Writers and Email Marketing

You have an email address book full of friends, family and contacts. It’s tempting to send them all an email to tell them about your latest book or forthcoming event. But you shouldn’t. Unsolicited marketing emails are against the law and, under English law, ignorance is no defence.

What is an unsolicited marketing email?

An unsolicited marketing email is one that is sent to people who have not subscribed to an email list and/or have not given permission to be sent marketing emails.

An unsolicited marketing email is not when you reply to a friend or family member and let them know about your book or event as part of the conversation. It is not when you list your publications in your email signature. It is not an email sent in response to someone giving your their business card and inviting you to get in touch.

As a general rule, if you are sending one email to one person which you’ve personalised or tailored to the recipent, it’s not a marketing email. If you are sending one email to a group of people in response to a group chat and mention your book or event because it’s relevant to the discussion, it’s not a marketing email. If you send the same email all about your book or event to a group of people, it’s marketing.

So how can writers use email marketing without falling foul of the law or gaining a reputation for being a spammer?

Collecting Email Addresses

Essentially any personal email addresses collected for the purposes of marketing should be collected on the basis of opt-in consent, e.g.

  • through a website contact form or web subscriber service where users send an email address on the understanding they are subscribing to an email marketing list or newsletter;
  • through a competition where entrants give consent to further mailings;
  • where an email contact is an existing customer (although it’s better from a customer relations viewpoint to check the customer is happy to receive newsletters and/or marketing material first).

If a reader sends you a query or tells you they enjoyed your last book or event, they are not giving consent to be marketed. Reply to their email thanking them and ask permission to add their details to your mailing list.

Corporate or commercial email address holders do not need to give consent, but that doesn’t mean you can spam them or fail to unsubscribe them if asked to do so.

Sending Emails

  • Check you have news to send – don’t fall into the trap of thinking that you need to send an email newsletter according to a fixed timescale or that you will lose subscribers if you don’t keep in touch;
  • Ensure your news is useful – a writer writing is book is no more news than a plumber fixing a leak: your subscribers need to know when and how to order the book;
  • Don’t send embargoed news – your subscribers are your ambassadors, they will naturally want to recommend your new book or tell others about your event, so don’t prevent them;
  • Don’t tease – don’t send an email saying details of your new book will be in the next email or tell subscribers you have a new event but details will follow. Frustrating subscribers means they will stop reading and may unsubscribe;
  • Check your email has unsubscribe information on (each email needs this information, not just emails to new subscribers);
  • Check your email has a bricks-and-mortar address on – this can be a publisher’s or business address – if sending from within the European Union (not necessary if you use a web service based outside Europe). The UK has not left the EU yet and if (some of) your subscribers live in EU countries, you still need to comply;
    Don’t include unnecessary links – ‘click here to order’ is fine, summarising an article and including a link to the full article is fine if you’re including more than one, linking to your website or blog in the main body of your email because you’ve been told it’s “beneficial for search engine optimisation” is not (it’s not beneficial for search engine optimisation and although it may drive some extra traffic to your website or blog, it will increase your bounce rate if readers clicking through can’t find anything of interest, which will have a detrimental effect on your search engine optimisation.)

Maintenance of your Email Address List

  • If someone on your address list unsubscribes, actually unsubscribe them. A confirmation is polite, but not necessary;
  • If someone changes their email address and notifies you, change their details as soon as possible;
  • Don’t take email addresses from websites of people whom you think might be interested in your news;
  • Don’t automatically add email addresses from people who contact you – check they are happy to subscribe first;
  • Don’t allow a publisher access to your email address list – take the information the publisher would like to send and include it in your own emails by all means, but the marketing mail must come from you, not your publisher as subscribers have signed up to your list;
  • Don’t allow others to access your email address list – you might think your subscribers will be interested in another writer or a writing course or writers’ group, but don’t let that writer, course organiser or group have your list. Include details about the writer/course/group in your next email with relevant contact details and let your subscribers decide;
  • Don’t sell your list on – you may make a quick buck, but it will be at the expense of your longer term marketing strategy as people will unsubscribe and tell others not to subscribe.

A Brief Guide to Email Marketing for Writers Summarised:

  • Have a strict opt-in only policy on collecting email addresses;
  • Ensure your emails are useful and contain information subscribers need to know;
  • Action updates and changes to email addresses or contact details as soon as possible;
  • Ensure you include unsubscribe and clear identification on every email.

It’s not just about keeping within the law, but also showing your subscribers the courtesy you’d like from email lists to which you subscribe.

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