In this month’s Advanced Self-Publishing Salon from the Alliance of Independent Authors, Orna Ross and Joanna Penn discuss ethics. The need for book reviews, the desirability of bestseller badges, the value in superfast author business models can put a strain on ethics. Sometimes authors make mistakes inadvertently, sometimes we stretch the rules on purpose.
Orna and Joanna look at recent controversies in the community around plagiarism, ghostwriting, reviews, and bestseller listings and ask: how far would you go to ensure your book is successful?
The AskALLi podcasts are sponsored by Damonza: Books Made Awesome.
Topics discussed this week include:
- Orna previews some changes coming on the ALLi website as we approach our seventh birthday.
- How do global changes in copyright law impact indie authors?
- A discussion about a recent ghostwriting/plagiarism scandal that rocked the indie Romance world.
- Is there a gray area between writing that’s your own and something you picked up elsewhere? What are the limits of fair use?
- Where does AI fit into this issue of authorship?
If you haven’t already, we invite you to join our organization and become a self-publishing ally. You can do that at http://allianceindependentauthors.org.
Now, go write and publish!
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About the Hosts
Joanna Penn is a New York Times and USA Today bestselling thriller author, as well as writing non-fiction for authors. She is also a professional speaker and entrepreneur, voted as one of The Guardian UK Top 100 creative professionals 2013. She spent 13 years as a business IT consultant in large corporations across the globe before becoming a full-time author-entrepreneur in September 2011. For more information about Joanna, visit her website: http://thecreativepenn.com
Orna Ross launched the Alliance of Independent Authors at the London Book Fair in 2012. Her work for ALLi has seen her named as one of The Bookseller’s “100 top people in publishing”. She also publishes poetry, fiction and nonfiction, and is greatly excited by the democratising, empowering potential of author-publishing. For more information about Orna, visit her website: http://www.ornaross.com
Read the Transcripts
Joanna: Hi everyone and welcome to the March 2019 Alliance of Independent Authors Advanced Self Publishing Salon with me, Joanna Penn and Orna Ross. Hi, Orna.
Orna: Hi Joanna and hello everybody. Welcome.
Joanna: And we always have a hilarious beginning to these sessions. Now today we have a very exciting topic for discussion – our theme for tonight is Ethics for Authors – talking about plagiarism, ghostwriting and more. I guess before we get into our news, Orna, why are we talking about this this evening?
Orna: Well, there’s a major sort of scandal has broken in the community, again causing all sorts of concerns and all sorts of opinions to be aired. But I think ethics for authors is something that, you know, because it’s not purely an indie thing by any means and it affects all authors and we all need to think about it, but the amount of freedom and control and so on that you get from being indie means that there is more responsibility in our work lives probably than we’ve got more control over who we hire and you know, all those kinds of things. So it’s always a topic that’s worth thinking about.
We have a code. We had an author ethics campaign some years ago and that has stayed live. People download our badge that says “I am an ethical author.” Very, you know, we get regular downloads from that every week. And so it is something that matters a lot to some authors to ensure that people understand that they’re ethical and it’s something that I probably should matter to us all. It’s certainly is important for the community. So do you want to tell the story of what’s going on?
Joanna: Well, I think that we’ll come back to that. Before we get into the detail, I just wanted to give it a little highlight before we get into our theme. But first of all, very important to remind everyone that although we talk about this every month, we also are writers and also we need an update on ALLi. So, Orna, tell us what has ALLi been up to in the last month and also what have you been up to?
Orna: Okay, well ALLi is undergoing a major sort of, we’re seven years old. We’re about to celebrate our seventh birthday.
Orna: Yay! At the London Book Fair where we launched seven years ago. I have been reading and hearing since we came along, this is a very typical time for an organization to kind of change its structures and processes and refine. It’s kind of the time at which people either stop and say, “Okay, that was a project I did it, it’s over.” Or “I want something that’s going to last and go on and on and on.” And we certainly wanted to be the latter.
So we’re going through major process upgrades and website upgrades free from our conference, our advice center and our ALLi membership centre. That’s fun. Lots of tech, lots of computers but It will be great at the end because you know, again, things grow up organically and they need a lot of tidying. So we’re in the middle of that.
Meanwhile, there is a major issue around copyright. I’m going on through Europe because there’s a directives that’s causing a lot of controversy. But around the world there are various countries updating their copyright policy taking into account Big Tech generally speaking and not really seeing the smaller people like us. So we’re working hard on getting a copyright policy together that will actually allow indies to understand better what’s at stake and to have some core principles that we can take no matter what country you live in.
Because copyright law varies from territory to territory, there are lots of territories that don’t have any at all, but author’s income rests on copyright, really. So it’s a very, very important topic. And again, we’re taking lots of soundings and speak to lots of people and at various levels and with various levels of interest. So yeah, it’s, it’s all that kind of stuff this month.
Joanna: It’s kind of crazy. It feels, also, I think, like you said about the seven year thing, the seven years, the last seven years have seen huge upheaval in the digital space, which kind of have coincided with ALLi. And of course, ALLi only exists because of the changes in tech. Like, you know, we wouldn’t be doing this without good or bad, Amazon, wonderfully good, but also some difficulty and we’ll come back to that.
But it is interesting because copyright, we all think we know what it is, but of course it’s much more complicated than that. And we’ll come back to plagiarism as well, but it does feel like, you know, copyright is a big global issue. And when you publish globally, like we do, I mean, you upload a book onto, you know, Amazon, Kobo, Apple Books, all the usual suspects and you’re available in like 190 countries around the world. So all these things have to apply. But of course, we just take for granted, I think, the situation, so I can see that this is-
There we go! I’m just going to carry on. So we’ve got this global copyright issue, which, you know, thank you for looking at this. I’ve certainly been saying to people that I can’t really have an opinion on the EU copyright directive, for example, until, you and all the people who sort of very intelligently looking at the law, come out with something. So thank you for doing that work and we will look forward to that. On a more creative note, what has Orna Ross been up to?
