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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?

#AuthorToolBoxBlogHop | Do I Need an Email List

Building Your Author Platform: Do I Need an Email List?

It is a truth universally acknowledged that the author with the biggest email list wins.

Well, not quite.

It’s not exactly universally acknowledged. But successful indie authors use email lists and newsletters to build relationships with readers, then to sell. But the relationship comes first. Remember:

  • Attract
  • Engage
  • Convert

Potential readers may have been attracted to our website through a range of methods: social media (which I’ll talk about next week), word of mouth, advertising, a previous book. Email is a way of engaging with potential our target audience, and hopefully converting them into paying readers.

Yes, email newsletters sell books.

The BookBub List

Many indie authors are seeing huge sales success through accessing the giant of all mailing lists: BookBub. Their Christian Fiction list has over 800,000 subscribers. And that’s not even a big list—the biggest lists are Crime Fiction, Thrillers, Cozy Mystery and Historical Mystery, each of which has over 2.9 million subscribers.

This is why authors are prepared to pay big bucks to get a featured deal on BookBub: it’s getting your name in front of a lot of readers who have indicated they are interested in your genre. But BookBub also illustrates another truth of publishing:

Advertising sells books. But not many.

A Crime fiction paid listing will sell an average of 4,000 books—a little over 0.1%. So an advertising blast to 1,000 people (e.g. 1,000 Twitter followers) might sell one book.

Even a free BookBub Crime Fiction listing (the author paying to list a free book) will net an average of just 52,000 downloads—a little over 1% of those emailed. However, that’s still enough that most authors make back their advertising fee as people read the free book, then buy the next in the series.

But authors—indie, small press or traditional CBA—can’t afford to rely on BookBub or similar programs. For one, BookBub is inundated with authors willing to pay hundreds of dollars for an advertisement, so no one can guarantee a listing. The same goes for the other major ebook advertisers, such as EReaderNewsToday, and Inspired Reads. The answer: build your own list.

Build Your Own List

There are good reasons why authors should develop their own mailing lists, and the main one is control: you want to be able to control how and when you connect with readers, rather than being at the mercy of when BookBub will accept your book, or when your publisher will decide to promote you.

What do I Email?

Blog Post

Some authors email the full text version of each blog post. This is an easy feature to set up in MailChimp, and doesn’t even require you to write the email—MailChimp does all the work. I personally don’t like this approach as I’ve probably already read the blog post through Feedly. However, many readers report they check email more often than they check blogs, so this will work with some people.

Link to Blog Post

I’ve also found authors who send a link to their latest blog post, but with some extra information e.g. what motivated them to write the blog post. I rather like this approach – it’s not difficult (the hard part is writing the blog post), but it still gives newsletter subscribers something extra they wouldn’t get if they were only following the blog, something that makes them a little bit special. It also means you can alter your voice a little—I find newsletters often have a more chatty feel than blog posts.

Digest Email

Some authors send a digest of all the posts on their blog and guest posts they’ve written, in case you’ve missed any.

Exclusive Content

Some authors go to a lot of effort to produce an informative newsletter full of exclusive content (i.e. not something that’s previously appeared on a blog!). Randy Ingermanson’s Advanced Fiction Writing newsletter is a great example of this (and if you don’t subscribe to Randy’s newsletter, you should).

Special News

Some authors only send emails when they have special news to announce, like a new book release or a sale. While this is great, I’m not convinced it’s sharing often enough to build any form of relationship with readers, which might mean people unsubscribe when you do email simply because they can’t remember subscribing.

Automation Sequence

The email marketing experts recommend sending new subscribers an automated sequence of emails as soon as they opt in to your email list. This can be between one and five emails, and they are designed to engage with new subscribers.

Sales and Promotions

Some newsletters exist simply to share relevant sales and promotions, such as AppSumo and Goodriter. I don’t recommend this as an approach for fiction authors, and non-fiction authors should only use it with caution—you don’t want people unsubscribing because they think you sold them a dud.

Some newsletters are a mix: Randy includes information on sales and promotions, for example. My Christian Editing Services newsletter includes a digest, some exclusive content, and I feature books I’ve edited which are now on sale.

Do you have a newsletter? Which provider do you use? How often do you email? What content do you send? What do your readers seem to like?

