fastpencil_logoLiving in San Francisco, almost everyone I meet is convinced they’ve got a brilliant novel or memoir buried inside, if only they had the opportunity to write and publish it. With the launch of a new startup called FastPencil, those wannabe authors (no offense — I’m one of them) may be running out of excuses.

The Campbell, Calif. company wants to provide a comprehensive solution for writing and publishing a book. The site is built around a social network of writers, editors, reviewers, and others; it offers a Guided Collaboration tool to help you find potential collaborators, chat with them, ask for feedback from others, and more. Other features include automatic chapter formatting and blog importing. Then, once the book is written, FastPencil can publish and distribute it for you, getting the book listed on Amazon, sold for the Kindle, and even stocked in brick-and-mortar bookstores.

There are many other collaboration tools out there, not to mention self-publishing sites like Lulu.com. But co-founders Steve Wilson (the chief executive) and Michael Ashley (the chief technology officer) say that by using technology to bring all these elements together, FastPencil makes the process much easier, and is also able to publish books for a much lower cost than traditional self-publishing — you can your very own novel in your hands for as low as $10. The concept should resonate particularly with “momtrepreneurs” (i.e., women with families who also want to start their own businesses), industry experts who want to share some of their knowledge, and religious faith-based collaborators, they say.

“FastPencil is going to grow the size of [the self-publishing] market tremendously,” Ashley says.

The company has raised just under $1 million in angel funding, and plans to raise another round in early 2010. Future revenue opportunities include opening a market where editors, writers, and others could offer their services for hire.

If companies like FastPencil and competitor WEbook succeed, there could be some big changes on the literary scene. Almost everyone thinks they can write a book, but these companies will help us discover — should they?

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