Orna: Praise be for poetry. That’s all I can say. Cause when you turn from copyrights law you need something that goes deep and fast. So, it’s still a lot of poetry for me. And any regular listeners here or readers of my blog will know that poetry just jumped up and kind of hit me around the head last year and said “Hello, you know, start treating me properly.”
So it’s been fantastic for me as a writer, just as a publisher because it’s making me think about everything I do in a much more streamed way. And, you know, it’s kind of obvious stuff if you do one, if you do one thing then self-publishing is straightforward. If you, as many of us do, are in self publishing because you love to do lots of different things, then it’s less straightforward and it’s, well it is still straight forward, but it’s just more work because you have to stream everything. And I realized really there is no way around this except multiply everything by four because I have four distinct different sorts of things that I do.
Orna: And there’s no point in talking to people who are interested in self publishing about poetry, for example, if they’re not also interested in poetry and it’s all very obvious and it is very good actually for me in terms of understanding the different challenges of the different formats like nonfiction, fiction and poetry are all slightly different. There’s loads that they share but there’s loads that’s different.
So yeah, just from me personally, I’ve been streaming my own four micro niches to make them all align up and make sure that people get what they’re looking for from me and go through the right, you know, follows into the right places and get the right communications and so on. And Patreon is the other thing that I’ve been thinking a lot about, its value and its worth and the whole idea of how authors get paid and just constantly looking at different ways for that and exploring different options. So yeah, that’s me. What have you been up to?
Joanna: Oh, well it’s funny you talk about different streams. I’ve been working a lot on my new site, which I’m going to announce on next month’s show cause it’s not quite ready for unveiling yet. But essentially, I’m the same as you. You know, I’ve kind of realized that I want to do content around my fiction themes, the themes of my fiction, which is another nonfiction space but it feeds my fiction.
So, I will be opening putting that together. And that’s another website. It’s going to be under my JF Penn name. I’m actually, I’ve been practicing the beginning. I’m Jo Frances Penn. I’m coming out as Jo Frances Penn because JF is so difficult to say. Little tip for people. Be very careful with your initials. This has been a bane for me, for, will be forever because of course when I started out, I didn’t say things out loud so much.
And this has kind of been the other thing this month is the audio. So if people don’t listen to my podcast on the Creative Penn podcast this week, I did seven reasons why you should narrate your own audio books and also included a little sample of A Thousand Fiendish Angels, which is now live. So I have put my narration of fiction now in the world and also have been doing a lot around being a better publisher this month.
So I’m getting really going through all my backlist anything where I could get the audio rights back I’ve been publishing on Find A Way. I’m really focusing on the Authors Direct, which is how you can sell audio direct on Find A Way Voices through an app. Now, I’ve been selling audio for nearly 10 years, but you had to download an MP3 and then upload it to your device.
Whereas this is like Audible on your phone or Storyteller, one of the others. So the quality is much better. So I’m moving to try and look at how to sell audio direct through Authors Direct. And obviously the revenue model is much better.
Also starting to see, starting to see some library sales through Find A Way, which is thrilling because this is the cool thing, you’ll like this, right? Instead of paying, well they can buy the audiobook outright or they can pay per checkout. So you get recurring revenue and this is the point people you want per checkout because yeah, it’s like 90 cents per checkout, but it’s unlimited. Whereas if you’ve got 15 bucks, that’s 15 people. So that’s really been really interesting.
And then also I’m around 15,000 words into Map of Plagues, which is my next dark, dark fantasy. And in that difficult, challenging, creative cycle where you’re like, cause I’m a discovery writer, I know the characters, I know the worlds but I’m like, what is going on? So I’m at 15,000 and this morning I stopped and went, “Okay, let me really, you know, have a think about how this is going to go.” So it’s exciting, but you also feel a bit kind of crap and self doubt and all of that. So I just thought I’d tell people I’m in that first draft phase, not the high point of first draft.
Orna: But it’s great to tell people because I think, you know, if it’s your first time out, you know, you think you’re alone with this stuff, you know, you don’t understand that this is actually just part of the process and that It happens. It doesn’t matter if you’ve done it, how many books have you now, 40 or something? It doesn’t matter-
Orna: It doesn’t matter that you’ve done it so many times before when you’re at that stage, the process you’re at that stage, the process and feeling a bit silly and exposed and icky and kind of, “Ah, I don’t want to do this. Why am I doing this?” It’s kind of just going to happen. And the whole thing is get over yourself and just do the next bit, isn’t it? It’s just, you know-
Joanna: Yeah. I think it’s scheduled the time and that’s what I keep saying to myself is look, you know, you go to the desk or wherever you’re going, I go to the cafe and you have your time. And like this morning I did no new words at all, but I worked on kind of and trying to understand and make notes around what some people might call an outline, but considering, yeah, it’s not really an outline is just trying to organize my thoughts more, especially around theme, theme and character and plot and trying to put it all together.
And yeah, it’s messy. It’s really messy. It’s the messy beginning as far I am, but it’s also really fun because it’s where I really discover what I’m thinking. And the theme has definitely emerged for me. And as we talked about before, it originated in my Brexit. It was my Brexit book, My borders book. I’m still on that theme anyway. Right. We should, move on. So are we ready for the theme?
Orna: I think so, yeah. Because there’s a lot to talk about here, I think. It raises so many different issues, doesn’t it? So-
Orna: So do you want to tell the story of the latest scandal?
