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Do Authors Have to Blog?

Dear Editor | Do Authors Have to Blog? (An #AuthorToolBoxBlogHop Post)

Writers are an odd bunch. I’ve come across many writers who are more than comfortable with the idea of writing a 90,000-word novel, but have palpitations at the thought of writing and publishing a 500-word blog post.

These authors often ask the same question:

Do Authors Have to Blog?

My answer? Maybe. But maybe not.

If you’re a non-fiction author, then you do need to blog. It establishes your expertise in your specialist area, which will build credibility.

But you might not need to blog if you’re a fiction author. Many established authors don’t have a blog on their website. Others do, but blog only a few times a year (usually to promote a new release). Some blog on group blogs.

Do fiction authors have to blog? And what should they blog about? #Blogging #AuthorToolBoxBlogHop Click To Tweet

Fiction authors may still need to blog.

If you’re aiming for a publishing contract with a major traditional publisher, then you almost certainly need to have an author blog and post regularly. Social media expert Edie Melson points out that regular blogging shows industry professionals you can write to a deadline and produce quality work. Melson does point out that blogging isn’t a way to sell books, but does provide a way of connecting with readers.

What if you’re aiming to self-publish?

Then it depends. Self-published authors need a website and an email list, but blogging? It’s not the most important part of a website—that would be your About page, and your Books page, because those are the pages readers are most likely to be looking for.

Do you enjoy blogging?

No? Then don’t start a blog. You want your blog to show readers an interesting person they want to know better. That’s not going to come through if you think blogging is a chore on a par with cleaning the toilet (or whatever household task you loathe most).

Can you commit to regular blogging? Will you?

Will you commit to a regular blogging schedule, including writing, editing and publishing a new blog post at least once per week for at least the next six months? No? Then don’t start a blog.

Don’t I have to blog to sell books?

No—even a strong blog might not help you sell books. Think of Mike Duran. I often share his posts  because they are thought-provoking and relevant and he’s not afraid to ask the hard questions about Christianity and literature. But he writes Christian horror, and while I think his blog is great, I’m not interested in his fiction (sorry, Mike).

Anyway, no one is going to be interested in your blog if it’s a constant infomercial (let your Home and Books pages do the selling).

Okay. I’m going to blog.

If you enjoy blogging and can commit to a regular schedule, then maybe blogging is for you. Now your choice is between blogging on your website, or blogging as part of a group blog. Here are some I read regularly:

If you blog on your own website:

  • Be regular. Blog at least once a week, at the same time and on the same day each week. Announce this on your About page. Don’t overcommit yourself: if one good post each week is all you can manage, then blog once a week.
  • Be intentional. Choose a topic or theme, and stick to it. If you don’t know what your theme might be, Jeff Goins has a 12-part free email course that might help you.
  • Don’t put blogging ahead of writing your book. If blogging is taking over your writing time, you might need to reconsider how regularly you blog.

If you post on a group blog:

  • Get your post up early. The earlier, the better. It saves the blog organiser the last-minute stress of wondering whether they need to find a filler post if you miss your slot.
  • Ensure your posts fit the blog. Some group blogs have different themes for different days. I find a set theme makes it easier to write a post. Ensure your posts are consistent in length and style with those of the other contributors. This doesn’t mean letting go of your unique author voice, but it does mean making sure you’re not posting deep theological treatises when everyone else is posting about their cute pets (or vice versa).
  • Put blogging ahead ahead of writing your book. You’ve made a commitment. Keep it. If you need to step back from contributing, contact the blog organiser and work out a mutually agreeable schedule. Don’t leave your blogmates in the lurch.

What do you blog about?

This is the more difficult question.

If you write non-fiction, blog about subjects related to your book (or even blog your book).

It’s not so cut and dried if you write fiction, especially if you’re not yet published. You want to your blog to appeal to your target reader—it’s a place for your potential audience to get to know you better, so write to appeal to that audience.

Do Authors Have to Blog? Tips for fiction and non-fiction authors #Blogging #AuthorToolBoxBlogHop Click To Tweet

What subjects are your readers interested in?

Rachel Thompson and other blogging gurus suggest picking four or five topics and blogging about each once a month. Topics should be:

  • Something you’re interested in, so you can bear to write about them each month.
  • Something your target reader might be interested in. There is no point in building an audience of manhwa (Korean manga) fans if you’re writing inspirational women’s fiction.

Your blog needs to serve your reader, not you. What questions are they asking?

This doesn’t mean you can’t post about your writing—you can, but in a way that’s relevant for your target reader. For example, you could post:

  • Short stories (so they know your writing style).
  • Reviews of books in the same genre (because you want your blog to attract readers, right?).
  • Movie reviews in your genre (because readers are fans of story, and movies often have great stories).

Once you’re published, you can add book-related content, such as:

  • Character information, maps or related plot information.
  • Questions for book clubs.
  • Outtakes or deleted scenes (maybe).

The Novel Marketing Podcast has a useful episode on what novelists can blog about.

One last tip . . .

If you do choose to blog, ensure your blog integrated into your website (so your blog is a page on your website, not a completely separate site). Your blog is where you’ll start connecting with readers, through regular blog posts, so don’t confuse potential reader by having two sites.

Do you blog? How often? What do you blog about? What hints to you have for your fellow authors?

Twitter Hashtags Lists and Mentions

Twitter Hashtags, Lists, and Mentions (An #AuthorToolBoxBlogHop Post)

Last week, I talked about why authors need to be on Twitter.

Today I’m going to give you a little background to three important Twitter topics: hashtags, mentions, and lists. And an important Twitter Tip that you’ll need to remember before you even think about automating any Twitter tasks. I’ll be back next week to talk about Twitter tools and automation.

About Hashtags

You’ve all seen hashtags—they’re all over social media. Things like #amreading or #amwriting or #amediting … basically, anything preceeded by a hash symbol (#, which is what Americans call a pound key).

