Historical novelist Jane Steen turns the spotlight on ethical issues – an aspect of self-publishing that she deems to be as important as quality in gaining wider acceptance of self-published books.
I’m enthusiastic about the Open Up To Indies campaign, looking forward to the day when it’s commonplace to see indie authors everywhere—bookstores, libraries and award lists.
But as a reader/reviewer, I’m well aware that there are still two stumbling blocks to improving public perception of self-publishing. One of those obstacles—quality—is a constant topic of conversation on self-publishing blogs and forums. The other—ethics—is insufficiently discussed. I’m calling on ALLi to make the public discussion of author ethics a high priority as a corollary to the Open Up To Indies campaign.
The ALLi Code of Standards deals with marketing ethics in the following way:
“Marketing: In reaching out to readers, I do not bombard, spam or force my writing upon others.”
This brief statement is open to wide interpretation. Paid reviews are just one example. ALLi watchdog Giacomo Giammatteo recently questioned the value of a well-known paid review service, but no-one challenges the legitimacy of purchasing a review in a nationally recognized publication.
On the other end of the scale, most of us can recognize that a service provider on fiverr.com who offers to publish a review written by the author for $5—and for an extra $20 will vote down any negative reviews of the book—is working against the Terms of Service of review sites, and thus using him is unethical. But in between these two extremes there are many forms of paid or compensated reviewing arrangements that sometimes shade into the unethical, and occasionally illegal, side of marketing.
Responding to reviews, rating or reviewing your own books, collecting and using email addresses, and working within the terms of service of review sites are other areas where self-publishers rarely agree among themselves. The uncertainty that surrounds ethical issues is compounded by the fact that:
- New self-published authors emerge every day with little experience or knowledge of the publishing world, and often naively and unwittingly find themselves infringing ethical standards.
- Bad advice, sometimes years old, is still circulating on the internet and being sold in the form of cheap or free ebooks.
- The traditional publishing industry has been known to employ questionable marketing strategies—for example, the gaming of bestseller lists is an open secret—and some authors think that in order to compete, we also have to learn to play hardball.
So the subject of ethics is tricky. But we need to tackle it because:
We owe it to our readers.
Readers feel cheated when they buy a book on the basis of glowing reviews, ratings, or bestseller lists, and are then let down by book quality. Encouraging indies to adopt high ethical standards will result in increased reader trust for our individual brands, and those readers will play an important part in putting pressure on bookstores and libraries to stock our books.
We owe it to ourselves. Our indie career is not just about the books we write—it’s about the person we are.
We also owe it to each other. The Open Up To Indies campaign will only convince the “gatekeepers”—who are, after all, far more savvy about the book industry than the average reader—to accept self-published books on the same level as traditionally published books if they feel they can trust in our professionalism and passion for quality.
As this organization’s name states, we are an alliance—we are free to act as individuals, but our separate actions have effects that shape our common industry. It’s high time we began discussing ethics as a key element in empowering self-publishers. An expanded Code of Standards would be a worthy goal. Do you agree?
Please feel free to join the discussion via the Comments box below.
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