Are you sending spam?

Spam, we all hate it. Or at least we say we do. Unless we don’t, and we do it ourselves. Oops.

We like to talk about whether something is spam or not in very black-and-white terms. But in reality it is a much more grey area than that. If you shop at a particular store, and they have your email address because the transaction took place online, do they have the right to send you emails? Are those emails spam?

Some people might think they are, because they did not ask for those emails to be sent. Some people would be happy to be reminded of special deals. In an ideal world, there would be a checkbox at the checkout process to let the recipient choose whether to put their name on an email list or to opt out. However, many companies don’t do that and start sending email regardless. In general, it is considered to be fair use of an email address to send someone who buys something from you a couple of emails after their purchase.

But what about those people who have nothing to sell, and want to promote a new business or a new service?

This is what the Australian anti-spam act has to say about unsolicited email. Or read about the CAN-SPAM act in the US.

Both (and the laws of other countries) specify the following I would like to highlight:

  • Each email you send must have an unsubscribe link. If you use an email service (Mailchimp or the like), they will do this for you. But if you send regular email to a list, it is the law that you offer people a way off the list.
  • You must also identify yourself with a physical address.
  • The biggie: you may not harvest email addresses from forums, participant lists, customer lists of other but related businesses or activities.

I will not sugarcoat it: many small presses and writer organisations are terrible about the latter.

This is the sort of stuff I’m talking about:

  • You go to a writer con, and because you register online, the organisers have your email address.
    They didn’t expressly ask people if they wanted to be emailed, but I don’t think anyone will have an issue if the organisers email you again when the con is on the next year. This is fair use. So far, so good.
  • But one of the con organisers has a small press. They use the con attendee email list to advertise their books. This is NOT COOL.
  • Someone who works as volunteer for the con takes the list and starts emailing, a few years later, about a second, rival con. This is NOT COOL.
  • Someone from this con regularly visits a forum and adds in people who frequent the forum and starts emailing about their editing business. This is NOT COOL.

Those last three items are illegal.

Yet it is exceedingly common for this to happen in the world of small press and volunteer organisations. Every month I have to unsubscribe myself from several lists collated by overly eager small press people who clearly have no idea what they are allowed to do. I don’t think any of these individuals mean ill, but certainly the cumulated effect on my inbox is infuriating. And despite plenty of publicity about spam as well as warnings by the email companies that they signed up with, these people do not seem to get it.

We—the recipients of the emails—are asked to grin and bear it “to support the community”. Well, I’m through with it. I’m reporting them all for spam. I have to comply with the laws, and so can they. They’ve had over a decade to learn.

Please stop sending people email that they have not asked for. You are giving small presses and volunteer writing organisations a bad name.

If you want people on your list, do this in the same way everyone else does it: by adding a signup box to your website, by adding a link to forum posts, by putting it as pinned post to your Facebook and Twitter profiles, by putting it on all publicity you send out, by using paid ads to increase your audience.

The comments on this blog are closed, but this post is syndicated to my Facebook page, where you can comment and ask further questions. Find more information about the Three-year plan self-publishing books here.

Sick of juggling sales spreadsheets?

When your books are distributed wide, you will be bombarded with sales spreadsheets from vendors every month.

What to do with them?

There are a number of options to aggregate your sales data so that you can make sense of them.
One of those options, which I recommend in Self-publishing Unboxed, is a program called Trackerbox.

Trackerbox and allows you to see your sales per country, per retailer, per series, for any time period that you choose. It gives your sales in all the different currencies and also tallies pages read if you are in KU. It gives free downloads. Other than the usual venues, like Amazon, Kobo, iBooks and Nook, it supports formats from more unusual sales sources like Bundlerabbit, as well as print books, audiobooks, and even a user uploaded spreadsheet option for hand sales at cons.

Trackerbox is a program that you download and use on your computer, rather than give all your passwords to run online. Therefore your financial data, and your passwords, are secure.

Trackerbox has only been available for the PC. But Mac use amongst writers has exploded, because there are so many great programs for the Mac. The owner is now running a kickstarter to make a version of Trackerbox for Mac.

You can support the kickstarter and will get your version of the program when it is done.

So if you use a Mac, why not support the kickstarter now, so that this version will become a reality.

