October 21, 2010

FastPencil and Book Writing Software

On Oct 14 I read a brief notice in Publishers Weekly about a self-publishing start-up called FastPencil. The article mentioned that FastPencil was attracting best-selling authors to its Premiere publishing imprint.

Here’s what FastPencil says about itself:

FastPencil is leveraging innovative digital-publishing, social media, print-on-demand and ebook distribution technologies to deliver next-generation publishing, offering authors simplicity, more control, speed to market and higher margins. FastPencil.com enables authors to create books online, collaborate, publish and distribute from one engaging, simple, cost-effective solution. Beyond publishing tools and services, FastPencil also maintains a world-class, publishing imprint, FastPencil Premiere, an exclusive line of general interest titles that provides top-tier and best-selling authors all the benefits of FastPencil's services to produce and publish the best of the best in book content.

I went to the site to take a look. In some ways FastPencil is like Lulu, offering the choice of printed book or ebook formats and various distribution possibilities. Both offer a variety of design, editing, and marketing packages. FastPencil seems to me on the surface a little more user-friendly than Lulu.

FastPencil promotes free book writing software, which has an interactive collaborative element. There’s room for editors, co-authors, and reviewers to comment on the text. They must be invited into the otherwise private book project circle—so there’s a social networking aspect to it. Friends and colleagues can easily read and comment on a work-in-progress.

Does this have possibilities for authors and freelance editors? It looks to me as though you could work on a text that an author downloaded into the FastPencil program and message back and forth about issues and changes, and then just export it again to your own computers without actually publishing anything. Or you could “publish” a digital manuscript, for just $9.99 and see how it looks. I have not tried this.

They also have a “blog to book” feature. Just for the heck of it I made a “book” from the half a dozen blog posts I’ve written in the last week. The typeface was vaguely alarming—I chose “Dragon”—and the text took up 22 pages. I now see that I could write books much more quickly than in the past.

Let’s leave aside questions of whether all this speedy writing and publishing has much to do with literature. The software is kind of cool. I’m curious whether anyone has experience with FastPencil in terms of publishing books and ebooks. But I’m also curious whether any editors have explored their book writing software in terms of developmental editing work with authors.   

Barbara Sjoholm


  1. I haven't heard of FastPencil, but it sounds like something I'd like to use for working with one of my authors.

  2. Goodness, more software to learn! Glad to have the info, Barbara, thanks - Julie

  3. I took a look at FastPencil this morning. It brought up good questions for me to think about.

    A software program that works better than what we’ve got now definitely sounds attractive. I know one copyeditor who likes PublishIt (by www.intelligentediting.com) as an alternative to Microsoft Word, for example, and I would definitely check that out if it were available for Mac (it's currently PC only).

    From the perspective of a developmental editor: (1) I still like to read on paper rather than on-screen, at least for part of the project. (2) I want to respond in a way that leaves the author feeling secure: If the program doesn’t track changes or tie comments to particular places in the text, will it help me?

    When it comes to self-publishing, when and where in the editing/publishing process is a program like FastPencil best used? Initial development and conversation? Detailed structural or line editing? First reader responses? Copyediting? Proofreading?

    I guess I like to dip my toes in before leaping, so this was a good exercise for me.

  4. My own sense of FastPencil's software in editing/publishing is that it might be of most use in earlier conversations and responses to an author. As an experiment, I worked with Kyra, as an invited "editor," on a text I had uploaded to FastPencil and she made some changes to the text. Apparently the changes she made weren't visible to her in the familiar way of Track Changes.

    However, the changes were visible to me in colored fonts. Additions are highlighted with green , deletions with red. I was then able to accept them. Collaborators can leave comments and the software facilitates discussion, which is archived and available for review. You can also go back to previous versions to see what has been suggested and approved or suggested.

    I think we'd have to experiment more with this software to see what its strengths and weaknesses are. I like the ease of some of the software and would be interested to post a piece that several editors could give me feedback on. I'm curious why an editor wouldn't be able to see the colored fonts and know when and if they'd been accepted. Will investigate this.

    FastPencil allows for various levels of collaboration. First, there's the "owner," me.
    Then, as possible collaborators, a project manager who can do everything but the final publishing step. Co-authors can comment, edit, write, and create new chapters. They can also invite collaborators and accept edits. Editors can leave comments and edit your writing. Reviewers can read your project and make comments, but they can’t make modifications.