Hashtags are important because they are how people search for topics on Twitter (and Instagram). You want to hear the latest publishing scandal? Search for #CopyPasteCris. Want the latest Game of Thrones gossip and spoilers (or to vent about the current episode)? Try #gameofthrones or simply #got. Looking for a book to read? Try #amreading or #christfic or #inspy or #romance or #bookworm. Using #cr4u (Clean Reads for You) will always get you a lot of retweets.

You can even invent your own hashtag, for a book, a series, a genre (like #cr4u), or an event. And you can use the same hashtag on Facebook and Instagram (Instagram loves hashtags. Facebook … allows them, but not everyone uses them properly #soyougetlotsofwordsjoinedtogetherwhichdontmeanmuch.

#TwitterTip. If you are using multiple words in a hashtag, capitalise each word to make it easier to read: #SoYouGetLotsOfWordsJoinedTogetherWhichDontMeanMuch. Still a mouthful, but it is at least readable. Click To Tweet

Mentions

These are called @-mentions (at-mentions), because of the @ key which comes in front of your Twitter name (so I’m @iolagoulton). If you want someone to see your Tweet, you tag them with an @-mention. This also means your tweet will show up in the Twitter feed of all their followers … so it’s not something to abuse.

But it is considered good Twitter etiquette to @-mention someone if:

  • You’re linking to a blog post about them.
  • If you’re reviewing their book.

If you’re interviewing them.

(This relates to my post last week, about why you need to be on Twitter. Why would you want to miss out on knowing when people are being nice about you?)

Twitter Lists

Once you’ve been on Twitter a while, you’ll find you can’t actually scan every tweet from every person you follow (and you wouldn’t want to, especially not if some of the people you follow are the spam-every-six-minutes types). But that doesn’t mean you want to unfollow them …

Twitter lists are the answer to this dilemma.

Group similar accounts into a List, and you can just review tweets from that list. Sometimes I add interesting people to a list, then find out they are tweet-every-six-minute spammers. The solution is simple: take them off the list.

(As an aside, this is why you shouldn’t be a tweet-every-six-minute spammer. It’s possible no one will notice if they follow hundreds or thousands of active accounts. But if they put you on a list, spammy behaviour is easy to spot and difficult to ignore.)

The way they achieve this annoying omniscience is through automation. They’ll use a tool to preschedule hundreds of tweets each week, each promoting themselves or their books. This behaviour gives automation a bad name.

But there is a better way to use automation. I’ll talk about that next week.

Meanwhile, here’s my big #TwitterTip (hey! See the hashtag!):

Twitter is not all about you.
If you spend any time on Twitter (or read blog posts about Twitter or other social media), you’ll come across some variation of the Pareto Principle, also known as the 80:20 rule #TwitterTip Click To Tweet
No more than 20% of your posts should be about you.

Most of your posts (80%, or four out of five) should be posts from or about other people, such as retweets of interesting blog posts. That is, blog posts which are interesting to your target reader … which may or may not be people like you. Not blog posts you liked because they had useful writing or editing tips (unless your target reader is a writer).

If you can focus on this 80:20 principle, focus on providing content that your readers will find interesting, you’ll get interaction with readers and you might even find you come to enjoy using Twitter.

But if you make it all about you … Yeah. You might get nothing but tumbleweeds. Not so good.

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:
How to Writers Earn Money? (An #AuthorToolBoxBlogHop Post)

How do Writers Earn Money? (An #AuthorToolBoxBlogHop Post)

I recently came across an advertisement for a website offering a new way for writers to get paid for their work. Having observed the publishing industry for several years, my experience has been twofold:

  • There are more people claiming to have invented a “new way” than there are new ways.
  • Most of the “new ways” are ineffective or unethical.

Anyway, the advertisement got me thinking: how do writers earn money?

Selling Books

Selling books is the obvious source of income for published authors. However, that’s one of the many things in life that’s easy to say and much harder to do!

Writing Articles

Many sites pay up front for contributions (but many more pay only in “exposure”). Payment isn’t high, and can start from $5 for a 300-word blog post. If this interests you, I suggest checking out sites like Fiverr and Upwork. Just don’t get caught up in something unethical, like writing $5 Amazon book reviews for books you haven’t read …

Blogging

Writers don’t actually earn money by blogging. But bloggers can monetise their blogs through advertising, affiliate income, and sponsorship.

The challenge here is traffic. No one is going to want to advertise on a blog no one visits, and many advertising networks won’t even sign up bloggers with less than a specified number of page views (e.g. 10,000 page views per month, as measured by Google Analytics).

Advertising

Most blog advertising is direct advertising. Some websites have enough traffic that they can actually sell their own advertising for a monthly fee (e.g. SBTB, who have 350,000+ page views a month on desktop alone). The advantage of this is you control the content that will appear on your site, and you set the fee so you know how much you’ll get paid. The disadvantage for writers advertising on their own site is that you might only want to advertise your own products.

The more common blogger advertising model is to partner with an advertising network such as Google AdSense. Bloggers then provide a blank space which the advertiser fills, and the blogger pay be paid on a pay per view (PPV), pay per click (PPC), or on actual sales. Payments will therefore vary depending on traffic and engagement.

I see two issues with using an advertising network:
  1. With PPC and other click-through advertising, you’re getting paid for taking people away from your website, not for keeping them on your website. That’s bad for your SEO, which rewards people visiting your site and staying there. It also doesn’t say much for your writing if visitors would rather leave than read your content.
  2. You don’t control the advertisements that are appearing on your blog. I visit a lot of book blogger sites where the ad spaces are advertising vanity presses (no doubt because Google sees a lot of writers visiting those sites). I’m against vanity presses, so there is no way I’d want advertisements for a product I despise on my site. I’ve also seen advertisements for violent R16 video games on Christian review sites. I want to control what I advertise, which is why I stick with affiliate marketing. While bloggers can block certain categories of advertisers, those categories are broad (dating, drugs, games, sex).

And advertisers can still slip through the cracks. The site which prompted this post was clear that it did not accept adult content. But the first affiliate link I clicked took me to an advertisement for a famous lingerie brand, complete with a lingerie-clad model. The second link took me to a pirate video site.

Again, not products I want my brand to be associated with.

