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Do you need to reconfirm your email list for GDPR?

Do You Need to Reconfirm Your Email List for GDPR?

If you’re anything like me, the last few weeks have been full of emails from authors and service providers asking if I want to stay on their email list. I’ve reconfirmed some, deleted some, and ignored most (and now I’m waiting to see if my passive rejection will be seen as rejection or as confirmation).

GDPR, the legislation designed to prevent spam emails, has led to a deluge of spam emails.

One of the big questions authors have had about the introduction of GDPR is whether they need to obtain consent from the people who have previously signed up to their email list. It doesn’t help that the lawyers can’t agree on who does and who doesn’t need to send reconfirmation emails.

GDPR Applies to EU Residents

Note that GDPR only applies to EU residents. If you don’t have a website or an email list, GDPR probably doesn’t affect you. If you’re confident you don’t have any EU residents on your email list (because it’s only 17 people and you know all of them in real life, or because your email service provider can tell where people are from based on their IP address or other data), then GDPR isn’t likely to affect you.

But you still need to work through the process of deciding who is on your email list, and whether you have a lawful basis of processing data of EU residents.

Lawful Basis of Processing Data

There are six different ways we can legally process data under GDPR:

  1. Consent: the individual has consented to be on your email list. This is the most common reason, and has a high standard to prove.
  2. Contract: you have a contract with the individual and need to process their personal data to deliver that contract.
  3. Legal obligation: where you need to process personal data to comply with statute (e.g. you need to keep accurate financial records to satisfy the tax department).
  4. Vital interests: where you need to collect personal data to save someone’s life. Yeah, I don’t think this is going to include any author email lists.
  5. Public task: where you need the data to carry out a task or function set out in law. Another one that’s not going to apply to author email lists.
  6. Legitimate interests: where it is somehow in the individual’s best interest that you process their data. This is broad and flexible, and will cover some marketing activities (e.g. some lawyers argue uploading your email list to Facebook to target advertising towards your subscribers or similar groups would be covered by legitimate interest).

Most author newsletters are going to claim consent as their lawful basis for processing data. Many authors have been sending emails to reconfirm consent, but there is a school of legal thought that considers reconfirming where you can’t already prove consent is sending unsolicited email, and contrary to GDPR and other anti-spam laws.

I have several email lists, and can think of four main ways people signed up:

  1. In person (e.g. at a conference)
  2. Direct website signup
  3. Signed up to an email course
  4. By participating in an online giveaway

The following is my interpretation of how each of those needs to be treated for GDPR, both in terms of past sign-ups, and going forward. If you don’t know what GDPR is, check out my previous posts:

All the usual legal disclaimers apply. I’m not a lawyer, and this is not legal advice. This is my interpretation of what I need to do (or not do) for GDPR. My circumstances are different to yours, so my answers may not be right for you.

1. In Person Sign-Ups

When I speak at a conference, I invite people to sign up for my email list. In-person signups are fine as long as individuals signed themselves (i.e. they weren’t signed up by a friend), and as long as I keep a paper or scanned copy of the signup form as proof. In this case, I’m relying on consent as my legal basis for processing data.

Going forward, we can continue to take in-person signup, but have a copy of your privacy policy available as well, and ensure we keep the paper or scanned copy of the signup (as your email service provider will see it as someone you have manually added to the list).

I don’t consider I need to send reconfirmation emails for this group, as I have their signed consent (besides, I’m confident there are no EU residents in this group!).

2. Direct Website Signup

People can sign up to my email list directly from my website through forms on each page and each blog post. Signups directly through a website may need to be reconfirmed for GDPR if the original sign up was not GDPR compliant (e.g. signing anyone who commented on your site up to your email newsletter). Double opt in doesn’t prove compliance, but single opt in probably isn’t compliant (as someone could be signed up without their knowledge).

The website also needs to have make clear what people were signing up to e.g. a newsletter that will include news about your books (i.e. marketing information). Your email service provider should have a record of how and when everyone signed up.

I don’t consider I need to send reconfirmation emails for this group, as they were each required to positively opt in (and complete a double opt-in) which made clear they were signing up for an email newsletter, and told them they can unsubscribe at any time. In other words, following best practice email marketing principles.

3. Email Course Signup

I have a paid email course, the Kick-Start Your Author Platform Marketing Challenge. I can’t reasonably deliver an email course without holding the email addresses of the participants. This is covered by contract as a lawful basis to process data under GDPR.

4. Giveaway Signup

Online giveaways are where signups get tricky. There are several different ways of running or participating in an online giveaway.

Also, GDPR requires that individuals can refuse consent without detriment i.e. you can’t promise someone a free gift but only give it to those who sign up for your email list. It could be argued that forcing someone to sign up for an email list isn’t GDPR compliant.

I have participated in several types of giveaways:

  1. Self-Hosted (via KingSumo)
  2. Individual Sign Up (via Instafreebie)
  3. Group Sign Up (via Spirit-Filled Kindle)

Self-Hosted via KingSumo

I have used KingSumo for several giveaways. KingSumo uses a double opt in, and adds people directly to my email list. I can therefore show consent if required.

KingSumo allows the giveaway winner to be chosen from:

  • Everyone who provided their email address, or
  • Only from those who completed the double opt in (i.e. consented to sign up for my email list).

Going forward, I will continue to use KingSumo giveaways, as but will ensure there is no detriment to those who don’t complete the double opt in (i.e. they still go in the draw for a prize). I will also ensure I continue to keep a record of the terms and conditions of each individual giveaway, and add a link to my privacy policy.

I don’t consider I need to send reconfirmation emails to this group, as I clearly stated that by completing the double opt in, participants were consenting to receive my email newsletter. While KingSumo does track who enters, only those who completed the double opt in were added to my email list, and they have had the opportunity to unsubscribe.

(Click here to read my blog post introducing KingSumo and two other online giveaway tools.)

Individual Sign Up (via Instafreebie)

There are a range of paid giveaways hosted by an external provider such as Instafreebie or Ryan Zee/Booksweeps.

These giveaways give entrants the option to sign up to all the email lists, none of them, or to pick specific lists. I participated in an Instafreebie giveaway, and around 20% of those participating chose to sign up to my email list to receive a copy of Christian Publishing: A List of Publishers Specializing in Christian Fiction.

Each new subscriber went through a welcome sequence, and about 10% unsubscribed as part of that sequence. I’ve since sent a re-engagement email and bulk unsubscribed everyone who hasn’t opened any of my emails for the last six months, on the rationale that those who have opened my emails have had the option to unsubscribe directly.

I’m of the view that where an individual signed up for a giveaway but had the option of signing up to several email lists including mine, then an individual who has signed up to my email list has consented to be on that list.

