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<strong>Company: FastPencil</strong> <strong>Web:</strong> <a href="https://www.fastpencil.com/" target="_Blank">www.fastpencil.com</a> <strong>Business Idea:</strong> Provide a user-friendly, affordable, and effective platform for authors to self-publish books, and obtain real-time feedback on the books they're working on. <strong>Pitch:</strong> Not long ago, the only way to publish a book was to pitch the book or a proposal for a book to a book agent or publisher, and hope that the book would be one of the few they'd accept. That's no longer the case. FastPencil is a leader among companies helping writers self-publish books. <strong>Here's how it works.</strong> Once registered on FastPencil's Web site, an author can use the company's Web-based software to write a book. Once completed, easy-to-use tools are available for the purpose of customizing the book and prepare it for printing. A single copy of a 200-page 6-by 3-inch paperback book can be obtained for as little as $9.30. A single copy of a 300-page hardback book in a 7-by 10-inch format can be obtained for $18.00. Premium services such as professional design, editing, proofing, and expert advice are also available. The services, which are sold in "publishing packages," range from $999 for the bronze service to $1,999 for the gold service. The gold service, for example, includes online coaching, manuscript setup, editorial review, formatting review, and distribution of the finished book to FastPencil's Web site, Amazon.com, BarnesAndNoble.com, and other bookstores, and related services. A differentiating feature of FastPencil's approach, whether an author wants to create the book essentially for free or whether the author avails himself or herself of one of the premium services, is the support that's provided. Authors can obtain real-time feedback for free by allowing friends and colleagues to access their book while it's being written on FastPencil's Web site. Another option is to solicit feedback from a like-minded author through FastPencil's online forum. For those paying for one of the premium services, more advanced forms of advice are available. FastPencil's service is timely in that sales of digital books have taken off, and companies like Apple and Amazon.com have created marketplaces for self-published authors. FastPencil helps the majority of its authors convert their books into a digital format. Generally, authors of self-published digital books obtain a 70 percent royalty on net sales compared to authors of hardback, paperback, and digital books sold through traditional publishers, which receive a royalty in the 10 percent to 18 percent range. The number of digital books being sold in the United States is impressive, a number attributed to the popularity of digital book readers like the Amazon Kindle and the Apple iPad. According to the Association of American Publishers, U.S. book sales fell 1.8 percent last year to $23.9 billion, but digital book sales tripled to $313 million. In late 2010, Amazon.com announced that it was now selling more digital books than paperback and hardback books through its Web site.