Author Email Marketing Rules, Part 1

Today’s post dives into the murky waters of author email marketing–and though it may initially seem a departure from the autumn scam avoidance series, we’re still within that realm.

It’s just that today, we’re looking at how authors avoid crossing over to the scammers’ (or, in this case, spammers’) side of the street.

In the United States, commercial email communications are regulated by the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) under the CAN-SPAM Act of 2003. Note: “CAN-SPAM” is an acronym, not a grant of permission, and stands for “Controlling the Assault of Non-Solicited Pornography And Marketing Act.”

The CAN-SPAM Act applies to all “commercial email,” which includes any email that has a primary purpose of commercial advertisement or promotion of a commercial product or service. The law also governs marketing emails that promote content on commercial websites. Author marketing emails, including all advertisements and most newsletters, are commercial & must comply with the CAN-SPAM Act. With regard to newsletters, it’s easier simply to comply than to navigate the legal minefield trying to avoid compliance.

Every email which violates the CAN-SPAM Act is subject to statutory penalties of up to $16,000–and the law can consider each recipient a “separate email” for penalty purposes. The law contains additional monetary and criminal penalties for aggravated “offenses”–a topic we’ll examine in more detail next week.

Fortunately, the FTC has established a set of guidelines for compliance with the CAN-SPAM Act, which authors can follow to help prevent marketing emails from becoming illegal spam:

1. Identify advertising messages as ads (even within a newsletter, if you include ads with newsletter content). Advertisers must disclose advertisements clearly and conspicuously, for example, by adding the word “ADVERTISEMENT” inside the border of the ad.

2. Header and routing information must be clear and accurate. This means the email’s “From,” “To,” “Reply-To,” and routing information must be accurate, and must identify the sender of the message. Where appropriate, this means including your originating domain name and email address. You can’t try to make your newsletter or marketing email look like it came from someone–or somewhere–else.

3. Email subject lines cannot be deceptive. In other words: the subject line must accurately reflect the content of the message. If you’re sending an advertisement about a new book release, it should say something like “[Author Name]’s New Book Is Available Now!” or, for a newsletter: “[Author Name]’s July Newsletter.”

4. The message must disclose the sender’s valid physical postal addressThis can be a street address, a post office box (registered with the U.S. Postal Service), or a private mailbox registered with a commercial mail house or receiving agency (provided the agency complies with U.S. Postal Service regulations). You must include a valid physical postal address on every marketing email you send, without exception. Some newsletters may fall outside the CAN-SPAM Act requirements, but it’s normally easier just to make your newsletter comply than to figure out whether or not you have to.

5. All marketing emails must include a clear and conspicuous “opt out” option. Instructions for opting out or unsubscribing must be written in a way that’s easy for ordinary people to recognize, read, and understand. The email must include an option to stop all future commercial messages from the sender, and it cannot be difficult to exercise. Opt-out options must be as simple as either a single reply email or clicking through to a single page on an Internet website. Nothing more.

6. Honor opt-out requests promptly–and permanently. Set spam filters to ensure that opt-out or unsubscribe requests don’t get blocked or “junked.” By law, an unsubscribe or opt out request must be honored within 10 business days. And when you receive an opt-out notice, you can no longer use that person’s email address for marketing, or sell or transfer the address to others. Make sure you have a system for tracking opt-outs, so you don’t inadvertently return the address to a mailing or advertising list.

7. Make sure you know, and control, what others are doing on your behalf. You are legally responsible for the actions email marketing companies take on your behalf. The CAN-SPAM Act holds both the party who sends the message and the one whose product is promoted legally responsible for email violations.

Some people may say “nobody else complies with the law, why should I bother?” Someone else’s illegal act does not excuse your own. Compliance with the law is not optional, and “odds of getting caught” are not relevant to what is right. Also, an author’s reputation suffers–greatly–when people believe that author is a spammer.

Many people receive, and must deal with, hundreds of emails every day (that’s not an exaggeration). Unsolicited marketing is not welcome. If you choose to advertise your books by email (note: it IS a choice, and you don’t have to), be polite & follow the law.

I hope you’ll join me next week as we continue our look at the CAN-SPAM Act and how to ensure author marketing efforts comply with law. In the meantime, if you have questions about this or any other publishing legal or business topic, please feel free to ask them in the comments!