Orna: It’s not funny, actually, it really is quite serious at lots of levels.
Joanna: So, this has been reported in a reputable newspapers like the Guardian and various other places. So this is not gossip anymore. This is, you know, being reported in newspapers, but let’s say “allegedly” anyway, because just to be clear, okay, so an author, let’s just call her, Christianne has basically used ghostwriters to put together a number of books, I think 25 plus books and it turns out that those books are copied and pasted a from around, the number is now over 51 authors have been plagiarized in these works, including a lot of big name Indie authors Bella Andre, who we know, Courtney Milan, and also even people like Diana Gabaldon and Nora Roberts who let’s face it, are the Queens of romance. And you have to have some serious yeah to plagiarize them.
And so what’s, what then kind of, well, first of all, it’s very interesting because she, there are scammers who have just downloaded books and re-uploaded them onto Amazon and just taking a straight book and put their name on it or put someone else’s name on it. But this is actually like a mishmash of different people’s books in each individual book. Then a ghostwriter has knitted it together. So what has happened with this scandal is first of all, obviously plagiarism, but two, there’s been a lot of discussion around using ghostwriters for putting out the fast production business model type books.
Now, Courtney Milan is a lawyer and first picked this up and then Nora Roberts herself has been blogging about it and has talked about how this has happened to her a number of times. This is not just an indie problem, this is an industry wide problem. And then Christine Catherine Rush has also talked about it from a perspective of voice and kind of questioning why, you know, or just discussing the purpose of using ghostwriters and also questioning the role of Amazon KDP Select fast production model, which we’ve talked about before.
And that, I guess that’s kind of the broad strokes of the issue. So what I wanted to do was to start with looking at what the definitions are. Because what I don’t like about this whole thing is it’s become, you know, I’ve seen things on Twitter around, “Oh, all self publishers are plagiarizers, all ghostwriters are terrible. You should never use a ghostwriter.” You know, all of this type of stuff that to me has become bound up in one big issue. So is that alright, Orna, should we start with some definitions?
Orna: Yeah, I mean, it’s pretty simple. To me it’s a matter of intent. You know, a plagiarist is somebody who take somebody else’s words and passes them off as their own. No credit, no money. That’s it. I’m pretending I wrote these and I’m doing it for my own personal gain. So that one is simple and it goes from-
Joanna: And that is illegal. That is illegal.
Orna: Thanks to copyright law, which is why we have to spend hours and hours looking at copyright law because it’s copyright that gives us that protection. It wasn’t always there. That was, you know, I mean, books started with people just copying, that’s how books began with monks copying words down to, it’s only as time progressed that we got such a thing as copyright. So plagiarism’s outright illegal.
Joanna: But what if we quite someone because, where is the line between what’s acceptable and what’s not, or what if we get a plot idea from something else or we, you know, a boy meets girl, happily ever after. I mean, plots have all been done, right? So what’s plagiarism and what is just modeling?
Orna: You can’t plagiarize a plot or, even an idea, the copyright is in the expression of the idea, not the idea itself. So we often get actually members who think their book has been ripped off because somebody else has written a book about something similar. And actually that seems to happen, certain ideas surface and lots of people at the same time, that’s not plagiarism. And that’s actually perfectly valid.
Because really when you buy a book, I mean romance is where this scandal has happened and essentially everybody knows what happens at the end of romance. You know, and everybody knows the tropes and everybody knows the twists and turns, it’s how you tell that story is what makes it compelling. And it is that idea of intent. So you know there is also a scenario where most of us when we are writing something, we will be researching around it, we will be taking great chunks into our notes and you know, copying and pasting ideas that are of interest to us and blah blah.
And there can be a gray area between you know, what you use, what you, what is your own idea, what you picked up in a book. Everything in this business is grey. There are shades of grey and how you isolate it, I think two tools for isolating what’s ethical, which is kind of the broader topic we’re talking about here is number one is money.
Just see have people being paid fairly and squarely for what they’d done. And number two is intent. So, you know, when you quote a writer’s words at a minimum, even if it’s a small amount and you are taking their direct words and even if it’s one sentence, quote their name for heaven sake, don’t just put it down there without saying and don’t just say a writer said or according to this book I read, you know, you got the words from them, you’re using them be fair.
The concept of fair use allows for, and again, it’s grey, it’s a shade of grey, allows for a certain amount of quotation. And as authors we like, we want to be quoted and we want our ideas to have influence and impact and they won’t, you know how an academic book is judged to be good is by the number of citations it has. You know, so that’s how you actually know whether a book is influential or not. So nobody’s talking here about not spreading the word and not, you know, putting other people’s words into works. That’s not what we’re talking that. But passing them off as your own, cutting and pasting in order to make money out of somebody else’s words is not on.
Joanna: So just, just to be clear, cause you know, behind me, next to you there, we both, I think I do, I’m sure you do. We use quotes in every single book. Even in our fiction. I mean I always have a quote or two at the beginning of a novel, I might have a character say, “Oh, and I remember when I read that thing” and then quote within the novel, but the character kind of says the name. So we both do this and this comes under fair use. You know, which is taking a small, a snippet almost of somebody’s work and saying that you got them from them.
So that’s also often including a bibliography in a nonfiction book and maybe in an author’s note at the back of a fiction book you’d be referring to it, but it has nothing to do with copying and pasting whole paragraphs or chunks and putting them within the story, which is what has happened here, which is directly plagiarism. Right?
Orna: Absolutely. And just one word before we leave fair use. Faire use is defined by the texts that you took it from. So with a poem, a short poem, you could actually be outside of fair use with two lines, but with a very long book, you know, with a 10 volume book, you could actually possibly quote a whole chapter and it could be fair use if it was, I don’t know why you would ever want to quote a whole chapter, but you know, I’m just making a point.
