by Peg Brantley
If you draw a line in the sand—over which you affirm you will not cross—where do you redraw it when a wave washes it away? Or when a jogger comes along and tramples it? Do you draw it in the same place or move it somewhere out of the way?
Integrity only means something when you stand strong. It's mist in the wind if you adjust your values because they become inconvenient. Keeping your integrity might mean you have to lose a few quick sales, or build your career a little slower than you'd like.
Here's what I've seen with many authors recently—traditional or indie:
A lot has been made lately about phony or paid reviews. Most of us were righteously indignant, and deservedly so. Some people unfortunately, simply wish they'd thought of it first. But that's only one piece of the game.
What about biographies? Is your biography dead-on, or have you played with reality a bit? I've heard it referred to as "permissive puffery" which to me is just another way of moving that line in the sand. Did you really make your living as a journalist or is the truth that your local hometown paper published two letters you wrote to the editor? Or that you were a star for your school newspaper?
How about calling yourself an award winning author because you came in second place in some obscure writing contest? (I have a framed certificate on my wall. Does that count?) I remember when I won that award, a friend told me I could now refer to myself as an award winning author. I think she meant it tongue-in-cheek, but it did make me wonder.
Then there's calling yourself a bestselling author because your book hit the top 100 of a free list, narrowed down by three or four categories? Are you serious? The NYT's Bestseller list has a few ethical issues of its own—don't compound it by adding yours.
Or review trading—explicit or implied. This was kind of a new one for me. No one actually came out and said "I'll give you a great review if you give me a great review", but the timing of their review and suddenly receiving their book made it hard not to hear those words. And when I wasn't crazy about their book? I sort of felt like I should somehow move to have their review taken down. It felt fake and sleazy.
To be perfectly honest, I asked a few readers who had given my first book a positive review to take a look at The Missings early in order to give it a nice bump at its launch. But I also spread that request out to others who may or may not have ever read my first book. One of my first 5-star reviews is from such a reader. Dishonest? Unethical? Lacking in integrity? I don't think those were any different than publishers sending out ARCs to try and get that same bump.
Writers, what about you? Have you seen things that made you shake your head? Were you ever tempted?
Readers, especially readers… have you begun to see through some of this stuff? Does it make you doubt everything?
Peg Brantley was never a journalist or a screenwriter or a sought after speaker. Although Amazon might say she has some bestselling books, she's still trying to reach that mark. Yes, she did receive second place in a writing contest once and even an honorable mention in another… but award winning? Net yet. RED TIDE rose as high as number two one time when she happened to look at the list. That was a kick. It didn't last.