You write books, you have fans, you network and sweat and lose sleep and friends over the time you pour into the thing you love. Why then, turn around and be a thorn in the side of the very people supporting you? Why would you spam?
The reality is no one likes spam. No one wants it. No one signs up for it and no one appreciates you doing it! So what is spam?
Spam is anything that is not a personal communication which you did not expressly sign up for. Note the word expressly. So someone is your friend on Facebook, you think, they’re my friend, they must want my newsletter/book announcement/mailing. Wrong. You cannot add them to your list. But what if they signed up for blog notifications? That’s subscribing right? I can include them. Wrong. You cannot add them to your list because they didn’t sign up for THAT list!
Sending spam isn’t only annoying and likely losing you friends and readers, it’s illegal. In the US the CAN-SPAM Act of 2003 requires you to include opt-out instructions and the sender’s physical address. There are also a number of state laws and other guidelines given out by the FTC and various courts. Other counties, including the European Union, Japan and Russia have their own Anti-Spam Laws. I recommend you look up what’s legal in your country of residence, but at a minimum, complying with the guidelines of a mail distribution company like MailChimp should protect you. Unfortunately, some people think those guidelines can be skirted and try to look legitimate even though they aren’t. If someone is doing this, report them to the distribution company.
I know, sometimes we get excited about something and think that everyone MUST want to know about it. Especially when we live the insular bubble of our own minds. Unfortunately, that’s not the case and self-pub and Indie Authors are subject to these laws as well. Plus, there some ethical issues and downright good manners to be considered! So here are some rules on how to set up a legitimate and legal mailing list.
Adding People To Your Mailing List
I use MailChimp for my quarterly newsletter. Doing so means that they already have systems in place for people to opt-out or unsubscribe from my list. It also means that there are tons of ways for folks to opt-in! There’s an embeddable form, a link to a dedicated page to sign up on and a way to integrate it with my website so folks can sign up when they comment on blog posts. I try to make signing up for my newsletter as easy and visible as possible for readers. Hopefully, this encourages them to opt-in. What I can’t do though is take emails I have and just add them to the list. No matter how I know them or how much I think they want to hear about my awesome book news. They HAVE to opt-in or expressly state they want me to do it for them (in writing). This means everyone. Even my mother had to sign up for the newsletter.
But Pav! This means I will have 0 subscribers when I start!
Yes, I know. Sorry about that. Tough. Post the sign up info on your blog and Facebook. Make a whole post about it. You can even have a giveaway that rewards people for signing up! All these things are legal. Adding a list of emails you have is not. Hell, you can even have the sign up right in a guest post you do! :)
Removing People From Your Mailing List
Sometimes folks have the best of intentions and still fall short. I see this all the time with mailing lists. You send out a note to a group of folks you consider friends and supporters making an announcement of a new book or event thinking: “This is fine! They want to know about this!” (FYI, you’re wrong, this is spam) But you go a step further. You want to do the right thing! So you put down a note that says something like “If you don’t want to receive these emails just reply with the word unsubscribe and I’ll take you off my list.”
Technically, you are in compliance with the opt-out requirements of the US Gov’t. However, anti-spam groups have come down strongly on requiring an opt-out option which is automatic. The reason for this is people inherently do not want to email you back and say they don’t want your emails. They don’t want to hurt your feelings so they just delete, or worse, block all emails from you so they never see anything you send.
I know I never send those “Unsubscribe Me” emails back, especially to fellow authors. Instead, sadly, many end up in my spam folder.
Subject Lines / Labeling
Thankfully I don’t see Indie Authors doing this, but for the sake of thoroughness, I’ll mention that your subject line has to be accurate. Subject lines like “You Won A Million Dollars!” are illegal unless all recipients of that email actually won a million dollars.
Contact Information / Postal Address
Your newsletter/book announcement/mailing list email must include a legal physical address. I know! No one wants to do that! I don’t want to do that! You are crazy people! I don’t want you to know where I live, or moreover, where my kids live! The answer? A Post Office Box. A PO Box is an acceptable legal address (as of the 2008 provision) to include in all mailings. I recommend Indie Authors have a PO Box anyway. Mine is publicly listed on my website and on every mailing I send. It’s great because I can get and send mail to anyone without any concern about my safety or privacy. Mine’s even under the name “Pavarti” even though it’s a pen name because I have a DBA.
The Infamous “Where you signed up” Disclosure
There’s a lot of debate about what counts here and unfortunately the US Laws aren’t explicit about this. The law states you can only add people who expressly signed up. I’ve been pretty clear about what I think that means, but what if you disagree with me? Ok, well, there’s an answer to that. Anti-Spam advocates recommend that all distributed emails have an explanation of where and when the person signing up for the email they are receiving. Ideally this looks like this:
We were given your e-mail address at our web site www..com onby someone coming from.
But that’s really hard to do! For my part, since I don’t add anyone to my lists manually and they are all by sign-up, this is really easy. Mine says “You signed up to receive this email via MailChimp’s subscription service. If you’d like to unsubscribe, please click here.” But what do you put if you add people whenever they re-tweet you on twitter or host you on their blog? Ahh, see you can’t because they didn’t give you express permission!
Recently, a fellow blogger received this as an opt-in message: “You are receiving this email because you’re shown interest in my works.”
Talk about vague! By this standard I could add anyone who has ever asked the casual “So how’s the book stuff going?” This is not “express permission” as the opt-in requirements state. Suddenly, again, you are spamming.
So what’s my point here? I’ve ranted enough. It all boils down to a simple rule. Don’t be a douche. Don’t email people who don’t say they want to hear from you. When someone says take me off, you legally have 10 days to do it. Do it fast.
Think about the value of your mailing list. Do you want people to see your name, roll their eyes, and think Jesus, another email from HER? Or do you want people to be excited to hear from you, want to know what you’re up to and have a genuine desire to connect? Newsletters are a great way to stay in touch with your readers. I do giveaways in mine, have featured free books by other authors and only send it quarterly so people don’t get sick of me. What are your best practices?
Oh and one last quick bit of advice: take the time to spell check and edit your newsletter. Remember, you are a writer and this is part of your brand. You need to write out the words, nt use txt spk, and take a minute to make sure you’re being as professional as possible.
What newsletter practices drive you batty? What would you like to see in a mailing from an author?
Thanks for having me TIE, and happy reading everyone!
• Spam Is Bad – http://spam.abuse.net/others/simplespam.shtml
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