Tag Archives: Jane Steen

Why This Self-Published Author Loves Traditional Publishing

by Jane Steen, 10 Minute Novelist, self-published author

I self-published my first novel in 2012, and since then I’ve published two more full-length novels and a short story.

Despite the attitude of some writers (and, alas, some readers) that self-publishing is a second-best solution, I couldn’t be happier.

I love the flexibility and freedom to write what I like. I relish my control over my rights and decision-making. I love getting my income monthly. In short, I’m the happy sort of self-publisher who’s not the least bit interested in getting a traditional publishing deal or being represented by an agent. I have self-published and I’m glad I did. 

Why This Self-Published Author Loves Traditional Publishing by Jane Steen

And yet, I’m still a big fan of the traditional publishing industry. Here’s why:

– I think many writers need the traditional framework. Being a career indie involves so much more than just perfecting your writing skills. Yes, you have to be a good writer—and you have to be passionately interested in the process of producing a quality book in various formats, climb the learning curve of marketing, be ready to learn about rights and legal issues, and think like a small business owner. If one of those skill sets is lacking and you can’t afford to hire top tier professionals to do the job for you, sooner or later your career is going to stall or fail. I believe that’s why so many successful self-published authors end up in the traditional environment. And you can’t ignore the desire for the feeling of validation being picked up by an agent or publisher brings. It’s not something I happen to worry about, but I totally understand it in other writers. I want writers to thrive in whatever way works for them.

– The legacy. Traditional publishing gave us nearly all my favorite authors and largely shaped today’s book world. The industry established best practices and standards that are still useful for indies. Its deep pockets and tight hold on the hearts and minds of many influencers may irritate some indies, but to me that framework is a valuable asset. Savvy self-publishers are in this for the long haul, and are willing to use all the footholds the traditional industry is unwittingly providing to further their career. We may feel sometimes that we’re on the outside looking in, but we need to remember that for most readers, authors are authors. All we need is good writing skills, high standards, and patience (and maybe a tiny bit of luck).

– Bookstores! There are many reasons why bricks-and-mortar bookstore sales don’t really work for self-publishers, and I can live quite happily without seeing my books in the window of Barnes & Noble. But as a reader, I just love visiting bookstores, and try to buy at least some of my books in the real world. Bookstores, if done properly, sustain and encourage a culture of reading, and what author can object to that?

– Libraries! Like bookstores, libraries are part of an ecosystem that’s closely tied into traditional publishing. It’s true that librarians are probably a little more aware than bookstore owners of the value of self-publishing as part of that ecosystem, and some libraries are even becoming publishing centers themselves. But like bookstores, they’re part of a reading culture that we should be encouraging and sustaining. We need people to be readers.

“Savvy self-publishers are in this for the long haul, and are willing to use all the footholds the traditional industry is unwittingly providing to further their career.”  — Jane Steen, 10 Minute Novelist

– Agents, editors, and other bookish people. Most of them are passionate advocates for good writing, and I love them for that. Quite a few of them now work with and for the better self-publishers, and there’s no reason why those relationships shouldn’t continue to develop and deepen over time. Which doesn’t mean I’m saying agents and editors should be supporting self-publishers as some kind of literary duty. Like all businesspeople, agents and editors should and do pursue their own business interests. But their love of good writing and good book business must inevitably draw them closer to the better indies over time.

– Marketing dollars. Big publishing has lots of those, and it spends them on advertising books. When people read books, they generally want to read more books, and sometimes those books are written by indies. As long as large publishers are still able to get people excited about reading as opposed to watching TV or playing video games, they’re doing all self-publishers a favor. And a portion of those marketing dollars goes into bookstores in the form of co-op arrangements, and I want bookstores to thrive, as explained above (even if I’m not at all sure that co-op arrangements are ethical—but they’re a longstanding practice that’s unlikely to disappear).