If there wasn’t a double opt in, or if individual was required to subscribe in order to receive the gift, or if they weren’t given the option to unsubscribe (e.g. because the giveaway was last month and you haven’t yet emailed them), then it may be necessary to send a reconfirmation email (as if it was double opt in).

I won’t be sending a reconfirmation email to my segment of Instafreebie subscribers, as I have already sent an engagement email and bulk unsubscribed non-openers.

Note that Instafreebie (and similar programmes such as BookFunnel) have changed their systems so individuals can receive the free book without signing up to author’s newsletter, as making the gift dependent on a subscription is against the spirit of GDPR (i.e. the idea of no detriment).

Group Sign Up (via Spirit-Filled Kindle)

Another form of group giveaway is where all entrants are added to a master email list which is forwarded to all participating authors. These giveaways are often run through software such as Gleam or KingSumo. These tools don’t allow entrants to sign up to individual email lists.

I participated in a giveaway with Spirit Filled Kindle which used this approach. All entrants went through a double opt in. This make it clear they would be added to the email lists of all participating authors.

I emailed this group three times, then deleted anyone who didn’t opened at least one of those emails. Anyone who opened one or more emails had the opportunity to unsubscribe, so I kept them on my email list without sending a formal reconfirmation request. As always, they have the option to unsubscribe at any time.

Spirit Filled Kindle have now changed their approach. My understanding is that entrants will be emailed the individual email list links. This means they can choose which lists to sign up to.

What’s Your Approach?

However, my answer shouldn’t necessarily be your answer. Your answer will depend on:

  • How you collected the email addresses (and was that consistent with GDPR).
  • When you collected the email addresses.
  • How many times you’ve contacted your subscribers.
  • When you last contacted your subscribers.
  • Whether you make it easy for subscribers to unsubscribe or update their details.
  • Whether you have “cleaned” your list to remove those who don’t open your emails.

At the very least, take the introduction of GDPR as an opportunity to re-engage with those who haven’t opened your emails for a while, and deleting those who haven’t. It will improve your open rates, which helps make future emails more deliverable.

I hope the information and options I’ve provided help those of you who are still puzzling over your email list.

 

Introducing NetGalley

Introducing NetGalley

This is a revised and updated version of a post that originally appeared at Australasian Christian Writers on 6 February 2015.

One of the big challenges facing new authors—especially self-published authors—is how to get book reviews. I’m working on a longer series on book reviews for later in the year, but today I’m going to introduce NetGalley, which is where I get most of the books I review.

What is NetGalley?

NetGalley is a service to provide “professional readers”, including book bloggers like me, with electronic versions of upcoming releases. Trade publishers have produced paper Advance Review Copies (ARCs) for years, mailing them to newspapers, magazines and key review sites and influencers in the hope of gaining favourable pre-publication reviews. Amazon led the rise of the customer reviewer, and the Kindle made expensive paper versions even more of a luxury. Why mail paper, when you can email a file?

This is where services like NetGalley come in, providing secure electronic ARCs to over 370,000 booksellers, media, librarians, educators and reviewers who use NetGalley. Around 50% of users visiting the site more than nine times a month (I admit: I am one of those).

How Does NetGalley Work for Authors?

Publishers list titles with NetGalley and provide an electronic version of the book, the cover image, book description, and details such as price and release date. They also have the option of uploading social media links, a marketing plan, and advance praise (although most don’t. That’s why they’re on NetGalley: to garner advance praise).

Publishers pay an initial set-up fee plus a monthly fee depending on the number of titles they offer. Each title gets its own page:

NetGalley page of Where Hope Begins by Catherine West

What Does It Cost?

Self-published authors can also list through NetGalley, either individually or through a co-operative. An individual listing is $450 for six months for one book. A co-op listing will depend on the terms of the cooperative, but can be as little as $50 for a one-month listing for a single book, to an annual membership which allows for multiple books for around $350. Twenty authors are needed to form a co-op, with one person responsible for setup and administration.

Authors who are members of the Independent Book Publishers Association can get a $50 discount on either the basic six-month listing, or Marketing-plus-Title listing. This includes a single listing in any scheduled NetGalley newsletter.

I suspect the additional fee might not represent good value for money—personally, I’ve opted out of the ‘push’ email list, as it was mostly advertising general market titles I wasn’t interested in. Before signing up for this additional service, I’d want to how many of the 370,000 users have opted in to receiving the relevant newsletter, and how many of those regularly request Christian books.

In either case, publishers can choose whether to make their book available to anyone who requests it, or to screen requests. NetGalley shows publishers how many requests, downloads and reviews a title has, and publishers can vet each review request before making a decision (for example, to weed out reviewers who have a low average review rating, who have a low review-to-request ratio, or who don’t typically review in that genre). Authors can do this by checking out individual reviewer profiles:

NetGalley Profile

How Does NetGalley Work for Reviewers?

I’ve been a NetGalley reviewer since late 2011, and have so far requested over 650 titles and provided feedback on over 90% of them (NetGalley keep good statistics!). I can search for books by title or author (for example, when I hear about a new release from one of my favourite authors), by publisher, or by genre (e.g. Christian). I can also select my “Favourite Publishers”, or “Auto-Approvals”, which is a list of publishers who have checked me out and now allow me to read any of their titles.

It’s easy to use: I request a title, and if I’m auto-approved, I’m immediately given the option to Send to Kindle, or download to another ereader (NetGalley supports all major ereaders). If I’m not auto-approved, the book goes to my “Pending” list, and I’ll get an email to advise me whether my request has been accepted or rejected. The longer I’m a reliable NetGalley reviewer, the more titles I am approved to read.

Publishers can also create a widget to send to potential reviewers e.g. reviewers participating in an online blog tour.

And we get badges.

500 Book ReviewsReviews PublishedFrequently Auto-Approved80%Professional Reader

What Else do I Need to Know?

Getting your genre right is important:

I search exclusively on my favourite publishers, and on “Christian” (which includes fiction and non-fiction). Authors can include more than one genre, so a Christian Romance should be categorised under both.

Listing with NetGalley isn’t paying for reviews:

NetGalley doesn’t pay reviewers. What your fee is paying for is the online system which provides direct access to over 210,000 reviewers for a specified period of time.

NetGalley doesn’t guarantee results:

It doesn’t (and can’t) guarantee a certain number of reviews, nor does it guarantee positive reviews. NetGalley acts as an intermediary between the author/publisher and reviewer, which means reviewers are less likely to sugarcoat their review of a book.

Authors have different experiences of NetGalley:

Keary Taylor had over 1,200 requests for her novel, The Bane. This lead to over 400 reviews posted through NetGalley, and more posted on blogs, retail sites such as Amazon, and reader sites such as Goodreads. All reviews posted through NetGalley are also posted online in at least one other location (personally, I post reviews to between five and ten separate sites, if the book is listed on those sites).

