FastPencil adds features to make book-writing more social

stack_booksFastPencil, a Campbell, Calif.-based company that shepherds authors through the book-publishing process, is launching a host of features through Twitter and Facebook to make writing more collaborative.

The features let you send out status updates on both social networks when you update drafts and invite friends to look over your work in progress. The site, which launched a month ago, aims to provide an end-to-end solution for aspiring authors, guiding them through the writing, editing, design and printing process.

“We’re building the tool simple enough so that someone like my mom could use it, but complicated enough that a professional really could author books and publish, distribute and promote them,” said co-founder and chief technology officer Michael Ashley.

Unlike other vanity publishers, which can require you to submit a final and formatted set of PDFs, FastPencil handles the layout. A standard paperback book of at least 48 pages costs about $10. The price can rise if you decide to make every page full color or if you write a 1,000-page book. There is no minimum run-rate, so you can publish one copy or 1,000 copies, and you’re free to sell the books on Amazon.com — although FastPencil will take a revenue share. The company also publishes to Kindle if you want to create an e-book rather than a printed copy.

FastPencil isn’t necessarily trying to find the next Ernest Hemingway or blockbuster novelist. Ashley came up with the idea for the company after his mom tried to create a children’s book for her grandchildren but received multiple rejection letters from publishers.

“She was completely disheartened,” Ashley said. “So I said, I’ll help you do it.”

He got the book published on his own, spurring the idea for FastPencil. Naturally, the company is targeting “momtrepreneurs” who want to create keepsakes or printed records of family vacations. FastPencil is also reaching out to subject experts who want to publish a career or lifetime of knowledge in a specific area. (Say you’ve accumulated years of bird-watching techniques you want to share: FastPencil is a place you might go if other publishers deem your work too narrow.) The startup is also targeting spiritual writers.

The company has raised under $1 million in angel funding and has six full-time employees. There are a handful of other companies trying to revolutionize self-publishing like Toronto-based WattPad, an e-book sharing company, and San Francisco-based Vook, which tries to blend books and video. There’s also Lulu, a Raleigh, North Carolina-based company run by Red Hat founder Bob Young.