It’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.