Susan Quinn had equally impressive results for the romance co-operative she organised. She uploaded eleven titles when the co-op first went live, and within the first day had 446 approved requests, 286 downloads and one review. After a week, they had nineteen titles uploaded, 2,216 approved requests and 36 reviews.

In contrast, Heather Day Gilbert didn’t find it useful. She only got a few reviews, perhaps because she listed through a co-op that primarily offers romance novel (she describes God’s Daughter as a love story rather than a romance). Melissa Pearl had a similar experience, with only four reviews from 200 approvals.

Reviews won’t come in immediately:

It can take me anything between one and four months to post a review, depending on my blogging schedule (and some have taken me much longer, for various reasons). I believe authors should list their book three months before release, as this maximises the chance of getting reviews at or around release date.

Overall, NetGalley is about getting reviews, not selling books.

However, getting reviews is an important aspect of a marketing strategy, especially for ebooks. Amazon users are more likely to purchase books with significant numbers of reviews, especially when they can see a range of reviews, including some with low star ratings. It’s not cheap and the results can vary, but it is a marketing tactic worth considering.

For readers, it’s great. Most of my favourite publishers are on NetGalley, which means I get first look at their new books, and am able to find and recommend new books and new authors.

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?

Introducing Three Online Giveaway Tools: Gleam, KingSumo, and Rafflecopter

Introducing Three Online Giveaway Tools: Gleam, KingSumo, & Rafflecopter

We’re still talking online giveaways. So far, I’ve covered:

I also briefly discussed online giveaway tools. There are many, including GiveawayTab, Giveaway Tools, PromoSimple, Punctab, RandomPicker, Wildfire, and Woobox.

Today I’m discussing the three online giveaway tools I see authors using most often:

  • Gleam
  • KingSumo
  • Rafflecopter

These tools are used when running a giveaway that selects one (or more) winners from the eligible entrants, and where entrants have do do more than simply comment on a blog post. The other kind of online giveaway is where everyone receives a free ebook in exchange for signing up for an email list. I’ll discuss that next week.

There are several advantages to using a good tool:

  • The winner is picked at random.
  • The tool probably complies with general giveaway laws (although laws are so different that no tool will comply with all state and international laws) e.g. disclosing the prize and the value of the prize.
  • A range of entry options to fit your individual strategy.
  • Integration into the organisers social media profiles and/or email list, which reduces administration time.
  • The email integration probably complies with the CAN-SPAM Act and the EU GDP Regulations.
  • The giveaway is more likely to look professional.

The main disadvantage of using a giveaway tool is cost: while there are free options, the premium features such as viral sharing and email list integration will come at a cost.

Gleam

Gleam integrates with a wide range of social media platforms, including Facebook, Google+, Instagram, Pinterest, Snapchat, Twitter, Tumblr, YouTube, and more. It provides options for entrants to undertake a variety of actions, but the entrant doesn’t have to prove they have completed that action (e.g. a Tweet or Facebook share). This means the organiser has to confirm the entrant did undertake the required action before declaring a winner.

Gleam is available via a website, or as a WordPress plugin.

There is a free plan with limited functionality (i.e. you only get the email addresses of the winners). Paid plans start at USD 10 per month, which includes a downloadable email list but not full email integration. Gleam offers email integration and viral sharing options on the Pro Plan and better (from USD 49 per month). That makes it an expensive option for most authors who are just starting out.

One of the advantages of Gleam is it offers incentives for viral sharing.

Viral sharing is when the entrant earns additional entries for sharing the contest, and having other people enter through their unique contest link. This means instead of having one chance to win, a contestant could have dozens or even hundreds.

KingSumo

The objective of a KingSumo giveaway is to increase the number of subscribers on your email list. KingSumo does this by encouraging viral sharing. As with Gleam, KingSumo adds each entrant to your email list, sends them a unique code, and encourages them to share it on Facebook, Twitter and other social media.

As an entrant, the more people enter the giveaway using your unique code, the more entries you get and the more likely you are to win. KingSumo picks the winner using some secret random algorithm.

KingSumo have recently announced a new web-based version anyone can use.

The basic app is free, and there is a premium version available for USD 8 per month (billled annually). The free version integrates with MailChimp and Zapier. Future upgrades will include limiting the location of contestants, adding multiple prizes, and editing the giveaway rules (all of which you can do in the plugin version).

The older WordPress plugin is still available, for USD 195 for a single website and USD 595 for a multi-site developer licence (they may offer a Black Friday or Cyber Monday discount in November. Their 2017 offer was a 75% discount). You do need a self-hosted WordPress site to host the giveaway, but once you’ve created the giveaway it can be embedded in non-WordPress sites—just add the relevant html code.

The KingSumo plugin links with more email providers than the free web version, incuding:

  • Aweber
  • Campaign Monitor
  • GetResponse
  • MailChimp
  • ConvertKit
  • ActiveCampaign

If you use another email service provider (e.g. MailerLite), then I’d recommend adding the giveaway entrants to a MailChimp list with an autoresponder, then moving them to MailerLite once the automation sequence is complete and the winner has been announced.

Rafflecopter

Rafflecopter is a free giveaway tool that’s integrated with Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, and various email providers. Giveaway organisers can set a variety of tasks for entrants to complete, such as commenting on the blog post, following the author on Twitter, liking their page on Facebook, sharing the giveaway on social media, or signing up for an email list. I’ve never run a Rafflecopter giveaway, but I understand email addresses can be downloaded at the conclusion of the giveaway.

Basic Rafflecopter giveaways are free, but you’ll have to pay for premium features like Pinterest entries (USD 13 per month), email list integration (USD 43 per month) or viral giveaway links (USD 84 per month). Rafflecopter does offer a free 7-day trial, but it’s limited to 50 entries. Contests can also be run through Facebook.

I’m not a fan of Rafflecopter.

Although that’s not necessarily the fault of the tool.

Organisers often set up a huge list of ways to enter. This can seem overwhelming to a potential giveaway entrant. In addition, there are often a lot of hoops to jump through e.g. find the tweet URL and paste it into your entry to prove you’ve tweeted about the giveaway. As an entrant, it feels like more hassle than it’s worth—especially if the prize is a cheap ebook.

It’s also a question of whether these activities provide any ongoing return for the author. Given the recent changes in the Facebook algorithm, it’s possible your new followers might never even see posts from your author Page, let alone Like, Comment, or Share those posts.

From a reader-entrant point of view, the best Rafflecopter giveaways are those that only require one action to enter e.g. a blog comment. But as I discussed last week, this is the action that has the least ongoing benefit for the author.

Which Tool Is Best?

