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Are You An Ethical Author? Take This Quiz!

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?

Are You An Ethical Author? Take This Quiz!

 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?

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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. 

I can't encourage you enough: earn your sales and reviews honestly and with integrity.

 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.

If you liked this post, you may also like:

7 Ways To Deal With That Dreaded Bad Review or,

Top 10 Reasons Why Reciprocal Reviews Are Unethical


 

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.

7 Ways To Deal With That Dreaded Bad Review

By Pam Humphrey

In my pre-mom days when I worked as a programmer and tech support at a small company, I shared an office with one other girl.

After an unusually frustrating customer had berated her as she tried to help them over the phone, she hung up near tears. I’ll never forget what she said. “I’m from Oklahoma. I need people to like me.”

She hadn’t caused the customer’s problem. She solved the issue quickly and with kindness. She’d done her best, but he was still rude.

Writers, those that care deeply about the structure and quality of what they write, pour over pages time and again checking for filter words, dropping hints of a theme, arranging story flow, and checking for plot holes. They don’t stop there. They hand their precious words to beta readers who read it and offer advice, point out lulls or areas of confusion, and give encouragement that the story is worth the time.

Over and over. Revise, read, repeat.

At the end of the process, after beta readers, editors, formatters, and cover designers have all done their part, a book is published, sent out into the world to be read.

With all of that hard work, everyone will surely love it. Right? Not so much. Inevitably, someone won’t like it.

7 Ways To Deal With That Dreaded Bad Review

Here are seven things you can do when you get that inevitable bad review.

(You can proceed in any order, but the first is usually first. Skip whichever steps you don’t find necessary, except the last. You CANNOT skip the last step.)

  • Sob. Okay maybe sobbing is a little much, but allow yourself that moment of disappointment. For some that will involve tears, others shout French phrases typically avoided around young children, and some might require a Mexican Coke or an entire chocolate bar.
If you’re trying to please everyone, then you’re not going to make anything that is honestly yours, I don’t think, in the long run.”
Viggo Mortensen

No one likes to see that average rating number drop, but it will.

Don’t focus on that number. It is not a measure of your value as a writer. This step is NOT permission for long-term wallowing or putting away your pen. Set a timer, shed your tears, and go on to the next bullet point.

  • Phone a friend. I don’t expect you to actually call someone. I really mean message a writing buddy. Get encouragement. You can talk about your WIP, the fantastic new sentence that popped into your head while you slept, or the dreaded bad review. If your writing buddy has read your book, they can offer perspective. Pro Tip: Cultivate those writing buddy relationships before you need them.

I’m not sure I can stress this point enough. You need support from other writers.

Interacting—commenting on threads, attending Facebook chats and Twitter chats—and beta reading is a good way to connect and build relationships.

  • Reread the bad review. You know you will anyway. It’s best if you wait until you’ve calmed down to make the most of this step. Instead of reading the bad review as a personal attack, scan it for any hint of helpful critique. If a lack of editing or gross errors is noted in the review, you have actionable advice about how to improve.

Not all reviews will have a helpful critique. Reviews, after all, are an opinion of the reader. Reviews like: “This was a total waste of my time.” “This was soooo not my thing.” “Ugh. I just couldn’t.” aren’t helpful to you. Rereading them won’t improve your writing. After you gleaned any useful information, stop reading that review. (This is difficult. I know. Ask me how many times I’ve reread that bad review.)

“You’re never going to please everyone, and if you do, there’s something wrong.”

– Constance Wu

  • Reread your positive reviews. Instead of only reading the bad, make a point to look at the good. If you have nine good reviews and one bad review, maintain perspective.

This is where a close friend or significant other can bring balance to your feelings. When you express disappointment about that bad review and they act surprised, it’s because they think most of your good reviews. You should, too. But, you will not be liked by everyone, even if you are from Oklahoma.

  • Get some context. Has the reviewer only given one five star rating out of all 93,001 books she’s starred on Goodreads? Does she prefer romance, but you wrote horror? Does she prefer dark and twisted, but yours was heart-warming?

Are you left scratching your head as to why she picked up your book at all? Did she rate your favorite book of all time with one star? Tastes in books differ.

  • Get more perspective. Think of your personal top ten list. Have you ever read reviews of those books? Or other well-loved, ageless classics? Go read the bad reviews. All books get bad reviews, eventually.
  • Write. And write. Write some more. Grab your pen or open your laptop and write that next book, or blog post, or poem. Don’t let a bad review gnaw at your self-confidence, hindering your writing. Write, edit, and when you think of that review, put your head down and continue to write. Someone will love what you create. There will always be at least one that won’t.

