The purpose of an ethical policy is to provide the self-publisher with a strong framework that can be used to make business decisions. While all writers come into self-publishing with their own personal goals and objectives, these goals must be achieved within the parameters of how our actions impact the greater industry. To ignore how our actions may directly or inadvertently impact others is the quickest way to fall victim to a creeping normalcy that perpetuates unethical behavior. For purposes of developing an applied ethics for independent publishers, there are four groups that should be considered.
Obligations to Readers
As a self-publisher, you are expecting strangers to spend their money on your book. Your obligation to the reader is to provide them with value for their money. That value, at a minimum, should equal meeting the expected norms of whatever genre you publish in. Each genre has its own expectations and norms that readers expect. A publisher who consistently fails to meet this obligation stops being able to sell books.
Protecting the interest of one’s readers is a vital part of building a thriving business. Authors that take ethical short cuts for immediate gains often find themselves suffering long term credibility issues. When readers feel betrayed, tricked into purchasing what they perceive to be a sub-par book, they stop buying from that author.
Obligations to Independent Contractors
As a self-publisher, you will often need to employ others to perform tasks that you cannot perform yourself. Your obligation is to make sure that these individuals are fairly compensated for the time and effort that they put into the task.
Protecting the interests of one’s contractors is important because contractors that feel cheated or undervalued will refuse to provide services to you in the future. Further, real or imagined abuses can lead to bad word-of-mouth and prevent you from finding reliable contractors for future projects.
Obligation to Business Partners
As a self-publisher, you will depend on a host of other businesses to help you sell books. These may be print-on-demand printers, ebook distributors, payment services, and marketing outlets. Your obligation to these business partners is to make sure they have adequate information to conduct their specific tasks efficiently and that you do not engage in actions that can have negative consequences for their businesses.
Protecting the interests of your business partners directly protects your business. After all, if you engage in unethical activity and get kicked off of a retail website that is one less place you have to sell books.
Obligation to other Authors
As a self-publisher, you are one of several thousand independent authors competing for readers and resources. Your obligation to other authors is to make sure that your actions do not deliberately or falsely harm their own business endeavors.
While it may seem counter-intuitive, the more vibrant the competition, the more everyone sells. Success breeds success, and the success of one author can raise the whole in terms of increasing visibility, particularly in genre fiction. Each author brings their own audience into the equation, increasing the potential pool of customers for others.
How can we make sure that we are meeting our obligations to these four very different groups while still achieving our own goals?
*Put forth one’s best effort.
*Be transparent in all business dealings.
*Recognize one’s own limitations and own them.
*Be honest and forthright insofar as what you can and cannot do.
*Continuously seek to acquire knowledge in those areas that affect your market and business.
These five points seem simple enough, and rational people would agree that such is good policy. But as we will see, there is a huge difference between ethical theory and ethical practice.