Email Marketing

Email Marketing: 5 Lessons Learned from Signing up to 20+ Author Newsletters

I recently undertook a marketing research exercise—I signed up to the mailing lists of around twenty Christian authors through a multi-author online giveaway to find out what makes a good email. The emails I received from the participating authors ranged in quality and effectiveness from great to illegal.

Here are the five key lessons I learned reading emails from over twenty authors:

1. Use a Mailing List Provider

Email marketing in the USA is controlled by the CAN-SPAM Act (that’s the Controlling the Assault of Non-Solicited Pornography and Marketing Act. Isn’t it great that marketing is placed on the same level as porn?). Yes, the CAN-SPAM Act is American and I’m not. It still applies to anyone with Americans on their email list.

The Act has several requirements, including:

  • You must have your full name and physical address in the email
  • You must provide a clear method to unsubscribe
  • You can only email people who have consented to receiving your emails
  • You must not share personal data such as email addresses with other people without permission

One author emailed me and 218 other people using CC. I now have their personal email addresses … and they have mine. This clearly contravenes the CAN-SPAM Act (the giveaway promoter assures me the offending author will be getting an email to “discuss” this).

Using a reputable mailing list provider will help ensure you don’t break the law by requiring you to include necessary information such as a name and address, and an unsubscribe option. It will also help your mail delivery rates, as mail from a personal Gmail or Yahoo account is more likely to end up in the recipient’s spam folder).

Note that even if you use a mailing list provider you still can’t add people to your mailing list without their permission (as has also happened to me this week, and as I have seen recommended by a self-proclaimed marketing “expert”). Most recommend a double opt-in, which both complies with the law, and helps ensure your mailing list isn’t filled with spam bots.

2. Introduce Yourself

The best emails started with an introduction to the author by name, and a reminder of how I subscribed to their email list (through the giveaway, in case I’d forgotten). This is good email list practice, as it helps cut down on spam complaints. It’s also good business practice, because you want subscribers to learn to recognise your name over time and get into the habit of opening your emails.

I got a couple of emails where I couldn’t work out who sent them. The sender was an email list provider, they didn’t introduce themselves, and the signoff at the bottom of the email was from a nickname (e.g. Kath), not from the author name. How can you convert subscribers into buyers if they don’t know who you are?

3. Keep the Presentation Professional

Some of the emails I received were plain text. These were plain and functional, but there was nothing wrong with them. Most used customised templates with branded headers and other images. I like pretty things and I’m interested in visual branding, so I liked these branded newsletters both for the content and for professional delivery.

But some emails were a horrible mix of plain text and colours straight out of the 1980’s. Why use plain black text when there is red and green and blue? In consecutive paragraphs? It looked like the newsletter equivalent of the recent job advertisement for a Graphic Designer for the City of Los Angeles.

Advertisement for Graphic Designer

4. Give Permission to Unsubscribe

You have to offer the option to unsubscribe, but don’t hide it at the bottom of the email. Offer the option in the middle of the email—or even at the top, right under the introduction. Not everyone who signed up for your email list actually wants to be on it. They may have signed up to all the lists because they thought it increased their chances of winning (it doesn’t). They may not have intended to sign up to all the lists. Or they may be conducting marketing research into email list best practice …

While most mailing list providers are free to begin with, you will have to start paying at some point. You don’t want to be paying for people who actually don’t want to be on your mailing list, so it’s better to say goodbye gracefully.

5. Offer a Subscriber Incentive

The better authors offered some kind of free downloadable gift in their introductory email. In fact, after getting a dozen or so emails with a free offer, the few that didn’t offer anything stood out in the wrong way.

Why offer a gift that appeals to your target readers?

  • It helps readers decide whether they like you as an author
  • It leverages the principle of reciprocity
  • It’s not asking for a sale

Some authors offer a free download of the opening chapters of their books. This sounds nice, but it’s not really an incentive—I can get that from Amazon or other online retailer. I’m also not a fan of gifts that don’t relate to your books. A pretty booklet with Bible verse memes is more appropriate for a devotional or inspirational non-fiction author than a fiction author.

Further Information

If you’re looking for further information on email lists, I recommend you read Email Lists Made Easy for Writers and Bloggers by Kristen Oliphant. It’s excellent, because it’s realistic, not the get-rich-quick-quick-quick some experts seem to sell. She also has a free downloadable workbook to help you work through some of the major decisions.

