26 June 2007

REPOST 2/17/2007 Where have ethics gone?

Okay...it's a dark kind of humor, but it's still there.

When I was in college, we were required (with a business major) to take law and ethics classes. Not that I'm stupid enough to think every businessperson is ethical, but some of what I've seen lately defies reason.

Do people REALLY want a name as an unethical businessperson? As using unethical business practices? Why would anyone want that?

Examples? No, I won't name names, but...

Publisher A sets up a site and lists, as most publishers do, the main players in the company: owner, EIC, etc. Except, they claim to have been in indie/e for years, and none of the names are ones that people know. Hmmm... Well, indie/e is an inbred little community. It's highly unlikely that NO ONE would know you if you've been around for any length of time.

Moreover, the names of the company owners sound like they've been taken from novels...the names you've give really exotic heroines. Does anyone really have those names? Maybe, but five women, all with exotic names like that? The odds are stacked against you. First thought...they aren't using their real names.

So, though I'd been invited to submit there, I refused to even consider it. I don't like people who play the name game. When entering into a contract, I want to know who I'm dealing with. You don't hide behind a pen name as a publisher.

My beliefs were confirmed when a friend told me she'd pulled her submission there and decided to go elsewhere. The reason? They told her that they were using pseudos to run the company and wouldn't tell her who they were until the contract was sealed. Nope. This is business. This isn't the place for petty little games. Nor is refusing to tell someone who they are really dealing with particularly ethical.

But, I've seen worse. So, let's look at that...

Company B... Company B tells you who the legal names behind the company are. Good move. HOWEVER, they play a name game of another sort, apparently.

It's not unusual in indie/e (remember that inbred little community) for publishers or editors to also be cover artists and authors. It's not completely unheard of for someone to be all three...or four...of the above, though that's not the preferred arrangement.

It's also not essential that you know every psuedo the publisher or editor uses. HOWEVER, at the point where a conflict of interest arises, it is required by ethical behavior that the individual TELL you the conflict exists.

Example? Company B's editor also writes as Author X. As Editor Z, she uses a company e-mail address. As Author X, she uses the e-mail address from her site. What Editor Z/Author X doesn't seem to realize is that she signs onto both of these accounts from the same computer. Anyone heard of IP? Not intellectual property, in this case, but the IP address (Internet protocol address).

Let me tell you about IP addresses. If you are signing on with cable, DSL or any other "permanent access" type of modem, you have a permanent IP address for your machine. If you are signing on with dial-up, and you are not expected to be online at all times, you may be given a temporary IP address that changes every time you log on. It may be one of tens of thousands of them your ISP owns.

Okay...let's get back to the scenario. Editor Z was offering a contract to Author C that had a clause C wasn't comfortable with in it. Needing the advice of an author older than herself, Author C went to Author X, another author with the company. Author X gave the hard sell on why the clause wasn't as bad as C thought it was. Now, if Author X had been anyone BUT Editor Z in another guise, there wouldn't be a problem here. HOWEVER, this was a conflict of interest, and Editor X SHOULD have told Author C that she had a conflict of interest.

What happened next? Author C still wasn't certain and decided not to sign the contract. In discussing this choice with Author F, another author with the company, Author F confided that she was fairly certain that Author X was a pen name of Editor Z. Upon checking e-mail from both of them, Authors C and F discovered the same originating IP address for both Author X and Editor Z. Author C asked Author X directly if she was also Editor Z and never recieved an answer to her question...except in the form of owner of said publisher blasting her, because "who the editors are is none of your business." Suspicious, to say the least.

Now, considering the fact that it is HIGHLY unlikely that Author X and Editor Z are different people, with the same ISP (internet service provider), both on dial-up so they have floating IP addresses, both in the same area of the country so the hub remains the same, both magically coming up with the same IP address on the two e-mails Author C and Author F chose to compare... Considering the fact that most publishers/editors and even cover artists in the business have DSL or cable modems, because of the amount of data they have to transmit on a daily basis, and as such, they have permanent IP addresses assigned JUST to their machine...

Where have ethics gone, and why? Do people really think they win brownie points with these games?

Sure, there is always going to be some desperate newbie or sucker who thinks the publisher is great for publishing her work. But, the more experienced and networked authors are going to be forewarned and are going to steer clear. That's the way this inbred little circle works.

Even if they don't care a whit about ethics, perhaps they SHOULD care about goodwill and reputation. How is a publisher supposed to sign and maintain the types of authors who come with a name and following, if they don't have a reputation for solid business practices?

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