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The Internet is one of the most important channels a modern-day author can use to build their audience and drive book sales.

Cultivating a fan base and generating buzz around your next release takes time, effort, and some PR smarts; and while it’s never been easier to market yourself online, there are a range of data privacy laws that you should be mindful of.

In this article, we’ll go through five privacy considerations for self-published authors, plus key pieces of information to include in your privacy policy.

1. What personal data do you collect from readers and how do you store it?

Whether you’re based in the US or sell to an audience in the European Union, it’s generally advisable — if not legally required — to inform your website visitors of whether you collect any personal information about them.

In addition to disclosing any data collection that occurs on your website, such as through subscription forms or cookies, you need to list the different types of personal information that is collected (such as their name, address, or credit card details) and explain how it is stored and kept safe.

2. Your newsletter and mailing list

Nobody likes spam, but sending something as innocent as your latest newsletter could land you in trouble if someone hasn’t opted in to receive it! In the past, building and marketing to an email list could be a quick (and dirty) process, but thankfully, laws like CAN-SPAM and the GDPR now require you to get explicit consent from subscribers prior to sending them mass email communications.

By “explicit consent”, this means informing people up front of what they’ll be receiving from you (e.g. a break down of each individual type of email, such as newsletters and promotions); allowing them to pick and choose which communications they wish to opt in to receiving; and allowing them to opt out at any time.

In terms of data protection, it’s important to note that email service providers (ESP), such as Mailchimp, are third-party services with which you’ll be sharing your subscribers’ personal data. Besides doing your own due diligence on whether your chosen ESP complies with applicable data protection and privacy laws, you should disclose your use of this third-party service in your website privacy policy.

Over time, you may also choose to switch to another ESP to accommodate your growing fan base and new marketing strategy. When it comes to transferring your email lists over, be careful of erasing subscriber preferences in the process – you don’t want to start sending mail to someone who had already opted out in the past!

To avoid missteps like these, we recommend keeping your email list updated and clearly organised for future data transfers.

3. Running competitions

Many indie authors run social media giveaways and competitions to reward and hype their readers up for their new book.

And  because setting up and running an online competition typically requires participants to submit their name and contact details, it’s best to disclose in your privacy policy that you’ll be collecting this information, explaining how it will be used and protected.

To avoid unintentionally doxxing participants (i.e. exposing information that could be used to personally identify them), do not ask them to share their details in public forums like comment sections.

4. Hiring a Virtual Assistant (VA)

To carve out more time for writing, you may choose to hire a VA manage your marketing and other administrative tasks.

As a sub-contractor who may have access to data such as your email list, social media pages, payment gateways, and website backend, you’ll need to ensure that they are willing to uphold your privacy policy and keep your readers’ personal information confidential.

5. Moderating fan clubs and discussion groups

Outside of your website, you may choose to host discussion groups on other platforms like Reddit and Facebook. For this, you will need to set and enforce appropriate community guidelines that will protect your readers’ privacy online and prevent your group from violating a platform’s Terms of Use.

Keep in mind that your fans may wish to share or produce content such as photos, comics, and even fan-fiction. Whether these are shared on your own website’s forums or somewhere else, you should take the time to review the legal risks and privacy concerns for user-generated content.

Writing a book or any other piece of creative writing is a labour of love — it takes a courage to share your ideas and vision, especially in the online world. While most writers are unlikely to be required to comply with as many privacy laws and obligations as other larger organisations, the five privacy considerations outlined in this article are crucial to ensuring you don’t get hit with a costly fine or have your website and social media pages taken down.

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