FastPencil’s NaNo Offer: Bleh

If you participated and won NaNo this year, you might have seen the offer from FastPencil for a free bound copy of your NaNo project.  Sounds pretty keen, doesn’t it?  Write a book in November, see it published in December?

Yeah, not so much.  Printed in December, sure, but not published.

Look, you’ve just written at a brain-breaking pace for thirty days.  What you’ve got is a good start — you wrote something!  That’s amazing!  But it’s not done.  It’s not polished, it’s not the best story it can be.  It’s not ready to be published.

And when it is — when you’ve gone ahead and made your changes and made sure it’s ready to be published, why not shop it around first?  Why not give it a chance to get the kind of distribution that gets books into bookstores?

I’m a little alarmed to see Galleycat’s post today, “Fast Pencil Sees National Novel Writing Growth.”  While FastPencil’s not doing the exact same thing DellArte is, they certainly marketed themselves to a similar audience — people who’ve just finished their books, who are excited and passionate and hopeful about it — but people whose books are just not ready.  And people who, it’s very likely, aren’t very savvy about the publishing industry and how it works.

There are going to be NaNoers who take advantage of the offer as a novelty — it’s a souvenir, a bit of tangible proof that they cranked out fifty thousand words in a month.  Maybe they wrote the book just for mom or grandpa or their BFF, and they have no intentions of trying to get it commercially published.  To those people, this is a neat deal.

But to the writers who have dreams of being the next Nora Roberts or JRR Tolkien, well… This isn’t the way to go.

FastPencil offers packages that are very similar to the ones you see at DellArte or AuthorHouse, though they certainly offer more information about pricing — there’s a calculator that lets you see the base price of your book, much like has.  They even break down some sample pricings so you can see what your royalties would be.

One thing that makes me a bit uncomfortable:  the information on how you get paid is buried waaaaaay the hell down at the bottom of their FAQ:

How and when do I get compensated for my publications sold through the FastPencil MarketPlace and third party retailers?
FastPencil accumulates author royalties by calendar quarter, and then pays them out to authors using NET30 terms. You must have accumulated 100.00 USD in royalties to generate a payout; otherwise it continues accumulating into the next calendar quarter.

So, let’s look at this a bit.  (Oh god, she’s mathing again.)

If you want to sell your book exclusively through the FastPencil Marketplace — no distribution or listing with other online retailers — that’s not terribly expensive.  The cost of one “proof” of your book or $19.99 for an eBook.  (Digression the first: paying for a proof seems strange to me.  The whole point of a proof is to make sure everything is laid out properly and to catch typos before the book is released to the masses.  Why charge for that?)

But, well.  Why would you want your book’s only exposure to be on their site?  Don’t you want it to be out there, sharing the same virtual space as other books from other publishers?

Of course you do!  And you can do that for the low low price of $149.99 — $199.99 if you want an eBook format, too — plus the cost of one “proof”.

What you’re paying for there, essentially, is your ISBN, and FastPencil releasing your ISBN/title info into ye olde data feed.


Through R.R. Bowker, the ISBN agency in the U.S., a block of 10 ISBNs is $275.00.  That’s $27.50 per ISBN.  So what exactly is FastPencil doing with rest of the $121.50 ($151.50 with the eBook option!) they’re charging you?  Surely, it doesn’t cost that much to enter your title info and make it go live.  That’s not even an hour’s work, surely.  (If there’s someone out there getting paid $100+ an hour to enter that data, someone send me an application!)

Let’s go with their numbers here.

They offer two choices, targetting a retail price or targetting a profit margin.  In both examples, the book in question is a 5×8, 200 page trade paperback.  Going with a $14.00 retail price obviously gives you a smaller profit than setting the price at $17.12.

(Digression #2:  As was pointed out to me in the comments to one of the Harlequin Horizons posts, retail price and cover price aren’t always the same thing, since retailers can take discounts off of the cover price.  Royalties should always be based on the cover price.  I’m going to try to use the term “cover price” from here on out, but “retail price” is the phrase that FastPencil uses to describe the price set by the author.)

Experiment with me!  Go to your bookshelf.  Pull out three commercially published trade paperbacks.  Count how many pages they have and tell me their cover prices.  (If you have a ruler, check the trim size, too!) My results:

Book 1: 365 pages, $13.99 5×8
Book 2: 208 pages, $12.99 5 1/4 x 8 1/2
Book 3: 312 pages, $13.99, 5×8

See the start of the problem here?  Setting the price of the book at $14.00 is the more competitive option, even though the other two $14.00 books have 100 more pages than the FastPencil sample.  The 208 page book is a dollar lower.  Do you have a 200-page book on your shelf?  Go pick it up.  See how skinny it is?  Would you pay $17.00 for that book in trade paperback, or would you move on to something cheaper?  ($17.00 in hardcover, sure, but trade?  Really?)

I’ll do the math on both prices.  Let’s assume our eager NaNoer goes with the print and eBook option, since she’s hip to this whole eReader thing.  That’s $199.99.  A proof of her 200 page 5×8 book will run her $7.80.  So she starts out $207.79 in the red (I’m not counting tax and shipping, but they do charge both.)

With the “Target a Retail Price” Method:

Her book has a cover price of $14.00.

Sales of the printed book through FastPencil’s Marketplace earn her $4.96/book.
Sales of the printed book through Amazon/B&N/Ingram earn her $0.48/book (and doesn’t that come close to the Harlequin Horizons/DellArte math?)

