Books · Publishing · Self-publishing · Writers

That Thorny Question of Ethics: Part 2

A little while ago, author Jane Steen wrote about the much-neglected question of author ethics. Events since then have proved that this vexed issue is one we all need to think about. From one author who published an account (in a national broadsheet, no less) of how she stalked an unimpressed reviewer, to another who allegedly physically assaulted a lady who wrote a lukewarm review of his book, badly behaved authors have been in the news, confirming readers’ worst fears and indirectly tarnishing the reputation of all authors.

Interestingly, the authors in question have come from all levels on the publishing spectrum, from the self-published to those published by major imprints, proving that no one group has a monopoly on bad (or good) behaviour. This is an industry-wide problem, affecting everyone – from those of us who self-publish in a very small, very modest way, to those who are published by the Big Six. It affects all strata of the writing and publishing world, from the obscure to the famous, from those who earn millions to those who earn pennies. And it’s about time that ethical authors, whatever their preferred method of publishing and whatever their level of success, stood up and said, “This is unacceptable behaviour.”

I wish to make it clear that the majority of authors, or at least those authors with whom I am personally acquainted, make a genuine and determined effort to abide by high ethical standards, and would be horrified by such aggressive (and downright creepy) conduct. For most of us who are published, by whatever method, readers are at the forefront of what we do, and are viewed as highly valued supporters and customers rather than people to be deceived, exploited, abused, or worse.

It is in response to recent developments, no doubt, that Steen and the Alliance of Independent Authors have launched the Ethical Author Code. Though spearheaded by ALLi, this initiative is not restricted to self-publishers; it is, rather, something that all ethical authors, whatever their preferred method of publication, can embrace. It’s not an externally imposed code of conduct, but an agreement between authors who intend to abide by a certain standard of ethical behaviour. I’d encourage all authors to read the code and, if they agree with it and wish to follow it, to sign up – and then, perhaps, to help spread the word.

It’s a small start, perhaps, but it’s a sign of your support for a certain level of standards, and a commitment to treat your readers with respect. Whether you’re self-published, trade-published, or unpublished, it’s a way to show your backing for ethical author behaviour. You’ll even be able to download this lovely badge, which you can place on your blog and elsewhere:


It is, as I said, a small step. Bad author behaviour will no doubt continue. But it’s a way for those of us who dislike deceptive, aggressive conduct to publicly distance ourselves from it. Let’s hope it catches on!


12 thoughts on “That Thorny Question of Ethics: Part 2

  1. I can’t disagree with most of that, Mari. I took a quick look at what our fellow blogger had to say and was interested to see that she was talking about some of those practices that I’ve been railing against of late. I suspect that the worst offenders wouldn’t sign up or once they’d done so they’d simply ignore all of the rules.

    1. Hello Paul, and thanks for commenting. You’re probably correct in saying that such initiatives will be either ignored or abused by certain authors, but I like to think it’s a good start. It’s a chance for those of us who care about ethics to take a stand.

  2. Writers are not immune to the emotional problems that afflict the rest of humanity, so in one sense it is to be expected that they will exhibit odd behaviour from time to time. It would be foolish to condemn behaviour that is inbuilt or not addressable. The list is endless and life is short.

    That said, I agree with the tone of your piece. It would not hurt to isolate the daft and the psychotic, although I have my suspicions that there are too many to isolate and also that there is something slightly pompous and possibly disingenuous about describing oneself as an ‘ethical author’.

    1. Hello J.D., and thanks for the comment. I agree that authors are by no means immune to emotional problems or strange behaviour, and I don’t think we should necessarily be judged any more harshly than any other section of the population. Quite possibly my post here came across as being a bit judgemental and holier-than-thou, in which case I apologise; that wasn’t the effect I was aiming for! 🙂

      That said, I think there is certainly a problem with how authors (and particularly self-published authors) are perceived by readers, and behaviour that is ethically questionable probably has much to do with that. I don’t think it’s necessarily pompous or disingenuous to state that one is an ethical author, at least when you’re referring to a given code of behaviour. I’m not by any means claiming to be a paragon of virtue here; I’m stating my commitment to at least trying to behave in accordance with certain standards. Amongst all the chatter that has surrounded the world of publishing, both self- and traditional, this is something that has been overlooked, rather; I don’t think it can do us any harm to at least think about these issues.

      1. My post wasn’t intended as a criticism of yours, Mari, but rather an observation of how easy it is to slip into ideas of right and wrong. I am usually the guilty one, here.

        As you, I know a few Indie authors (by which I mean writers not dependent on or influenced by a publisher or agent for their content) who behave abominably. Both you and Evangeline have made the point and I third it. You, I, Evangeline, don’t have to behave like that, but that’s a judgement call and, imho, not an ethical question. But it may be, because despite Lawrence’s opinion to the contrary I think Ethics is based on the herd consensus of right and wrong, so may change next week depending upon how one constitutes the herd.

        I’m reminded of my Philosophy 101 many years ago and good old Bertrand Russell – “Ethics is in origin the art of recommending to others the sacrifices required for cooperation with oneself.”

        It’s Saturday and I have a cold, so I’ll shut up now. 🙂

      2. I’m impressed that you can come up with arguments like that while you have a cold, J.D.! I have trouble stringing an intelligible sentence together when I’m under the weather…

        I can’t really disagree with much of what you’ve said. No doubt much of what we refer to as “ethics” ultimately resides in herd consensus, though I don’t much like the term. However, I also think that at least some morality is based upon how we can best live together, and this may be a case in point. Authors and readers often (not always) have something of a symbiotic relationship, and a certain number of ground rules may be in both of their interests. Of course, authors are usually held up to greater scrutiny than their readers, especially in these days of internet anonymity, but that’s another question…

        Thanks for contributing to the debate!

  3. Hi Mari
    Many Indie writers just seem so desperate to be published that sitting obsessively at a computer – publicizing and promoting their work – has just become a Way of Life. Indeed, it may well represent a Total Life! Much ego and self-esteem seems to be at stake; some writers may be seeking their total validation from the status/profile that they have achieved for their work.

    1. Hello Evangeline, and thanks for commenting! You’re probably right in saying that, for many authors, their online personas and success (or the lack of it) become matters of overriding importance. It’s easy to become obsessed, and to be tempted to behave in rather shady ways. However, I also think that it is ultimately in our own interests to resist those temptations!

  4. I couldn’t stop reading the linked article about the author stalking a fake reviewer. I wanted to stop reading, but… I. Could. Not. I haven’t been the target of inaccurate reviews, but I would like to believe I could leave well enough alone. Or at least not rent a car to visit the reviewer at her home, how creepy!

    As for a code of ethics, I think we need one for social interaction on the internet. As a species, we seem to thrive on inflicting anonymous cruelty. The microcosm of authors and reviewers is only one part of a larger disfunction. That said, there can be no broad change without individuals who are willing to denounce the prevailing culture. By our nature, authors are already courageous enough to share their unique vision. Why not start the change with us?

    And, yay, I got my WordPress notification about this post!


    1. You’re quite right, Aniko – it is indeed an internet-wide problem. I don’t think that you can override human instincts, either: badly-behaved authors will continue to behave badly! What I like about this initiative, though, is that it gives authors who wish to behave ethically the chance to stand up and be counted. To my mind, it’s a little like a Fairtrade mark on chocolate or coffee: a guarantee that certain mininal standards will be met.

      I’m glad that WordPress has started behaving itself again!

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