Affiliate Marketing

Organisations such as Amazon have affiliate programs to encourage website owners and bloggers to advertise their products by providing a small percentage

I am an Amazon affiliate (which earns me around $10 a year—4% of a 99c books means a lot of people have to click through for me to earn enough to get paid!)

I’m also an affiliate for several of the products and services I use in writing and blogging, such as:

I’m also an affiliate for Draft2Digital even though I don’t use their services (yet). This is because I’ve seen them recommended by others, I’ve seen the work they do, and know I’ll want to use them when the time comes.

Do these schemes earn me a lot of money? No—less than $100 a year, but that’s because I don’t put a lot of effort into them. Some bloggers earn a full-time salary through affiliate income. Some authors (e.g. Joanna Penn) earn substantially more.

Again, it comes down to traffic. Joanna Penn earns more in affiliate income than I do because:

  • She gets more traffic.
  • She’s an affiliate for some higher-ticket items, like courses from Nick Stephenson and Mark Dawson.

I also refuse to be an affiliate for products I don’t support. For example, I paid $297 for one course I wouldn’t recommend. I could earn back my (wasted) fee by signing up for an affiliate of the course and pocketing 30% every time someone signed up using my link. But I see that as somewhere between misleading and dishonest, so I won’t do it.

(Yes, all the above links are affiliate links, which means I’ll earn a small commission if you buy something from one of those links, but you’ll pay the same amount).
How do authors earn money? There are several ways ... but there are potential traps. #AuthorToolBoxBlogHop ##WritersLife Click To Tweet

Sponsorship

As with affiliate marketing, sponsorship is working directly with product or service providers. For example, I often get approached by service providers offering me a free product in exchange for a review (none of them have yet offered actual money as well!). I don’t usually accept these offers, as most of them aren’t relevant to my audience (e.g. the quiz app that costs $209 per month).

If you’re interested in chasing sponsorship dollars, you’ll need an established site and audience, and you’ll need to pitch to the service providers you’re interested in.

Speaking Engagements

Many writers are also speakers, speaking to writers at conferences or local writer groups, or speaking to readers at reader conventions, book clubs, and book signings. Children’s authors may also speak in schools. Many of these engagements are unpaid or compensated only with a token gift.

Other speaking opportunities are paid, but most are only an honorarium and don’t cover the cost of the conference, let alone the associated travel and accommodation costs. Most writers speak as a way of enlarging their platform and giving back to the community, not as a form of income.

There is also the reverse: business professionals who write a book. For this group, a book is a sign of authority in their field, and earnings from the book are secondary to their earnings from their business. These authorities (some of whom do speak on writing or book marketing) are usually paid hundreds or thousands of dollars, as well as having all their expenses covered.

What have I missed? How else can writers earn money from their writing? Let me know in the comments!

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:
Building Your Author Website

4 Decisions to Make Before Building Your Author Website (An #AuthorToolBoxBlogHop Post)

I’ve been busy building websites. The demise of Google+ has meant we’ve created a new WordPress-based site for Australasian Christian Writers, and I’m now doing the same for International Christian Fiction Writers. And I still need to review my own sites …

I’ve been reminded that building your author website is a lot easier if you make some of the key decisions before you start. This site was the first I built, and it took weeks—simply because there were so many decisions to be made. The most recent site only took two days, because I made all the big decisions before I started (although we still haven’t officially launched the site … and I’m not responsible for the content).

Here are the big four decisions:

1. Decide on your platform

Website design has come a long way from the days when people had to speak html as a second language in order to be able to develop a website. Now there are a variety of free and paid options that mean even the least tech-savvy person can set up a website.

The most well-known options are Blogger and WordPress. Other options include SquareSpace, Weebly, and Wix. All have free and paid options, with the paid options allowing you to use a custom domain name (i.e. www.iolagoulton.com rather than www.christianreads.blogspot.com).

Blogger (powered by Google) is probably the easiest to use, especially if you’re not especially tech-savvy. However, it’s an old platform, needs investment, and it’s unclear how the death of Google+ will affect Blogger commenting going forward (and existing Google+ comments will be lost, along with images stored in Google+).

WordPress.org (the paid version) has a huge range of themes and plugins you can use to customise your site, but most people would need the assistance of a web designer to undertake any customisation. The advantage of using a WordPress-based site is that it’s designed to be a website not just a blog, so the finished product looks a lot more professional.

(If you want help building a WordPress.org site, either click here to sign up for my March Marketing Challenge, or check out Shannon Mattern’s free 5 Day Website Challenge.)

2. Choose a Theme

WordPress has a virtually unlimited number of themes, both free and paid. It might be tempting to use the standard theme (currently Twenty Nineteen), but that’s soon going to date your site … and you run the risk of your site looking exactly the same as all the other sites using the same theme.

I use the free version of the Make theme from Theme Foundry on this site—it’s fully customisable, but not difficult to use (especially not if you sign up for the 5 Day Website Challenge). A lot of people use and love Divi, available from Elegant Themes.

The most important things to look for in a theme are:

Mobile Responsive

More and more people access the internet using mobile and tablet devices, so you need to chose a theme that automatically adapts to the size of the screen.

Customisable

Many themes have a limited number of fonts and colourschemes. That might not matter if you don’t already have your own brand fonts and colours. But if you do, you’ll want a theme you can adapt to your own branding rather than being forced to use the preset colours and fonts.

3. Decide your colourscheme.

The problem with picking a colour is you’re not at school any more. You have more than the standard eight colours of crayon on offer at school (although you might have been one of the lucky kids to have Crayola crayons with 64 colours).

No, now you have an almost unlimited choice (somewhere around 16,700,000, if I’ve calculated correctly).

Colour should reflect your genre: black and red probably aren’t the best choices for a contemporary romance author.

How do you choose? What colours go together?

Don’t worry. Canva.com has some blog posts which will give you some good ideas around possible colour combinations:

4. Pick your fonts.

Fonts are both easier and more difficult to pick than colours. Sure, there are less than 16,700,000 choices, but you have to choose two, or maybe even three.