Hybrid authors. Traditional publishing is a good training ground for authors who have self-published either as a way to supplement their income, or because they’ve realized that the indie model will work better for them. The only reason I’d be tempted to accept a traditional contract would be to learn that side of the industry from the inside, and work with editors and other professionals I might not be able to afford as a self-publisher. Given the right circumstances, that just might be worth paying for—and I would consider the loss of my rights and potential income a payment. Hybrid authors also have a perspective and a level of knowledge that those of us who’ve never tried for a trad contract can and should learn from. 

So I honestly don’t care if the traditional publishing industry isn’t welcoming us indies with open arms.

Like all indies, I would like to see a more accepting book world, but I accept that change is going to happen very slowly. In the meanwhile, I’m going to enjoy all that the traditional industry has to offer me, and I rejoice at every positive item of publishing news.

O traditional publishing industry, may you live forever.

Historical Romance Author Jane Steen
Historical Romance Author Jane Steen

Jane Steen was born in England and, despite having spent more years out of the British Isles than in, still has a British accent according to just about every American she meets.
Around the edges of her professional occupations and raising children, she stuck her nose in a book at every available opportunity and at one time seemed on course to become the proverbial eternal student. Common sense prevailed, though, and eventually she had the bright idea of putting her passion for books together with her love of business and writing to become a self-published author.
Jane has lived in three countries and is currently to be found in East Sussex, UK. Her book, House of Closed Doors can be found here. 

Plan Next Year’s Conference(s) The Right Way — A Guest Post by Jane Steen

Ever finished a conference season feeling you didn’t get much value for your money? Or are you still waiting to go to your first writers’ conference, paralyzed by the choices out there or worried about the cost? Here are some practical tips to help you approach next year’s conferences in great shape.


Decide on your needs

It’s best to approach conference season in light of your unique needs. Do you need to soak up advice about the writing craft? Do you want to learn about self-publishing? Do you want to pitch a story to agents? Do you want to make connections within your genre? Take a few minutes and write down your goals for next year. Then write down the one thing you’d like to achieve to make that year shine for you.

Make a shortlist

Don’t just focus on that conference your friend always goes to and which sounds cool. Search on “writers conference” and research what’s out there, then make a shortlist of conferences that might fit your needs and research some more. Make a spreadsheet to record the vital stats of each conference on your list—where it’s to be held, how much it costs, and what kind of sessions, workshops, classes or opportunities it offered this year (because next year’s offerings won’t be publicized until quite near the conference date).

Plan your time

When making your shortlist, note the dates of those conferences and compare them with your work and home calendars. Think about graduations, house moves, milestone events for family members, and work commitments for you and anyone else who’s going to be needed at home while you’re away. You might even need to plan around medical needs—if you know you’re heading for a knee replacement, get it done well before the conference.

Calculate the cost

There’s nothing worse than drawing near to the date of a conference and then realizing it’s going to make a much bigger hole in your bank account than you’d thought. Especially since conference fees are often non-refundable past a certain date, as the conference organizers have to make financial commitments based on the fees they’ve received. So be smart—once you’ve figured out one to three hot contenders for your time and money, calculate just how much money that’s going to be. You’ll be paying for the conference fee, a hotel stay, possibly meals (check this), travel to and from the conference, a new outfit or two and about $200 in incidental expenses. Think of the conference as a working vacation in an expensive resort, and you’ll get the picture.

If you’re not going to be able to afford the total cost of the conference, don’t sign up. Don’t just assume the money will be there when you need it. Strategize alternatives—could you forgo a vacation to pay for the conference (negotiate this with your spouse if you have one)? Could you go to the cheaper local conference instead? Could you stay with a friend instead of at the hotel, or share a hotel room? Does the conference award scholarships, and how do you apply?

Be careful if you’re asked to be on a panel or help present a workshop at a conference, as many conferences expect presenters to work for nothing or next to nothing, to pay for their hotel room and travel, etc. If finances are an issue, make sure you know what the deal is before you say yes. Dropping out later because you’ve realized you can’t afford the trip will be awkward all round.

Register early

If you’ve ascertained you can afford your target conference, sign up as early as you can. The early bird usually gets lower fees, the most favorable hotel rate, and guaranteed participation in events that fill up fast. Make a note of the date past which there’s no refund for cancellations, and set a reminder to review your schedule before the no-refund date to make sure nothing new has cropped up at work or at home.

