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Are You An Ethical Author?

Are You An Ethical Author?

Photo of Jane Steen at her computer

Jane Steen, historical novelist

When concerned author member Jane Steen, wrote a guest post about author ethics here on the Self-Publishing Advice Blog a while back, neither she nor ALLi anticipated the reverberations. Most authors are ethical, yet unethical behaviour is grabbing headlines, bringing our profession into disrepute and frightening reviewers and book bloggers. Could ALLi do something, we were asked. Jane has returned to explain what we've done.

The Ethical Author Code had a tiny beginning. I simply said “I don’t think that’s ethical” during a Facebook discussion.

After five years on Goodreads as a reader and reviewer, I was well aware that marketing tactics many authors regard as smart moves are perceived as manipulative and deceptive by readers. I’d kept quiet about this for a long time because, well, I was a new author and most other authors didn’t seem to think the way I did.

But my remark on Facebook quickly drew support from other authors, and I realized that many of us feel severely challenged by the active and vocal minority who believe that book promotion is an “anything goes” environment where aggressive, underhand business tactics are admirable and bold.

The day I published my first book and expected people to pay for it, I became, in my eyes, a publishing professional, and I’ve come to think that means we should be held to a higher standard than our readers.

Most authors I know personally are consummate professionals who value their readers highly, and wouldn’t dream of cheating them or being rude to them. So why do we put up with the way the minority behave? I decided to take up ALLi’s invitation to write a blog post about ethics, and suggested that our Code of Standards be beefed up to include some ethical guidelines.

In the meanwhile, author-reader relations took a dramatic turn for the worse. An author published by a major imprint wrote for a national newspaper—which should have known better—about how she stalked a reviewer, announcing personal details on a widely read website about the woman who’d called her book “awfully written and offensive.”

Another author traveled from London to Scotland to hit a reviewer over the head with a wine bottle because she’d written a review ending: “It's a real shame because there is plenty of potential here. But nobody wants to read a “potentially good” book. We want to read books polished to perfection, and sadly, I think [this book] is far from perfection.” Much outrage followed on blogs and reader sites; more readers expressed the growing opinion that they’re better off reading books by authors who are no longer living, of which there are plenty.

Not A Self-Publishing Issue
It’s clear that the issue of author ethics transcends how books are published or the success, or otherwise, of the author. The unethical few come from all points along the publishing spectrum, including bestsellers and celebrity writers. This is not a self-publishing versus traditional publishing issue.

It's about giving a voice to more of us who would like to say “I don’t think that’s ethical” more often.

It’s about restoring reader confidence in the majority of authors by giving ethical authors a chance to stand up and be counted.

It’s about guiding new authors toward the formula that has allowed generations of writers to be known for their books, rather than their bad behavior: write well, market hard, and behave like you’re a small business that needs its customers to survive.

Adopting The Code

This is a voluntary act, conceived as an agreement between equals.

The Ethical Author Code is not industry regulation from the top down. We believe all authors, however they publish and however much they earn from their efforts, have an equal stake in a diverse, well-informed, professionally conducted publishing industry.

Our aims in creating this Code are:

  • to give a voice to authors who conduct their businesses ethically and feel that the constant stream of reports and social media posts about and by the less scrupulous is tarnishing the public image of their profession
  • to act as guidelines for new authors who may not be aware of the issues afflicting the publishing world, and to help them avoid some of the common pitfalls;
  • to act as an agreed reference standard against which the actions of authors can be measured;
  • to avoid further deterioration of standards, which may lead to the loss of our current freedoms of choice in how we conduct our businesses and the disappearance of some of the platforms through which authors express themselves and market their work.
  • to emphasise that this is a matter of behaviour, not publication method
  • to reassure readers, reviewers and bloggers, when they see the badge on a book or website, that they are in the presence of an ethical author.

So we invite all authors — whether they self-publish or trade-publish or both, whether they have written one publication or several or have yet to publish, whether they earn a little or a lot, obscure or famous — to read the Code. And, if it aligns with their thinking and behaviour, if this is how they do business as an author, to put their names to it.

Spread The Word
We offer you an Ethical Author badge to display on your website and social media pages. Click here to download one of our badges.

But don’t stop there. Explain to people, especially your readers, what the Code is about and why you’ve adopted it. Link back to it wherever you can. Show it to your publishing partners and service providers. Contribute to improving the Code by joining in discussions about the ethical grey areas in the publishing industry and suggesting additions or changes. Comment on cultural differences between markets.