You need an easy-to-read font for your body text, and another font for your headings (perhaps more than one, as you can have several levels of headings and subheadings). You can be a little more creative with this choice, but it still needs to be consistent with your genre and author brand.

Canva and Elegant Themes have some excellent blog posts on font choices:

It can be tempting to stick with the tried-and-true Arial or Times New Roman fonts, perhaps because it’s hard to decide on a font. But some fonts are best avoided.

As you look through the font lists, you’ll see a lot you don’t like, some you like but which aren’t right for your brand, and (hopefully) a smaller number of appropriate font choices. Then you need to consider which two or three fonts you can use together.

Here are some useful resources on font pairings:

That last resource is very cool. Pick a font, and it doesn’t just tell you what fonts would pair well. It shows you four or five options on a mock website, so you can really see how the fonts look together (hover over the text for it to tell you the font name).

Just set a timer: there are so many options that it’s easy to get lost!

Do you need help in developing your website or your author platform?

If so, check out my March Marketing Challenge: Kick-Start Your Author Platform. It’s a 40-day Challenge, and I take you through every step, from considering your genre and target reader, to a real live website. You’ll receive a 70-page workbook, and membership to our exclusive Facebook group—a great place to ask questions.

Click here to find out more.

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:
Paths to Publishing - Small Press

Paths to Publishing 2 | Small Presses (An #AuthorToolBoxBlogHop Post)

Last week I talked about traditional publishing, specifically discussing large publishers. This week I’m looking at another area of traditional publishing: the small press.

Small presses and micropresses follow the same business principles as the major traditional publishers. Small presses take on the full financial responsibility for publishing and distributing the book, although you’re less likely to see their books on the shelf at your local store, or in your library.

Many will accept direct submissions from authors.

Few small presses pay advances, but all pay royalties. As with trade publishers, reputable small presses don’t charge you for publishing or require any compulsory book purchases (if they do, they’re a vanity press, which we’ll get to in a later post).

Paths to Publishing: Small Press | The potential problem with small presses is that they are often less experienced publishers, which can impact on quality. #WriteTip #PubTip Click To Tweet

The main differences between a larger publisher and a small press are:

Small presses are more likely to be owned by individuals.

Trade publishers are often owned by multinational corporations or churches (in the Christian arena). This means the person you are dealing with in a small press has an actual stake in the success of your book.

Small presses will have a smaller team

The owner may well be the acquisitions editor, the structural editor, the line editor, the copy editor, the proofreader, the formatter, the cover designer, and the sales and marketing department. This has advantages and disadvantages: it means the person you’re dealing with is the one with the power to make decisions, but it may mean the publisher becomes stretched too thin, or are undertaking roles they aren’t suited for.

A small press is less likely to pay advances.

However, they often pay higher royalties than the major publishers, especially for digital sales (although it can be argued a higher royalty rate is only useful if the book is selling).

Small presses may offer digital-only or digital-first contracts.

This means only books with a high enough ebook sales record will get printed and distributed. Alternatively, they may sell paperback copies through a print-on-demand service such as IngramSpark rather than printing and distributing stock (because printing and warehousing costs money).

Small presses may not distribute to bookstores.

This is a factor of cost: books are distributed to bookstores on a sale-or-return basis, and a small business may not have the financial backing to make in-store sales financially viable.

Advantages of a Small Press

Most small presses accept unsolicited submissions from unagented writers.

However, just because you can submit doesn’t mean you should. I find many small presses produce books with bad writing, amateur covers, insufficient editing, and little or no marketing support. You might be better off self-publishing (or not publishing) rather than submitting to a bad small press.

Here are some suggestions of what to look for before submitting to a small press:

A good small press will operate in a niche (e.g. Christian romance)

They can’t be all things to all people, and they don’t try.

Cover art will be professional, and reflect the specific genre.

While their cover art won’t reach the standard of the best Big Five publishers, it will be as good as the cover art of the best indie publishers. Readers do judge books by their covers, and many of the small presses (unfortunately) feature cover art best described as average.

The writing and the editing should be excellent.

I often find the copyediting is solid, in that there are few or no typographical errors, but there are fundamental writing issues (e.g. headhopping, or telling not showing). Mistakes like these show the publisher or their editors lack an understanding of the essentials of good fiction. Small presses who produce excellent non-fiction may well be lacking in the necessary skills to produce excellent fiction—and vice-versa.

Books are available in major online stores.

However, books may not be available in physical bookstores, especially if the small press utilises a digital-first or digital-only model to control costs.

Prices are competitive for both ebooks and paperbacks.

Readers are unlikely to pay more than USD 5.99 for the ebook version of a full-length novel (80,000–90,000 words) from an unknown author or publisher. Paperbacks should retail at USD 12.99—USD 15.99 to be competitive with the major publishers.

What next?

Once you are confident the small press has the high standards your book deserves, make sure your book shines. To employ a cliché, you only get one chance to make a first impression, and you don’t want to waste that chance on a manuscript that has issues you didn’t fix because you didn’t know they were issues.

Paths to Publishing 2 - the Small Press | Advantages and disadvantages of publishing with a small press #AuthorToolboxBlogHop #PupTip Click To Tweet

There are an increasing number of small presses and micropresses publishing Christian fiction. To receive a current list, click here and sign up to my monthly newsletter.

Next week I’ll be looking at self-publishing and hybrid authors (authors who trade publish and self-publish).

Meanwhile, what questions do you have about small presses? What advice do you have to share?

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:
Should Authors Review?

Should Authors Review? (An #AuthorToolBoxBlogHop Post)

This week I’m addressing a question many authors ask: should authors review? First, let’s back up to a more important question:

Should authors read?

Yes!

“If you don’t have time to read, you don’t have the time (or the tools) to write. Simple as that.” (Stephen King, On Writing)

My personal view is that authors should read both inside and outside their genre. The odd writing craft book doesn’t hurt either!

  • Authors should read inside their genre to understand current trends in subject and voice.
  • Authors should read outside their genre to get ideas and inspiration for their own books.
  • Authors should read writing craft books, because we all need to be teachable.