Which tool you use will depend on the reason you’re running a giveaway. If you’re trying to build brand awareness, then Facebook integration is probably more important than email integration. If you’re trying to build an email list, then email integration is going to be a major deciding factor.

Cost is also a factor—can you afford the one-off cost for a more expensive tool like King Sumo, or do you prefer the monthly subscription model? Paying up-front is probably cheaper in the long term, but it does depend on what you are looking for in a giveaway tool.

What giveaway tools have you used as an organiser, or as a participant? Which would you recommend for cost, ease of use, and functionality?

How To Conduct An Online Giveaway

How To Conduct An Online Giveaway

Two weeks ago, I introduced six ways to build your email list. One was offering giveaways. This week, I’m going into more detail on the “how” of giveaways, and touch on some of the legal issues.

There are several ways to conduct an online giveaway, but first you need to:

  • Consider Your Giveaway Objectives
  • Keep Your Giveaway Legal

You then need to consider what kind of giveaway you want to participate in:

  • Run Your Own Giveaway
  • Join a Group Giveaway
  • Join A Paid Giveaway

Consider Your Objectives

What are your objectives in conducting or participating in an online giveaway? Your objectives will determine which is the best approach for you. Do you want to:

  • Build overall awareness?
  • Increase blog engagement?
  • Build your social media following?
  • Build your emai list?
  • Do you want one winner, or will you give every entrant a book?

Your objectives will help determine your priorities in choosing how to organise your online giveaway.

Keep Your Giveaway Legal

There are laws governing how people run giveaways, contests, and raffles. If you are running any kind of giveaway, you need to ensure you comply with these laws … which is difficult, because the laws are different in every state and country. No giveaway can comply with all international laws (or even all the different state laws in the USA).

All online giveaways are illegal somewhere, which is why many giveaways restrict entrants to their own state or country.

Here are some principles for running an online giveaway:

Limit Participation by Geography

For example, limit entrants to USA only, or Australia only. At the very least, say “void where prohibited” (although this means you need to know where your giveaway is prohibited).

Be Fair

If you say one random commenter will win the prize, the prize has to go to a random commenter. Not the person you like most.

Don’t Require a Purchase

I’ve just received an email offering me the chance to win something if I buy the author’s new book. All I have to do is forward the Amazon email purchase receipt, and I’m in the draw to win. But this is an illegal giveaway, in that it’s not actually a giveaway. It’s a raffle, and that’s a whole different set of laws.  For example, many states and countries require you to provide a way for people to enter without purchasing.

(If you want to give readers an incentive to purchase, offer a limited-time sale, or offer bonus content to purchasers.)

Make Your Giveaway Easy to Enter

Don’t require entrants to jump through hoops or answer hard questions, especially not questions they could only answer by having already bought and read your book (because that again turns your giveaway into a raffle).

State the Prize

State the exact prize up front, and the value of that prize. I’d also suggest you keep the value of your prize relatively small. A $4.99 ebook or $50 Amazon gift card is unlikely to attract attention. A Tesla will.

Provide the Odds of Winning

This can be as simple as “the odds of winning depend on the number of entrants”.

Note: This is not legal advice. I am not lawyer and am not qualified or licenced to give legal advice in New Zealand or anywhere else. If you want legal advice, you pay a qualified lawyer who is licenced to practice law in your location. You don’t get legal advice from websites or from anyone who isn’t a qualified and licenced lawyer.

Following these guidelines means you’re unlikely to run into trouble.

Unlikely, because the people who care have more important things to do than prosecute authors giving away a book or even a dozen books on their website. But that doesn’t make your giveaway legal. It just means you’re not likely to be caught, just like you’re not likely to be caught going 53 kph in a 50 kph zone on your way to church on Sunday morning.

If you want to better understand the laws surrounding online giveaways, click here to read How to Run A Website Contest (without going to jail) by lawyer and author Courtney Milan.

Run Your Own Giveaway

There are two main ways to run your own giveaway. Giving a prize to a blog commenter is probably the easiest, most common, and most enduring.

The newer method—and the method that will better help build your online platform—is to use an online giveaway tool that encourages social sharing and/or email list signups. Lets look at the advantages and disadvantages of each.

Blog Comments

Comments on a blog post encourage interaction. But it’s not always positive interaction, especially if the comments are of the “I’d love to win this book!” variety, rather than true engagement with the post.

The problem is this: encouraging people to comment on your blog post doesn’t contribute to your larger goals.
  1. Blog comments don’t help more people find out about you because they don’t encourage entrants to share your giveaway.
  2. Blog comments don’t encourage entrants to sign up to your email list.

Think about it: if I find a giveaway or contest that has only one entrant and I also enter, I have a 50% chance of winning that giveaway.

If I share the giveaway and more people enter, I’ve reduced my own chances of winning. Who is going to share if sharing goes against their own self-interest?

If you’ve organised a giveaway and you’re the only person who is sharing it, that’s probably what will happen: you’ll only have a small handful of entrants, and the giveaway won’t be shared beyond your faithful readers. That might work for you if your objective in running the giveaway is to reward your faithful readers. But if your objective was to extend your platform, a simple blog comment giveaway is unlikely to work.

The answer to this dilemma is to incentivise participants to share the giveaway, which is where giveaway tools are useful.

Giveaway Tools

There are a variety of giveaway tools available online. Giveaway tools enable you to

Popular tools include:

  • Giveaway Tools
  • Giveaway Tab
  • Gleam
  • KingSumo
  • PromoSimple
  • Punctab
  • Rafflecopter
  • RandomPicker
  • Wildfire
  • Woobox

These tools are used for contest-type giveaways, where there are many entrants but only a few winners (maybe only one). Most group and paid giveaways use some kind of giveaway tool.

Join a Group Giveaway

Author networks often coordinate and promote group giveaways, usually based on genre or some specific theme (e.g. in January 2018, I coordinated an Australia Day Giveaway for members of Australasian Christian Writers. The winner received a $50 Amazon gift voucher, and twelve books set in Australia or by Australian authors).

Participants are expected to share the giveaway within their own networks via a blog post, email newsletter, and social media sharing. In my experience, the more authors in the group and the more committed they are to social sharing, the better the results.

Group giveaways can use an online giveaway tool such as those listed above. The Australia Day Giveaway was run using KingSumo, which I’ll discuss more next week. We offered one prize, but KingSumo does allow for multiple winners. The giveaway had over 450 confirmed entries (and many more who didn’t confirm, so weren’t added to our email lists).

Authors can also use tools like BookCave, BookFunnel, and Instafreebie for giveaway promotions where everyone who enters receives a free ebook. I’l discuss these in a future post.

Join A Paid Giveaway

There are many marketing organisations offering paid group giveaways. For example, RyanZee’s Booksweeps offers two genre-specific multi-author giveaways each week. All entrants are added to the RyanZee mailing list, and these people are contacted the next time that genre giveaway is offered.

