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What Authors Need to Know about GDPR (General Data Protection Regulation)

What Authors Need to Know About GDPR | An #AuthorToolBoxBlogHop Post

This post is part of the monthly Author ToolBox Blog Hop, organised by Raimey Gallant. We now have over 40 blogs participating. To find more Blog Hop posts:

I have two posts in the Blog Hop this month—this post on GDPR, and I’m also guest posting on Publishing at Ronel the Mythmaker’s blog, as part of her April A-Z Challenge.

But here I’m talking about the General Data Protection Regulation: what it is, and why authors need to know about it.

First, the PSA. I’m not a lawyer, so none of the information in this blog post is legal advice. It’s my best guess as a layperson who has studied the subject. If you want legal advice, you ask a lawyer who is qualified to practice in this area. In this case, that means a lawyer based in the EU with a background in privacy, data protection, or similar. You don’t get legal advice off the internet. Now, on with the blog post.

What is GDPR?

The GDPR is the General Data Protection Regulation, and comes into force on 25 May 2018. It harmonizes data privacy laws across the European Union (EU), so it affects any organization holding personal data from EU citizens. Note that the EU still includes the United Kingdom, so GDPR still applies. The British government have indicated they will implement GDPR-like legislation following Brexit (if it goes ahead).

Why do authors need to know about GDPR?

GDPR affects all organisations based in the EU, or supplying goods or services in the EU. If you have an email list, this includes you.

If you have an email list, you’re supplying services. Your subscribers may not pay you, but you are supplying a service. If your email list includes EU residents, or is likely to include EU residents in the future, the GDPR applies to you whether you live in the EU or not:

[The GDPR] applies to all companies processing and holding the personal data of data subjects residing in the European Union, regardless of the company’s location.

‘Personal data’ includes data such as a name or email address. It also includes IP addresses (such as those collected by your website when someone comments), and posts on social networking sites.

‘Companies’ includes your email list provider (e.g. MailChimp or MailerLite), and includes clouds. If you use an email list provider and follow their recommended best practice (e.g. double opt-in), then you are probably operating within the law. Probably. As I’ve said before, I’m not a lawyer and this is not legal advice.

GDPR requires that you collect the minimum data necessary.

This has always been best practice: if you are collecting email addresses, the only piece of data you actually need is the email address.

Asking for their first name might help you build a relationship with the subscriber (if they type their name correctly!), but it’s not necessary. Many sites also ask for a surname, and few people are going to object to that. But giving my business name, address, telephone number, number of employees … that’s over the top when all I want to do is download a short pdf file.

You have the option of making fields compulsory or optional. If the field is anything but 100% necessary, make it optional (most people will still complete it).

Note: this also applies to the contact form on your website, because that’s another way of collecting personal information.

GDPR requires active and explicit consent

The regulations say:

Consent must be clear and distinguishable from other matters and provided in an intelligible and easily accessible form, using clear and plain language. It must be as easy to withdraw consent as it is to give it.​

People must be actively consenting to join your email list.

  • Joining the email list can’t be automatic by filling out a form (as happened to me today!).
  • If there is a “Join my list” checkbox, it has to be unchecked. This means the would-be subscriber has to actively check the box.
  • Joining can’t be one item in a long and unreadable list of legalese.

I suspect people also can’t explicitly consent to joining twenty email lists at once. We often see this in online giveaways. Now, giveaways will have to give entrants the option to opt in or not opt in to each participant’s list (which some giveaways already do).

It must also be easy to withdraw consent. All the major email providers make this easy, by offering instant unsubscribe options (a far cry from when I used to unsubscribe to a spam email list and be told it might take up to a month!). Subscribers also have the right to have all their information deleted upon request, and the good email list providers do their best to make that easy as well.

How email providers are reacting

The major email providers do have lawyers on staff. I’m sure they’ve all been busy reading and arguing the finer points of the legislation, and considering what they need to change in order to ensure their customers (you and me) remain compliant.

Here’s what some of the main email providers have to say about GDPR:

Aweber

Aweber is self-certified with both the EU-U.S. Privacy Shield and Swiss-U.S. Privacy Shield, and intend to be fully compliant with GDPR. They say Aweber customers need to ensure they comply with Aweber terms of service to help ensure they are GDPR-compliant.

Convertkit

ConvertKit are building new features to enable users to identify their EU subscribers and provide explicit consent, including providing a specific opt-in checkbox for EU subscribers.

ConvertKit recommend users:

  • Use double opt-in wherever possible.
  • Perform regular list backups.
  • Make your intentions clear on email signup forms and landing pages (e.g. what will they get by signing up to this list? Will they also be signed up to another list?).

This is good advice for everyone.

MailChimp

MailChimp explains what they are doing to prepare for GDPR (such as a specific opt-in box on forms), and recommends users clearly explain to subscribers how their data will be used.

MailerLite

MailerLite have developed a GDPR template to help users revalidate their email list to be sure everyone has actively and explicity consented.

What should I do?

If you’re not 100% sure all your subscribers have opted in to receiving your emails (e.g. you haven’t always used a double opt-in), then you should check out what templates or services your email list provider offers, and use them to clean your list.

If you have an email list, you need to use a recognised email list provider! No, you can’t send bulk emails through Gmail, Hotmail, or Outlook.

Have you cleaned your email list lately? Have you deleted the people who never open your messages? That would make a great project for May. Sure, it will mean fewer people on your list. There are advantages to cutting the dead weight from your list. It will increase your open rates, cost you less, and mean your emails are less likely to end up in spam. Isn’t that a good thing?

What do you need to do to prepare for GDPR?