At the end of the day, the bad reviews bring authenticity to the good and great reviews. Nothing is as good as the infomercials claim. Your job as a writer is to give it your best. Take advantage of opportunities in the writing group, like buddy Tuesday, to find beta readers. Listen to constructive advice from other authors willing to help you. Use helpful critique gleaned from reviews to make the next book or story even better.

“You can’t please everyone, and you can’t make everyone like you.”

– Katie Couric

Now, please, set a timer and write. Someone is waiting to read what you write, and you may not even know them, yet.

(Quotes sourced from Brainyquote.com)


Pamela Humphrey is the author of Researching Ramirez: On the Trail of the Jesus Ramirez Family, a family history of her great great grandfather’s family, and The Blue Rebozo, a fictional account of her great grand aunt’s life. Her latest book, Finding Claire, is a mix of mystery, genealogy, and romance. She is currently writing the next book in the Hill Country Secrets series. She is a stay-at-home, homeschooling mom who enjoys many creative outlets: sewing, paper-crafting, jewelry-making, practicing her bass guitar, reading, and conversing with imaginary characters (what most call writing). She lives in San Antonio, Texas, with her husband, sons, black cats, and leopard gecko. Check out Pamela’s website at http://www.phreypress.com 

Follow her on Twitter http://www.twitter.com/phreypress  Facebook http://www.facebook.com/phreypress Interested in her books? They’re available on Amazon. https://www.amazon.com/Pamela-Humphrey/e/B018D5UKLWFinding Claire is also available from other eBook retailers. https://www.books2read.com/u/bP1LLY

How To Review A Book As An Author

By Olivia Folmer Ard

In this digital age, an author’s internet presence can make or break her.

Reputation, success, overall career—these are just a few of the things on the line when we power on our computers and plug into the virtual world. We’re all familiar with the horror stories about authors reacting badly to online reviews of their own books—Kathleen Hale stalked a Goodreads user who left a snarky one-star review, going so far as to physically visit the woman’s home, and Richard Brittain took stalking a step further when he tracked down a cheeky 18-year-old and bludgeoned her with a wine bottle after she criticized his work on Amazon.

Simply put, our kind does not always fare well in the digital realm.

We creatives are a sensitive breed, acting as protective mother hens to our word-children. Without proper discipline and restraint things can turn ugly, and fast.

 

But I’ve noticed a growing trend of self-published and independent authors who struggle with having a good presence on the opposite end of the spotlight. Instead of losing control with a reviewer of their own work, they lose control when they step into the reviewer’s shoes.

Authors should be a shining example of leaving stellar reviews, be our opinions positive or negative. We know firsthand how much work writing, revising, editing, promoting, publishing, and marketing can be. Whatever our opinion, it can—and should—be handled with grace. Here are a few basic guidelines to ensure this happens.

Were you given a free copy? Acknowledge that!

In this industry, receiving free review copies happens a lot. There’s nothing inherently wrong with this exchange, but it’s important to be transparent about these things. Let’s say you give an honest five-star review of your critique partner’s book, but neglect to include a disclaimer that you’re acquainted with the author and received a free copy. Now, let’s say someone figures out you’re connected with the author. Suddenly, that five-star review isn’t looking so shiny. At this point, it doesn’t matter if you were honest in your review. It doesn’t even matter that you barely know the author and have only been Facebook friends with him for three weeks. You weren’t forthcoming about the situation, and now the whole ordeal seems suspicious. People may not feel they can trust you anymore. And they certainly aren’t interested to learn more about YOUR work.

Use professional language!

The three S’s—slang, snark, and swearing—are fun to employ, especially when you’re discussing a book you didn’t enjoy. But when writing a review, especially one intended for public online display, you should avoid all of them. You’re not just a funny Goodreads user anymore—you’re criticizing or praising a colleague. Decorum and respect are in order here.

This goes double for authors you’re acquainted with, even in such nebulous ways as “I think we bumped into each other at a workshop five years ago.” In these cases, you must avoid writing the review as if it’s a personal letter. No, “Suzie, this was so good—much better than the first draft. Post more about this book in the group next Wednesday!” Instead, shoot for, “In The Great American Novel, Ms. Smith’s skills as a writer and storyteller are only improved from her stellar debut, The American Novel.

Be honest, but kind!