Want to pitch? Research your agents

If you’re signing up for a conference because you have a manuscript to pitch to an agent or publisher, or think you’ll have one ready by the conference date, research those industry professionals meticulously before you sign up. You might only get one or two pitch sessions, so make sure you’re pitching to the very best fit you can find. And if you draw near the conference date and realize your manuscript won’t be ready after all, contact the organizers and release your spots to someone else. Don’t pitch an incomplete manuscript.

If you find these suggestions helpful, let us know in the comments. I have a few more for you—and perhaps Katharine will let me come back again!

Historical Romance Author Jane Steen

Jane Steen was born in England and, despite having spent more years out of the British Isles than in, still has a British accent according to just about every American she meets.
Around the edges of her professional occupations and raising children, she stuck her nose in a book at every available opportunity and at one time seemed on course to become the proverbial eternal student. Common sense prevailed, though, and eventually she had the bright idea of putting her passion for books together with her love of business and writing to become a self-published author.
Jane has lived in three countries and is currently to be found in the Chicago suburbs with her long-suffering husband and two adult daughters. Her book, House of Closed Doors can be found here. 

Author Spotlight: Meet Jane Steen

10 Minute Novelists is a community of writers from all over the world. Twice a month, we feature one of our writers. Today? It’s Jane Steen, author of House of Closed Doors and champion of Author Ethics.
Join Ethical Author Weeks! February 1-14, 2015
To continue this conversation, this blog is sponsoring Ethical Author Weeks February 1-14. Got questions on how you can start conversations on ethics on your blog? Leave a comment!

Welcome Jane!

1. How did the topic of ethics for authors become an interest of yours?

It just started out as an observation that there were quite a few authors out there behaving unprofessionally. I’ve been active on Goodreads as a reader for years, and I could see wave after wave of shock run around the community because an author had plagiarized another author’s work, or had attacked a reviewer in the comments thread, or they’d detected yet another reviewing ring (where a group of authors had all given each other five stars). I could see how these actions by a few authors were eroding the trust that should exist between reader and author. I began noticing in author groups that a few authors (not the majority) were treating the market as a free-for-all, proposing dodgy marketing tactics as the latest great idea and trying to coordinate actions that I knew, from the Goodreads side, were seen as spam at least and unethical at worst.

Author Spotlight: Jane Steen

So one day I spoke up. Ironically, shortly before I did that I wrote a blog post about how I wanted to be a writer, not a campaigner—it was never my intention to become “Mrs. Author Ethics” or anything like that. But now that my efforts have been taken up by the Alliance of Independent Authors (ALLi) and groups like the 10 Minute Novelists, I can see there are several ways in which I can help new authors adopt professional ethics right from the beginning (and thus have long and happy careers). I’m hoping that in 2015 I can help make author ethics as popular a subject as how to produce great book covers or the best way to edit your book. I’m already seeing other authors discussing ethics and adopting the ALLi badge.

And then, when everyone accepts ethics of part of a writer’s toolkit, I hope to focus fully on my other writing. Think I’ll succeed?

2. Why are the specific points of the Code of Ethics so important?

The Code’s written as an outline of the most basic principles, not as a detailed “law.” So it’s easy for an author to adopt and follow, and it’s nice and short—eight short paragraphs, headed up by the guiding principle, which is to put your readers first. In the end this effort is all about respecting, appreciating and honoring the people without whom you wouldn’t be an author.

Badge, Ethical Author, ALLi
Click the image above to go to Jane Steen’s Code of Ethics or take a screen shot of the image, put it on your blog as a sign you’re an ethical author.

3. What have you learned by watching other authors’ bad behavior?

What not to do! I’ve often observed how a huge row frequently begins as a mistake on the author’s part—in the first flush of being an author (or sometimes, regrettably, once they get famous enough that they have fans telling them how great they are) they decide to take offence at the way readers behave. Yes, readers do things authors would prefer they wouldn’t—they post snarky reviews or totally misread your book or make moral and psychological judgments about YOU based on what your characters do, or blame you for getting history details wrong where in fact you’re right. That doesn’t justify the author in going on the attack against her own readers—in what other industry does a producer turn round and tell its consumers they’re idiots for not appreciating the beauty of its product?

