In the last few years, there were two big disrupters that have hit the book world; ebooks exploded out of the gate, changing the structure of sales and pricing, and disrupting the traditional hardcover to paperback release schedule, and that on its own was a huge shift. But there was another piece to this, because suddenly self publishing was no longer the last refuge of authors who couldn’t get Random House to answer their calls. Self publishing became a viable way to release an ebook, and even established authors started looking into cutting out the middleman (aka the publisher) and receiving a higher payout as a result.
Self-publishing has taken an enormous step forwards this week, and in many ways the disruption is going to be greater than the release of ebooks to the mass market. Fastpencil, a full service self publisher, and Barnes and Noble are teaming up, and two of Fastpencil’s imprints are going to offer something no one else can claim-every work published under their Premier program, and many of the books under their “Wavecrest” programs will be presented to B&N buyers, and if they are picked up they will be merchandised and promoted just like traditionally published titles.
Why is this such a big deal? 10 years ago, if you picked up the phone and called B&N and told them you were a self published author and you wanted them to sell your books, the best you could hope for would be that maybe a local store would order a few copies. It was nearly impossible to be noticed against the sea of books coming from the big publishing houses. eBooks opened that world up somewhat, but only for digital customers, and even then there is a maze of issues to navigate. Do you choose to go with Amazon, B&N, or iBooks author? There’s all sorts of exclusivity and pricing traps to work through, not to mention the vague stigma of “self-published=poorly written and edited”. Fastpencil changes all that, and in doing so they further undermine the traditional publishing system.
I had the opportunity to talk with Steve Wilson, the CEO of Fastpencil, and he had a great deal of enthusiasm for this deal as well as for the work Fastpencil is doing. As he pointed out, this arrangement is extremely unique, because Fastpencil is being treated like a traditional publisher from the perspective of their B&N partners, but they are much more nimble and author-friendly. Unlike a traditional publisher, there is no “slush pile”, no rejection or limbo for works submitted. Depending on the level of service you purchase from Fastpencil, you have access to everything from a basic publishing platform to an editor and cover designer. Where they are really looking to stand out is with the Premier and Wavecrest lines.
The Premier is for established authors who are looking for a more lucrative way to publish their titles. Fastpencil gives them access to an editor, a quick turnaround time from manuscript to published work, AND an audience with Barnes and Noble. Essentially, a savvy author who has ever wondered “Why do I pay my publisher again?” can now cut out the publisher entirely and still have a polished, professional, salable product. Often with a faster turnaround! Fastpencil specifically vets the Premier line for authors who already have a following, and they are already gathering a following (you can see a list of authors on the Premier website as well as in the press release). And, again, you don’t lose anything publishing through Premier, since the book is given the same chance in front of B&N’s buyers that it would from any other publishing house.
Wavecrest is the middle step between Premier and basic self-publishing, but it offers a similar set of options to Premier. The major difference, aside from the publishing imprint name, is that Fastpencil doesn’t guarantee your book will be presented to B&N. They want to give these titles a chance, and it doesn’t change the distribution of the ebook, but it does mean that they are looking to cull their options down to the titles that have a strong chance of selling. The main advantage here over another platform is that there’s the chance you get a foot in the door at a major retailer, plus all the other benefits Fastpencil offers.
According to Steve Wilson, there are very few restrictions on this partnership. They can’t release titles on Amazon before they hit B&N, but aside from that there are no exclusivity clauses or other strings. Plus, because Fastpencil moves more quickly and has more fluidity in their structure, feedback from B&N on what titles sell, how cover design is received, etc., all can be implemented quickly. It gives both sides a chance to use readily available customer shopping data to create a product that is more likely to sell, a boon for everyone!
Steve commented today that Fastpencil feels “very privileged” that B&N is partnering with them, but I think B&N is probably equally thrilled to have a company like Fastpencil on their team. Both sides are going to benefit tremendously from this deal, as will authors. Independent authors are able to take advantage of the benefits of self publishing, while getting a high-end, polished publishing experience AND exposure to the traditional retail channels as well as ebook ones. B&N needs every advantage they can get in this increasingly tough environment, and this is a big one!
Next time you stop in your local B&N, check the publisher on the titles you are browsing, you might just see a Fastpencil imprint! And if you are an author who has worked with or works with Fastpencil, let us know in the comments about your experiences!