But should authors review?

Yes.

Well-written reviews influence sales, so writing reviews blesses authors you enjoy reading, and influences others to try their work.

Do authors have to review?

No.

Reviewing a book is one way of blessing the author. But it’s not the only way. There are other ways, tangible and intangible. Pray for them. Buy their books. Recommend their books to friends. Comment on their blog posts. Follow their blog. Sign up for their email list. Like them on Facebook and Amazon. Follow and Fan them on Goodreads. Like their reviews on Goodreads. Tweet their new release. Tweet helpful reviews.

Should authors review everything they read?

No.

You don’t have to review everything you read, and you don’t have to publish your reviews on commercial sites. Most websites have a clear set of reviewing guidelines, and authors need to bear these in mind when deciding what to review—and what not to review. We discussed the Amazon Community Guidelines in this post.

I believe that as Christians, we absolutely need to adhere to the rules of each website. In fact, I believe we should hold ourselves to higher standards, not just to abstain from unethical behaviour, but to abstain from the appearance of unethical behaviour.

For example, I’m a book reviewer and a freelance editor. While I have an obligation to review books I obtain from book blogger programmes (e.g. NetGalley), I can’t review any book by clients on a commercial site such as Amazon.

So where can authors review?

Commercial sites

Commercial sites are any sites which sell books to readers. These include Amazon, Barnes & Noble, BookDespository, ChristianBook, and Koorong.

But just because you can review doesn’t mean you should. When reviewing on commerical sites (especially Amazon), ensure you only review within the sites reviewing guidelines. If you choose to review on Amazon, review a wide range of titles. Don’t only review books by friends or authors from your publisher, as that will look like a reviewing circle.

As a guide:

  • Don’t publish reviews which could be seen as promotional
  • Don’t denigrate books in the same category (books which could be seen as competing with yours).
  • Review under your author name, not a pseudonym
  • Don’t include the word ‘Author’ in your Amazon reviewer name
  • Don’t include ‘Author of …’ or refer to your own books in your reviews

Some authors do choose to review under a pseudonym (e.g. under their real name if they write under a pen name). If you do, you need to act as a regular customer, not an author. This means:

  • Review everything under the same pseudonym
  • If you copy reviews across sites (e.g. reviewing on Amazon and Goodreads), use the same pseudonym across all those sites (that’s good branding).
  • Never mention your own books in reviews or discussions
  • Never comment on reviews of your books. This catches a lot of authors out.
  • Always remain within the reviewing guidelines. Your real name might not be visible to customers, but the retailer has your real name and address. And someone with better Google-fu than you will work out your true identity.

Overall, I think it’s easier to use your own name.

Reader Sites

Reader sites don’t sell books directly (although they might link to retail sites, and they might earn an affiliate commission from those links). Reader sites include BookLikes, Goodreads (owned by Amazon), Library Thing, Litsy, and Riffle.

Reader sites are a more problematic than retail sites for author/reviewers. If you’ve been using a site like Goodreads for a while (months, if not years), and are a member of different discussion groups, then it might appear strange to change the way you use the site simply because you are now a published author. So continue using the site as you have done in the past.

If you are a published author and you’ve never used Goodreads, I suggest you set up an author page, perhaps link your blog, and then sign out. Do nothing. Observe for a period (perhaps months) before deciding if this is a community you want to be part of. Goodreads is a complex site with its own culture, and a lot of author-vs-reviewer angst could have been prevented if authors made the effort to get to know the site and its users before jumping in.

If you decide to participate in the Goodreads community, participate as a reader.

Don’t mention your books, or the fact you are an author. If people are interested, they will view your profile, see you are an author, and may be interested enough to try one of your books.

I think the major thing to know about Goodreads is that members use the rating system in a variety of ways. One star often means “I don’t want to read this book”. They might not like the cover. They might not like the blurb. They might object to the way the author behaves online. They might not like Christian fiction (in which case, it might be an example of Christian persecution, which calls to mind Paul’s pesky injunction from Romans 12:14, to bless those who persecute you).

I understand this behaviour annoys authors, who see it dragging down their average rating. But Goodreads is for readers.

Personal Website or Blog

This is your personal space, so review away. Host blog tours. Endorse. Influence. Interview authors. Guest post on other blogs. Gush about everyone and everything. Blog readers want to connect with the author, so give them the opportunity to connect with as many of your author friends as you want.

My only proviso with promoting other authors through your blog is that readers will judge your writing based on the writing of those authors you choose to endorse and influence. If you write Christian romance, you probably don’t want to be endorsing an author who specialises in erotica. If you review a book with obvious writing or editing issues and don’t mention them in your review, I’m going to think you didn’t notice them—which makes me wonder about the quality of your own writing.

Should Authors Review?

I hope I’ve convinced you that authors should review. Do you review everything, or do you only review titles you can recommend and endorse? This is something you will ultimately have to decide for yourself, but I hope I’ve given you some food for thought.

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:
How to Get Book Reviews

How to Get (Honest) Book Reviews (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:

How to Get Honest Book Reviews

I often see authors online asking either how to get more book reviews, or how many book reviews can they expect.

My (unstatistical) research suggest authors can expect around one review for every 1,000 copies sold. That’s just 0.1%. Even a bestseller might not do much better: John Green has reportedly sold nine million copies of The Fault in Our Stars and has almost 30,000 reviews on Amazon—a review rate of less than 0.4%.

Yet some authors seem to have dozens, even hundreds, of reviews, out of all proportion to sales. Is there some secret?

How do these authors manage to get so many reviews?

It’s easy enough to get dishonest reviews. We all know them: buying reviews, reviewing your own books, asking family members to give your book a five-star review, swapping reviews with other authors, offering reviewers a gift or an entry into a prize draw.

But these reviews are all against Amazon’s reviewing guidelines. These reviews are why Amazon keep updating their reviewing guidelines, as I discussed in A (Not So) Short History of Fake Reviews on Amazon.

So How do you Get Honest Reviews?

Ask.

