So you’ve thumbed through (or scrolled through) your manuscript and you still think it’s great – fine. But what draft is it? If it’s your first, second, or even third draft, try to get as much feedback as possible. This is where a site like Book Country is really important. BookCounty.com got started back in 2011 as a really good idea – let writers help writers (see NYTimes, April 26, 2011, “Aspiring Authors Get Help Online”). You can post a complete novel, or a fragment of one, on Book Country and get feedback from other aspiring authors. This is great, especially in those early stages, and you get to meet some really super people. Other writers are unsparing when it comes to criticism about basics and this is exactly what you need (there’s nothing that turns off a reader like misspellings, poor grammar, etc.), but most do it in the spirit of constructive, helpful criticism.
But like most things in life, it’s not totally free. Unless they’ve totally changed the format you will have to review a book (originally it was three) before you are eligible to post your book for review. This isn’t as onerous as it seems. When I joined I found three book fragments to review that were fewer than 2,000 words each (most people post a few chapters at a time). I read, I reviewed, and then I posted parts of “Agony of the Gods.” I received feedback on writing style, content, etc., much of which was quite helpful. This can be really important in helping you (seeing your book as others see it can be quite a learning experience). At least two other writers who have been published by Bookkus got feedback on BookCountry (Mike Hagan and Michelle Hiscox – see my Bookkus Authors Page). I think I can truthfully say that I taught Mike Hagan everything he knows about geology while reviewing his book drafts on BookCountry. 🙂
So you can have a great time on Book Country (don’t forget to get involved in discussions), but don’t forget – it is a lot of work. One thing about writers, they love to have their books read, but they’re so busy writing that they often don’t want to devote a lot of time to reading other people’s stuff. Don’t expect everyone whose book you’ve reviewed to review yours. Some might just not like your story and won’t read it. There are others who will put in their three reviews and stop. If you want to get the most out of Book Country you need to be active. Take part in the on-line discussions. Develop a network of other writers to chat with. Make sure you keep up with their new revisions, and hopefully, they’ll keep up with yours.
Okay, that’s the up side. The downside is that Book Country has kind of increased their emphasis on helping you self-publish. They offer a number of packages, but note – this is not a matter of being published by their parent company Penguin Books (they clearly state that – read their introductory notes). This is similar to packages offered by Book Baby, Smashwords and others. They do not edit your book. If you want editing, that will cost you extra, and it really just comes down to line editing (grammar, spelling, etc.). They also do not market your book – that’s all up to you. So just be very careful when you hear the siren song of “we help you publish your novel.”
One last thought – editing services. I’ve read a couple of manuscripts that were professionally line-edited (paid for by the author, of course). Remember, a perfectly written novel (in a mechanistic sense) can still be a lousy story, just like a badly composed photograph can be a lousy photo despite having perfect exposure, contrast, etc. I’ve read a few manuscripts that were perfectly written (mechanistically) but had character inconsistencies, plot non-sequiturs, and contrived stupidities that just made you groan. These books are DOA. There are folks out there who will content edit, but remember, since you are paying them they will make suggestions for improvement, but they’re not going to be hypercritical, and sometimes that’s exactly what you need.
So, bottom line, if you are in early stages of your work (and remember, a complete first draft of a novel is still very early stage) try Book Country. It can be a great resource for you as a writer, it can be a lot of fun, and you can make a lot of friends.
Next time – well, what about Bookkus.