SmashwordsThe publishing platform, Smashwords, is having a promotion in honor of National Novel Writing Month where they’ve give additional visibility for NaNoWriMo books throughout the month of November.

I’ll let them explain:

About the Smashwords/NaNoWriMo Promotion
Smashwords is opening up the Smashwords platform to allow all NaNoWriMo participants to publish, share, track and promote their works-in-progress.

All NaNo books will receive promotion via:

  1. A special catalog hosted at
  2. A special catalog in the native catalog of Stanza, the #1 most downloaded (2.5 million +) e-reading app on the iPhone and iPod Touch.
  3. A special catalog in the native catalog of Aldiko, the #1 most popular e-reading app for Android phones
  4. Promotion in the Smashwords blog, on Twitter, and elsewhere!

Let me just add a disclaimer here that I am a volunteer with National Novel Writing Month and that Smashwords is not an official sponsor of the event. Obviously, as this little cause is near and dear to my heart, I am very appreciative of the fact that they are giving it such visibility and support (the promo page even has a link to donate AND they recommend donating your royalties from your book directly to the event which is awesome). They feature both the promotion and the NaNoWriMo books right on the homepage which is great for those authors. But I’m also a realist and, obviously, they aren’t just doing this out of the kindness of their hearts.

It behooves Smashwords to court NaNoWriMo writers and encourage them to use their publishing services over a competitor or going directly to the publishing platforms themselves where Smashwords can’t take a cut. If an author has already uploaded their novel to Smashwords to take advantage of this promotion, they’re that much more likely to use the Smashwords publishing services later because some of the work is already done. And, if we’re all honest with ourselves, what Smashword is offering as part of this promotion isn’t all that much more than any book normally gets when you publish it on Smashwords, it’s all largely a gimmick.

Which is fine. Business is all about gimmicks and giving people a reason to think they have to use your service now instead of later and I completely get that. They want as many sign-ups as possible in the hopes they’ll profit off your publishing later and that’s just a smart thing for them to do for the future of their site. And I do really like that they are giving the event some free publicity.

But the part that really gets me stuck is how they’re doing it. If you’re not familiar with NaNoWriMo, it’s a challenge to try to write a novel (defined as at least 50,000) by the end of November. But they’re not offering a promotion for writers who finish a novel in November and later want to use Smashwords to publish. No, to participate in the Smashwords promotion, writers have to post their works in progress on the site, literally sharing sections as soon as they finish writing them. There’s a reason the first time you write a story is called a rough draft… it’s not going to be your best work.

To me, this is such a terrible idea if you can about the future of indie or self-publishing which, of all people, Smashwords should. Because so many writers already have this idea of “Oh, I’ll just write it and publish it tomorrow!” without editing or revising in any way and that’s one of the biggest reasons there is still such a stigma against publishing yourself. If you’re going to self-publish and not make a complete fool out of yourself, you need to go into it professionally, taking the time to present a quality project from all aspects. While I think there can be great value in blogging a work in progress or sharing it in your own webspace for various reasons, I just can’t see the value in putting your rough draft out there on a publishing platform alongside more polished published projects, especially not if you’re going to give it any distribution beyond the Smashwords site. It’s just going to make the author look foolish and be more fuel for the critics of self-publishing.

Smashwords add this note at the bottom, “When you finish writing your novel, and after you get it properly edited and proof-read (ALL books need many revisions and edits before they’re truly ready to publish)” because they are aware of exactly this thing but that doesn’t excuse the fact that they are making this promotion about publishing your work in progress instead of about coming to Smashwords with a finished, edited novel once November is over. You and I know it’s because if they waited until people came back with a finished novel, most would never get that far and they are much more likely to get you to sign up and publish if they encourage you to get it up there right now before it’s ready.

And while I can appreciate that as a business move, I just can’t see any benefit to it for the authors.

What do you think?