Yes, ask for reviews. Many readers don’t realise the importance authors place on reviews. Positive reviews provide social proof for potential customers, they influence Amazon’s book popularity ratings, and a certain number of reviews are required in order for authors to advertise on sites like Bookbub. Yet most readers don’t know or understand how useful reviews are, to authors and other readers.

Amazon now restricts reviews to customers i.e. people who have spent $50 in the last year. The spending requirement is per site, so someone who has spent the equivalent of $50 in a foreign store (say, India) can’t then review on the US site.

So if you’re looking for reviews on Amazon.com, you need to find reviewers who shop at Amazon.com.

Who do I Ask?

Ask your readers

Marketing advisors such as David Gaughran advise authors to ask for reviews at the back of the book, and that’s something David does himself: “Word-of-mouth is cruicial for any author to succeed. If you enjoyed the book, please consider leaving a review at Amazon.”

When I first researched this topic in 2014, asking for reviews was a tactic only indie authors used. Now I often see review requests in the back of books from mainstream publishers.

Does this work? In July 2014, Tim Grahl shared on his blog that he had just sold the 10,000th copy of his book, Your First 1000 Copies (including one copy to me). Those 10,000 sales have netted him over 180 reviews—a 1.8% review rate, which is still low, but is almost twenty times more reviews than my unstatistical ‘normal’.

The other thing to do at the end of your book is ask readers to sign up for your email list, so you can let them know when your next book is due to be published (and perhaps even offer your email subscribers a discount, or ask if anyone would like a free review copy …).

Ask Amazon reviewers

While many Amazon reviewers are simply providing random reviews on books or products they’ve used and liked (or not), a growing number are reviewing books or products they’ve been provided with in exchange for a review. Note that reviewers are required to disclose they have received a free copy of the book for review (as per Federal Trade Commission regulations). Not all do, but they are supposed to.

How do you find Amazon reviewers?

It’s time-consuming, but worthwhile. Some people recommend starting with the Amazon Top 10,000 Reviewers list, as these are the most prolific and helpful reviewers and are therefore most likely to accept review requests.

However, I believe this is a waste of time for most authors, and especially for authors writing in a niche genre like Christian fiction. Why? Because many of those reviewers either don’t review books, or don’t read Christian fiction. (The easiest way to become a Top 10,000 Reviewer is to review the Free App of the Day, as it’s guaranteed to get you a lot of votes, and votes are more important than total number of reviews in improving reviewer ranking.)

Rather than focusing on Top Reviewers, focus on people who have reviewed books similar to yours, especially if they have also reviewed self-published books. Click on the reviewer name, and see if they have a website address or email address on their profile. If they have an email address, it’s safe to assume they are open to receiving requests via email. If they only have a website address, check that out to see if they are open to review requests.

Many Amazon reviewers also have book blogs, which is even better: the more sites a review is posted on, the better for your book. To find out if an Amazon reviewer will accept requests for reviews, simply click on their name, which will bring up their personal profile. If you find an Amazon reviewer who agrees to review your book, you’ve got a 50% or better chance of getting a review (personally, I review over 95% of the titles I accept for review, but I know some bloggers review as few as 30%. However, they make it clear that sending them a book doesn’t guarantee a review).

However, many Amazon reviewers already have all the books they can read through sources such as NetGalley or publisher blogging programmes.

You can use a similar technique to find Goodreads reviewers.

What about paid services?

There are paid tools which can do this job for you. I tried one as a free trial, using a book I’d reviewed as the test book. The list didn’t return me as a potential reviewer, which I found odd. I also receive a lot of template requests that I suspect have come from a service such as this. Fewer than 10% are actually requests to review Christian fiction—which is all I review on my blog. As such, I suggest anyone considering a paid tool do their research. There is no point in paying for a tool that doesn’t deliver actionable results.

Ask Bloggers

There are a number of blog tour companies out there, and many specialise by genre (e.g. romance or Christian fiction).

Visit the tour company’s website, find some books similar to yours, see which reviewers have reviewed them positively, visit those reviewer websites, check out their reviewing guidelines, and contact those who are open to unsolicited requests.

The advantage of using bloggers from these networks is that you already know they are open to reading and reviewing books in your genre. If they have a review policy or similar on their blog, you will know they are open to receiving review requests, so go ahead! As with Amazon reviewers, if you find a blogger who will read your book, you have an excellent chance of getting a review.

Ask in a Reader Community

Sites such as Facebook and Goodreads have groups for people seeking reviews. However, some of these offer unethical review swaps. Check out any potential reviewers before sending your book off to them, to ensure they are the right reviewer for your book. You can also check out sites like Story Cartel, which offers your book free to readers who promise to review.

Ask Social Media Followers

Rayne Hall recommends asking social media followers for reviews in her book, Twitter for Writers, by tweeting that your book is available for review. She asks every eight weeks, with a post like this:
“Would anyone like one of my ebooks for free for posting a review at Amazon?”

Hall likes these reviews, as she finds they are honest reviews from people who are interested in her and her books, and she reports that most people who request a review copy via Twitter do follow up with a review. Note that she is staunchly against automated DM tweets, such as those some people use for new followers: “Thanks for following! Please download a free review copy of my book here: xxx.com”.

I’d add one proviso: don’t ask for reviews on your regular Facebook page, as your objective is obtaining reviews from people you don’t know in real life, not an Amazon page full of “friends and family” reviews.

So that’s who to ask for reviews. I’ll be back next week with some tips on how to ask for a review.

Meanwhile, what questions do you have about book reviews?

Introducing Write!

Introducing Write! (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:

Introducing Write!

You know how you sometimes read product reviews where the influencer got given a free copy of the product, and they keep it a couple of weeks and maybe use it a couple of times, then write a glowing five star review?

This is not that kind of review.

I was offered a free copy of Write! to trial and see if I’d like to write a review. I liked the idea of the product, so I agreed. But I’ve taken a little longer to review Write! Ten months, and I’ve been using Write! constantly in that time.

Write is a minimalist online text editor (what we used to call a word processor back when I started using computers).

