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Aspiring book authors face two hurdles: Rejection from publishers, and the high cost and hassle of trying to publish a book themselves. Self-publication company FastPencil has come up with a clever new option: Authors who sign up with FastPencil can now publish their books directly into Apple’s iBooks catalog.

“No permission required,” CTO and co-founder Michael Ashley told me in a phone interview. “Anyone can upload a manuscript to FastPencil, click a few buttons, and have access to a few million readers for under two hundred bucks.”

Unlike apps, Apple doesn’t review books individually. FastPencil is an approved publisher, so if FastPencil publishes your book, it goes right into the iBooks catalog.

Self-publishing is often the only route for authors unable to get a New York City publisher to print and market their work. According to book industry reporting service Bowker, in 2009 the publishing industry produced 288,355 titles, down a bit from 2008, while self-published titles shot up 181 percent to 764,448.

But it can easily cost three to five thousand dollars to design a paper book and print a small run. FastPencil already offers a print-to-order service that removes the up-front cost of printing a few hundreds books. The iPad approach is even better, because readers can buy the book, download it, and begin reading immediately.

One more thing: FastPencil neither offers advances nor takes an up-front charge. The company’s business model, beyond the sub-$200 setup price, is a revenue share on individual sales. “We don’t make money until the author makes money,” Ashley put it.

Self-publishing, once associated with “vanity press” companies that seemed designed more to separate aspiring authors from their money than to sell books, is becoming a reputable outlet for serious writing, mostly because of low-cost electronic publishing.

A Wall Street Journal story this morning told how one writer has sold 36,000 e-books through Amazon.com, and how a more successful writer realized he might make more money selling e-books on his own than by getting a division of supergiant Hachette to publish his next novel.

Here’s the gist of how FastPencil works, from the company’s site:

FastPencil users can upload a manuscript to FastPencil.com and invite friends, family and others to read and review the book before publishing. FastPencil design templates turn the manuscript into a professional book with just a few clicks and the publishing wizard adds all the necessary copyright information, ISBN numbers and bar codes. Authors can Print-on-Demand and choose eBook distribution for Kindle, Nook, iPad, PDF and ePub.

Campbell, California-based FastPencil 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.

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