I’ve learned from experience and observation that you’ve got to build up a relationship of trust with readers, and although you can (and I do) set some boundaries (I’ve deleted comments that are clearly troll attacks, for example), for the most part you just have to keep your professional face on and if you’re upset, tell your best friend and not the entire internet about it.

Do Ethics for Writers Matter?

4. What advice would you give new writers in regard to ethics?

Well, obviously I’d advise them to read the Ethical Author Code! Also, I’d advise new writers to seek out the best sources of knowledge about the publishing industry in general and their particular niche. Look for blogs by respected industry observers, journalists, book bloggers and successful authors—I read Joanna Penn, Jane Friedman, Hugh Howey, Anne R. Allen, Dear Author and many more every day. Making an effort to keep yourself informed about the industry is vital, even if you’re publishing with a Big Five publisher.

“The days when an author could just sit back and let someone else direct their career are gone. Take responsibility for yourself and your writing business.”
Historical Romance Author Jane Steen
Historical Romance Author Jane Steen

5. Tell us about your other goals for 2015?

In 2014 I came up with the idea of the 365K Challenge, and ended up writing over 380,000 total words—which included part of two novels in my series, and concepts for a standalone novel and a new series. This year I’m participating in the bigger 365K Challenge that the 10 Minute Novelists group has launched, but I’m also working toward my own new goal—2,000 words a day but only on weekdays, as I find it harder to write on weekends. (That’s over 500,000 words a year, by the way.)

My other goal is to become successful as an entrepreneur. This means gradually introducing all kinds of systems for success—planning, scheduling, daily productivity beyond my word count, and keeping up with the other responsibilities in my life. I have several measurable goals for 2015, but my overriding aim is to work out how to stay proactive about my business and my writing, and keep moving both forward.

6. Why do you love writing historical novels?

I find history increasingly fascinating. The more you read about it, the more you see how all the parts fit together! As I’ve grown older I’ve gained a much clearer view of how I fit into history, or perhaps I should say how history has shaped the world I live in and which informs my thinking. Writing the novels allows me to invent characters who are moving within a historical context that we understand because it’s already happened. They don’t know what’s going to happen, but the author (and frequently the reader) does. And I love writing about characters who have to cope with the absence of things we take for granted—antibiotics or plane travel or telephones.

The House of Closed Doors by Jane Steen
The House of Closed Doors

7. What is it about 1880s Chicago that is so fascinating?

I began The House of Closed Doors in 1870 because I wanted to write within a specific framework of the evolution of Poor Farms—and it was set in the Chicago area because that’s where I live (the inspiration for the story came from a photo of the County Poor Farm which used to stand on my town’s main street). Right now I’m writing about Chicago in 1876-1877, and if I write the whole series as originally planned I’ll end up in 1888, well into the Gilded Age. During that time span the world of my characters will make huge technological advances and there’ll be some major societal rumblings (women’s rights and the labor movement) that lay the groundwork of the massive changes that will happen through the catalyst of the two World Wars. So I’m watching the modern world emerge through the eyes of a set of characters I like and find fun to write.

Also, the dresses are GORGEOUS. The fashion for lots of embellishment in the 1870s and 1880s produced some absolutely stunning work at the top end of the price range, and filtered down to more everyday clothing in the form of an attention to detail we’ve almost completely lost in the West. My novels are for anyone who stares in rapt attention at the costumes in period TV shows or movies—that’s why I made Nell a dressmaker.

8. What is your definition of success?

I’d like to earn a modest living from being an author-entrepreneur, of course. But my real definitition of success would be to write some characters that people love so much they dress like them and write fan fiction about them and remember them long after I’m gone.

“No writer’s immortal, but a really good character can be—look how long King Arthur’s lasted, for example. My dream is to invent characters that fuel other people’s dreams.”