So fair use depends on the size of the texts that it is taken from and that’s why song lyrics are so expensive in permissions departments. Now there’s an interesting service coming up around this, a new way of managing permissions for publishing houses because they’re managed very badly and check again is coming in as a new tool which might change some of how this happens in practice but it won’t change the copyright law on which it rests.
Joanna: Well, this is why this is interesting and why I think that this author has done what they have because and Nora Robert’s post said it best. She has said something like “If it can be shown that plagiarism has occurred because and this, this is an interesting question. So she, say took certain chunks of Nora Roberts and space them between, say, 30 books, but each book was not necessarily beyond the limits of fair use. If you do that, it may be that by some random technicality she is under fair use even though she didn’t quote the names of the authors who made up that bit.
I can only think that’s the reason you would do that much work in plagiarizing things because you’ve basically split everything across. And Nora’s post was interesting on that because she’s been through it before and it has to relate to the original work. And her books are really long. So it may be, there may be a gray line, but to me it’s not. Here we’re talking legalities versus ethics. To me, if you are trying to pass someone’s work off as you’re own, even if it could come under fair use, I still don’t believe that’s ethical, right?
Orna: Absolutely. And it does sound like it’s somebody who thinks they can protect themselves by doing it in this way. But I would think if such a case ever came to court, and that’s the other thing about all of this. we have legal protection around this stuff, but you know, these cases are very, very rarely taken, almost never. So but if it did go to court this is where intent would come in, if it was clearly taken. Okay.
And this is also where technology does us some favours because somebody who did that, you know, 10 or 15 years ago would not get caught. But now it’s the simplest thing, you know, every teacher in the land knows how to find out whether Johnny’s wonderful essay actually came from little Johnny or you know, was cut and paste last night before he fell into bed. So, it’s not hard for people to find even a few sentences.
Joanna: Yeah, online.
Orna: Yeah, online. You just put them into Google and Google is a miracle. It will tell you if somebody has written something in exactly that way before. So I would think if this ever did get to court, that this author would be on very shaky ground and that would be around the intent thing. It would clearly be not only were you doing this to pass it off but you were also trying to be super clever by-
Joanna: Doing it this way.
Orna: Cutting and pasting so many different people, so many different authors, so many different books.
Joanna: She’s actually in Brazil, which makes it more difficult. Again, this is the cross border thing. This is why and we’re not, you know, we’re not, I’m not saying this to make it funny or anything, but this is why this is interesting because these are issues that are on this global scale that affect all of us. And of course we want authors in Brazil to be as protected as authors in America or Britain or India or wherever in the world. And ethics are also cross border. So there are ethical authors all over the world and there are also scam artists all over the world. So we, we can’t tar everybody in different places with the same brush. So I want to talk about little Johnny who you just mentioned. So little Johnny, instead of plagiarizing, little Johnny hired a ghost writer to write his school essay. So let us move on to ghostwriting.
Orna: Little Johnny, read less, *inaudible* money?
Joanna: So let’s talk about ghost writing. Cause I know lots of ghost writers, we’ve got members in the Alliance. so what is ghostwriting and when is ghost writing used in the traditional publishing industry and why has ghost writing become a thing in Indie?
Orna: Yeah, well, ghostwriting is as old as writing, you know, and very often if you see a prolific author, there’s somebody behind them some doing some or at least writing up, you know, certain parts and passages. So that’s where it happens at a minimal level. In trade publishing, it’s widespread for celebrity biographies.
Anybody that they want to put their name on the cover but the person can’t write then, you know, they get a ghostwriter and sometimes that ghostwriter is credited and the book is written jointly, you know, and so with or you know, some other preposition but sometimes not, sometimes the deal is it’s highly confidential and, you know, I know lots of ghostwriters, and lots of people whose books are out there that I know we’re not actually written by them. And it’s interesting, some of those. So that’s okay. Absolutely fine. Ghostwriting is a very honest and completely wonderful way to actually, I think you have to be a very giving and very service-minded person to, you know, do all that work and do it in a way that somebody else can use it and benefit from it and then turn over here and do somebody else.
And it’s a wonderfully clever and it’s a gift, that sort of ventriloquism ,not everybody can do it and it’s in high demand. And this is the point I think, ghostwriters need to be paid, deserve to be paid. So that’s part of the lack of ethics in this case if everything we’ve heard about it is to be believed and the people who did the work pasting together and the plagiarized bits weren’t paid properly either. So you know, another big ethical issue in the community and not just indeed around ghostwriting. So as authors, I think one of the things we need to look at as we hire our editors, our designers and so on is how we are treating our teams and the people who, who produce work for us. And if we do use a ghost writer, asking questions, I thought Christine Catherine Rush was interesting.
She was very much saying, you know, don’t hire a ghost, get a collaborator, put their name up, share the income, I feel like and that is another way to go. And if you are deciding “I don’t want a ghost writ-, I don’t want to get, sorry, I need somebody to help people with this.” Why are you choosing a ghostwriter versus a collaborator, which would be better for the project, you know, which is better. It’s sometimes we think too much about the costs and not enough about the return on the investment and so on. But ghost writing is very time intensive, very skilled work and deserves to be paid well.
Joanna: Yeah. And I think that’s really important. I know I’ve co written now seven books, so, and you’ve co-written a number as well, haven’t you?
Orna: A few, yeah.
Joanna: Within the ALLi community. And I think co-writing’s completely different because with co-writing you do things together. So sometimes people do co-write novels. So me and my mom, she did the first draft, but I did a lot of work, so much work that it was co-written, not just a piece of editing. So, and we have a third name, Penny Appleton, which was our third name. So I mean that’s co-written under another name. That’s what’s so fascinating. There are so many things, but to me, co-writing, you’re both in it. You both put up money for the costs and you both share in the revenues, even if the revenue is zero, which happens with a lot of people.
