Last week, self-publishing outfit FastPencil began offering writers the ability to publish e-books and release e-versions of individual book chapters. With the new format process, writers can generate content and store it in a format that will work on Kindle or any other e-reader, and as new formats for e-readers are introduced, FastPencil will offer its writers the ability to publish in those formats as well. The announcement is the latest in a recent string of new initiatives from the company, which launched a beta version of its self-publishing platform in July 2009.

CEO Steve Wilson told PW the company has been pleased with its reception since launch. FastPencil now has “several thousand” users and “several thousand projects” in its system. Users have published 100 books through FastPencil so far. Via FastPencil, authors can write, share, publish, and sell. The company uses a process it calls Guided Collaboration to connect writers with each other, gather feedback and collaborate. Users can select a book template and paste in text from previously saved work or upload their blog. They can also add photos and illustrations. The basic service—book templates, writing platform and ability to connect with the community—is free. Paid-for packages—including consulting, author and editorial services, custom formatting and distribution—range from $500 to $1,300.

Last September, FastPencil upgraded its basic service to include a Color Book Creator for children’s books, cookbooks, comic books, and other illustrated books. The feature lets authors import images and illustrations to their books' pages with no limits on placement or image and text size. The company also enhanced its Marketplace section, where writers, illustrators, graphic designers, editors and others can offer services to other FastPencil community members. Last week, in addition to announcing the new e-book format, the company unveiled a free iPhone app, which lets writers read, write, and work on books hosted at FastPencil.

Wilson said he is beginning to focus FastPencil’s expansion on certain markets, particularly well-known personalities who might want to write books that they can sell directly to consumers, including athletes, entertainers, politicians, and other people who already have a following. “Because of our social components, that [market is] going to be a sweet spot for FastPencil.” Wilson sees FastPencil as a “middle player” between traditional publishers and self-publishers. “With traditional publishers declining while the direct piece is increasing, there’s a lot of room for a middle player, someone who can come in between traditional publishers and self-publishers and reap the rewards of this transformation.”