Write! is available for Windows, Mac, and Linux. It’s easy to learn, simple to use, and the autosave facility with online backup makes it almost impossible to lose your documents.

First, a bit of background. I’ve been using Microsoft Word since around 1993. My employer at the time sent my team on a two-day training course, so I’ve always been confident with the basic and more advanced features of Word, including performing mail merges and creating and using style sheets. Word later introduced features like Track Changes, which have been invaluable in my editing work.

If those are features you are looking for, then stick with Word. Write! is not for you.

Word is great for letters and reports. But it has a lot of extra functionality which means it doesn’t play nice with the kind of lightweight machine I like to use when I travel or write away from home. Light in weight, and light in functionality. So I wanted a matching lightweight word processor I could use away from home.

When I started writing, everyone said Scrivener was the best programme to use. There was the notecard feature. The ability to compile ebook and print files. The drag-and-drop feature which means you can move scenes easily.

I bought Scrivener. I bought the expensive training programme. But I’m not a Scrivener convert. The fancy ideas which sold me on the concept are all things I can do in Word using Styles. (Well, except for compiling print and ebook files. But I can do that for free through Draft2Digital.) Maybe Word isn’t as efficient as in Scrivener, but Word doesn’t have the Scrivener learning curve. It beat me.

If you’ve learned Scrivener and love it, then stick with Scrivener. Write! is not for you.

But I still wanted a simple word processing programme I could use when I’m out and about. Something easy to learn that I could use on my very basic travel PC. (A cheap 32GB tablet-with-clunky-keyboard that replaced my Microsoft Surface, which had Microsoft Office … but no memory left to download Scrivener or store files).

I didn’t want to use Google Docs, because I often want to write somewhere with no internet connection. That helps me not be distracted by Facebook and endless cat memes. I also wanted a product where the letters appear on screen as fast as I type them … not my experience with Google Docs.

So when I was offered a review copy of Write! I was keen to try it out.

The first test was simple: could I load it on my machine?

Yes. I have Write! loaded on the world’s cheapest and ugliest Microsoft tablet. If it loads on this, it should load on anything.

Is Write! easy to use?

Yes. It uses the same keyboard commands as Word and other word processors, which makes them easy to remember (e.g. Ctrl-B or Cmd-B for Bold text).

That was a real plus for me. I don’t want to have to learn another programme. Write! is perfect for me, because it uses the commands I already use automatically.

Basic Formatting

Write! also has basic formatting tools:

  • Cut, copy, and paste
  • Left, centre, and right alignment
  • Bold, italic, underline, and strikethrough font
  • Heading and subhead styles

You can’t customise the heading and subhead styles in Write! the way you can in Word or WordPress, but that doesn’t matter—I see this as a drafting tool, not a publishing tool. An H2 heading in Write! will convert to the customised H2 heading in Word or WordPress. That’s all I need it to do.

SpellCheck

Write! has a basic spellchecker. It’s not as sophisticated as the Word spellchecker (no grammar), but I find the Word spellcheck isn’t right all the time, especially not when it comes to whether a word should have a hyphen or not. And I’m not interested in a grammar checker. I don’t want my computer to question my artistic decision to start a sentence with a conjunction, split an infinitive, or use a sentence fragment.

Autosave

Write! is cloud-based, and everything automatically saves to the hard drive, and to the cloud (when the machine has internet access). Each document is therefore available on all the PCs you have Write! installed on. The screens even look the same, unlike with Windows Online (where I’d lose files because I couldn’t remember where I’d saved it, or Windows “accidentally” saved it to the wrong place).

The fact all files are automatically saved is a big plus for me. Yes, yes, I know Word has an autosave function. But it doesn’t always work (says the sad voice of experience).

Additional Features

Write! also has some additional features which are both simple and useful. There is a focus mode, which lowlights everything except the paragraph you are working on:

Screenshot from Write!

You can also collapse and expand headings to make it easier to navigate through a long document:

Screenshot from Write!
With heading collapsed …

 

… and with headings expanded.

And there is that (optional) handy little side bar on the right which highlights the part of the document you are currently working on.

Can you use Write! for long documents, like a manuscript for a novel?

Yes, as long as you use the H1 and H2 styles to separate out the different scenes or chapters. But you have to do that in Word or Scrivener anyway … I haven’t used Write! for anything longer than 30,000 words. This is mostly because I found that while my H1 and H2 headings translate from Write! into Word, the reverse wasn’t true.

And yes, there is an export function: you can export from Write! to html, docx, pdf, txt, and other file types.

Can you use Write! for multiple documents?

Yes. I routinely keep all my draft blog posts open. You can click into a single document using the header bar, or use Ctrl-Tab to move through all the open documents.

Is there a Mac version?

Yes. Write! is available for Windows, Mac, and Linux.

Is Write! free?

No. But at $24.95 for a lifetime licence, it’s a lot cheaper than many of the alternatives (and there is no requirement to upgrade to get the premium features, as with some “free” apps), and a lot cheaper than, say, Scrivener turned out to be. It’s user-friendly and there are regular upgrades. And you can get 10% off by signing up to their newsletter.

Write! also has an automatic affiliate scheme. The scheme pays a 20% commission, with a minimum payment of $20. (Yes, this post uses affiliate links. Here’s the direct link: www.writeapp.co).

Over the last year, I’ve used Write! to write the first drafts of almost all my book reviews and other blog posts. I can draft the post wherever I am, then paste my draft directly into WordPress. Write! brings across the basic formatting (e.g Bold, H2), which makes it quick and easy to format and publish a blog post.

No, Write! won’t replace Word for editing long documents. But it’s a great alternative for drafting, and it’s simple to learn and use. So if you’re looking for a simple word processor with basic features that can be used online and offline, Write! might be what you’re looking for.

Me? I use it all the time, and I love it.

Thanks to WriteApp for providing a free licence for Write!

Do you have any questions about Write?

Can My Characters Have Secrets?

Can My Characters Have Secrets? (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:

Today I’m talking about secrets.

I was recently browsing through Facebook when an interesting question caught my eye. An author was asking if characters can keep secrets from the reader.

