Self-Publishing Gets a Digital Assist

SAN FRANCISCO — If everyone, as the saying goes, has at least one book in them, most have more excuses as to why it will never be written.

Enter FastPencil, a self-publishing system that aims to help remove some of those excuses. The system simplifies publishing traditional bound books or even digital versions for the new generation of e-readers, such as Amazon’s Kindle and the Sony Reader Pocket and Touch e-Readers.

“We want to remove the barriers to publishing any kind of book,” Steve Wilson, CEO and co-founder of FastPencil, told in a briefing here. “The idea is you can write once and publish anywhere to a Kindle or produce a printed book in a very simple, cost-effective way.”

The system is actually free to use in creating your book: Charges come in when you want to publish. A built-in calculator feature estimates what it will cost to publish your book commercially and Wilson said you could even publish a single book using FastPencil and have it delivered to your home for a total cost of $10.

Books can also be marketed on an on-demand basis, so no inventory accumulates.

FastPencil debuted last month, but a significant upgrade launches today. The company has enhanced its social network features by adding integration with both Facebook Connect and Twitter. FastPencil lets authors share and solicit feedback on works in progress, tasks ideally suited to social networks.

Writers can create a profile page on FastPencil designed to build what the company calls a “Tribe” of followers to offer feedback and support.

The company now has also added several book templates designed to give authors a basic framework to get started. Among the new templates are Personal Memoir, Great American Novel and Blog to Book.

After selecting a template, writers can upload a complete piece of work — including importing a blog from the Web, or a Microsoft Word file from their computer — or start from scratch.

FastPencil also facilitates selling e-books on the Barnes & Noble site and Amazon, and supports an e-book format for the iPhone.

Analyst Ben Bajarin said he’s impressed with FastPencil’s comprehensive approach to a publishing market that historically has been very siloed.

“Most people who try and write a book don’t have the other skills necessary to get it published, such as marketing, design and distribution,” Bajarin, an analyst with Creative Strategies, told “Having to take those additional steps is a truncated process at best.”

“By creating one ecosystem, FastPencil lowers the bar for more people creating content,” he added. “I also think it’s going to help the consumption of more digital data, which is a definite trend.”

Bajarin said that he’d like to see FastPencil add marketing services and grow its social network features.

“They’re on the right path,” he said.

By the book — on your computer

Michael Ashley, FastPencil’s CTO and co-founder, said he used the system to collaborate with family members to help his mother publish the book she always wanted to write about her life.

“Everyone in the family saw the manuscript in process and made suggestions, and it evolved,” Ashley said, adding that the book came out in time for his mother’s 60th birthday and a big family reunion. “Everyone wanted a copy — she was crying,” he recalled.

Ashley also said FastPencil is designed to help writers strike while the iron of inspiration is hot.

“People think of writing a book as a linear process, but with FastPencil, it can be non-linear,” he said. “We give you that structure at the start so when you get an idea you think will work well in Chapter 6, you start writing it in right there.”

The system also includes complete revision control, so you can go back to any earlier versions. “It’s almost an unlimited ‘undo.’ You can go back to the beginning of what you wrote,” Wilson said. “And it’s all stored on the cloud, accessible from any computer.”

You can also restrict access to friends or advisers you want to review the text. And an online marketplace at the FastPencil site offers links to editors, illustrators and ghostwriters.

One fun twist is access to royalty-free titles like Tarzan of the Apes and Cinderella. These can serve as a way for authors to experiment with a completed work to get used to the system or even to create a parody.

Cinderella Meets Tarzan, anyone?

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