The Self-publishing Three-year plan is now a book

Hello all, I haven’t been here for some time.

I’ve been busy writing new books.

But I have just published a series of three books that readers of this blog might find useful.
Over the years, I have found that a lot of people ask for advice on self publishing. I think this is a good thing, because when you google self publishing, a lot of vanishing publishers come up.

Asking other authors is certainly the best way to find out about the best practices, so I don’t want to discourage that. But there are only so many hours in my day! I need to spend more time writing my own fiction instead of talking to people and answering questions via email or Facebook.

Often, the answers will repeat the same things over and over again, so I have decided to make it a series of books.

The first book, Self-publishing Unboxed, is 101 guide to self publishing for people who know nothing about it. It covers the basic principles of self publishing, the dos and don’t’s, the potential pitfalls, and the attitude necessary to turn this into a successful venture.

There are quite a few books out there that cover a lot of the nitty-gritty, but not many of them give an overall perspective from the viewpoint of a writer’s career. Books will concentrate on marketing, on the publishing process, or on writing craft. But in reality, all three of these need to come together. I have attempted to give a bird’s eye view of all three.

In the self publishing community, I have become known as someone uses mailing lists to great effect.

In the second book, Mailing Lists Unboxed, I describe some of my tactics and the underlying principles and attitudes necessary to use your author mailing list to its full potential.

Again, this is not how to guide with detailed instructions, because I assume that you can read the instructions on your email provider’s website on how to set up the processes I talk about in the book.

Rather, it is a book that describes how the things work and why they work. I cover different types of mailing list and the different strategies necessary to engage them, how to recruit people for your mailing list and what are the consequences of each type of recruiting, the risks with mailing lists, the unspoken rules about them, and how to use your list to sell books.

The last book, Going Wide Unboxed, is a short companion guide for writers who are listed in Kindle Unlimited, and who want to take a stab at listing at other venues than Amazon and take their fiction into the world. Kindle Unlimited has its largest market in the US. That is all very well if your fiction is geared towards the US, but it is not even the majority of English language readers.

These days, I sell a lot more outside the US than inside it. The sales of English ebooks is a growing market in countries other than the US, and in general, not even on Amazon, one that has embraced Kindle Unlimited in great extent.

By increasing your focus on international sales, you can also increase your sales on Amazon, especially in non-US stores.

This book discusses the non-Amazon venues that are open to self-publishers and where it is useful to list your books. It discusses if you peculiarities of each platform that can be useful to know.

It also discusses the fundamental shift in attitude that you need to have with regards to marketing your books. For one, your mailing list will become much more important.

There isn’t anyone easy way to increase your sales. Taking your sales worldwide is hard. This book aims to better prepare you for taking that step.

The book is only short, and will be free for a limited time.

The three books will be available to all writers, and not just the ones who sent me messages on Facebook or send me emails.

I hope to have served the writing community by writing these books. There will not be any online courses or any webinars to sell. I will get back to my fiction.

You can see more information about the books and find out where to get them here.

Crazy Science Fiction and Fantasy ebook sale on this weekend!


Click here or on the image to go to the promo (opens a new tab).

This weekend, I’m taking part in a crazy promo with 166 authors, where we have lowered prices to 99c. Unlike so many other promotions, this is NOT a purely Amazon-centred event, and you will find a page for each retailer. I’m looking to expand this co-op to become more international. About a third of our visitors are currently not from the US.

Something for the weekend: 15 novellas 99c


I recently pulled all my more recent novellas and short stories together in an anthology. There are 15 of them:

This Peaceful State of War – WOTF winning story
Geospermia – published in Analog
The Rebelliousness of Trassi Udang – published in Belong, ISF-Allion world
The Shattered World Within – published in Giganotosaurus
Survival in Shades of Orange – published in Analog
Quarantine – published in Dead Red Heart
Party, with Echoes – published in Redstone SF
His Name In Lights – published in Universe Annex of the Grantville Gazette
Abode – published in Aurealis
A perfect Day off the Farm – published in Extreme Planets
Santiago Dawn – published in Neo-opsis
Where the Plains Merge With The Sky – published in Scapezine
Luminescence – ISF-Allion world novella
Charlotte’s Army – ISF-Allion novella
Looking For Daddy – absurd horror novella

It’s only 99c.