Author Ethics Research Notes: Appendix I

Appendix I: Indie Author Ethics Survey

 

Survey Date: April 18, 2011

Survey Sample Size: 100 independent authors.  Respondents who skipped more than one question were deleted from the survey until 100 full responds were obtained.

Survey Method: Surveymonkey.com

Samples Obtained:  Requested participants on forums frequented by independent authors.  Self-selection.  Authors volunteered to participate. Anonymous responses.

Author Notes:  The survey author’s identity was well known to the forum users, as the author is a regular contributor to said sites, and the intent of the survey was specified.  The questions were deliberately worded in such a way as to imply what the “correct” response should be.  Despite these issues, many of the following percentages are disturbingly high, indicating that respondents did not actually recognize the behavior as being unethical. 

Disclaimer: This survey does not reflect the scientific method of conducting a survey.  The survey is an informal attempt to gain insight into author behavior in regards to publishing ethics.  It is meant as a means of stimulating conversation and encouraging additional formal research.

Part One: General Behavior.  In this section, respondents could select multiple choices.  As such, percentages resulted in fractional numbers. 

Question 1:  Book reviews are considered one of the most important marketing tools available. So important, in fact, that some may be tempted to do whatever it takes to get them or manipulate them. Have you ever engaged in any of the following behavior? Select all that apply. For purposes of this question, we are only discussing books by indie authors.

  • Have you ever given a book a higher review than it deserved because you knew the author and did not want to hurt his/her feelings?  75.9%

 

  • Have you ever given a book a lower review than it deserved as retaliation against the author or because you did not personally like the author? 18.5%

 

  • Have you ever given a book a higher review than it deserved because you felt you were being supportive of indie books? 31.5%

 

  • Have you ever given a book a lower review than it deserved because you felt the book was competition? 14.8%

 

  • Have you ever written a positive review of a book you did not read in order to support a fellow author?  25.9%

 

  • Have you ever written a negative review of a book you did not read in retaliation against the author? 16.7%

 

  • Have you ever written a positive review of a book based on only reading the sample? 18.5%

 

  • Have you ever written a negative review of a book based on only reading the sample? 16.7%

 

Question 2: Have you ever engaged in any of the following behavior? Please check all that apply.

  • Publicly ridiculed or insulted a reviewer who gave you a negative review? (i.e. posted a response to the review or started a blog post/thread about the review? 33.3%

 

  • Privately insulted a reviewer who gave you a negative review? (such as sending them an email or calling them) 23.1%

 

  • Threatened a reviewer who gave you a negative review (either threatening his/her “reputation” or even threatening the reviewer physically) 17.9%

 

  • Send a friend invite to someone on Facebook, Goodreads, etc for the sole purpose of trying to sell them your books? 38.5%

 

  • Hijacked another author’s promotional thread by posting for the sole purpose of promoting your book? (i.e. “Your book sounds great. You would like my book Name of Book!”) 20.5%

 

  • Posted to a popular thread for the sole purpose of promotion. (i.e. “That is interesting. I just released my new book Name of Book.”) 61.5%

 

  • Left a review of a bestselling book in an effort to promote your own book. (i.e. “This book is very good the plot is similar to my book Name of Book.”) 30.8%

 

  • Planted copies of your book in brick and mortar shops, hoping people would try to “buy” the book in an effort to encourage the store to stock it? 17.9%

 

  • Put business cards/flyers promoting your book inside bestselling books in the bookstore? 35.9%

 

  • Tagged your own book with the names of bestselling authors, even when those authors have nothing to do with you or your book? 33.3%

 

Question 3: Astroturfing is a form of advocacy or promotion designed to simulate a grassroots movement. It generally involves a small group of individuals who attempt to give the appearance of a larger movement or hide the identity of the actual beneficiaries. An example of Astroturfing would be a group of indie authors circulating a petition to get trad publishers to lower their ebook prices, when the goal is not actually to lower trade book prices but to promote the indie authors’ own lower priced books.

 

Sock puppetry is the use of a false identity for purposes of deception. It is often used in conjunction with astroturfing to create the appearance of interest in a product. An example of sock puppetry is creating a fake account at Amazon for the purpose of posting a review of your own book.

 

A Shill is a person who helps promote a service or product without disclosing the actual relationship between the promoter and the product. A shill generally pretends to be a neutral third party who is promoting a product out of genuine interest. An example of a shill is having your sister post positive reviews on your book while pretending she doesn’t know you and “just discovered” a new author.

 

Based on these definitions, have you ever engaged in any of the following behavior? Check all that apply.