How Will You Know When You Are

9. What important things do we need to know about you?

I’m British—I married an American, which is why I live here. I’ve always been fascinated by languages, and by fine crafts—if I had multiple lifetimes I’d become fluent in more languages than English and French, and I’d do way more than knit lace shawls. I’m an avid reader, as you’d expect, and have had my nose stuck in a book since I was four years old. But I also love to be outdoors, and I run, walk, bike or ski on the local forest preserve trails most days. I’m happily married with two adult daughters. I’m not at all fond of housework, but messiness and dirt make me feel anxious so I force myself.

10. Please finish this:  I love my reader when I  ______________.  I love my art when I ______________. I love myself, as a writer, when I ________________.

#EthicalAuthors Weeks Feb 1-14

“I love my reader when I respect their opinions. I love my art when I give it the time and attention it deserves. I love myself, as a writer, when I celebrate my successes and acknowledge—and address—my weaknesses.”

Jane Steen lives with her husband and daughter in the Chicago area. 

Do Author Ethics Matter? A Guest Post by Jane Steen

Jane Steen, a member of the Facebook group, 10 Minute Novelists, shares with us today about good practices and ethical behavior for writers. This is an important issue for everyone who has published either traditionally or independently. Please read and consider carefully Jane’s thoughtful suggestions on ethics for authors. 

Do Ethics for Writers Matter?

Read the Ethical Author Code here

A short history of how I came to draft the Ethical Author Code

It started with a Facebook conversation between authors. Someone suggested a visibility tactic that involved, I think, upvoting your own book on a site. I can’t remember the specifics. But I do remember writing, “I don’t think that’s ethical.”

Up to that point, I hadn’t seen the word “ethics” used much in online places frequented by writers. Which isn’t to say that people weren’t being ethical.

Most authors behave ethically as a result of innate honesty or from a good upbringing. Many have a grounding in business ethics gained from years in the workplace.

And yet we all know there are rotten apples in the barrel. As an avid reader and reviewer who spends far too much time on Goodreads, I’m perhaps more aware than most authors of the damage unethical behavior does.

The activities of an unscrupulous minority have harmed the reputation of authors as a group, and self-published authors in particular. Book bloggers and top reviewers—the very people whom authors most wish to befriend—are extremely sensitive to breaches of ethics and etiquette, and their standards are high.

Very high. I’ve learned to see through their eyes, and I knew that readers perceived the tactic proposed in that Facebook conversation  as spammy and unethical. So I spoke up.

A lively discussion ensued and I defended my position. I explained why authors owe it to themselves, to each other and, above all, to their readers to hold themselves to an ethical standard. As a result of that conversation the Alliance of Independent Authors (ALLi) invited me to contribute a post on ethics to the Self-Publishing Advice blog. I hoped to light a tiny fire to combat all the wrong-headed marketing advice I was seeing in writer groups and, worse, the growing animosity shown by authors to readers who dared to criticize their books.

I hadn’t anticipated the amount of attention my post would get on Twitter. I hadn’t expected the sudden eruption of YA novelist Kathleen Hale into book blogger infamy with her gleeful doxxing*—on a major website—of a reviewer who’d given her novel one star on Goodreads. I hadn’t foreseen the British case of a novelist who slugged his reviewer on the back of the head with a wine bottle, leaving her with concussion and stitches.

Within a month of my original blog post I’d been asked to draft an Ethical Author Code—which, let me tell you, is easier said than done. But with the help of the ALLi leadership and others, the Code went up on the ALLi website in time for the FutureBook conference in London. There ALLi’s Orna Ross announced it as a Big Idea that might help shape the future of the publishing industry. Blimey.

The Ethical Author Code isn’t just for self-publishers, by the way.

It’s for “any writer who has published a long-form work of fiction or non-fiction, either via a trade publisher or self-publishing platform.”

Because personal responsibility doesn’t stop when you sign a publishing contract.

