On a beautiful clear day in Phuket, the water started coming in, like the tide–and just didn’t stop. Not a big crashing wave; just water, rising, and not stopping. The in-and-out motion of the horrendous waves that destroyed so many and so much all over that part of world, the violent breakers–they were not in evidence at first.
That was December 26, 2004. I hope you will pardon the dramatic metaphor, but that is what I see happening to book publishing. Control is shifting inexorably out of the hands of the publisher into those of the author. It’s not a huge breaker, but it is a tidal wave. The economic shifts have only just begun. No traditional publisher will be left unchanged; many will not survive the shift.
You probably know what’s doing it: The Internet; print-on-demand machinery and services; “pay for production only when you sell a book” services like Lulu.com and (Amazon’s entry); and the subtle but pervasive spread of the “information wants to be free” meme.
The “back end”–going from PDF to printed book–has already been revolutionized by Lulu.com and its ilk. But the process of creating a book, with its cycles of collaboration, design, editing, revision, has still not changed much.
Now comes FastPencil, which I have dubbed a “book-writing portal.” The company is a Silicon Valley startup, funded in December, 2008, and already ahead of schedule in terms of revenues.
“We’re an end-to-end toolset for anyone who wants to write, publish, distribute a book, built on top of a social network,” says CTO and founder Michael “Mash” Ashley, who used to publish and sell surf maps to avid surfers. “I got the idea through an experience my mother had. She wanted to write and publish a children’s book, mainly to read to my daughter, and was totally frustrated by the obstacles to getting a book out. So I took the manuscript from her and got 100 copies published.”
“She was moved to tears. It was her dream, come true! But what I hadn’t foreseen was the reaction of all our relatives, gathered for Christmas that year. They ALL had a book in them that they wanted to publish! That’s what planted the idea in me for FastPencil,” said Ashley.
FastPencil is a collaborative portal. You set up writing projects, invite people to participate. It saves and manages successive versions. When you are ready, you examine the publishing alternatives FastPencil offers.
Here’s what the site says: “Through a process we call Guided Collaboration, you can bring in new acquaintances and old friends to help you turn your idea into a masterpiece. At any point in the process you can connect with like-minded people, share knowledge, chat, gather feedback from reviewers and editors, and collaborate with other authors, all without leaving FastPencil.”
When your masterpiece is complete, you can get it edited; get a cover designed; publish it electronically and in hard copy; get it to Amazon.com and Barnes & Noble; all without leaving the site.
Use of the portal is free. They make money when you buy services from them, such as publishing.
Check it out. And friend me there. Surf the tsunami.