Some paid giveaways (including RyanZee) allow entrants to choose which (if any) mailing lists they want to sign up for. In theory, this means participating authors should be collecting interested people who won’t unsubscribe.

Other giveaways sign all entrants up to the email lists of all participating authors. This can mean a large number unsubscribe once they start receiving emails (or, worse, report the emails as spam). There are ways authors can minimise this, as I discussed in 5 Lessons Learned from Signing Up to 20+ Author Newsletters.

I discussed strategy in more detail in Six Factors to Consider in Planning an Online Giveaway. And I’ll be back next week to discuss three online giveaway tools in more detail: Gleam, KingSumo, and Rafflecopter.

Have you ever entered or organised an online giveaway? What did you learn from the experience?

What's Changing at Twitter (Hint: no more spam)

What’s Changing at Twitter? (An #AuthorToolBoxBlogHop Post)

Today’s post is part of the monthly Author Toolbox Blog Hop. The Hop is organised by Raimey Gallant, and has over 40 participating blogs. To find more posts, click here to check out the main page, click here to search #AuthorToolBoxBlogHop on Twitter, or click here to find us on Pinterest.

What’s Changing at Twitter?

I had planned to continue my series on email lists and giveaways this week. But I discovered Twitter have announced changes to their rules and policies around automation, and the changes come into effect on Friday (23 March 2018). These changes affect me directly, and indirectly affect all my fellow #AuthorToolBoxBlogHop participants. That’s why I’m covering it today.

These changes affect:

  • Anyone who manages multiple Twitter accounts.
  • Anyone who posts the same Tweet more than once (i.e. recycles Tweets).

If you don’t fit either of these categories, congratulations! You’re good to go. Otherwise, read on …

The Background

As we all know, social media has become a lot less social. In early 2018, Facebook announced they are changing their algorithm to reduce the number of posts from businesses, brands, and media so we’re better able to use Facebook for the original purpose: to stay connected with the people who matter to us. The subtext to this announcement is that Facebook are going to push businesses, brands, and media to pay to advertise or to boost posts, because that’s how Facebook makes money.

Now Twitter is taking a similar approach.

There are three ways to post a Tweet:

  1. Direct: A direct Tweet posts immediately from Twitter.
  2. Scheduled: A scheduled Tweet posts at a set date and time in the future, and may be scheduled in Twitter, or in an external app.
  3. Automated: An automated Tweet is when someone uses an external app such as Audiense ,Buffer, CrowdFire, Dlvr.it, Hootsuite, MeetEdgar, SocialJukebox, or TweetDeck to tweet on their behalf. Automated tweets are often duplicate Tweets.

Twitter have noticed (haven’t we all!) that a lot of Tweets are automated sales tweets, fake news, or spam. I often come across accounts where the Tweets all appear to be automated sales Tweets, sometimes coming from multiple accounts. I’m sure I’m not alone.

Authors are not innocent in this. I’ve read blog posts teaching me how to upload hundreds of Tweets to a programme like Tweetdeck or Hootsuite, so the Twitter account can automatically Tweet sales messages. I’ve seen authors Tweeting these sales messages as often as every ten minutes. One author I know of has over 370,000 Tweets, but less than 5,000 followers … and just 16 Likes. If that’s not spam, what is?

What’s Happened?

I’m sure we all agree that Twitter would be a lot more social if there were fewer automated Tweets … especially automated sales tweets. So Twitter have updated their rules. Twitter now explicitly prohibits certain actions, and these changes come into affect this week, on 23 March 2018.

Twitter says:

  • Do not (and do not allow your users to) simultaneously post identical or substantially similar content to multiple accounts.
  • Do not (and do not allow your users to) simultaneously perform actions such as Likes, Retweets, or follows from multiple accounts.
  • The use of any form of automation (including scheduling) to post identical or substantially similar content, or to perform actions such as Likes or Retweets, across many accounts that have authorized your app (whether or not you created or directly control those accounts) is not permitted.

Twitter will police these changes, and suspend or terminate accounts which break the rules.

The first two points only apply to people who operate more than one Twitter account, so the easy solution is to stick to one account!

People who do operate more than one account now have to be sure they are not duplicating content across the accounts.

This is easy when the accounts have a different focus (e.g. an author who also sells homemade cards on Etsy may have two accounts, but they are unlikely to be posting the same content). It’s a little harder when the two accounts have a different but overlapping focus (e.g. an author account, and an account for a group blog).

I have access to three Twitter accounts: my personal account, and two accounts related to group blogs where I’m part of the administration team. I don’t simultaneously post identical or substantially similar content across all three accounts, but I’ll make sure my team members know not to do this as well. We will also be careful about retweeting between accounts, as that could attract Twitters attention in a negative way.

Posting Multiple Updates

The third point is the one that has many authors worried: posting identical content.

The use of any form of automation (including scheduling) to post identical or substantially similar content, or to perform actions such as Likes or Retweets, across many accounts that have authorized your app (whether or not you created or directly control those accounts) is not permitted.

This is a change of wording, but not a change of official policy. When I wrote my previous blog post on the Twitter rules, this was one of the rules:

[Do not] post duplicate content over multiple accounts or multiple duplicate updates on one account

Twitter says they do not permit multiple duplicate updates (i.e. recycled content) on one account. But they have historically permitted recycled content as long as the posts were at least twelve hours apart (according to dlvr.it). Dlvr.it say:

Twitter is now poised to enforce this policy much more aggressively by restricting all duplicate content posting, even if it the posts are made even days or weeks apart.

Most Twitter apps and Twitter experts are saying this means the end of recycled content. For example, MeetEdgar says:

Moving forward, it means you should expect scheduling tools that have allowed for automated content recycling to no longer offer that service for Twitter accounts.

MeetEdgar is planning an upgrade that will enable users to upload multiple variations on the same Tweet at the same time. Tweets will be marked as sent, and won’t be resent. They are also considering a spinnable text option.

Twitter have also updated their rules to specifically prohibit users from creating additional accounts to get around the “no duplicate Tweets”rule. The updated rule is:

[Do not] post duplicative or substantially similar content, replies, or mentions over multiple accounts or multiple duplicate updates on one account, or create duplicate or substantially similar accounts

Under this updated rule, “duplicate content” has become “duplicative or substantially similar content, replies, or mentions”. Users are also now expressly forbidden from “creating duplicate or substantially similar accounts.”

So recycling Tweets is against the Twitter rules, and has been for some time. The difference is Twitter will now be policing this more strongly. This will directly affect me, and may indirectly affect all my fellow #AuthorToolBoxBlogHop participants. Why?

Because I currently recycle Tweets.