The four major objections to the idea of an Ethical Author Code

As you can imagine, I’ve participated in a few discussions about ethics since then. I think I’ve identified the four major areas of pushback against the notion of an Ethical Author Code. Each point has its variants, but they go roughly like this:

  1.  How can we enforce the Code? And if we can’t enforce it, what’s the point of having it?
  2. Why do we need a code or badge to show people we’re ethical? Shouldn’t they judge us by our actions?
  3. This has all been done before, and failed. Stop flogging a dead horse.
  4. Big Publishing employs all kinds of unethical business practices, and nobody objects to those. Why should individual authors be held to a standard that the corporations don’t keep?

These all seem like pretty compelling arguments for sitting on our hands and doing nothing. In this individualistic world, people are uncomfortable with the idea of being told what to do, and it’s that sense of discomfort that runs through all the objections I’ve encountered.

I’m here to argue that we authors are the ones who hold the power to mend the breaks the book world has suffered as a result of the unethical behavior of a minority. And I believe we can do it with as much flexibility and freedom as we all feel we need, given how different every author’s experience of publishing is these days.

I want to take the negatives of each of these objections and turn them around. I’d like to empower authors to encourage each other to a high standard of professional behavior, in the same way that we encourage each other to improve our writing craft and output.

Join Ethical Author Weeks! February 1-14, 2015
To continue this conversation, this blog is sponsoring Ethical Author Weeks February 1-14. Got questions on how you can start conversations on ethics on your blog? Leave a comment!
1. A code of ethics isn’t about enforcement—it’s about personal responsibility

The point of having an Ethical Author Code isn’t to create some kind of ethics police. I’m not—never have been—interested in criticizing what other people do, and I don’t think you should be either. If you come across unethical behavior that infringes the terms of service of the website where it occurs, by all means report it or flag it or do whatever’s necessary, and then get on with your day. Finding a procedural way to deal with unethical behavior is vastly preferable to expressing your outrage on your blog or on social media, even if you’re offended because the host site doesn’t seem to be dealing with your complaint fast enough. (Believe me, if enough people complain, they will eventually take action).

The Ethical Author Code isn’t about other people—it’s about you. It’s about your commitment to being a true professional, one who employs ethics and etiquette as part of her author’s toolbox. I’ve been hugely encouraged to see authors referring to the Code when asking others for their opinion about a marketing ploy they’re thinking of using.  It means they’re concerned about the long-term consequences of their actions. It’s that kind of long-term thinking that distinguishes the author who’ll go on to have a long and successful career as a beloved member of the book-loving community. Isn’t that what we all aspire to?

One variant of the unenforceability argument is the claim that if authors are to adopt an ethical code, so should, say, reviewers. How come they’re allowed to be vulgar and abrasive and offensive in their reviews, and we’re just supposed to turn the other cheek? Well, this is an area where we just have to take it on trust: taking responsibility for ourselves, rather than existing in a permanent state of outrage about other people, is the best policy for the long term. Somebody’s got to be the grownup, and since we’re the ones asking people to pay us to write, that’s us. Again, it’s about you, dear author, taking the decision to be the most professional You that you can be.

2. Think of the Code as a rallying point

I’ve noticed something about writers. They’re not joiners. Or maybe they’ve joined writers’ groups in the past and haven’t been comfortable with what they’ve found there. And if you’re already acting ethically, why should you have to tell people that? Won’t making a public declaration that you’re ethical make people suspect the opposite?

If that’s your objection, I’d ask you to think again. You already belong to a large group of people known to the public as Authors. The reading public make surprisingly few distinctions between the traditionally published and self-published, the avant-garde and the conservative, the professional and the sloppy. Authors—as a group—have a public image, and it’s not always a particularly professional one. What other people do is affecting you right now—it’s affecting your sales and your readers. I’ve lost count of the number of times I’ve heard avid readers say that they’re mostly reading books by authors who are no longer living and can’t throw a hissy fit about a negative review. Readers are no longer restricted to the books available in the library or the local bookstore—thanks to online shopping and e-readers, they have access to just about every book ever written.