Whereas the ghostwriter is a professional writer who you’re paying up front to produce that work and they have no share in the revenue once it sells. And I’ve heard of, you know, traditional publishers doing this for novels. It’s very common in nonfiction. That’s just, you know, it’s very, very common in nonfiction. In fiction I think it’s less common, you know, possibly because you know, people like writing their own novels.
I mean, I was saying to my husband, I was like, well, I’m, you know, I’m struggling with my first draft,, but that’s part of the challenge. It’s part of the reason we write is because we write. That’s what we enjoy doing with our time. So I guess, I just wanted to point out the difference between co-writing and ghostwriting. I think you would choose different things for different reasons, but there is the cost upfront is quite different too, would you say that?
Orna: Yeah. And I suppose that decision is a bit like, you know, with translation, do you share the costs or do you actually pay somebody to write. And so on, at each of the stages of the publishing process, actually, you can bring in collaborators or you can hire, and I agree with you. It’s unusual to ghost for fiction because of the motivation to write fiction is usually, well, it’s crazy, but it’s there and you can’t help it and you know, you just have to do it and it doesn’t make a lot of sense.
However, there are novels that have been ghost-written and quietly so, and there are also novels that had been so heavily edited into existence that really the editor’s name should be on the cover and so on. And I think this is one of the opportunities that we have as indie authors respecting, and this is an ethical point for me, respecting our coworkers.
You know, we hire designers, we hire editors at a minimum, an editor, probably designer as well and other people to help us with all the aspects of running our business or whatever it might be and respecting those people as professionals, you know, crediting them for the work that they have done, paying them properly, paying them on time, all those kinds of things fall into our own ethical model.
And I think as authors we can often feel a bit hard done by, because let’s face it, it’s hard to make a living as an author and as a self publisher, it’s not easy work and publishing books for money. And so we can feel very tight and like we don’t have any money for anybody else in this process. And we can spend a lot of time and stuff having arguments with people that could have, would be better spent, you know, just paying people properly. And I think it’s something that we, some of us, we definitely need to think about, so there’s so many issues in ethics actually. Yeah.
Joanna: Yeah. And we’ll, we’ll come back to the list in a minute but the other thing is contracts. So if you’re going to work with a professional ghostwriter who is someone who does this, then you will also have a contract with them. And that contract should say, there will always generally be a warranty in any publishing contract, which says, you know, XX warrants that this work is original and is not plagiarized and that should be part of the contract. Certainly that’s in publisher’s contract with authors. And also it’s in the, I mean, the Amazon terms of service. People are like, “Oh, how does Amazon allow us to happen?” It’s actually not up to Amazon to police these works, it’s up to you. When you click the button that says you agree to their terms of service, you’re actually saying that you’re not plagiarizing.
Joanna: So that’s another thing. The onus is on you. And originally the author in question blamed the ghost writers. Although they later proved that that perhaps it was her, perhaps allegedly. But the point is that it doesn’t matter even if the ghostwriter did plagiarize, she still uploaded a book and she was the one, who said this was not plagiarized, that this was an original work. So again, so many things involved.
But let’s sort of move on to something that, Christine Catherine Rush has certainly talked about. And Nora Roberts also mentioned, I should say with Nora a few years ago, she was less inclined to say positive things about self publishing. But interestingly, interestingly, she has now said there are plenty of ethical self publishers. I can’t remember the exact quote from her blog, but she did put, you know, there all professional people doing this. And she did quite clearly make a difference between people who are doing this for the right reasons.
And people who aren’t. So I thought that was interesting because she’s clearly moved on indies, and this is not an indie thing, but she and Christine Catherine Rush did mention that the write faster publish faster mentality plus KDP Select plus all star bonuses, which are given to the authors who make stacks, you know, stacks of sales within a particular month. And David Gaughran who has put out a lot of stuff around this in the past, has shown that scammers have got all star bonuses, not taking anything away from the real authors who have received all star bonuses because there’s lots of them too. But what’s interesting is the question is the rise of ghostwriting within indie to do with this publish faster mentality and what do we do about that?
Orna: Yeah, I think it’s to do, I think it’s to do something we can’t do anything about it, which is human venality. You know, it’s, it’s that if you can get away with a way to make money easily, then there will be people there trying to do that. And that’s always going to be the way. And that’s human nature. I don’t think there is a lot we can do about it, but I definitely think, you know, is it the model that makes it happen?
It’s the ability of Amazon KDP to deliver an income to the, you know, the more stuff you put out, the more money you make. And that’s the model. So it’s an abundance model and I can’t see what you can do about that without returning to gatekeepers things, that’s just the way it is. I think one of the things actually that Amazon does very well, but it doesn’t get credit for and it’s not getting a lot of credit for a lot of things at moment because those are lots of things going a bit wonky, but they will be fixed I’m sure, over time.
But one of the things that it does do well is actually draw those lines between what is and isn’t acceptable at that level. Now actually ensuring that it happens, that the right people are caught and they really do rely on the community to notice this stuff and to bring it to their attention. When it is noticed and brought to their attention they’re not always rushing to fix it either, it has to be said that they’ve got other things on their plate that day and that week, that month. And sometimes it takes, you know, the story breaking before they will actually take action on it. But when they do take action, it’s pretty definite. You know, once they decide what they’re doing and these things do take time. You can’t make up your mind overnight. You can’t just take hearsay as truth, you have to investigate and so on. And so I think they do about as much as they can do. I think the problem is in that one platform, I don’t think we see a lot of this problem on other platforms but perhaps you do and it just hasn’t surfaced yet. I’m not sure about that.