I recycle Tweets using two different apps:

Buffer

I use Buffer’s Power Scheduler feature to Tweet all my new blog posts seven times over the next year. I currently alternate between two tweets for these, so each individual Tweet gets sent three or four times.

Buffer does allow me to create a unique Tweet for each share, so I will utilise that feature going forward—the only problem will be getting creative enough so each Tweet is not “substantially similar”. This is the approach recommended by Digital Decluttered. Problem solved.

SocialJukebox

I use SocialJukebox to share my blog posts, #AuthorToolBoxBlogHop posts, and posts from the two group blogs I administer (Australasian Christian Writers and International Christian Fiction Writers).

This is more of a problem, as SocialJukebox (like MeetEdgar) is a once-and-done solution for recycling Tweets, which means repeat Tweets are duplicate Tweets. However, I can control how often the posts repeat, and I have now set this to 90 days. At most, any individual post will be seen no more than three or four times a year.

I hope this will be enough to escape the attention of the Twitter suspension team. But my Twitter account was briefly suspended last year, so I need to be careful. If I get suspended, I’ll pause all my SocialJukebox streams and hope that solves the problem.

I’m not sure what this will mean for SocialJukebox. It’s a paid service, and my renewal is coming up soon. The only reason I use SocialJukebox is to recycle Tweets. SocialJukebox have not made an official announcement about changes to their service relating to this update.

Do you administer more than one account? Or post identical updates to one account? How will this change affect you?

Six Ways to Build Your Email List (and Two Ways Not To)

Six Ways to Build Your Email List (and Two Ways Not To)

I’ve been talking about author platform for the last few weeks. We’ve covered:

I hope I’ve convinced you that a solid author platform needs all three: a website, email list, and a social media presence. It’s not difficult to set these things up (and if you want help, sign up to my Kick-Start Your Author Platform Marketing Challenge).

The next challenge is how do we, as authors, build an email list. Today I’m going to cover some good ways—and a couple of bad ways to build your email list.

First, the bad ways. Don’t:

  • Adding people to your email list without permission.
  • Buying an email list.

Adding people to your email list without permission.

Don’t add people you know to a list on Word or Excel or Gmail or Hotmail, then email them. It’s against the law:

  • The CAN-SPAM (Controlling the Assault of Non-Solicited Pornography and Marketing) Act applies if you live in the USA, or if you have anyone from the USA on your email list.
  • The GDPR (General Data Protection Legislation) applies if you live in the European Union, or have anyone from the EU on your email list.

I’ve received these emails. I even saw it recommended in a marketing book a few years ago, that authors “add people you know to your opt-in list”. Yes, this author was ahead of the times in actually having a newsletter list, but did she not understand the meaning of the words “opt in”?

Adding people to your list without their explicit permission is against the law.

You can only email people who have given you permission to email them (which is where Seth Godin’s phrase ‘permission marketing’ comes from). And you must give people the option to unsubscribe.

As I’ve said before, the best way to ensure your email list complies with relevant laws is to use one of the major email list providers, such as Aweber, ConvertKit, MailChimp or MailerLite.

Buying an email list.

Buying an email list is a waste of money. No one on that email list has consented to be on your email list. No one.

Sure, they may have consented to having their details passed on to “selected marketing partners”, but that doesn’t mean they want to be on your list. One of the organisations I’m a member of has passed my mailing address onto “selected marketing partners”. All their selected marketing mailings go straight in the round metal filing cabinet. It’s a waste of their marketing budget, and I’m now keeping a mental list of the credit card providers I’ll never use … the ones who waste money on mailing lists that could be spent on serving customers.

You have no way of knowing whether the people on a bought email list are interested in what you write (or even if they’re interested in books), because they haven’t opted in to your list.

Instead, try one or all of these tactics to build your email list:

1. Email and Ask

Email friends you think would be interested in joining your newsletter list, and ask if they’ll sign up. You don’t have to rely on email. You could also send a text message or Facebook DM, Tweet them … even talk to them. The point is that you’re asking for permission.

And they can sign up though the link you provide (which you’ll get from your mailing list provider), or you can add them directly into your mailing list. But only with their permission.

2. Ask at Events

Ask for newsletter sign-ups if you’re speaking at an event, such as a writer’s conference or retreat, or a book launch. The less technical among us have a physical sign-up sheet, then add people to the list manually. A more technical person could have a QR code on a bookmark, or a PC/tablet so people can enter their own data.

3. Ask Online

Use a plugin such as Bloom or SumoMe to prompt website visitors to sign up for your email list. Or see if your mailing list provider has signup forms. Pin a post on Twitter. Add a sign up button to your Facebook page. Include a link to your signup form in the bio you use for guest posts.

Friends, family and colleagues may well agree to sign up for your newsletter just because you asked them. But strangers are unlikely to give you their email address unless there’s something in it for them.

That ‘something’ is a giveaway of some kind—my subscriptions did increase when I started offering new subscribers a gift (I offer a list of Christian publishers for my Christian Editing Services list, and a list of my favourite Christian authors for my Author list).

4. Host a Webinar

Natalie Lussier hosts a free 30-day listbuiding challenge, and this is one of her techniques. Plan a webinar on a topic of interest to your readers. When they sign up, give them a link to share the webinar with their online contacts. Everyone who signs up is then added to your email list.

Yes, this means getting over your fear of public speaking, and your fear of being on camera.

5. Host a Giveaway

A lot of blogs host giveaways, but most are of the ‘leave a comment to be in the draw to win’ variety. That isn’t helpful for collecting email addresses—no one wants to leave their real email address in a blog comment. But authors can use tools such as Rafflecopter or KingSumo to run giveaways where they collect email addresses in exchange for an entry.

But I’ve found having a giveaway isn’t enough. It has to be promoted. And that’s where my final suggestion comes in:

6. Join a Cross-Promotion

A cross-promotion is where you join forces with other authors to host a giveaway. There is generally some cost involved in this, as setting up and hosting the giveaway takes time, effort, and technical know-how. But the advantages outweigh the disadvantages. A cross-promotion means it’s not just you promoting your giveaway—all the other authors involved will be promoting it as well. This means you’ll get in front of a lot more people.

I’ve recently organised one cross-promotion and participated in a second. Both were very sucessful in terms of adding people to my author email list. In fact, they were almost too successful. I’m having to clean out my existing lists so I don’t have to switch to the paid version of MailChimp.

There are two main types of cross-promotion. The easiest to organise is when each entrant’s information is provided to each of the participating authors. The disadvantage of this approach is that entrants didn’t specifically request to join your mailing list, so you may have a large number unsubscribing.  However, they did consent for their information to be passed to each of the participating authors.

The other type is where entrants choose which author lists they want to opt in to. These are more difficult to organise. The advantage is they produce more engaged subscribers because they have proactively opted in to your list.