If you want to let your readers know you’re putting them first, adopt the Ethical Author Code today. It’s a tiny beginning, but perhaps it’ll catch on.


ALLi founder Orna Ross will be presenting ALLi's Ethical Author Code as part of The Futurebook conference's “Big Idea” Panel today.

CLICK HERE TO read the Ethical Author Code and download badges for your website.

Author: Jane Steen

Jane Steen is the author of the House of Closed Doors mystery/saga series set in 1870s Illinois, and of the Scott-De Quincy Mysteries; the first in that series, Lady Helena Investigates, is now available. Born in England, she spent 16 years in Belgium and 19 years in the USA before moving back to the south coast of England. Fun facts: she was named after Jane Eyre, and contrary to all appearances she has a black belt in karate. Be warned. She blogs at www.janesteen.com and reviews and writes features for the Historical Novel Society.


This Post Has 24 Comments
  1. I became proposed this website simply by my personal relation. I am just no longer good whether or not this publish will be published by him or her because nobody know this kind of given pertaining to this trouble. You happen to be amazing! Thanks a lot!

  2. WP Deal Page Fantastic web-site. Plenty of beneficial information and facts below. Now i’m transmitting the idea to a couple friends ans also sharing in yummy. As well as, cheers on your efforts!

  3. I am delighted to read this (and have now put the badge on my blog).
    I’ve felt deeply uncomfortable in recent months with quite how nasty things seem to be at times and had started to feel depressed that once again it seemed that to get on was to do so at the expense of integrity.
    Thank you for this.

  4. As a member of ALLi I’m proud to sign up as an Ethical Author and receive the badge (well, it’s a badge of honour, isn’t it?). I will display it on my website and pass on the word. Thank you Jane Steen for giving me this opportunity.

  5. One more question? If there is an actual problem with unethical authors as you claim, what prevents them downloading the badge and using it? I mean, if they are unethical, it would seem natural for them to do that.

  6. Can you please provide some links to the headlines of unethical authors you refer to? I have yet to see any bad press on this issue.

    1. HI William. Here are two recent well-publicised attacks on reviewers, the first involving an assault with a wine bottle: http://groupthink.jezebel.com/richard-brittain-violently-assaults-book-reviewer-1649170122; the second with dog dirt: http://www.theguardian.com/money/2014/oct/22/amazon-vine-book-reviews-blogging.
      One influential book blogger who tells a story every Thursday about authors who behave badly.
      http://www.pocketfulofbooks.com/p/authors-behaving-badly.html. An article from The Guardian by a writer who admits to stalking and harrassing reviewers: http://www.theguardian.com/books/2014/oct/18/am-i-being-catfished-an-author-confronts-her-number-one-online-critic. There are countless others. Just google it. A number of book bloggers are now refusing to review self-published books, citing bad behaviour as a reason. This is why ALLi decided to pick up the cause.

  7. Brilliant! Are non ALLi members “allowed” to subscribe to this and display the badge, etc? Just because we can access this page and see about it, I know, doesn’t mean we can take part in everything ALLi does (which is completely fair enough), so I just wanted to check. Thank you!

  8. Have just been chatting with some other readers, and we would like the Code to be more specific, and less vague. What specifically is professional behaviour? What is specifically UNethical behaviour? How can readers tell if they’re being put first, or if the author is putting oneself first? A list of specifications would be more helpful for everyone to understand, so that authors know what they’re sticking up for, and for readers to have a clearer view of what to – and what NOT to – expect from ethical authors.

    1. Thanks so much for the feedback Tez and we will take it on board.This is very much the first swing at the conversation… and Jane and all at ALLi are welcoming feedback. We want to make this useful. I think a way to do this might be to include examples on each part of the code — happy to hear any specifics you might want to email to us. Thanks so much for your interest.

  9. Thanks Mari! I really do feel that the overwhelming majority of authors are perfectly ethical, and it’s about time we stood up and were counted. Our readers need to know that ethics are a concern for us. Do spread the word and try to get more authors interested–and, wouldn’t it be great, perhaps a few publishers?

  10. Thanks for this, Jane – both for writing the original blog post, and for this follow-up. I too have been dismayed by recent events, which have underlined how suspect some authors’ ethical standards are. As you say, it’s an industry-wide problem that transcends the traditionally/self-published divide, and it needs to be addressed. The ethical author campaign is much needed and long overdue; I’ve already signed up, and will do my best to spread the word. Hopefully it’ll catch on!

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