Joanna: Yeah, I mean I think there have been cases if you are exclusive to Amazon, then there have been cases where people’s books have been put up on the other platforms by other people because they’re not there. So this is another kind of, if you’re pro-wide like I am and like you are, although we’re happy with other people’s choices, then, you know, that’s something I don’t worry about because my books are everywhere now. I’m pretty sure my books are plagiarized. My website gets plagiarized every single day. My Youtube channel gets plagiarized every single day and I do not, I occasionally do take down notices when I’m really annoyed, as in I go on this website, I get some ping and I realized they’ve taken four years worth of my website. Which that kind of thing does slightly annoyingme.
Joanna: Just coming back to what you, so I guess I’m with you on this is human nature. Scammers will scam and the faster things change, the faster people will find the latest loopholes. So we’re not going to see humans change in any way. We’ll hopefully have more technology that will help. But, the other thing I was going to say around gatekeepers is because Nora, this stuff around how it all happened to her when there were gatekeepers. And in fact the way she was treated by her agent and the publisher, they basically told her the author who had been plagiarized to go through this other author’s work and find all the bits that she wanted taken out. And because she was a newer author at the time, kind of started to do that, really interesting blog post.
So this is, and there are a lot of court cases, there’s a very interesting book out right now called Hollywood Versus The Author, don’t know if you’ve seen that, it’s very, very good, and some essays by indies in there but some essays telling some quite incredibly awful stories about Hollywood and ideas and not just ideas, but scripts being taken. So this, I don’t think we can say that gatekeepers would even solve this because I’ve seen this as well on Twitter. Oh, lets just go back to publishers and agents that won’t change human nature,
Orna: No, I didn’t mean to imply that for a second. Absolutely not. No way.
Joanna: I know you didn’t, but I saw people replying in that way. Like they’re the only way we could fix this is by only agents and publishers having the right to publish, but that won’t, no that’s not going to change it either. So to me the feeling is, yes, be aware, but as ever we always say this, it’s like, just focus on writing your stuff that you love. And one of the things Christine Catherine Rush says is readers love authors because of their voice, because they are the original voice. And people buy your books because they want your voice.
And if you’re just writing, it’s writing voice or audio, it’s audio voice but these are, you can’t fake that, you know, I mean, yes, there can you’ve said some very good ghost writers can kind of fake that, can be a proper ghosts, but most of us, that’s why we’re doing this. So I think again, we just, you just carry on, you can’t let this stuff drive you nuts. You have to be aware of it, but don’t stop doing what you’re doing because you’re going mad.
Orna: Yeah, and I do think that this is something that’s happening more in the high selling genre, you know for a lot of writers this is unlikely to happen, certainly not something to be getting worried about. I think it’s just interesting because the way it feeds into author ethics generally, we’ve a comment from Tam and May saying, you know, personal ethics are personal and if you plagiarize you ultimately have to live with yourself and no amount of millions will take that away and that’s where you come back to intent. There are authors who wouldn’t dream in a million years of plagiarizing either because they have good ethics but also because that would take all the fun out of the whole point of writing and I think that is the healthiest way to be an author, you know, is that you are not, anyone who’s in the writing game for purely commercial motives is in the wrong game.
There are definitely are easier ways to make money, even as a scammer, you know, it’s not, it’s not that lucrative really and it’s a lot of work and so on. I think there is a status thing as well and definitely not all the people are doing it not just for commercial reasons, but there is the creative reason of actually making a book, challenging yourself, you know, going through what you were talking about, you’re going through there with the first draft at the beginning or at the end, that editing phase where you’re just constantly trying to get to the end and trying to serve the reader really by editing, self editing and you know, what that does to us as a human being. While we absolutely give out about it at the time as we go through it, I think, I have this theory that’s actually why we do it, because we want to have to experience, we want to be honed in that way as individuals, either intellectually or emotionally or both. So-
Joanna: And actually, yeah. And that ties into, we didn’t cover a new segment because we thought we had too much to talk about, but this month has also seen open AI, did you hear me talk about this?
Orna: Yeah. Sounds super exciting.
Joanna: Yeah, just so people know, open AI have been releasing their research on AI and they, this month they said, we can’t release this technology because it’s too dangerous. It is a text generator that actually has a voice. So it does have a voice. You can feed it, one journalist from the Guardian fed her articles in and it actually wrote an article or you know, completed some things that sounded like her. And the response to this has been, this is, this is the thing, this is the great leap forward with AI generating text that actually works. And I mean, I’m very excited about AI.
I’ve got lots of, I want it to be a tool like the Internet is a tool, like electricity is a tool. That’s how I think of it. But of course, if you bring open AI into the plagiarism thing, if, for example, you fed open AI or whatever you want to call it, all of Nora Roberts’ books, and she has a lot, I think she’s about 400 novels. She’s is hugely, she is prolific. She is the fast production model.
Orna: She sure is.
Joanna: She writes a book every 30 days or something. If you fed this AI all of her books and then it spat out something that was not anything she had actually written in any of her books, but it was in her voice who would be, would there be plagiarism there? And this is, we can’t, we can’t answer this because that is where copyright law is going to have to go. If an AI generates a book out of material train that it trained on, who does that belong to? And that’s fascinating. And we, yeah. So anyway, that kind of ties into all it-
Orna: And I think it also raise the question, which isn’t quite around ethics but is, does land in the same places, that kind of deep conversation you need to have with yourself about your own ethics and exploration of yourself is in that scenario, where AI can do those things, what value are we bringing. What, you know, what do we bring as human beings when it can do a lot of the things that we think are uniquely human when, because we’re upon that, you know, we’re not far away from that. What’s the writer bringing, and I think in that sense a lot of the other things that we’ve been talking about on other shows recently about that connection, that human connection, I think that’s one reason that people read is to have that connection. So the connection may move from the actual text in the book and become more about what’s going on around the book and knowing that it is a human being and having a relationship with the person.
