Startup of the Week: FastPencil's Premiere Service Lures Bestsellers Away from Publishers

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This week marketing guru Seth Godin released his new book, Poke the Box through his own publishing venture, The Domino Project, which is powered by Amazon. Godin is not the first bestseller to break away from traditional publishing. A startup called FastPencil has similarly lured established authors away from their publishers with FastPencil Premiere, a platform that promises a full buffet of services, coffee-table quality and a greater cut of the profits. We recently spoke with co-founder and CEO Steve Wilson about how published and indie authors can create a domino effect of their own.

How it Works

Fast Pencil is meant to see authors through the entire process, said Wilson, from “inspiration all the way to distribution.” In addition to publishing packages that include design and layout, editing, illustration, marketing and promotion, the site also has a browser-based word processing software that authors can use to write the book for free. If they choose to collaborate with an editor or an artist, either through the site’s marketplace or on their own, the author can invite other people to look at the manuscript without having to send an attachment in an e-mail.

“The look and feel of a book” is very important, added Wilson.   With FastPencil, he aims to create books that look like they belong on the shelves at Barnes & Noble.

Actually getting the books on the shelves at Barnes & Noble is another service that FastPencil provides. When it’s time to publish, the company offers print-on-demand services and distribution through the FastPencil Marketplace, Amazon, Barnes & Noble and the Ingram Network. As for the turnaround time, printed books can make it into circulation in less than eight weeks rather than 12-24 months. eBooks are available immediately through the FastPencil Marketplace, Amazon Kindle Store and Ingram Digital, and are DRM-free. Premiere authors can even distribute to Target, Walmart and Costco without needing a publishing house as a middleman.

FastPencil started out as a vanity press, but according to Wilson, “the more we moved up the totem pole to famous authors, the more the value was there.” There are three tiers of authors who are eligible for Premiere: bestselling authors, top authors with sales of 100,000 books or more, and emerging talent with at least 10,000 books sold.   FastPencil has already worked with Mark Victor Hansen, the New York Times best-selling author of Chicken Soup for the Soul and Bill Froelich on their latest title, U R The Solution, and recently added Mercer Mayer, who writes the popular “Little Critter” and “Little Monster” books, to the roster.

While Premiere doesn’t offer advances, Wilson said the per book share of the sales revenue is 20% – 40% depending on the channel, as opposed to the 5% – 15% offered by traditional publishers, and authors are paid quarterly rather than annually or semi-annually. Premiere also has social media widgets and a social media marketing team to help with the marketing efforts.

The Bottom Line

With bestselling authors leveraging their success for higher profits, and the bottom rung of undiscovered indie authors supporting the authors at the top, this business model could signal big changes for the publishing industry.