Note that since Email Lists Made Easy was published, MailChimp has added autoresponders to their free plan (MailChimp is free for up to 2,000 subscribers and 12,000 emails a month). Also, she doesn’t mention MailerLite an email provider. I know several authors who use and recommend MailerLite for the cheaper prices, ease of use, and excellent customer service.

Those are my five lessons learned from reading several dozen emails from over twenty authors. What tips do you have to add?

Best of the Blogs

Christian Editing Services | Best of the Blogs | 4 November 2017

The best of the blogs: must-read posts on writing, editing, publishing, and marketing your books, featuring Anne Greenwood Brown, Parul MacDonald, Kristine Kathryn Rusch, Lisa Hall-Wilson, and Kristen Oliphant

Writing

Point of View

Anne Greenwood Brown visits Writers Digest with an excellent post on point of view, author intrusion, and the importance of showing the story through your character’s eyes.

Subtext

Lisa Hall-Wilson visits Jami Gold’s blog to share about The Hidden Messages in Deep Point of View and Subtext. This is important: as a reader, subtext is what differentiates a so-so novel from a great novel.

Publishing

Choosing a Publishers

Writer Unboxed have a fascinating post from editor Parul MacDonald on the relative advantages and disadvantages of working with small publisher vs a big publisher. What interests me most is how much of a book’s success rests on the marketing, and how even the “experts” can get things wrong when making decisions outside their area of expertise.

Copyright

One day they’ll invent calorie-free chocolate, ice cream, and fried food. On that day, Kristine Kathryn Rusch will be able to stop blogging, because we’ll be living in some kind of fantasy utopia where nothing ever goes wrong. Until then, KKR will be writing and publishing blog posts on the myriad ways agents, publishers, and others find to rip authors off.

This week, it’s unethical companies or studios offering an option on your book then registering the copyright. This creates confusion over who owns the copyright … and who can therefore benefit from sales of the book (or movie or TV series).

Long story short: don’t sign an option agreement until you’ve read ALL KKR’s blog posts on copyright, and until a competent entertainment lawyer has read the contract.

Marketing

MailChimp

If you use MailChimp as your email provider, you need to check out this post from Kristen Oliphant, then get on over to MailChimp to change your settings back to double opt in. There should be a notification from MailChimp when you log in.

Social Media

Litsy

Social media is about connecting with readers, not selling to them. One new(ish) app for booklovers is Litsy—think of it as Instagram meets Goodreads. I’ve been on Litsy for a while, but haven’t really worked it out. Fortunately, Raimey Gallant has a great post this week with 33 Pro Litsy Tips from Fellow Bookworms.

If you sign up, you can find me at @iolagoulton. Yes, I follow back! Do you have to be on Litsy? Of course not. But you might want to sign up using your Twitter/Instagram name just so you have the same user name on all three platforms.

That’s all for this week! What’s the best or most interesting post you’ve read this week?

Best of the Blogs: 23 September 2016

www.christianediting.co.nzThe best posts I’ve read this week on reading, writing, editing and marketing:

Reading

I don’t understand the popularity of Amish fiction, perhaps because I’m not American. But as this article from Debbi Gusti at Seekerville shows, not even the authors can explain why Amish fiction is so successful: Amish Fiction? What’s the draw?

Can you enlighten me?

Writing

Dave King is one of the best when it comes to offering writing advice (If you haven’t read and memorised Self-Editing for Fiction Writers, you should). This week at Writer Unboxed, he talks about where our characters come from and how that affects their world view: Give Your Characters Roots

Editing

Margie Lawson always offers great advice. This week she’s visiting Writers in the Storm to talk about a better way to add character backstory: by using rhetorical devices (anyone who knows Margie knows how much she loves her rhetorical devices): Margie’s Rule #17: Finessing Backstory

Marketing

MailChimp (the email provider I use) have recently introduced segments, which allow users to email only a select portion of their mailing list. All is explained in this blog post: Pre-Built Segmentation: Target Your Customers with One Click

Fun

And finally, for a bit of fun, I have one of my own posts. If you’re a Kiwi, you’ll have heard of L&P. If not, let me introduce you to L&P: World Famous in New Zealand.

 

What’s the best blog post you’ve read this week? Share in the comments.