And this is where your whole thing around voice and narrating your own work and all that kind of, or even what we’re doing here now as as people are listening to us having this chat, you know, we need to, as indies who are ahead of the game and who generally do well by being ahead of the game, we need to get a little bit ahead of that game I think and think about what our value is going to be in a world where text becomes something that’s very easy to make because text has been something has been very difficult to make.
And again, historically, if you look back through the years, it’s just been getting easier and easier very, very slowly. It took two centuries to industrial production books but since then, which was the 19th century, it’s gone very, very speedily and it’s speeding up at an enormous rate. So it’s actually going to be very easy to produce good text, a challenge that was very difficult for human beings for a very long time. So what now? What happens now? How do you please your reader now? What are you going to give that’s of value, how are you going to serve?
Joanna: Yeah, I think we probably need a whole session on that another time because I find it fascinating. I’m actually interviewing an Oxford professor in this area in about two weeks, two or three weeks on my podcast and he’s written a book on creativity and AI and it is absolutely fascinating. So while we just have a little bit of time left, let’s just briefly outline some of the ethical author code because some people might be surprised, you know, it’s not just, “Yes, I am ethical.” There are actually some statements that you can assess yourself and decide, “Yeah, okay. I’m good with that and I think that that’s quite good. So shall I just read one and you comment on it? Should we do it that way?
Orna: Yeah, sure.
Joanna: Okay. Alright. So the first one, “I do not hide behind an alias to boost my own sales or damage the sales or reputation of another person.” What’s that all about? Is that about that sock puppet thing a few years ago?
Orna: Well, you know, different parts of this code have emerged out of different controversies but also out of just what is fair and reasonable and a lot of authors use pen names. I use a pen name myself and that’s absolutely fine. But you know, we did have people yeah, who were setting up different identities and still do, I mean online, it’s not difficult to set yourself up in a way and we have had only very recently, we have currently got a question in ALLi about an author who has, it looks like, you know, gone out of her way to kind of bring down another competing author. So, yeah, it’s just about saying it’s fine to have a pen name and don’t get confused though, that doesn’t mean you can review your own books or you know, damage somebody else or boost yours, you know, buy loads and loads of your own book. You will get caught, but it’s not ethical.
Joanna: It’s not ethical. Okay. So, on reviews, it says, I do not review or rate my own or another’s books in any way that misleads or deceive the reader. This is a good one. I mean I get asked every single day to do book review swaps. I actually don’t do reviews at all anymore on Amazon, haven’t for years because, well, I think maybe I still do if they’re an audio book or something, but because I can be linked to so many people through the interviews and everything and I definitely do not do swaps as such. Now I know that’s very common in the author community. So where’s the line on reviews and ratings?
Orna: Yeah. You know, ethically review swaps are not ethical. Reviews are there, reader reviews, now we’re talking about reader customer reviews are supposed to come from readers and customers. It’s pretty simple really. Authors find that hard and I understand because reviews are so key to success, really, in terms of being able to get certain promotions and so on. I do think sometimes maybe that’s a little bit overplayed as well and that people have all sorts of opinions about the importance of reviews or so many reviews of this number, this must happen in order for that to happen. It’s a lot of misinformation about reviews.
But essentially, the real way to, to handle this is to let, you know, allow customer reviews to come to you. Maybe use a service like Netgalley or one of those services, which actually puts books out for review by people who are completely unknown to you. But reviewing your mates book and giving it five stars when you haven’t read it. It’s not ethical. I mean, it happens all the time but it’s not ethical.
Joanna: And that, well, that’s a good line when we talking about ethics and not the same as legalities. And that, as you say, there’s a continuum of these things. Okay. Book Promotions. I do not promote, my books by making false statements about them or me or consent to anyone else promoting them for me in a misleading manner. So, this is it. So what’s a good example here?
Orna: Oh, well, I mean, you see it a lot where people will talk about, you know-
Joanna: You mean Amazon bestseller?
Orna: Yeah. I mean, Amazon best seller, it seems you either degrade the term completed by making it a bestseller in any niche, you know, in any category. And then that’s an Amazon Bestseller, okay, that’s fine. Or you know, you’re talking about number one in the Amazon store, which is an incredible amount of books to sell. You know, they’re not the same thing. People conflate them deliberately, which is understandable and fine. And again, publishers, including author publishers ride a line on this and each person must make up their own mind about what they think is ethical or not.
But our line would be to stay on the white side of that. So you’re always trying to max out on any achievement you’ve got or but some people just go tell absolute lies, tell they won awards, you know, yeah, yeah. Pretend they’re best sellers when they’re absolutely not and getting their friends to do stuff or, you know, write up things about them. Yeah. You’d be surprised what people do. So, at that end, clearly unethical, then back the way you have to start thinking yourself because you are always going to kind of boost yourself in marketing and PR. That is the job there, to do that. But to be careful. Yeah.
Joanna: Yeah. It’s the, you can see where some of the lines can be moved up and down. So manipulation, I do not attempt to artificially manipulate reviews, downloads, or sales in any way. Now this is a good one because manipulate reviews, downloads or sales. So for example, when you give away a free book, and lots of us do this, I do this, very importantly, if you give away a free book, you have to say, ,when you review this, please put on your review that you got a free copy from the author. And this is your personal opinion. What you can’t do according to terms and conditions is say, please leave me a review in exchange for this book. So that’s a kind of you cannot give away books in exchange for reviews. Now that’s a terms and conditions thing. Is that an ethics thing? Is that kinda what you’re saying here?
