Ethics Tips for Self-Published Authors

BY ANDREA MORAN • May 26, 2023

Ethics Tips for Self-Published Authors

The self-publishing industry is, in the grand scheme of things, a relative newcomer to the book industry as a whole. That being said, some of the rules and regulations that allow authors to publish their own work without having to go through all the red tape and rejections of traditional publishers are still being worked out.

Despite the growing pains that this rapidly growing industry sometimes faces, there are some generally adhered to ethics tips that any self-published author needs to know and follow in order to gain both readers and respect in the wider literary circle.

Reviews: To pay or not to pay

I’ve seen much debate online over whether it is moral and ethical to pay someone to review a book. Let me be very clear: It is perfectly acceptable (and expected) to pay for an honest review of your book. It is not OK to pay for a good review of your book. See the difference?

Professional book reviewers have extensive literary and/or academic backgrounds, so the payment is for their time and effort to read your book and review it with no hidden motives. The downside to this is, of course, that you may well wind up paying for a negative review. But you will never be forced to publish a negative review, and the feedback can go a long way toward helping you improve your future writing.

It is nearly impossible to find a vetted reviewer who would be willing to read a book and write a review for free. And any service guaranteeing a good review in exchange for money should be avoided at all costs—it’s not worth your integrity, nor is it worth tricking readers into buying something that isn’t your best work.

And it should go without saying (but I’m going to say it anyway) that paying money to people to withhold a bad review or creating fake accounts to leave positive reviews for your own book are extremely duplicitous actions that would severely undermine your readers’ trust in you.

Plagiarism in any form

When you self-publish a book, you take on an enormous responsibility. Not only are you in charge of writing a good manuscript, but you must also be your own antiplagiarism enforcer. While traditionally published books usually have steps in place via specific editors trained to spot and flag plagiarism, the same is not the case in the self-publishing industry. That means authors can (intentionally or not) steal someone else’s intellectual property without it being noticed until well after the book is published.

This is something to watch out for, especially if you find yourself writing fan fiction. An homage to someone else’s story can quickly spiral into sampling some of it for your very own. I would argue that plagiarism, above all, is the most grievous and trust-shattering action you can do to both your fellow authors and your readers. Don’t do it.

Be your own quality checker

Some people argue that the self-publishing industry runs rampant with, well, let’s say less than stellar books that traditional book publishers would refuse to print (and probably for good reason). Be sure your book doesn’t fall into that category by being your own quality checker. That means not only checking the manuscript itself but also things like the formatting, spelling, and typos.

Let me stress, however, that checking over your own quality should not replace a complete and thorough edit done by a professional. Without these fail-safe steps in place, the overall quality of your book will likely suffer along with your reputation as an author—which can be particularly devastating when you’re attempting to build your own brand. I know it’s exciting to get your work out into the great wide world, but be sure it’s completely polished before you take the plunge.

The pitfalls of deceitful marketing

Another hat that self-published authors must wear is head of marketing. You are responsible for getting the word out to anyone and everyone that your book has arrived. With that in mind, it may be tempting to send out constant email blasts or messages with headlines that grab the readers’ attention—and not in a good way.

Marking your subject lines as “Urgent” when it’s not, or adding “Re:” before the subject to indicate that you’ve already had an ongoing conversation with the recipient can severely dent your readers’ faith in you. Not only that, but you run a high risk of annoying the heck out of them, so think about the long-term consequences of these tricks and stick to the honesty route.

Consider your platforms carefully

While marketing books, many self-published authors tend to post their titles and information anywhere and everywhere they can. Social media sites? Done. Vlog channels? Check. Website message boards? Sure thing. You may even find some strangers online who volunteer to help you advertise.

While promoting yourself and your work is a necessary part of becoming a successful self-published author, it’s worth taking a moment to vet the platforms on which you’re thinking of advertising. Hate groups in particular are finding a foothold online, and you may not even realize the association without a little digging. Even if you don’t agree with anything these platforms stand for, it doesn’t take much for someone to become guilty by association. It’s up to you to research, research, research before putting your name—and your beloved book—anywhere online.


Andrea Moran lives outside of Nashville with her husband and two kids. She’s a professional copywriter and editor who loves all things books. Find her on LinkedIn.

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