But how do you host a giveaway? I’ll be back next week to discuss the main options for organising or participating in online giveaways.

Do you have an email list? What listbuilding techniques have you found worked?

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?

Twitter Rules

Understanding the Twitter Rules: How does Twitter Define Spam?

Spam is unsolicited mail or messages. Most email programmes do a relatively efficient job of syphoning unsoilicted messages off to the Spam box. Twitter, it appears, does not have such capability. Instead, it takes the blunt instrument approach of suspending the account.

When Twitter suspended my account last week, they suggested I check the Twitter Rules find out where I’d gone wrong. My first reaction was that I hadn’t. But then I read the rules

Let’s look at the rules in detail.

There are three sections to the rules:

Content Boundaries and Use of Twitter

Pass. I’m not tweeting anything illegal, pornographic, or violent.

Abusive Behavior

Pass.

Maybe.

I”m not making threats, engaging in hateful conduct, giving out private information, impersonating anyone, harrassing anyone, or threatening to harm myself.

However, I do “operate two accounts with overlapping use”.

But I don’t operate two accounts “in order to evade the temporary or permanent suspension of a separate account”. I operate a personal account (@IolaGoulton) where I share book reviews and blog posts on writing craft. And I’m the volunteer administrator for a writing group (@ACWriters) which shares blog posts from group members (including me). Some of those are posts on writing craft, and some are book reviews.

I can see that if you compared the two accounts, it does look like they have overlapping use. And I do operate both. But I have no nefarious intent or motive. The problem is an algorithm can’t measure intention. It can only monitor action based on predetermined rules.

Spam

My first reaction was that of course I don’t spam on Twitter. But according to the Twitter Rules, Twitter’s definition of “spam” is wide. Very wide. And it includes some of my activities—activities I’ve adopted based on the advice of Twitter experts with a large and engaged follower count.

Let’s examine what is considered spam in the Twitterverse:

I’m not username squatting (inactive accounts can be removed), sending invitation spam, selling usernames, posting malware, or phishing.

But then there is general spam, which Twitter defines in a long list:

If you have followed and/or unfollowed large amounts of accounts in a short time period, particularly by automated means (aggressive following or follower churn);

I follow around 500 people a week, and unfollow those who don’t follow back. My current Twitter following is over 13,000, so that’s a relatively low percentage (~4%). I would have thought this was designed to cover Buy 5,000 Twitter Followers Today! clickfarms, not someone who adds and deletes a few dozen followers over her morning coffee.

Crowdfire reports Twitter is actively targetting accounts with aggressive following or unfollowing patterns, and Twitter points out that using “Get More Followers Fast!” apps is not allowed.

If you repeatedly follow and unfollow people, whether to build followers or to garner more attention for your profile;

I do regularly follow and unfollow people to build my following. It’s a tactic many Twitter experts recommend. But I don’t follow and unfollow the same users over and over and over. I use the paid version of CrowdFire for following, then unfollow around a week later if they don’t follow back.

For [paid] users, we hide users they’ve previously followed so they don’t end up irritating Twitter users by following them again and again.

If your updates consist mainly of links, and not personal updates

I do mostly post links. It’s called curating content. Curating content is a tactic recommended by many Twitter gurus, and is practiced by many major accounts (including the @Twitter account). It’s modern marketing at work: the principle of reciprocity (via Robert Cialdini and Seth Godin).

In my uneducated view, it’s also possible for accounts to have too many personal updates (e.g. what people ate for breakfast, and the accounts of many prominent politicians). But I can take a hint: more pithy one-liners coming your way. MaybeTwitter thinks the internet needs more stupid.

If a large number of people are blocking you.

I hope not, but how would I know? Twitter only shows me how many people I’ve blocked.

If a large number of spam complaints have been filed against you.

Again, I hope not, but how would I know?

If you post duplicate content over multiple accounts or multiple duplicate updates on one account

This is where it gets tricky.

I use SocialJukebox (see Introducing SocialJukebox) to repost old blog posts—my own posts, and posts from group blogs. I can set how often I want posts to repeat—anything from 0 days up. I thought I had all my jukeboxes set at 30 days, but found I didn’t. Now I do.

I also use RoundTeam on the ACWriters account. RoundTeam automatically retweets any post mentioning ACWriters (many of which are mine, because I’m one of the most diligent Tweeters in the group). RoundTeam also retweets tweets from group members. Again, many of these tweets are mine.

Oops. I may have a problem. Unintentional (it’s not my fault I’m the most prolific Twitter user in the group). But a problem nonetheless—I’ve had feedback that Twitter doesn’t like Roundteam.

I have now changed the RountTeam settings to exclude me from the retweets. Avoid even the appearance of evil and all that.

If you post multiple unrelated updates to a topic using #, trending or popular topic, or promoted trend

If you send large numbers of duplicate replies or mentions

If you send large numbers of unsolicited replies or mentions

If you add a large number of unrelated users to lists

If you repeatedly create false or misleading content

No, no, no, no, and no. The “large numbers” is disturbingly vague, but I don’t do any of these things.

If you are randomly or aggressively following, liking, or Retweeting Tweets

If you repeatedly post other people’s account information as your own (bio, Tweets, URL, etc.)

If you post misleading links (e.g. affiliate links, links to malware/clickjacking pages, etc.)

If you are creating misleading accounts or account interactions

If you are selling or purchasing account interactions (such as selling or purchasing followers, Retweets, likes, etc.)

No, no, I don’t think so, no, and no.

I have posted Amazon Affiliate links, and I don’t know if they are marked as such, and if that’s considered misleading. The Tweets are automatically generated by Amazon when you push the little Tweety Bird button at the top of the screen. The idea is to share book specials, or tell your followers you just bought a book. You know, to advertise Amazon. Sorry, Amazon. I guess I won’t be clicking that any more.

If you are using or promoting third-party services or apps that claim to get you more followers (such as follower trains, sites promising “more followers fast”, or any other site that offers to automatically add followers to your account).

I do use CrowdFire, but it doesn’t add followers automatically – only those followers I select (which I could do through native Twitter, then just use CrowdFire to manage unfollows). I don’t use follower trains or #FollowFriday or #FF, although I’m sometimes included in #FF posts from other people. But I can’t control that.

In conclusion …

Do I spam or don’t I spam? I know of one author who tweets a buy link for one of her books every ten minutes. I think that’s spam. She has over 350,000 Tweets, fewer than 5,000 followers, and a measly 16 Likes. That’s some form of engagement from 0.004% of her posts. Does she sell books this way? I don’t know.

In contrast, I’m not selling anything, and my 12,000 posts have attracted over 2,800 Likes—a much more respectable 23 engagement%. Which of us is the spammer?