Orna: Yeah, exactly and again, you know, nobody can tell somebody else what’s ethical. We’ve got consciences to do that for us, but we generally do know and that “in exchange for” is an interesting, it’s interesting in that there is a school of thought that Amazon is actually searching for that term in reviews and removing reviews that contain that term. And if you do give somebody, here, I’m giving you this book in exchange for a review, you know, most people are going to feel, you know, an obligation to give you a good one. And again, grey lines, but that’s what it is anyways. So each person must make up their own mind but really, manipulating reviews, downloads, sales, any of that is dishonesty, really and the cleanest way is just not to go there and not to get involved in that stuff at all.
Joanna: And the thing is, we’re talking about this, I mean, I was saying to my husband, you can see how angry people are because it’s unfair that people are getting away with stuff that could be considered a grey line in terms of ethics, it’s not necessarily illegal, and yet people are doing it and making financial rewards, or at least we’re hearing that they’re getting financial rewards. So I understand that people are angry about some of this stuff because it does seem unfair a lot of the time that all star bonuses or whatever go to people who are, I mean there’s even been in the New York Times this week, again, I won’t say names, but an author who essentially lied his way to the top of the publishing tree and may well be involved in plagiarism. And you just go, “Well, that’s not fair. It’s not fair that he’s had all this success through unethical practices.” So really, really has to come back to you being happy to live your life in a kind of honest way. Even if don’t end up making a million.
Orna: Even if it’s only because you’re scared to be on the front of the New York Times.
Joanna: I wouldn’t want that, to be fair. So let’s, they’re very clear. I know that plagiarism is illegal and unfair and I don’t intentionally try to pass off another writer’s words as my own. I think we’ve talked about that one.
Orna: We’ve covered that one.
Joanna: Yeah, we’ve covered that. We’ll move on. “I make every effort to be fair, accurate, and prompt with payments and financial calculations.” What, what does that mean?
Orna: Well, this is kind of what I was referring to earlier in the show about the people that we are. So we are businesses now and while we’re often very kind of negative about publishers and they’re being slow to pay us or Amazon’s payments going haywire or whatever, looking at ourselves on how fairly and accurately and promptly we pay the people we work, sorry, that we hire or anybody that we’re working with and that’s also, ethically, just being fair and accurate, prompt are the three things we need to do.
Joanna: Yeah, it’s funny. I think this comes to the longterm business thing. If you were not paying people, like, I pay on invoice, you know, I pay as soon as I get an email with an invoice, you know, that’s how I have book cover designers and tech people and people who are happy to work with me because I pay on invoice. So if you do that kind of thing, you’ll get to keep really good people around. So it’s not just an ethical thing, it’s like a good business practice thing.
And if, you know, if you’re struggling to pay because you have other cashflow issues, then you are open and honest about that upfront, you know, like with the tax people, you know, if you’re having problem with your tax and you talk to them, you do not stop talking to them. So these are things, yeah, I think financial openness is good. And then finally, oh yeah, finally I take responsibility for how my books are sold and marketed.
Orna: So essentially that is, and each of these, by the way, has a longer explanation in the actual code itself. But what that is, authors will say “It wasn’t me. I hired the service. They’re unethical but I’m not,” you know, but as the author, as the hirer, the person who’s making the hire, you have a responsibility to ensure that anybody that you hire is actually above board and aligned with you in terms of, you know, your ethical stance and that means doing something that I’m also very bad at doing, which is called read the terms and conditions and ask some questions about them until you’re clear about what you’re getting yourself into. So, yeah, just to say that we are as part of this website upgrade, putting a lot of agreements in place, you know, template agreements that people will be able to refer to so that they know what it is.
Cause sometimes it’s not a lack of ethics is just not knowing. Particularly around things like things like reviews and stuff. I think, you know, these are grey areas on, people don’t know what they should be doing. And when they think about it they go, “Oh yeah, I never thought about it like that” because we’re very caught, like we’re in our own little worlds and we made them up ourselves. So, you know, we don’t necessarily always think about it from the other person’s perspective. We’re not used to being in business. We haven’t got any business training, you know, so all of that puts us at a disadvantage. So yeah, we’re trying to help them fill that gap by just sample clauses and templates and things that people will be able to download. For example, a good agreement if you’re hiring a ghostwriter or, what you should look for in a contract if somebody else’s hiring you for something, you know, that kind of thing.
Joanna: And the other thing I would say like, I think for both of us, particularly in anyone who’s been online and quite a long time, if you, if we have appeared on someone else’s website and you don’t know what date it was, please email us because what also happens, and I’m not again, no names, but there are people that both of us may have worked in the past or websites or companies that we have done interviews with or we have relationships with in some way that later on do something that may be considered unethical. And I’ve certainly, this has happened to me a lot because I’ve been online for 10 years now doing interviews on people’s podcasts and whatever and trying to be generous with my time. But equally, you don’t know, do you? I mean, you just don’t know.
Orna: No, you don’t, because again, you’re out of the front and there isn’t enough information. So you take a jump on it. And that’s why it’s so great to have a community, isn’t it? Because we can kind of help each other and we know each other’s intent is good and that if we all make mistakes and get things wrong. And so on. But we help each other out to get it right and you know, do better the next time kind of thing. So-
Joanna: Indeed, right. We’re out of time. We will be back on March, Monday, March 25th, where we will be talking about London Book Fair, I guess, and what comes out of that and, the anniversary and all of these things. Anything else you want to say, Orna, before we leave?
Orna: Nope. I think we’ve said a lot.
Joanna: All right. Well, happy writing, everyone. Happy publishing. Happy marketing.
Orna: Exactly. Happy everything. Bye.