Yea or nay: Smashwords “self-interviews” for authors

swlogoIt’s not exactly the red carpet.  It’s not even one of those cool, alternative blue carpets.  It’s kind of a dingy beige, actually, and it’s probably in your basement.  Smashwords, the e-book self-publishing alternative to Amazon KDP, has introduced a new feature that lets authors interview themselves and publish the result on the Smashwords website.  All you do is write your own questions, answer your own questions, and pretend that posting it with someone else’s URL lends it any sort of value or credibility to your platform.

“The secret to creating a great Smashwords Interview is to ask yourself questions that prompt honest answers that address what readers would want to know about you (even if they don’t yet know they want to know it), and what you want readers to know about you,” the website says.  Just be sure to get yourself drunk first and light some candles so you can really put it all out there when you suggest playing truth-or-dare.

Don’t get me wrong.  Interviews are a fantastic way to tell others more about yourself and get some publicity.  But traditionally, someone else has got to ask you the questions.  Otherwise, it’s just a blog post, isn’t it?  Self-interviews are a lot like reviewing your own book, or paying for a five-star review from a service that just cranks out cheery thumbs-ups for cash.  This service is everything that’s bad about the self-publishing market: it muddies the authenticity and integrity of your platform and tries to bring the bar down to the lowest level, not raise it up to produce high quality results.

I normally really like Smashwords.  They’re quick and easy to use, and they distribute your book in a billion different formats with the touch of a button.  I haven’t gotten a lot of traction through them because I’ve been focusing my efforts elsewhere, but I don’t think this detracts from the highlights of their service.

However, I just can’t get behind this, both as a journalist and as a proponent of self-publishing being more than an exercise in vanity.  When I interview someone for my day job, it’s because they’re an expert on a certain topic and I’m not.  I’m singling them out and paying them a compliment about the strength of their knowledge and its interest to my audience.  When a book blogger asks you to appear on their site, they’re trusting their brand to you in a way that’s flattering, powerful, and shouldn’t be abused.  Smashwords is trying to turn that exclusivity into an everyday commodity, and I think that’s bad marketing for everyone involved.

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11 thoughts on “Yea or nay: Smashwords “self-interviews” for authors

  1. Hi Jen, you know how I voted! I hope you give Smashwords Interviews further consideration in the future. Many of the concerns you have about self-interviewing are the same criticisms self-publishing naysayers have leveled against self-publishing, or even blogging. I don’t question that professional journalists and bloggers add something special to interviews, and this in no way replaces their great work. However, if you look at the vast majority of author interviews out there, there are a lot of common questions that every author would love to answer if given the chance. I think there’s an interesting story behind every writer. This tool gives them a chance to share their story. Readers will have a chance to understand, judge and appreciate the author on a completely new level. The good interviews, just like the good books, will get readers thinking, talking and sharing. It can only be good if you believe in the potential of all writers like I do. I’m confident more authors’ amazing personal stories will be surfaced through Smashwords Interviews than all the professional journalists and bloggers can surface on their own. The idea for this came to me last year. We hired an awesome journalist (prior work with The Economist, Rolling Stone) to interview our authors, and for many weeks we were publishing one each week. The interviews were great, but at one interview per week I found myself playing the roll of gatekeeper. I wanted to interview every Smashwords author, yet with 60,000 authors, it would take us 1,192 years to get through them all, and that’s not counting the thousands of authors who join Smashwords each month. Smashwords Interviews eliminates the interviewer-as-gatekeeper problem so the great interviews can now bubble up, and be used by readers to make more informed decisions about their next read. Thanks for your consideration!

    • I appreciate the perspective, Mark! I see your point about removing the gatekeeper, but my experience with self-publishing has been that curation is still key. Yes, the best will usually bubble up on their own, but the more static in the signal, the harder it is for the gems to show themselves.

      My author showcase interview on CreateSpace, for example, which brought me a lot of readers, would lose all value if anyone and everyone could say their interview “was published on CreateSpace”. Going that direction with Smashwords seems a little damaging to a brand I have great respect for.

      Then again, I’m an author facing stiff competition and not wishing for any more, and you’re a company invested in getting as many people as you can to use your site, so I can totally see why we might disagree!

  2. On the fence. Off the fence, Mark’s side.
    It is not the same as writing your own review, or paying for one. It may be the same as a blog post. It is a bit more information about the author on his/her book page. Self-serving? Sure. Immoral? No.
    All of us don’t get a showcase on Create Space; we go where we can.
    Maybe a disclaimer from Smashwords on the interview page would help: “Questions were selected by the author.”

    • That’s a good point, Mike. The way it’s packaged (understandably) makes it hard to tell that it’s self-generated content. I don’t think anything about it is *immoral*, I just think it’s a step back for an industry that’s desperately seeking legitimacy and is having a hard time finding it.

    • Hi Mike. At the end of each interview, there’s a note that reads in italics, “Smashwords Interviews are created by the profiled author, publisher or reader.” thanks!

  3. Pingback: Should the “Indie Author Manifesto” define self-publishing? | Inkless

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