  • Have you ever asked or encouraged a friend or relative to post a positive review of your book to help you promote? 80.4%

 

  • Have you ever created a secondary account under a different name for the purpose of leaving reviews or posting to message boards/forums to promote your books? 28.3%

 

  • Have you ever engaged in thread bumping exchanges, in which authors agree in advance to post to each others threads in order to keep them on the front page longer? 28.3%

 

  • Have you ever participated in a “purchase exchange,” in which a group of authors agree in advance to buy each others books at a specific time in order to artificially inflate the sales rank? 26.1%

 

  • Have you ever purchased multiple copies of your own book in an attempt to improve its sales rank? 34.8%

 

  • Have you ever participated in a “call to action,” to vote down or report a negative review that was NOT abusive, a personal attack on the author, or otherwise factually wrong? 21.7%

 

  • Have you ever organized friends and relatives to “pre-order” your book from a bookstore to give the appearance of interest in the title? 21.7%

 

Part Two: The Review from Hell.  These questions were in regard to a hypothetical review that appeared on the author’s Amazon.com book page.  Because respondents could select multiple responses, percentages returned fractional results.  The scenario presented to respondents is posted below.

The next few questions are based on a generic review. You are to image that this review was posted to your Amazon book today with a one star rating.

 

“(Insert your book’s title here) is a poorly constructed tale that lacks significant character development. (Insert your name here) tries to make the characters engaging, but these attempts come across as stagnant and one dimensional. The book further suffers from an unbelievable plot line that requires huge jumps in logic to follow. I often found myself scratching my head as to how the characters were drawing the conclusions they were based on the circumstances presented.”

Question 1:  Assuming this review was posted by a customer who purchased your book (Amazon verified purchase), what is your reaction? Check all that apply.

  • I respond to the review to defend my book, particularly since all of the other reviews have been positive. 9.6%

 

  • I go to my author forum of choice and ask my fellow writers to vote down this review, because it does not reflect my book at all. 7.4%

 

  • I vote down all of the reviewer’s reviews, good and bad, to lower his or her reviewer rating. 11.7%

 

  • I go to my Facebook or Twitter page and ask my “real” fans to post positive reviews to counter the negative one. 6.4%

 

  • I ignore it. The review is just one person’s opinion, after all. I’m just glad for the sale. 85.1%

 

Question 2:  Assuming this review was posted by a reviewer to whom you provided a comp copy for review, what is your reaction? Check all that apply.

  • I respond to the review to defend my book, particularly since all of the other reviews have been positive. 9.5%

 

  • I contact the reviewer privately to complain about the review. 7.4%

 

  • I go to my author forum of choice and ask my fellow writers to vote down this review, because it does not reflect my book at all. 8.4%

 

  • I bad mouth the reviewer as a “warning” to other authors not to send him or her books. 10.5%

 

  • I vote down all of the reviewer’s reviews, good and bad, to lower his or her reviewer rating. 11.6%

 

  • I go to my Facebook or Twitter page and ask my “real” fans to post positive reviews to counter the negative one. 6.3%

 

  • I ignore it. The review is just one person’s opinion, after all. 85.2%

 

Question 3: Assuming this review was posted by a fellow indie author, what is your reaction? Check all that apply.

  • I respond to the review to defend my book, particularly since all of the other reviews have been positive.8.4%

 

  • I contact the reviewer privately to complain about the review. 8.4%

 

  • I confront the author in whatever forum we both visit, “calling out” his or her lack of support for fellow indies. 9.5%

 

  • I post a negative review to his or her book. If he/she can’t recognize how good my book is, his/her book must be crap. 8.4%

 

  • I vote down all of the reviewer’s reviews, good and bad, to lower his or her reviewer rating. 11.6%

 

  • I go to my Facebook or Twitter page and ask my “real” fans to post positive reviews to counter the negative one. 6.3%

 

  • I ignore it. The review is just one person’s opinion, after all. 85.3%

 

Part Three:  Situational Ethics

The questions in this section presented specific scenarios for the authors to address.  These situations are based on actual examples of behavior that has been witnessed by the survey author.  The purpose of these questions was to determine the extent of this specific type of behavior. 

Question 1:  You need a book cover for your book. You have budgeted $100 for the cover. You post to some different artist communities asking for quotes. You receive a quote for $60, $40 under your budget, from an artist whose work you like. You send him an email offering him the assignment, he agrees, and you write up a contract. Before you send the contract, you get a message from an amateur artist willing to do the cover for free in exchange for publicity. It is obvious that the artist is new to indie publishing and seems to think your book is being mass produced. The artist’s work is not on par with the other artist, but is still good quality. What do you do?

