Just what is an ethical author?
My first thought, and possibly yours, is one that doesn’t stoop to low tricks such as ‘sock puppet’ reviews (fake accounts run by the same person – often the author of the book in question – with the intention of falsely inflating its popularity with a view to increasing sales) and plagiarism – but that’s only part of what makes an ethical author.
This year ALLi lead the way once again by creating a program to promote ethics in publishing with the catchy hashtag #ethicalauthor (feel free to use it on Twitter if you subscribe to the thinking behind it).
The guiding principle is to put the reader first by agreeing not to mislead them, and to always engage in courteous and professional behaviour.
This also means conduct as well – such as refraining from responding to that nasty puerile online Amazon review (“Book arrived late. It was OK.” **). A tough one, admittedly, but if you’re going into business as an author you need to develop a thick skin.
For the curious, the Ethical Author Code principles include:
- Courtesy: 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.
- Aliases: 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 behaviour.
- 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.
- Plagiarism: 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.
- Responsibility: I take responsibility for how my books are sold and marketed. If I realise 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 behaviour.
As an ALLi member, you also agree to a Code of Standards that should inform everything that you do as an independent author/publisher. I’m including them here because I think they’re relevant. These include:
- Collaboration: As an ALLi Author Member, I recognise that “self” publishing and “independent” authorship are relative terms and that almost nobody who publishes a good book works alone. I partner with other writers,editors, designers, publicists, distributors, booksellers and readers with courtesy, in a collaborative manner.
- Professionalism: I perform my responsibilities in the publication process in a professional and timely way, providing clear guidelines and thoughtful input to copyeditors, designers, booksellers and all partners, while respecting the expertise of others.
- Community: I am an active part of the Alliance (ALLi’s) community and the wider self-publishing, writing and reading community, freely oﬀring support and the beneﬁt of my experience.
- Engagement: I fully engage with the editorial process – including working with editors in framing and shaping my manuscript, appropriately revising and responding to professional copyediting.
- Editorial & Design: Out of respect to my readers, I aim for as high a quality a publication as possible.
- Scholarship: I am accurate, to the very best of my ability, in all facts and accounts in my publications. I follow publishing standards in crediting all sources of information, obtaining permission to use material for which permission is needed, and avoiding plagiarism or libel.
- Marketing: In reaching out to readers, I do not bombard, spam or force my writing upon others.
- Advocacy: I am an active advocate for the empowerment of writers through self-publishing. I am open and honest about my own experiences and work to beneﬁt and grow our community and extend the possibilities for all writers.
- Improvement: I seek out the training, education, support and coaching I need from books, courses, specialists, other authors and Alliance members.
These lists sound like long and involved commitments, but really the thinking behind them boils down to just a few things – professionalism, trust and honesty. If you’re ticking those three boxes then the rest will fall into place.
By the way, you don’t have to be an ALLi member to take this approach on board – ALLi encourages all authors to aspire to best practice.
For established and budding independent author-publishers, these are traits that should be cultivated and, hopefully down the track, harvested again and again as part of a long and fertile writing career.
This is our promise to our readers.
After all, our words are our bond.