Publishing, Human Nature and a Question of Ethics

Is it only me, or have all of you been brainwashed with the same ‘be nice’ repetitive stanza until that’s all that rolls around in your heads anymore? No, I don’t blame you! How could I? I got the same treatment, and only recently discovered that ingrained idea needs a little adjustment.

attitude adjustment
The necessary adjustment

It was probably lurking in the deep recesses of my mind for a while. Maybe I should explain. I am a kind-hearted soul (or so they tell me), been raised with high standards (which I raised even higher since I left home), and therefore am intent on making my way in the world using nothing but my own abilities, without taking advantage of the fellow human being or causing anyone distress.

How many of you can relate? Is that you? Almost? Or completely?

See that rock, right at the top? That's my standard!
See that rock, right at the top? That’s my standard!

For a while, I was silly enough to imagine everyone followed the same guidelines. Not only people, but companies, too, since they are made up and run by people. Why wouldn’t I expect them to play the same game, follow the same rules?

Well, turns out I’m a dummy!ย Big surprise: people don’t behave as ethically as you do.

Playing tricks with the human psyche is the bread and butter of aggressive marketing. How many times did you go to the mall because of that advertised deal and ended up spending more than intended? Why? Because you really needed that item? Or maybe one similar, but the offer clinched it? Deep down, you knew they weren’t thinking of your quality of life when they advertised it, just their own profit, right?

I’ve heard all sorts of adverts – buy this refrigerator, and we’ll fill it with your favourite soft drink. Yeah, why not? Sounds like a good deal. Pay for this kindle and we’ll give you 100 books. Wow! How nice! Buy more furniture than you can fit in your room and we’ll throw in a free footstool. Super! Here’s my credit card! We react faster than we can say ‘Doh!’.


We’re hearing this all the time, and we don’t even think it odd. Are we so conditioned by advertising, that we react on auto-pilot? Whether we decide to take the offer or ignore it, we don’t think it unethical. But in many cases, it is. ‘Our brand is better than theirs.’ ‘World-acclaimed’, ‘award-winning’, ‘astounded the critics’… You ever heard those phrases? Do you believe those claims? I do. I never stop to think. I just assume the people behind making them have the same high standards I do. They wouldn’t lie. Would they?

So if this is considered normal, coming from a company – ran by people, remember? – why are indie authors victimized for trying their best to sell their own product? Is it because they are not part of the big company? Because they stand ‘alone’? They are still people, are they not?

There’s no end of discussion, mostly among ‘respected’ members of the publishing industry, condemning an indie author’s decision to drop their ebook price to 99 cents and what that does to the market as a whole. If enough people do it, the market will collapse. It’s unethical! Shameful! How dare they!

And how dare they publish at all! They haven’t even read the classics! They haven’t learned the novel-writing rules! How unbelievably cheeky to think yourself clever enough to write! What, you don’t have three degrees and twenty more years’ courses on creative writing? You should go back into your cave right now, and leave the publishing business to the ones in the know! Indie authors are doing nothing but satisfying their own vanity. Their product is not good enough for our (read ‘traditional’) market.



How many times did you hear that? How did those comments make you feel? Inadequate? A fraud? Ashamed you’re alive? Just a bit uncomfortable?

Why? You think all those companies out there are feeling even the tiniest shred of that unease? I can answer that one for you: no!

You have a product. There’s nothing wrong with taking that product to the market. There’s nothing wrong with pricing it as you see fit. There’s nothing unethical with that. You have won an award, but it’s not an industry recognised one? So what? Be proud. Who’s to say your product, your book, is less deserving than a so-called prestigious one?

By the way, prestigious means ‘inspiring respect and admiration; having high status’. You’re an author. You have an idea worth sharing, a message you were able to put into words. That is inspiring. You’ve fought your way through the mire that is changing publishing conditions, you’ve stood up to the bullies and picked your way through the minefield of traps set by con artists and ‘people in the know’ alike. You have my admiration.

walk away from your shackles

Break out of the shackles of niceness, step away from the cankerous belief that you’re not worthy enough. If you want to succeed, you go for it. If you can think of a new idea, something ‘not in the rules’ – just do it! It’s not easy penetrating an already full-to-bursting, struggling market. Don’t worry about not being nice enough to the other market players, because they’re not worrying about you. There is no ‘nice’ in marketing.

This is the point at which you need to have a spilt personality. Be nice, be ethical, love your friends. But don’t give a damn about your competitors’ opinions. They’re in the game to succeed, not to get a certificate in ethical behaviour. So what are you waiting for? You may as well do yourย darnedest to reach your goal, because no one will start dishing out certificates in niceness any time soon.

certificate of nicenessI don’t care if my pizza is being delivered by a millionaire in a Ferrari or a pimply kid on a bike. If it’s good, I’ll eat it and buy some more.

I don’t care if the book I just bought has the words ‘Random House’ on the front cover or not. If it’s good, I’ll read it to the end, and go back for more from the same author.

And if you make me, the buyer, happy – whether you are giving me the book at a lower price, or offer some other services, interaction, a good website or any other detail that takes my fancy – I’ll be sure to recommend you to all my friends.

I’m nice, like that.


29 Replies to “Publishing, Human Nature and a Question of Ethics”

  1. “For a while, I was silly enough to imagine everyone followed the same guidelines.”—I know the feeling. And I often forget that they don’t, and therefore I have to learn the lesson over and over.

    Certainly, independent authors have a right to market their novels. Just as with any other product, people can choose to purchase it or not. With book blurbs and Amazon’s ‘look inside’ feature, a book buyer can see what they’re getting better than with most other products they buy.

  2. Enjoyed your article. Unfortunately have my certificate of nicenessโ€ฆ I love analogy about the Ferrari or a pimply kid delivering pizza. Good article thank you.

  3. I must have had a special career. I helped start small companies that competed directly against world class fortune 500 companies, and did it well. It was tough, starting out, everyone wondered who we were, but very soon, they recognized that we didn’t need to be a world class corporation to produce a quality product.

    When I decided to publish, I never even thought about what the traditional publishing folks had to say about it. Never crossed my mind. I must be out of the ordinary that way. Glad you’ve come to see the light.

    1. Yeah. I think I read one too many ‘person in the know’s’ opinion at some point. That last straw didn’t break my back, but boy did make me see what is going on clearly!

  4. Ella, how refreshing you are, please come and join our Writers on the Storm facebook page, we have a great community going (writers, authors, and the odd publisher and publicist) but it would be nice to see some extra fresh commentary on there!

    1. I *think* I found it, Sakina. You can post a link if you like, you know. I don’t mind. And I don’t always comment. Just when I have something to say. ๐Ÿ™‚

  5. I enjoyed this post, and especially your conclusion – good to know there are still readers who assess a book by its content.

  6. Ella, i am sure you won’t have any problem believing that I crossed the niceness threshold decades ago. Wait, maybe i never did really buy into it at all. I feel everyone needs to love another, consequently I have selected dogs as my companions/friends of choice.

  7. How right you are. But you know what they say…if it looks to be too good to be true… probably is.

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