And yet people are wired (somehow) to look up to writers in their communities. Perhaps it’s a halo effect that dates back to the days when our ancestors sat around a communal fire, breathlessly listening to the storyteller acting out tales of history and imagination. Perhaps there’s a sort of inbuilt assumption that those of us born with the gift of expressing ideas in fiction or otherwise are leaders, worthy of respect.

Go back to the Code and read it carefully. If you agree with its provisions—and if you’re like most authors, I’m sure you do—then think of making a public commitment to it as a rallying point, a way of showing your readers that you’re putting them first. It’ll take the efforts of a large number of authors over time to make an impact on the reading world, but I think we can do it.

3. A good idea should never be buried

I’m sure someone’s raised the notion of a code of ethics for authors before. All good ideas are perennial—each generation simply shapes them to fit their particular environment. And yet before writing the Code, I did an internet search on author ethics, and found—nothing. Whatever happened in the past didn’t stick around long enough, or didn’t quite have the right qualities to succeed. Or the timing wasn’t right. Ideas are like inventions—they need the right environment to flourish, and I believe we’ve got that environment now. Traditionally published authors know they have options they didn’t have before. Many self-publishers have grown from slightly unpolished beginners to consummate professionals. We’re closer to our readers than ever before, and promoting ethical behavior is a great way to show them we care about that relationship.

4. We’re leaders, not followers

The publishing world is changing fast. The largest publishers, of course, are the slowest to change, and that’s understandable. Over the years they developed a whole bunch of marketing tactics that worked because the market was much more concentrated in certain places (e.g. bookstores, print journals with review sections, bestseller lists.) They’re clinging to that older model because it still works up to a point.

It’s odd, though, that individual authors want to imitate those tactics, since they don’t have anything like the budget or the marketing staff the big publishers have. They often end up trying second-tier versions that veer close to unethical and often come across as spammy and offputting to savvy readers. Authors who are quietly achieving success in the new market conditions don’t use these tactics. The formula for long-term success is clear: write well, publish often, build your fanbase through the smart use of social media, and curate your backlist. There are a great many authors out there earning a living without even bothering about bestseller lists or co-op placements. They know that there aren’t any shortcuts—they work hard for what they get, they understand the business and they’re professional.

#EthicalAuthors Weeks Feb 1-14
#EthicalAuthors Weeks Feb 1-14

If you’re going to follow anyone, follow those authors. At the same time, the big publishing companies are coming under fire for some of those tried-and-trusted techniques. It’s possible that in ten years’ time many of those hallowed marketing strategies will be history. Using the practices of publishing corporations as an excuse to engage in unethical behavior is like building a house on quicksand–a poor long-term strategy for success.

I—and ALLi, which has been so instrumental in fanning the flames of the very small fire I lit back in August—see the Ethical Author Code as a win-win situation.

We’re looking for as many individual authors, readers, bloggers, writers’ organizations and publishing industry corporations as possible to express their agreement that ethics and etiquette are valuable tools for long-term success. As we near the end of the Gold Rush era of self-publishing and the traditional publishing world continues to change, I think we’ll find that the most successful authors are those who’ve learned to operate as highly professional creative entrepreneurs. And they don’t work in a vacuum—most successful authors are also well plugged into groups and organizations where they can motivate and support each other. They’re talking about best business practices, comparing notes on publishers, agents and service companies, and sharing tips for success. They’re starting to see publishers—large and small—as potential partners rather than as employers.

Above all, they’re aware of the responsibility that they shoulder when they expect readers to pay them to write books. The Ethical Author Code is, I hope, just the beginning of a discussion of the right way to do business. I’m hoping that in the not too distant future, books on business ethics and etiquette for authors will be on our shelves right next to the books on writing craft, or advice on book covers and marketing. In this maturing disrupted market, the keys to success will be quality and excellence in every aspect of a writer’s professional life. I’d love it if you could help me get the conversation going about the piece of the puzzle that’s been missing up till now.

Jane Steen is an historical fiction writer and lives in the Chicago area. 

*doxxing or doxing is the online disclosure of information someone else would rather have kept private, such as her real name, address, phone number and so on.

Love Your Readers, Love Your Art, Love Yourself: Introducing #EthicalAuthors Weeks Feb 1-14


Are you one of those writers?