There are two parts to this question. The first is this: Can a character have a secret?

Yes. A character with a secret is a good character:

Any character with a credible, interesting secret has a good chance of coming alive.

– Sol Stein, Solutions for Novelists: Secrets of a Master Editor, Chapter Five

That is especially true if the character is one of the main characters, a point of view character. We want the character to have secrets. And we want to know those secrets, because that’s how we get to know the character:

Bonding with characters is achieved through intimacy … the greatest intimacy is achieved when we are privy to the thoughts and feelings of the characters. When we get to go inside their heads.

– James Scott Bell, Revision and Self-Editing for Publication, Chapter Two

But that leads us to the second part of the question: Can the point of view character hold secrets back from the reader?

Yes, but then you’re placing an artificial barrier between the reader and your character. If we were truly inside their heads, we’d know their secrets. Withholding secrets prevents intimacy. And point of view is all about intimacy.

Are you prepared to trade secrets for intimacy?

Let’s use some examples.

I’ve recently read the Criss Cross trilogy by CC Warrens. The three novels are all in first person, from the point of view of Holly, a tramatised twenty-eight-year-old photographer living as close to off the grid as anyone can live in modern New York. Holly has intimacy issues. So it works that Holly keeps secrets from those around her … and from the reader.

We find out more about Holly as the stories progress, as she begins to face her fears, make friends, and trust others with her secrets. That’s why she’s keeping secrets from the reader (and from her newfound friends). It’s a protection mechanism. She can’t cope with remembering how she’s been “hurt”.

Holly’s secrets drive the tension which drive the novels forward. And that’s what makes this a brilliant series.

But this is the exception.

What’s more common is that an untold secret robs the story of tension. For example, I once read a novel where a young woman moves from Ireland to the United States. She’s hiding from something or someone, but we don’t know who or what. All we know is that she has a secret which has sent her into hiding.

Hint: if you don’t want the evildoers to find you, don’t leave a paper trail wider than the Amazon. Between the passport, the airline tickets, the marriage licence, the gym membership, the library membership (all in her own name), there was never any doubt the evildoer would find her.

Anyway, the story goes on and on with references to this secret and how horrible it will be if the unknown evildoer finds her. Every mention of the unknown secret made it bigger and bigger, until I’m thinking this woman must have some ginormous secret. Maybe she’s the secret love child of two ultra-famous people. Maybe she’s got the US nuclear launch codes tattoed on her back. Maybe she’s the only person who knows who committed the crime of the century.

I didn’t know what her secret was, but it was obviously big and unique. Something that had never happened to anyone else in all of human history, or in any novel previously published.

But no. It turned out she’d fallen pregnant after being raped, and was forced to give up the baby. That actually made a lot of sense given her actions in the novel (e.g. joining the gym to get rid of the baby fat, and her fear of her marriage-of-convenience husband). But it was a complete letdown as a plot point, because it felt anticlimactic. Unfortunately, women being raped, falling pregnant, and not keeping their babies is all too common, both in real life and in fiction.

I’m convinced it would have been a stronger story if we’d known her secret from page one. Then we could have empathised with her situation, cheered as she achieved small victories on the road to normal. And there still would have been plenty of tension: would she allow herself to recover? Could she learn to trust men again? Could she fall in love with her marriage-of-convenience husband? Would she tell him her secret?

Keeping the secret turned the climax into an anticlimax.

Readers allow the narrator to withhold the ending, as long as he tells us at each stage in the story all that the character knew at that point in time … [not] hold back information until the end of the story … The author who does this usually thinks she’s increasing the suspense. In fact, she’s weakening the suspense by decreasing the readers’ involvement with and trust in the narrator.

– Orson Scott Card, Characters & Viewpoint, Chapter 16

Sharing the secret with the reader is a great way to enhance the conflict and add to the tension.

The other characters don’t need to know the point of view character’s secrets. But the reader does.

A good recent example of this is Shadows of Hope by Georgiana Daniels. The main character, Marissa, is infertile but works in a pregnancy crisis centre. One of her clients is pregnant to Marissa’s husband—except only the reader knows this (well, Kaitlyn obviously knows she’s pregnant to Colin, but Kaitlyn doesn’t even know Colin is married, let alone who he is married to).

Marissa, Kaitlyn, and Colin are all point of view characters. We know what they know, and we also know the secrets they don’t know. This tension keeps the story moving forward as we wait for the inevitable dust-up when everyone discovers what we already know. The story would have no power or tension if it was told entirely from Marissa’s point of view (or Kaitlyn’s, or Colin’s).

The secrets drove the story.

And the result was I could feel and empathise with both Marissa and Kaitlyn. (Colin? Not so much.) Marissa knew her marriage was in trouble, but infertility isn’t an easy problem with a quick fix like, say, a root canal. Kaitlyn believed Colin loved her, and that he’d man up and marry her as soon as he found out she was pregnant. As a reader, I knew that wasn’t going to happen, because I knew about Marissa. But Kaitlyn didn’t know, and that enhanced the suspense.

So can a character keep secrets from the reader?

Yes.

But keeping secrets comes at a price—intimacy, empathy, tension, and conflict.

Is having your character keep their secret worth the price?

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 a website or 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.

If you have a website, you’re collecting information on your visitors. If you have visitors who are EU residents, the GDPR applies to you whether you live in the EU or not.

‘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 you have a reader magnet or other free gift, then you can’t send the gift and tell people they are now on your email list. You have to give them the option to download the gift without joining your list, or invite them to join your list and send the gift as a thank you.
  • 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 used to see this in online giveaways. Now, giveaways must give entrants the option to opt in or not opt in to each participant’s list (which some giveaways always did).

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 have introduced a specific opt-in box on MailChimp-hosted forms, and recommend users clearly explain to subscribers how their data will be used. MailChimp is certified with both the EU-U.S. Privacy Shield and Swiss-U.S. Privacy Shield.

MailerLite

MailerLite have developed a GDPR template to help users reconfirm their email list to be sure everyone has actively and explicitly 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? 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?