At #FutureBook14: A Big Idea for the 'Ethical Author'

At #FutureBook14: A Big Idea for the 'Ethical Author'

Presenting 'The Ethical Author Code' -- for writers of all stripes.

Among Big Idea proposals in The FutureBook's (#FutureBook14) final session of the day on Friday in London, Orna Ross' presentation of the "Ethical Author" programme is the one that may trigger the most controversy among writers.

Offered as "an author programme facilitated by the Alliance of Independent Authors" (ALLi), which Ross founded and directs, the idea is meant to give authors of all paths to publication -- traditionally published, self-published, or both -- a way to signal to readers that his or her business activities are aligned with best practices.

Overnight, ALLi began moving tweets reading "Our new hashtag is #ethicalauthor." News of Ross' revelation of the project at The FutureBook will travel quickly through the writerly ranks.

ALLi's Nerys Hudson has designed an insignia, in fact, with which authors endorsing an "Ethical Author Code" -- unveiled at The FutureBook by Ross -- can use with their work. Like the proverbial Good Housekeeping seal of approval, the insignia can telegraph to reader-consumers and to colleagues in publishing that an author has thought seriously about good business practice, in a digital era pressing writers into entrepreneurial roles.

Here is the text of the Ethical Author Code, as brought to the stage Friday by Ross -- where "author" is defined by this projecrt as being "any writer who has published a long-form work of fiction or non-fiction, either via a trade publisher or self-publishing platform":

The Ethical Author Code

Guiding principle: Putting the reader first

When I market my books, I put my readers first. This means that I don’t engage in any practices that have the effect of misleading the readers/buyers of my books. I behave professionally online and offline when it comes to my writing life.


I behave with courtesy and respect toward readers, other authors, reviewers and industry professionals such as agents and publishers. If I find myself in disagreement, I focus on issues rather than airing grievances or complaints in the press or online, or engaging in personal attacks of any kind.


I do not hide behind an alias to boost my own sales or damage the sales or reputation of another person. If I adopt a pen name for legitimate reasons, I use it consistently and carefully.

Reviewing and rating books

I do not review or rate my own or another author’s books in any way that misleads or deceives the reader. I am transparent about my relationships with other authors when reviewing their books.

I am transparent about any reciprocal reviewing arrangements, and avoid any practices that result in the reader being deceived.

Reacting to reviews

I do not react to any book review by harassing the reviewer, getting a third party to harass the reviewer, or making any form of intrusive contact with the reviewer. If I’ve been the subject of a personal attack in a review, I respond in a way that is consistent with professional behavior.

Book promotions

I do not promote my books by making false statements about, for example, their position on bestseller lists, or consent to anyone else promoting them for me in a misleading manner.


I know that plagiarism is a serious matter, and I don’t intentionally try to pass off another writer’s words as my own.

Financial ethics

In my business dealings as an author, I make every effort to be accurate and prompt with payments and financial calculations. If I make a financial error, I remedy it as soon as it’s brought to my notice.


I take responsibility for how my books are sold and marketed. If I realize anyone is acting against the spirit or letter of this Code on my behalf, I will refer them to this Code and ask them to modify their behavior.

Author Jane Steen and ALLi's engagement in the Code

What instigated the project announced Friday at the conference is an August opinion piece at ALLi's blog by member-author Jane Steen. The British-born, Chicago-based historical fiction author wrote then, in part:

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.

Steen was completely serious about her interest in this direction for writers, and -- while the ALLi facilitated programme is available to all authors -- was, as she wrote in a second essay, Ethics: Self-Publishing’s Elephant In The Room, initially was brought to the problem through a reputational problem that attaches at times to self-publishing authors in particular.

As covered at Thought Catalog, Steen's point was that unethical behavior becomes the problem of even the most professional independent authors, who are smeared by association:

Those of us who care seem to be outnumbered by those who don’t. Often, in fact, the offenders are simply naive—new writers or writers who simply have little business experience and make bad decisions based on emotions and an eagerness to grab a piece of the (perceived) pie. The “who dares wins” attitude of American-style capitalism, which praises entrepreneurship and is still—nearly thirty years on from the Wall Street movie—telling us that greed is good, blinds new authors to the long-term implications of today’s bright idea.

In that Thought Catalog coverage, as elsewhere, lively debate followed Steen's commentary and has continue to surface around the issues here. Some writers have said they felt unfairly tarred with a wide brush, others have eagerly embraced an opportunity to make a symbolic gesture of good faith.

For that coverage, I asked Steen if she could create the beginning of a set of guidelines for authors -- many of whom in today's digitally enabled setting are quite new to these issues. She obliged and Ross with ALLi then stepped into the picture to support Steen's concern and initiative.

Limitations and expectations

Needless to say, actual compliance cannot be guaranteed with any effort of this kind, nor do stated good intentions always reflect actual belief. But simply having a formal statement of effort in place can focus attention on what's needed.  And some might find it encouraging that the "Ethical Author" project is being brought forward to authors by authors. Immediately, the rich diversity of the author corps today comes to mind, yes. As I wrote in August at Thought Catalog:

For all the good will and sharing of information common to that community, its diversity is lost on no one who spends much time around “the selfpubs,” and that very diversity could make getting consensus on some of these points extremely difficult.

In its best light, however, the Ethical Author Code can be seen as a new move on the digital landscape by the creative community, responsive to some of the marketplace challenges of the time and -- considering its provenance with Steen, Ross, and ALLi -- a sign of the maturing, responsible professionalism desired by many in the self-publishing community, inclusve of their invitation to publishing colleagues to join in.

As such, the Ethical Author Code will find a welcome reception in many parts of the business and is, at the least, one of the most actionable and developed concepts to emerge from Friday's Big Idea session at The FutureBook 2014.

Top image: Orna Ross prepares for the Big Ideas session at The FutureBook Conference.