Opt-Out Requirements for Author Email

Author newsletters and other “blast” or list-based emails are generally considered commercial marketing material under U.S. law, and must comply with the CAN-SPAM Act. (See last week’s Wednesday legal post, or the law itself, for the reasons why.)

Today, we’re taking a look at the mandatory opt-out provisions authors must include in newsletters and other commercial mailings to comply with the law.

Every commercial email must include an “opt out” or “unsubscribe” option, so that recipients can request removal from the mailing list. By law:

1. Opt-out options must be visible and operable. Many email services (e.g., mailchimp)  include “opt-out” or “unsubscribe” text and links at the bottom of their templates. If you create your own mailing, or template, you must include a visible clickable opt-out or unsubscribe option. “Operable” means that the opt-out click or option needs to work. When people click “unsubscribe” the link must actually give them a functional way to notify the sender to remove them from future mailings.

2. Opt-out requests must be honored within ten business days. Sooner is better. If you manage your own email lists, you must perform regular (read: weekly) maintenance to ensure you honor all unsubscribe requests within the ten-day window prescribed by law.

3. Opt-out requests must be “permanent” (unless the email owner re-subscribes). “Accidental” return of opted out email addresses to the author’s mailing list is a violation of law. The sender has a legal obligation to ensure that recipients who opt-out of future mailings are not reinserted in the list.

Create–or ensure your mailing service uses–a “Suppression List.”

A “suppression list” is an email list containing the addresses of everyone who has requested to opt out or unsubscribe from future mailings. If you use an email service like MailChimp or Constant Contact, the service generally creates this list automatically when people click the automated “unsubscribe” link.

However, if you manage your mailing lists independently, you need a way to track opt-out requests and to ensure those email addresses don’t “accidentally” end up included in future mailings. This can be done manually or by creation of an email macro that strips certain addresses out of a list (and prevents their reinsertion).

Consider using an email service like MailChimp or Constant Contact. Use of an email service–as opposed to managing lists yourself–makes it far easier to ensure you comply with law. Most of these services have free options as well as paid subscriptions, and it’s worth a little extra cost on the front end to avoid legal fines and penalties for noncompliance.

Once someone opts out or unsubscribes, it’s the sender’s legal obligation to ensure the address is not included in any future mailings unless the owner of the email list re-subscribes.

Accidental re-insertion of opted-out addresses in future mailings is a violation of the law. It’s also highly irritating to people who don’t want to hear from you.

As tempting as it is to violate the opt-out laws, noncompliance hurts your career and your reputation as well as creating legal liability. 

People should comply with the law because it’s required that we do so. However, the costs of noncompliance with email opt-out laws can far exceed the potential legal penalties. There are authors whose books I will never buy because they put me on mailing lists to which I did not subscribe and then continued to email me their newsletters after I asked to be removed. I’m not alone in this. When you send people unwanted newsletters, book releases and advertisements, they get angry with you and consider you unprofessional. And, guess what? They’re right to do it.

Failing to honor opt-out requests isn’t just illegal; it’s unprofessional and a sign of an amateur author. If you want to make writing your career, you need to learn the business and how to present yourself as a professional. Fortunately, at least in the area of email marketing and newsletters, the law creates clear guidelines as to how professionals behave. Know them and follow them, and you’re one step closer to presenting yourself and your works in a classy, professional way. 

Does your email list have an opt-out feature? How do you manage it for your author emails?