It’s taken a while but there’s a storm slowly brewing around ethics and publishing. Now there’s a sentence I never thought I’d write.
Ethics and publishing? Isn’t this a nice, old-fashioned business, albeit one affected by the move to digital? Aren’t writers more interested in producing a good, original book than slaving on the internet trying to sell something cobbled up in an instant? Don’t publishers step back from the nastier end of online marketing and hope that quality, dedication and professionalism will shine through?
Well yes, actually. Most authors I know wouldn’t dream of doing anything underhand to shift a book. Most publishers wouldn’t either. It’s not just that it’s sleazy, undignified and dreadfully insulting to the readers you’re deceiving along the way. It’s also extremely dangerous. People get found out. And when they do, they look the prats they truly are.
I’m not going into the details of some of the cases that have come to light here. They’re deftly handled in some of the links at the foot of this post. The bigger question though is this…
I've said this elsewhere, but it bears repeating: It's time to depersonalise the issue of author ethics, shift focus onto the wider problem.—
Stuart Neville (@stuartneville) August 28, 2012
Where do we go next? How do we rebuild trust with readers who’ve stumbled upon this astonishing scandal and started to ask themselves… do authors make up everything about themselves, including their own promotion and reviews?
Chasing and castigating known offenders is one thing. At some stage we have to move the spotlight away from the villains and turn it on the vast majority of writers who are innocent of this nonsense yet in danger of being unfairly tainted by it.
How? Let me throw out an idea for consideration among writers (I’ll leave publishers and retailers to come up with their own ideas). One way is a code of conduct, agreed through reputable, broadly-based organisations such as the Society of Authors in the UK and the Authors Guild in the US. Genre-based organisations could chip in too, but this is, it seems to me, an issue that affects all writers, whether they’re producing non-fiction, crime or children’s work. It demands a similarly wide-ranging response.
What would such a code of conduct say? Here are a few points I’d like to add in for starters. Feel free to add your own, take pot shots at mine and come up with other ideas in the comments. But please do not get sidetracked into a debate about conventional publishing against self publishing. At least one of the prime villains so far uncovered in this tale is an established, conventional author (albeit one who uses unconventional methods). The ethical issues affecting writers should surely be the same whatever kind of route to market you take.
So here goes with a few things I will certainly pledge as an author…
- I will never write a book review of any kind except under my own name
- I will never comment on my own books or ask or pay anyone else to review my books
- I will never comment on the work of authors I know, through friendship, professional relationships or family, without declaring my interest
Er, actually… that’s it. I’m sure there could be more but right now I can’t think of them. Oh — and I did wonder if perhaps we didn’t need a badge too. Such as this thing which I ran up in a spare thirty seconds…
Though on reflection… possibly not.
Make no mistake. Most of the authors out there don’t need this for a second. They’re honest, dedicated people, often working for a pittance, who wouldn’t dream of deceiving the public. They don’t deserve to carry the stain of the few bad apples in the pack, not for a second. And actually it’s a bit rich that we, the innocent majority, have to stand up and make our integrity clear. But that’s the internet, eh?