This experience has reminded me that Twitter, like every other social network, is not my property. They let me play there, but that’s not a forever thing. The purpose of social media reach should be to drive people back to my property: my website, and my email list.

Which reminds me … if you’re not on my email list, sign up on the right. I email once a month, and include updates to Christian Fiction Publishers (a new edition is due out in January), links to my blog posts for the month, and other useful information for Christian fiction writers.
Twitter Account Suspended

5 Lessons Learned from Getting My Twitter Account Suspended

Or, how I accidentally violated the Twitter Rules and got my account suspended three times, shared here in great detail so you can learn from my mistakes and ensure you don’t get your Twitter account suspended.

Last weekend, my Twitter account was suspended for allegedly exhibiting automated behaviour that violates Twitter’s rules. Long story short, my account was suspended three times before I worked out what I’d done wrong (at least, I hope I worked it out. My account has now been active for a whole 72 hours without a suspension).

I’ve since discovered that other authors are having similar problems, hence this blog post. Yes, I know I said I’d be posting about plotting with Michael Hauge, and I will. But first I want to cover what I did wrong, and how you can prevent the same thing happening to you.

Avoid Using Twitter for Blog Comments

The first time my account was suspended, I was trying to use Twitter to authenticate a comment on an unrelated book review blog. I thought this was the problem. In hindsight, it may have contributed to the problem, but I don’t think it was the cause.

The comment was a form of automated behaviour, which well have triggered something in the Twitter algorithm that got me shut out. Or it could be one of several other factors (as you’ll see).

Lesson One: Don’t Use Twitter as a Login Unless Necessary

This is actually good online practice. If you use Twitter to log in to every app in cyberspace and someone hacks your Twitter account, they can do a whole bunch of things in your name. Not good.

Avoid Autoposting from Social Networks

I’m a book blogger, and I spent a few hours on Saturday uploading book reviews to sites such as Amazon, Goodreads, and Riffle. I was behind, so I probably uploaded ten reviews to five or six sites each.

My Goodreads and Riffle accounts were both set to autopost certain links to Twitter (which I knew was the case for Goodreads, but had forgotten with Riffle). Again, there weren’t a lot of tweets—maybe ten or twelve over a two-hour period—but that might have been enough to trigger the algorithm.

I reviewed my Twitter feed, and found the Goodreads and Riffle tweets. I deleted them, and edited the settings on both accounts so that nothing is automatically tweeted.

Lesson Two: Don’t Autopost to Twitter from Social Networks

Even when the social network gives you the option. I have to admit, this annoyed me. I was trying to be a good member of the bookish community by sharing links to reviews of books I’ve enjoyed, and I got punished for it.

As I was looking through my feed, I noticed some Tweets that were autoposts from Instagram. This isn’t a good idea. Apart from possibly falling foul of Twitter’s rules, the picture doesn’t show up. You’re better posting directly from Twitter.

Be Careful About Using Autopost Apps

I use Buffer and SocialJukebox to retweet old blog posts and book reviews, and RoundTeam to retweet from members of one of my many writing groups. Blogging experts typically recommend you promote your evergreen posts on social media. There are many tools designed to assist: Buffer, Hootsuite, ManageFlitter, MissingLettr, RoundTeam, and SocialOomph, to name a few.

Some experts recommend tools which automatically post based on selected keywords. I abandoned that idea after about three minutes, when I realised that using “Christian” as a keyword (or even “Christian fiction”) would get me a combination of faith-based content, and content that was decidedly more steamy.

So my practice is a little more time-consuming, but it means I have personally read and curated every Tweet. Well, almost every Tweet, because I was using RoundTeam for that small group of trusted writer friends. My bad. Because something, somewhere, decided this automation was violating Twitter rules.

I had no idea what I was doing wrong, so I shut off posting from Buffer and SocialJukebox. I’ve switched Buffer back on, but I think I’ll wait a few more days before restarting my Jukeboxes. (If you don’t know about these two programmes, check out my previous posts: Introducing Buffer and Introducing SocialJukebox.)

Lesson Three: Limit the Number of Apps you Use

This situation showed me I actually had no idea how many apps I was using with Twitter.

Review Your Twitter Apps and Permissions

Twitter settings include a list of apps we have allowed to access our Twitter account. So I checked out my list (in my Settings and Privacy menu). It was a lot longer than I thought. Many of them were apps productivity or curation apps I’d checked out, decided not to use, and forgotten about.

But I hadn’t revoked Twitter access.

My bad. I was unpleasantly surprised to realise how many of these could post on my behalf. I couldn’t see any tweets from them on my timeline, but what did that mean? Had they been autoposting and the posts deleted?

I clicked Revoke Access to pretty much everything (although most of them were read-only access in the first place), leaving only the apps I have paid subscriptions to (e.g. Buffer and SocialJukebox), and those that seem necessary (e.g. apps to comment on WordPress blog sites).

Lesson Four: Don’t Give Apps Posting Rights on Your Twitter Accounts

Unless you need them, of course. I’ve trialled perhaps a dozen apps, but only use two on a regular basis. But the others still had posting rights, and some might even have been still posting (e.g. MissingLettr, which schedules Tweets for up to a year in the future).

Be Careful With Multiple Twitter Accounts

I’m also the “owner” of a group Twitter account for a writers group, Australasian Christian Writers. The ACWriters Twitter account uses a different email address than my personal account, but both accounts use the same mobile phone number for authentication . . . which effectively links the accounts.

I happened to mention I’d been having problems with Twitter to one of the other group administrators. She checked the ACWriters account and saw it had been suspended (interestingly, when I checked it, everything looked normal).

I logged into the ACWriters Twitter account, and had to go through the whole unlocking rigmarole. Three times. This got me wondering: was it my “bad” behaviour that got my account suspended? Or was the ACWriters account suspended first? I don’t know, and I guess I never will. But it did show me that actions (and suspensions) on one account impact on the other.

Most of the activity on ACWriters is automated. The account doesn’t generate any native tweets, but posts links to new posts on the Australasian Christian Writers blogs, retweets @mentions, and retweets Tweets from blog members … including me. And Twitter might have interpreted that as me trying to toot my own horn.

Lesson Five: Don’t Have More Than One Twitter Account

Or, if you do, run them off separate email addresses, separate mobile numbers. And don’t have Account A set up to retweet Account B and vice versa, because Twitter calls that spam. Yes. The Twitter Rules contain dozens of possible ways you can spam, and some of them surprised me.

So while I never set out to violate the Twitter Rules, I did.

I’ve tightened my account, reviewed who and what can post, and done as much as I can to break the link between my two accounts.

I’ll be back next week to update you on my progress, and to talk through the Twitter Rules and work out what I might have done wrong … and what you might be doing.

Meanwhile, have I missed anything?