Why in the world would authors need to be ethical? Don’t they make up stuff for a living?
Are you one of those writers that does whatever it takes to get a sale? Are you the kind that responds publicly to a bad review? Do you manipulate your public numbers to look better than you really are? Do you neglect excellence in your writing for the sake of a fast buck?
Of course, you’re not. But you probably know someone who is.
Even if you haven’t, you see this kind of writers everywhere. You read about their bad behavior. You nudge the author next to you and say, I can’t believe they did that. And sometimes, the response you get is, but isn’t there no such thing as bad publicity?
And then, perhaps you think to yourself: Am I doing this all wrong? Writers everywhere are behaving badly and getting away with it. Aren’t they?
This industry — writing, publishing, and marketing in the information age — is still so new that good practices haven’t caught up yet. In some ways, modern writers don’t know what is good behavior and what isn’t. I’d like to encourage every writer who reads this blog to learn how to be ethical.
Ethics, at its core, is choosing to take responsible public action out of respect for our readers, our art and ourselves.
So, are you ethical or not?
Get A Pencil! Let’s Take A Quiz!
Number your paper. Write down yes or no to each of the following questions. Keep track. If you look at your neighbor’s paper, then you’re in worse shape than we thought.
1. Have you ever used the words “best-selling” to describe your own books, when what you mean is that of all the books stored in your closet, Your Guide To Amish Zombie Princesses, really has generated the most sales?
2. Have you ever claimed that you were in a professional writers association, like International Fiction Writers Who Use Modems when you let your membership expire in 1998?
3. Have you claimed that you sold thousands of copies when really you sold 556 and you just rounded up?
4. Have you ever made up an endorsement for the back of the book, like say, “Taylor Swift called, ‘Your Guide To Amish Zombie Princesses’ the inspiration for her next album, coming out in 2016″? When the closest you got to Taylor Swift was when you accidentally changed your Pandora station from Muzak to ubiquitous pop tunes?
5. Have you ever been so upset over a negative review about your book online, that you called your mother and asked her to change it? Or have you ever insisted that a stranger change their review?
6. Have you ever gone online under a pseudonym, say, Mary Jane Smith, and posed as a raving fan of Your Guide To Fighting Off Amish Zombie Princesses, just so you could boost sales and generate buzz and possibly get the attention of Taylor Swift?
7. Have you ever attacked other authors in the Amish Zombie Princess genre (or any other genre), just so that your book will look better? That’s impressive if you have because there are, thousands, you know?
8. Do you approach other authors privately, making deals to reciprocate positive reviews so that you look better? Do you ever reward someone, like say, promising them they’ll meet Taylor Swift next week at your house for pizza night if they give you a five-star review?
“Education without values, as useful as it is, seems rather to make man a more clever devil.”
― C.S. Lewis
9. Have you ever taken the work of others, say, Dan Brown’s How To Fight Off Mennonite Undead Queens, and then tweaked it just a little to pass it off as your own?
10. Have you been accurate and fair in your finances? Or have you manipulated your numbers so that you aren’t taxed by all that income that Your Guide To Fighting Off Amish Zombie Princesses has made in 2014?
If you said yes to any of these questions, then you may not be an Ethical Author!!
All kidding aside. Each one of these ‘questions’ were exaggerated to prove a point. Is is possible, and sadly very common, to slip into dishonorable and unethical behaviors for the sake of a sale.
Many of us are new to publishing and have no idea what we should do to promote ourselves. Often our goal is just to gain any advantage we can in an increasingly competitive market. We may feel “creativity” in marketing trumps courteous behavior. Or we may suggest trading reviews with another author, not realizing this behavior could weaken our credibility. We may be so distracted by the elusive promise of financial success that we neglect to nurture our art. Or we may attach our pursuit of fame so tightly to our own identities that we can’t tolerate criticism in public forums. These practices are not ethical.
We may fear to speak to other authors about their questionable practices because we don’t feel we have either the authority to speak nor a reference point for better behavior.
We may champion “truth” in the words that we write, through gritty characters and accurate descriptions, yet cover up our own discrepancies, create false identities or fabricate falsehoods to gain an advantage in this industry.
Because authors have never had so much freedom. But with freedom, we must accept responsibility for our public persona. This responsibility extends to our works whether self-published or traditionally published. And it includes our relationships with our readers.
This is how to be more ethical:
Love your readers by producing excellent work and allow them the freedom to critique you honestly in public forums.
Love your art by choosing not to cheapen it with slimy sales techniques and shortcuts cuts.
Love yourself by holding your author friends to a high standard of behavior in our public appearances both online and real life.
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Katharine Grubb is a homeschooling mother of five, a novelist, a baker of bread, a comedian wannabe, a former running coward and the author of Write A Novel In 10 Minutes A Day. Besides pursuing her own fiction and nonfiction writing dreams, she also leads 10 Minute Novelists on Facebook, an international group for time-crunched writers that focuses on tips, encouragement, and community.