Remember how they send out payments?  No payment until you’ve accrued $100 in royalties.

Before she receives a royalty check, she will have to sell:

$100/$4.96 = 20 copies through the FastPencil Marketplace


$100/$0.48 = 208 copies through Amazon/B&N/Ingram.

Before she’s earned back her initial $207.79, she will have to sell:

$207.79/$4.96= 42 copies through the FastPencil Marketplace


$207.79/$0.48= 434 copies through Amazon/B&N/Ingram

With the “Target a Profit Margin” Method:

Her book has a cover price of $17.12.

Sales of the printed book through FastPencil’s Marketplace earn her $7.46/book.
Sales of the printed book through Amazon/B&N/Ingram earn her $2.00/book

Before she receives a royalty check, she will have to sell:

$100/$7.46 = 14 copies through the FastPencil Marketplace


$100/$2.00 = 50 copies through Amazon/B&N/Ingram.

Before she’s earned back her initial $207.79, she will have to sell:

$207.79/$7.46= 28 copies through the FastPencil Marketplace


$207.79/$2.00 =  104 copies through Amazon/B&N/Ingram

With the “Sell Your eBook” Method:

Let’s say she goes with the eBook price everyone is used to, kindly set for us by Amazon (yes, that’s sarcasm): $9.99.  Through their Marketplace, FastPencil takes a flat $2.00/eBook.  The other $7.99 goes to the author.  Through Amazon/B&N/Ingram, FastPencil takes $1.00, then the reseller takes $6.49. The author gets $2.50.


Her eBook has a cover price of $9.99.

Sales of the eBook through FastPencil’s Marketplace earn her $7.99/book.
Sales of the eBook through Amazon/B&N/Ingram earn her $2.50/book

Before she receives a royalty check, she will have to sell:

$100/$7.46 = 13 copies through the FastPencil Marketplace


$100/$2.50 = 40 copies through Amazon/B&N/Ingram.

Before she’s earned back her initial $207.79, she will have to sell:

$207.79/$7.99= 26 copies through the FastPencil Marketplace


$207.79/$2.50 =  84 copies through Amazon/B&N/Ingram

Now, if I knew someone looking to go through FastPencil, and if they refused to listen to my “Oh god, clean it up and shop it around first” advice, and further refused to listen to my “Dude,” advice, well…


I’d have to say their best bet here is to go for the retail price method and encourage everyone who’s purchasing a copy to buy it in eBook or printed form through FastPencil.

Which, y’know, covers friends and family.  Maybe.

There are, of course, other services available through FastPencil, much like the ones offered by AuthorHouse/Harlequin Horizons/DellArte.  FastPencil’s line editing is $0.006 cheaper than DellArte’s.  FastPencil’s “advanced editorial,” however, is only $0.001 cheaper than DellArte’s.  Of course, FastPencil touts their community as a great way for their authors to have peers edit their books for free.  From their “Example Scenarios“:

Barbara writes a 200 page personal memoir and enlists the reviewing and editing help of her friends Clara and Frank. The three friends use FastPencil’s free online writing tools.


Jose writes a 300 page history book and has his colleague Minda review and edit his work in FastPencil for free.

Well, that’s great, but what kind of editing experience do these friends and colleagues have, precisely?  They sound much more like beta readers to me — infinitely valuable to any writer, definitely able to help find flaws and weaknesses in a work and offer suggestions for improving it (if they’re good beta readers, that is, not just friends who are going to say “OMG I LOVED IT OMG!!!!”) — but beta readers are very rarely also editors.

There are more services available, of course — formatting and layout, illustrations of varying quality, cover design, etc.  And all of which, when you add on to your package, makes you that much farther from turning a profit.

Also, all of which are done for you by your publisher, if your book is published by a commercial house.  And did I mention that if that happens, you get paid?

Do I think FastPencil’s doing something shady here?  Ehhhhh.  Not exactly, or at least not in the same way others have.  They’re not luring people in using a respected name, like DellArte did in its fledgling days as Harlequin Horizons, or suggesting that their books might get picked up by another house, or even that you’re headed for bestsellerdom.  Their prices are all laid out (though if you want to use them to market your book, you need to call for details, so I can’t speak to the reality of what they’ll do for marketing and publicity).

What makes me uncomfortable is the NaNo offer, because so many of the participants are new to publishing.  They’ve just finished a book!  Many of them probably haven’t done that much research into the whole business of getting published.  So, here’s this offer dangled before them, telling them they can be published without ever having to get rejected.

As FastPencil’s VP of Sales and Marketing, Steve O’Deegan, told GalleyCat:

“We’re extremely pleased. We’re just now starting to see submissions coming in. About five percent of our total user base came in over the last 30 days of the NaNoWriMo campaign.”


“It’s growing substantially, and NaNoWriMo was a big part of that.”

Is that a savvy business move, offering a free trial during NaNo?  Definitely.  They know their audience, and know that November is the time to get the word out and get noticed.  But I can’t help but wonder how many writers who use FastPencil’s services could — given some time and revision — have sold their books to a commercial publisher, where not only would the books be available via online bookstores, they’d be on the shelves of actual, physical bookstores, too.

Le. Sigh.

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One Response to FastPencil’s NaNo Offer: Bleh

  1. Byrd says:

    Oooo I did not know this..

    Thank you very much! :-)

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