  • Did someone say “free?” Tear up the contract and give the job to the amateur. Save myself $60 in the process. If the kid wants to work for free, why not? He offered. 12.6%

 

  • Since I haven’t sent off the official contract yet, I’ll tell the other artist that I found another cover artist. But I can’t let the kid work for free, so I’ll still offer him something. 2.3%

 

  • I already have an agreement with an artist, and that artist is already below my budget and has a reputation for professionalism. You get what you pay for, after all. 85.1%

 

Author notes:  Though the percentages add up to 100%, it does not reflect 100 responses.  Thirteen respondents skipped this question because they design their own covers or have a regular cover artist they work with, and therefore the question did not apply to them.  Ten respondents selected “other” as an option.  In some cases, the “other” response was an elaboration on the three options above, and was therefore recalculated into the main options.  Examples:  “I keep the agreement with the first artist, but talk to the second artist about future works.” And “Pay author #1 and give the kid a shot at a different title.” Were recalculated as Option 3.  “I tell the first artist that I got a better offer, but I’d like to keep him as an option in the future. Why not give a kid a shot?” was recalculated as Option #1.  Because of these issues, percentages returned fractional results.

Question 2: Your first book was edited by your best friend, who was at the time out of work and looking for things to do. But now she is working and is not available to put in the time to edit your second book, which is a 100,000 word sequel to the first one. Your first book sold 1,000 copies at 99 cents, for a net income of $350. You post around that you are looking for a freelance editor, but most of the quotes you are getting come in around ¼ cent per word, or $250 total. One editor offers to do the editing on a royalty basis of 10%, but only if your last book sold over 5,000 copies. She isn’t asking for proof of the sales volume, just a confirmation from you.

  • Tell her the truth. Your last book has only sold 1,000 copies to date. Maybe you can work out a combination of up front payment and royalty that would be beneficial to both? 88%

 

  • Tell her you sold more than 5,000 copies. After all, you have learned from your mistakes from the last book and you KNOW this one will sell more copies. 12%

 

Question 3: You have worked very hard to build a mailing list of fans for your book. You have about 2,000 subscribers to your newsletter. A fellow author you talk to in various forums is struggling to build his own subscriber lists and ask you if you would share yours since you share an audience. You have read his book and liked it, and he seems like a nice enough person.

  • I don’t see the harm in sharing the list. He has a good book and I think my fans will like it. Indies need to help each other whenever we can. 7.6%

 

  • I worked hard to build my list. I’m not going to turn it over to someone else for free. Maybe we can work out some sort of payment arrangement, however. 6.5%

 

  • I’ll offer to include information on his book in my next newsletter, but I am not giving him my mailing list. I respect the privacy of my fans. 85.9%

 

Author note: 15 respondents skipped this question or selected other.  In cases where the “Other” option was merely an elaboration on one of the first three options, the response was calculated into the appropriate response.  Because of these, percentages returned fractional results.

Question 4:  Remember that amateur artist you hired? He didn’t work out so well. He was late getting the cover art to you, and the finished product wasn’t exactly what you had hoped. Having learned your lesson, you are determined to hire a proper artist for your next book. You go into the artist forums and post for bids. The artist you initially offered the job to but later didn’t use posts to your thread, essentially telling everyone you are a jerk and a scammer looking for freebies. What do you do?

  • Apologize. “He’s right. I did screw up. But I’ve learned my lesson and admit the freebie didn’t work out so well. I apologize if he felt I strung him along, but at the time it seemed like the best option.” 73.3%

 

  • Defend yourself. “Look, it isn’t like we had a formal contract. Someone else came along offering a better deal, and now he is just mad because he lost out on a sale. For all his talk of professionalism, he’s the one airing dirty laundry.” 8.0%

 

  • Defend yourself. “Sure, we talked about the project, but I don’t remember actually confirming that he would get the contract. We were still negotiating when the other offer came along. Grow up, buddy.” 16.0%

 

  • Denial. “Do I know you? I think you have me confused with someone else.” 2.7%

 

Author note: 42 respondents selected “Other” or skipped this question because it did not apply to them.  Most “Other” responses were an elaboration on one of the other options, and as such were recalculated into the options.  Because of this, percentages returned fractional results.

3 Replies to “Author Ethics Research Notes: Appendix I”

  1. Holey Hell! This post is gold-dust!

    This may be the best ‘how to get ahead in publishing guide’ I’ve ever encountered! Some of the ideas here are so devious, so unspeakably guileful that they should be considered high art!

    I especially liked:

    # [Have you ever] Put business cards/flyers promoting your book
    # inside bestselling books in the bookstore?

    No, BECAUSE I WOULD NEVER HAVE THOUGHT OF THAT!! Damn!

    I’m off to print me some flyers.

    Colum

  2. Pingback: Dishonesty and Indie Authors | K23 Detectives

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