You know, the kind 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 these 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 suggest, in light of recent events, and with help of friends like Jane Steen and the folks at ALLi,  that we set aside time to discuss author ethics.

 This blog post is to propose a two-week period for these discussions. We are inviting you to join us for Ethical Author Weeks, February 1-14, 2015.

In these two weeks, we’d like for conversations on blogs, websites, chats, groups, tweets, etc to be started worldwide.

Join Ethical Author Weeks! February 1-14, 2015
Join Ethical Author Weeks! February 1-14, 2015

Ethics, at its core, is choosing to take responsible public action out of respect for our readers, our art and ourselves.

We love our readers when produce excellent work and allow them the freedom to critique us honestly in public forums.
We love our art when we choose not to cheapen it with slimy sales techniques and editorial short cuts.
We love ourselves when hold each other to high standard of behavior in our public appearances both online and real life.


#EthicalAuthors Weeks Feb 1-14
#EthicalAuthors Weeks Feb 1-14 If you’re in, take this graphic. Put it on your blog in February!

 The following code was written recently by the Alliance of Independent Authors and is for the consideration of “any writer who has published a long-form work of fiction or non-fiction, either via a trade publisher or self-publishing platform.”

During this two week period, February 1-14, 2015,  I’d like to get as many writers as possible to commit to promoting Author Ethics in as many ways possible.

Please consider doing the following: 

Publish blog posts about your own personal commitment to ethics.

Interview other writers who’ve had experiences dealing with ethics issues.

Link to this article or others like it that in support of author ethics.

Tweet about changes you are going to make in their own practices using the #ethicalauthor hashtag.

Ask authors that you are associated with to read over the Code of Ethics written by ALLi.

Start conversations in whatever social media connections you may have about author ethics.

Think through what being an ethical author means to you and change any questionable behaviors.

Paste the Ethical Author badge on your blog or website as a promise to all who see it that this author will do their best to honor it.

Badge, Ethical Author, ALLi
This is the Ethical Author Badge. Take a screen shot of it and put it on your blog. I did.


The Ethical Author Code

Guiding principle: Putting the reader first

 When I market my books, I put my readers first. This means that I don’t engage in any practices that have the effect of misleading the readers/buyers of my books. I behave professionally online and offline when it comes to my writing life.


 I behave with courtesy and respect toward readers, other authors, reviewers and industry professionals such as agents and publishers. If I find myself in disagreement, I focus on issues rather than airing grievances or complaints in the press or online, or engaging in personal attacks of any kind.


 I do not hide behind an alias to boost my own sales or damage the sales or reputation of another person. If I adopt a pen name for legitimate reasons, I use it consistently and carefully.

 Reviewing and rating books

 I do not review or rate my own or another author’s books in any way that misleads or deceives the reader. I am transparent about my relationships with other authors when reviewing their books.

 I am transparent about any reciprocal reviewing arrangements, and avoid any practices that result in the reader being deceived.

 Reacting to reviews

 I do not react to any book review by harassing the reviewer, getting a third party to harass the reviewer, or making any form of intrusive contact with the reviewer. If I’ve been the subject of a personal attack in a review, I respond in a way that is consistent with professional behavior.

Book promotions

 I do not promote my books by making false statements about, for example, their position on bestseller lists, or consent to anyone else promoting them for me in a misleading manner.


 I know that plagiarism is a serious matter, and I don’t intentionally try to pass off another writer’s words as my own.

 Financial ethics

 In my business dealings as an author, I make every effort to be accurate and prompt with payments and financial calculations. If I make a financial error, I remedy it as soon as it’s brought to my notice.


 I take responsibility for how my books are sold and marketed. If I realize anyone is acting against the spirit or letter of this Code on my behalf, I will refer them to this Code and ask them to modify their behavior.

 More information about the movement behind Author Ethics can be found here: http://www.thebookseller.com/futurebook/futurebook14-big-idea-ethical-author

So, are you in? Do you want to be an ethical author? Can you commit to any of the above actions?

And what do you think? I’d love to hear from you.