Using BookFunnel, Instafreebie, or MyBookCave to Build Your Email List

Using BookFunnel, Instafreebie, or MyBookCave to Build Your Email List

Over the last three weeks I’ve covered various ways to build your email list:

There are two main kinds of giveaway tools. Last week’s post looks at contest-type tools. These are used when running a giveaway that selects one (or more) winners from the eligible entrants.

The other kind of online giveaway is where everyone receives a free ebook in exchange for signing up for an email list.

I’ve found three tools which facilitate building your author email list:

  • BookFunnel
  • Instafreebie
  • MyBookCave

Let’s look at each in turn.

BookFunnel

A growing number of self-published authors using BookFunnel to build their email lists. It’s a great service: you upload your book files, create a download page, and BookFunnel gives people the option of how they want to download the book. They then provide detailed instructions (right down to the Kindle version), an email-my-book option, and online support so you’re not having to deal with readers who can’t work out how to sideload a mobi file onto their Kindle.

BookFunnel has a $20/year option which allows one pen name, and up to 500 downloads. This is useful if you’re using BookFunnel to deliver advance review copies (ARCs) to potential reviewers, but not useful if you’re trying to build your email list as it doesn’t collect email addresses.

If you’re wanting to collect email addresses, you’ll need at least the Mid-List plan ($10/month, or $100/year).

However, this doesn’t integrate with your mailing list provider—you’ll have to download the CSV file after the giveaway and upload that to your email list. Email list integration costs an additional $5/month, or $50/year. Or you can subscribe to the Professional plan, which also offers an additional pen name, priority support, and unlimited monthly downloads.

I haven’t used BookFunnel as an author, but I have used it as a reader and reviewer. A lot of the authors I review for use BookFunnel to deliver their ARCs. If you’re on the MidList plan or above, BookFunnel will watermark the file and only allow one download per code. These measures help prevent online privacy. It also means if the BookFunnel version of your book shows up on a pirate site, it’s obvious where the file came from.

One of the advantages of using a paid service is they help you keep on top of changes in national and international legislation.

For example, the implementation of the European Union General Data Protection Regulation (or GDPR, which I’ll talk about in a future post).

For example, if an author was on the Mid-List plan or above, BookFunnel used to automatically collect and pass on the email address. Now the person downloading the book has to actively opt in to having their email address shared with the author, although authors have the option of not permitting readers to download the book until they have opted in to the mailing list. This helps authors ensure they are complying with GDPR and other anti-spam legislation.

Instafreebie

Instafreebie also offers a way to give books away. Their basic plan is free, and includes unlimited downloads and free delivery to readers in their choice of format. However, the basic plan doesn’t add entrants to an email list. The Plus plan is $20 per month, and includes integration with MailChimp or MailerLite (users of other email programs can download the CSV file).

Instafreebie offers a free 30-day trial, and allows authors to subscribe by the month. This means an author can upgrade from Basic to Plus in any month they are promoting their lead magnet, then downgrade again at the conclusion of the giveaway.

I participated in an Instafreebie group promotion in early 2017. This added around 400 people to my email list. I didn’t give away a published book, as I don’t have any books published. Instead, I offered Christian Publishers: A Guide to Publishers Specializing in Christian Fiction, which is the incentive I offer everyone who signs up to my email list.

The advantage of an Instafreebie giveaway is that entrants choose which email lists to sign up for.

This means the giveaway was compliant with the GDPR, and meant I didn’t have a huge number of entrants unsubscribing.

The disadvantage was that not all entrants knew how to get their downloaded book/s from their PC over to their ereader. Fortunately, the giveaway host had a Youtube video demonstrating how to sideload an ebook, so was able to forward that link to those who had trouble.

I participated in another group giveaway on Instafreebie later in 2017. This only netted me 40 subscribers, because the group was not nearly as active when it came to promoting the giveaway.

MyBookCave

MyBookCave is similar to BookBub and other online ebook promotion companies, in that it sends daily emails to subscribers, sharing a collated list of sale and free ebooks.

MyBookCave’s unique angle is that books are rated in the same way as movies or games are rated (well, it’s an almost-unique idea. Review website More Than a Review also rates books for language, violence, and sexual content). MyBookCave gives an overall rating which combines all these factors and more:

  • All Ages
  • Mild (and Mild+)
  • Moderate (and Moderate+)
  • Adult (and Adult+)

MyBookCave offers two kinds of promotional opportunities for authors:

  • Promoting your sale book
  • Gaining Newsletter subscribers

Gaining Newsletter Subscribers

This is currently a free service (although I’m sure that will change). All books are rated by content level, and classified according to genre. There is a Christian fiction genre, Authors upload their lead magnet, and MyBookCave includes this on their Book Cave Direct page. Readers can then download the book in exchange for providing their email address (necessary for MyBookCave to send them the download link!). Readers can opt out, as required by anti-spam laws.

MyBookCave supports readers to transfer their downloaded files onto their Kindles. They have an app for Kindle Fire and Android users. Other users are taken through a sequence of menus to get their book (similar to the BookFunnel menus). Users also have the option of having the mobi or epub file emailed directly to them, or downloading the file to their computer (which is what I ended up doing, as the download link didn’t work, and the email took a while to arrive).

MyBookCave also has a Facebook group where authors can join together for group promotions. Group promotions are then promoted by MyBookCave, which should help them get more visibility (and you more downloads). Authors can also use MyBookCave to provide readers with review copies (ARCs), to reward current newsletter subscribers with a subscriber-only link, or to pass their work in progress to beta readers.

The only disadvantage is that MyBookCave doesn’t automatically add people to your email list.

Users have to download the CSV file from MyBookCave, then upload it to their own email list provider. I suspect this will need to be done at least a couple of times a month so new subscribers are added to your list and welcomed in a timely manner (i.e. before they forget they signed up!).

Do you use any online tools to build your email list? Which tool do you use, and what success have you seen?