Sometimes, it doesn’t matter how much you enjoy a fellow author’s personality, online presence, or cute cat photos—their work just isn’t your cup of tea. That’s okay! If you choose to review their books, be honest in your reactions; however, before you hit “send” on a two- or three-star review, check yourself. Did you write your honest thoughts in the best possible way? Did you, in emotionally neutral words, explain the issues you found with the story, or did you just say “this book stinks”? Did you come up with at least two things the author did well to “sandwich” your complaint?

If you said no to either question, reconsider posting this review. There’s always a way to express an opinion without being downright mean. It isn’t always easy, but we’re writers, after all—if anyone is able to temper honesty with kindness, it should be us.

Can’t say something nice? Don’t say anything at all!

They may say they don’t care if you give it one-star, but let’s get real here: we all care about that. Consider this the Golden Rule, Author Edition. I’ll admit, this one is extremely difficult to pull off. How do you say to the nice author you met online, the one who’s helped you out so much, “I know I promised to read and review your book, but trust me, you don’t want my opinions on public display”?

This isn’t fun. It stinks. It stinks even more if, like me, confrontation is your kryptonite and fibbing is distasteful. Each situation will vary, depending on how long you’ve known the author and how developed your friendship is. They may never ask you when you’ll post a review, and if that’s the case you’re off scot-free. But if they check in with you to see how the reading is coming, it’s best to let them know how you feel before posting a fully negative review for their work.

Couldn’t finish the book? Say so!

Whether you didn’t have the time, the story disinterested you, or the writing was just plain awful, it’s important to let those reading your reviews know if you didn’t complete a book. Further to the point, include details. What page were you on when you stopped reading? What Kindle %? Did you skip around a bit before giving up? This helps others struggling with the decision to keep reading or not decide whether they should persevere, and it’s also a courtesy to the author. What if the problem you had with the book was resolved one chapter over from where you stopped reading? If that’s the case, you’ve unintentionally misrepresented the world and possibly led potential readers astray.

Avoid the “I would have written it this way” trap!

Nothing is more insulting when another writer rolls up their sleeves and turns into an armchair quarterback in the Amazon review section. You might wish a character handled a certain situation differently, and it’s fine to say so, but don’t list all the ways you would have written it better. You’re leaving a review, not teaching a course. What you would have done is irrelevant, because this isn’t your book. Not only will you damage your relationship with the author (if you have one), potential readers may lose faith in the author’s credibility and authority. It also makes you look snobby and unprofessional, and if others find out you’re a writer, they most likely won’t be checking out your work.

Don’t participate in a publicized blog tour if you can’t give a positive review!

It happened to me. I signed up to participate in a release blitz for an exciting new novel, I downloaded the free book, and . . . I couldn’t finish it. Couldn’t get past 10%. I wasn’t an author at this point, so I had no qualms about leaving a review on Amazon (with my did-not-finish information front and center), but I couldn’t bring myself to post the review on my blog. Not on a day when I knew the author would be doing her best to sell, sell, sell. I could have opted out and posted a promotional blurb instead, but I didn’t want my followers to think I recommended the book, so I did the not-so-comfortable thing—I emailed the tour coordinator and told her I wouldn’t be able to participate.

Most coordinators will tell you it’s fine if you have a negative review and they’d still love for you to participate. As an author, I strongly recommend bowing out. It’s a bad idea to showcase a negative review of another author’s work on a day when lots of traffic will be coming through.

Write the review you’d like to receive!

If your review is positive, make it more interesting than “Good book!” If your review is negative, make it more constructive and kind than, “This book sucks!” You’re an author! How much do you crave well-thought-out, elegantly written reviews? How much do the hastily written, vague one-star snark attacks hurt? Write the positive review you’d choose to include in your promotional material. Write the negative review you’d actually be okay with, one you’d find yourself nodding along with thoughtfully and saying, “Yes, I see where she’s coming from.”

Study these guidelines. Learn them. Implement then. Your fellow authors will thank you!


Olivia Folmar Ard is a secretary, history nerd, and all-purpose geek. She’s the author of The Bennett Series, and Readers’ Favorite 5-Star recipient ‘Tis the Season. She is pursuing a second degree in sociology. She and her husband JD live in Central Alabama, where they look after two crazy cats and wait for their miracle baby. Website/Blog: http://oliviafolmarard.weebly.com/Facebook: http://www.facebook.com/oliviafolmarard.author Twitter: http://www.twitter.com/oliviadeard Instagram: http://www.instagram.com/oliviadeardGoodreads: http://www.goodreads.com/oliviadeard Pinterest: http://www.pinterest.com/oliviadeard

 

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.