publishing that offers a more professional product and provides guidance that isn’t currently available from other players.” Since its launch in April, Book Country has attracted 4,000 members who have posted about 500 book manuscripts on the site and generated thousands of critiques and reviews from the site’s community.

While the site was initially launched to emphasize the development of writers, Book Country president Molly Barton told PW the site has also attracted literary agents who have ”picked up a few of our writers.” She declined to comment whether Penguin has found any writers to publish on Book Country, but told PW, “The quality of the writing on the site is high.”

Launched in stages, Book Country was unveiled back in April as a free online service designed to attract aspiring genre fiction writers. The service allows writers to post work and receive feedback from a community of writers and reviewers. The service is designed to address some of the copyright problems associated with online writing communities—there’s no cut and paste, no e-mail between members, and no downloading of text. Now BC takes a big step offering its members what looks to be one of the most convenient and reasonably priced self-publishing ventures in a self-publishing market that continues to have explosive growth. Penguin expects to generate revenue from both the fee services program as well as from signing Book Country authors to book deals, and hopes the deal component will provide the bulk of sales to the publisher.

At a demonstration of the new service held at Penguin offices—Book Country is organized as a separate company but is owned by Penguin—Barton outlined the individual cost and steps involved in using the Book Country self-publishing tools. “These professional tools provide a direct path to publication for those who choose to go the self-publishing route,“ Barton said. Indeed Barton, taking aim at Amazon's self-publishing service, claims Book Country is the first of its kind to offer print and e-book production during the same automated process.

Once logged onto the Book Country site members with books ready for publication can click through to the Book Country Publish Your Book page. BC offers three publishing “packages” at three prices: $549 for the professionally formatted print/e-book package; $299 for the user-formatted print/e-book package; and $99 for the e-book only package. Each package provides the user with ISBN, distribution options, pricing and earning information, and marketing help. While the publishing packages are designed to be simple and provide a set schedule of fees and a limited number of options, Barton noted that a la carte editorial and production services will likely be added to the service later. “We want all the fees to be upfront, no surprise fees tacked on later, ” Barton said. Barton said conversion processes are done by people and are not automated and production quality of BC titles displayed during the demonstration was impressive.

A member choosing the professionally formatted option will see a checklist to guide them through the process, a download kit with details about laying out the books interior, using sales information, cover design and marketing. As members move through the automated service they are prompted to upload their text file; pick a template for the interior (Penguin designers were used to design templates and pick a range of fonts for the service), and provide metadata for the forthcoming book. Members receive royalties based on how they price their books (authors receive 70% of books priced $2.99 and up; 30% for titles priced under $2.99). Prices can be changed every 60 days. While the service offers members a range of easy options at every step, members are also free to disregard BC’s suggestions. Members can even bypass the cover design template and upload freelance-designed cover art if they choose.

“We show you how to create a book that meets professional standards but you can do something else instead," Barton said. “We looked at other self-publishing sites to make sure we offered members a range of options in the process without overwhelming them with choices.”

Once the final book is uploaded for publication, members can decide to distribute it widely to a network of online POD print and e-book retailers that include all the major retail channels including Amazon, B&N, Google eBooks, Kobo and others. Members can also choose to offer the book only to the Book Country community. Book Country pays royalties on a 30-day schedule through a PayPal account.

“Self-publishing is a trend that isn’t going away,” Barton said. “There are a growing number of authors who simply want to go directly to readers with their books. We respect that new reality and the changed landscape that technology has brought to book publishing.”