Everyone is entitled to mistakes, and in my opinion, FastPencil made one when they launched the NaNoWriMo 2015 Sponsorship. My initial idea had been reviewing it as “run you fools”, but I have decided that such a thing was not fair to them. While other times I have screencapped the process, I lost my patience with this, so, it did not happen this time.
The offer (which at the time of speaking can be located at https://nanowrimo.fastpencil.com/nanowrimo2015) shown in the image promises a free proof copy and a 70% off in a distribution package for winners. Nothing that we haven’t seen before, but always nice to try a new service.
You sign up and you have two options, either using their web-based software or uploading your own pdf. For people who already have a preferred formatted style, like yours truly, the pdf option is the preferred one. Before uploading your file you have to:
- Create the project. Fair enough.
- Adding titles, descriptors, reviews and such
- Listing authors and contributors
- Choose a category for your book
- Add legal details
Of course, this is my own opinion here, but before spending time filling forms, I want to see whether you take my file or not, just in case what happened happens. And what happened? That FastPencil expects you to upload a pdf/x file, i.e., one created with Adobe Professional or the pdf export tool from Microsoft Word in Mac. Both are professional tools towards the higher end of the spectrum. Most NaNo Writers won’t be using either, as the tendency is among the amateur pool. And the professionals usually have their own distribution channels by the time they are so.
Hack: you can use the Adobe Professional trial, active for 30 days in order to go around this problem. It will work for one time, but okay. You can walk around the problem (for me, it meant reformatting the whole file in OpenOffice, export as pdf and convert to pdf/x in Adobe Pro). Not convinced by the result, I decided to try their manual formatting.
Importing the rtf files screwed the formatting up, so I found myself having to work on the html front to adapt what I wanted to one of the default styles they have. This is not “friendly” nor easy for most people, FastPencil (I show you html though, because is how I worked. You could work with rich text too).
- Item: out of the six offered styles, 4 are completely unprofessional, and look tremendously ugly. But that is personal opinion, you might disagree with me.
- Item: You must have chapters. They won’t take a one-shot, and the chapters must be sequential. While they do have a “short story” style, for some reason this separates the title on one page and the story on the next.
- Item: Dragging and rearranging “chapters” is a good idea, but the different types of “chapters” are not clear. What’s the difference between a “front matter” and a “back matter”? Why does something called “blank” allow you to insert code there, shows you results and just prints a blank page? If you let me insert code in the blanks, I will assume that you’ll allow me a no-number page that I can use as separator. I’ll obviously assume wrong.
- Item: The preview takes me through the whole compilation project, and I have to download a file every time. This would not be so annoying if the process worked every time and not just 50% of the times. And I like seeing what I’m doing. Shame on me, that I need to check that everything is according to what I design.
- Item: Erasing blocks will take me back to the project page so I have to start the process over again.
Finally! The project is “finished”. By now I’ve dropped two designs, my lovely -pdf, a short story, the kanji separators that I made for between-stories and my hope of getting a non-link-blue table of contents and spent about 7 hours (in different days) in the whole project since I started the FastPencil part.
Now it’s time to go through steps 2 – 5 that we did for the pdf, as this is a “new” project, render the pdf (and here apparently people other than me have been stuck for hours) and if you want a physical copy agree that it’s going to be $9.99, just because + an extra which will depend on how many pages you’ve got ($0.04 per page). This is for both “marketplace” and “private copy”. The “publishing package” is over $200, and you have to “commit to buy” now (you would be able to change your mind later, but yes…).
Then you make covers, you’ll have to upload your png of pdf according to the sizing, but the spine is automatic. Make sure you have a look before you choose your cover fonts, you don’t want them to clash too much (again, people have complained about long rendering times. I did not have that issue).
You check the preview, you approve it and you get to ordering (and yet again, people have been complaining about issues here). You introduce the code and the $9.99 + pages. In my case, 60 pages added up to $13.61, plus $1.50 handling, a grand total of $15.11. I type in the NaNoWriMo discount code and… $13.61 go away. The handling stays. “Free copy”? Nope. Not if I have to pay $1.50. But okay. I’ve gotten this far, I can spare $1.50. I click order.
Shipping charges: $85.53 from USA to Spain. Screw you, FastPencil.
For the record, though, I did contact them and asked if there was a chance for a more reasonable shipping method, but as I started looking into the forums and Twitter, I saw that it was the tendency. Other charges I’ve come across: $40 to Canada, $144 to Sweden, $76 to the UK and my favourite:
Obviously, FastPencil did not think this through. They did not take into account international shipping at all. they did not realise that their target was not a pool of professionals. I am a bit savvy with computers, and it took forever to get everything to work. FastPencil claims that they offer “publishing made simple”. If that is simple, give me complex code, anytime.
No, I did not order the book. No, I’m not planning to. Hell, I only have three more words to say about FastPencil: “Run you fools”. And now you know the whole story why: Everyone is entitled to mistakes, and giving FastPencil a chance was mine.
Edit: I thought that the review would end here, but no! There’s still more to it. As I was not going to use their service, and concerned with privacy, I decided to delete my content and my trial experiments from the site and their servers. I was able to erase the “project” but I was stuck with the “publication”. This means I was able to eliminate the editable part, but not the generated pdf.
Thus I took to support and found the page to the right (now updated after this Twitter exchange), printed and thumbnailed for convenience. After looking up and down for the “delete” button I contacted support and reached out via Twitter. Apparently, no, you can’t erase your own content on your own, which for me is a bit unsettling. Once I provided the url and title, the “project” does no longer show. However, this process makes me feel uneasy about the whole content management idea.
Of course, the easy version of this would have been to just edit the project blank, but I did not know at the time that I was going to be unable to delete the generated pdfs. Erasing content when the file was an uploaded pdf was easier, as the only thing I had to do was removing the upload.
Unlike the email regarding shipping, which I sent on January 27th, this was dealt with swiftly. I think it was more efficient as I sent a support request from the page, logged in, rather than an email. Maybe public mention on Twitter helped, I don’t know.
Long story short: Erasing your content is not completely in your hands. The updated page does not even mention the possibility of erasing a project yourself.