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I am lucky enough to be part of a university research ethics team. The research part means PHD students. As the decades have stacked up behind me, I realise ethics are all important to some people and not at all to others. Here is one definition of the word ethics:

‘The study of what is morally right and what is not.’

It is an interesting field. After all, humans, over time, have had to decide what is right and what is wrong. Most of you will understand where our laws and rules like ‘you should not murder,’ and ‘you should not steal’ come from, but there are quite extreme opinions about how society should be ordered, including giving complete freedom to people. I think most of you would agree this would result in absolute chaos.

So where do ethics and integrity relate to being an author?

Your idea

For those of you who are old enough, you may remember that once Harry Potter was a success, there were suddenly lots of books about wizards and witches and so forth. You can’t blame people for tagging onto a success and I’m sure some of them were very good, but I would question the reasons for doing this when there are so many exciting subjects and genres you could write about. Around 1980, after the success of Star Wars, the same thing happened with science-fiction films which were of variable standards.

But of course, it is fine to want to write about similar tropes as, say, Harry Potter, but be aware that if you use any of the terms or even storylines from J. K. Rowling’s books, it will be a transgression. Plagiarism is frowned upon in all fields, from education to literacy, and it doesn’t really have much purpose. It’s worth remembering, though, that if you want to quote someone, it’s okay to just do that, just acknowledge it.

Your name

It might seem a little odd that you can use any name you want when you write a book, but you can. Writers have been using aliases for a long time and for a lot of reasons. Historically, women used male names as they knew it would expand their audience.

If you have a publisher, or if you publish through Amazon, they will want to know your real details, anyway. Never consider being dishonest about that.

Your research

Be honest about where your research comes from. If you’ve learnt about something strictly because you have read it online or in a book, you must acknowledge it. If it is simply your own knowledge, then that is fine. You won’t need to. Again, it’s fine to quote anything as long as you acknowledge it.


More and more people are using software like Grammarly and ProWritingAid to assist with their personal proof-reading. This is absolutely acceptable. Using technology to aid you is ok. I would suggest that you use these platforms carefully because they can change your ‘voice’ and the intent of what you want to say. Just don’t go with what it suggests all the time.


Now, you can get AI to do many clever things. It could even write an essay or a book for you, but then you would have to ask yourself what the point was. Writing expresses oneself, beliefs, and experiences and that means that a lot of ‘you’ must be in it. Although in its infancy, AI is very clever, but most people can tell the difference between something written by AI and by an author.

Having said that, the artwork it can create will certainly assist you in making a book cover and is particularly helpful with social media advertising.

Book title

Search your book title to ensure that it hasn’t been used before and whether it is still in publication and what the book is about. Clearly you cannot use somebody else’s title, and stunts like calling your book ‘Barry Putter’ would be such a giveaway and people may well laugh at you. If this book was a satire of Harry Potter, then that would be acceptable, but to pretend it is something it’s not would be definitely questionable.

Your achievements

We all want to give an excellent account of our successes as an author. To do this, understand that success has a very broad meaning. It’s not necessarily about making money or book sales. If you self-publish a book, and you have sold a handful, it’s still a success. Every little step in the right direction is a success. I followed one author who claimed to be a best seller and only researched that claim because it was suspicious. They weren’t a best seller; they just sold out a stall full of books on a market one day. Even little fibs can leave you embarrassed. They should have told the truth as it was still a success.

You should always be able to boast about your book. If it is your best work and you believe in it, then it is worth promoting.

Social media.

It’s all too easy to buy followers and likes, and it may help, but even if they are real people, it’s unlikely that they will support your career. I have about 700 followers on Instagram, which these days isn’t very much, but I have been in contact with many of them as I have accrued them organically from scratch. These are people who have similar interests to me, either in history or in authorship. This means that they can be useful if I need to ask advice of them as they do of me.

How you treat other authors

Imagine that every member of ASPA has been through what you have. Try to remember that for them too, compliments and encouragement come rarely In a way, we are all on the same team. Use ASPA as a platform to help and support one another. There are enough insults out there already.

In the few years I’ve been doing this, I’ve learned some astonishing things. Not least that people will publish books which only have a few pages printed within, hoping there will be quick sales and they will reap the profits from them. Already I have seen ads on Facebook for people who promise that AI will write your life story for you. You must navigate all of this with sensitivity and integrity and if you do, you will do fine.

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