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How to Avoid Breaking the Law with Your Newsletters

How to Avoid Breaking the Law with Your Newsletters

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In the early days of the internet, inboxes were dangerous places filled with penis-enlargement ads and commercial emails disguised as personal messages. Now, of course, there’s nothing we can do to stop some guy in Nigeria from pretending to be a deposed prince, but American companies are beholden to the CAN-SPAM Act of 2003. As an author trying to promote your wares on the web, you are liable too. And it’s not just this one law or one country that governs email.

What does the law say?

This list is not exhaustive, but it’s the basics:

  • You can’t send unsolicited commercial emails in bulk
  • You have to give subscribers an easy way to stop the emails
  • You can’t have deceptive subject lines
  • You have to correctly identify yourself
  • You have to disclose how you plan to use their contact information

How should I navigate all these rules?

The easiest way to produce a bulk email list while staying clear on the requirements (such as including unsubscribe links, disclosing your address, and staggering your emails to avoid getting blocked by ISPs) is to sign up for a mailing service. Constant Contact and Mail Chimp are the two I most often hear about, and they pretty much require you to include the required links and contact information to keep you legal. Of course, even all of their machinations can’t cure stupid, and you have to use a little common sense to protect yourself from fines of up to $16,000 per email.


These services linked above will help you handle subscriptions, unsubscriptions, sign-up forms, and opt-in consent. You can still manually add people who sign up at events (at least I know you can with Mail Chimp) and they start with free services that can later be upgraded as your list grows and your needs change. Most-importantly of all, rather than manually typing a massive BCC list onto your email, they help you format and distribute colorful, attractive emails in a way that won’t get caught in the recipients’ SPAM filter and never see the light of day.

How Should I Build My Mailing List?

NEVER PURCHASE A READY-MADE MAILING LIST. You are legally responsible for your emails, which means you should never trust a third party to take your money and give you a clean list. If the people you are emailing did not personally consent to your emails, and you send them a bulk email, you are breaking the law.

Some things you can do instead:

  • Include a sign-up form on your website.
  • Collect names and emails at cons and signings.
  • Invite your family and friends to sign up.
  • Post occasional links to the sign-up form on your social networks.
  • Offer a giveaway to people who opt-in.

What About Pitches?

If you want to individually pitch reviewers, that’s fine, but individually is the key word there. If you send out a bulk email to fifty reviewers without crafting your pitch to each person, that is sketchy and it certainly does not cast you in a favorable light with the people you’re asking to help you sell your book.

A Final Word.

Remember that, as an author, you are a brand. How you behave online defines the image that brand has. You’re not merely asking the audience to buy your YA story about teenage werewolves/fairies/satyrs/etc. You’re asking them to buy into you, the author.

If your brand is annoying and SPAM-ified, they won’t want to have anything to do with you. Take your time to craft your pitches well. Use a service that monitors changing SPAM requirements. Build your brand above reproach and you won’t regret it.

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