Are You Committing These E-mail Sins?

E-mail Sins

I encourage authors to use e-mail as one of the most powerful tools in their marketing arsenal.

But with great power comes great responsibility, right?

One of the quickest ways to turn a potential reader (or influencer!) into an enemy is to send an unsolicited message via e-mail or a social network.

Here are 4 of the biggest e-mail sins.

  1. Sending a regular mass e-mail to people who did not sign up to receive your messages. This even goes for content-based messages or links—something you might think is innocuous. It is not.
  2. Sending a mass e-mail to your entire address book, or to every e-mail address you’ve harvested from your Facebook or LinkedIn contacts. It’s tempting to say, “Just this ONE time.” If the message is that important to you, take time to send a personalized e-mail to each person, or select a few influencers to contact instead. Don’t be lazy.
  3. Sending a regular mass e-mail from your personal e-mail account so people have no way to unsubscribe. The most basic courtesy you can offer is an automated unsubscribe function. That means people should NOT have to respond personally and ask to be removed. MailChimp is a free e-mail newsletter service with automated unsubscribe functionality.
  4. Sending mass messages via Facebook or LinkedIn. It’s just as bad as doing it via e-mail.

It might be perfectly fine to mass e-mail people who know you and love you (e.g., close family and friends), but if you’re doing it with people you don’t correspond with casually or typically, and they didn’t opt-in, that’s called spam, and you should stop.

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Jane Friedman has 20 years of experience in the publishing industry, with expertise in digital media strategy for authors and publishers. From 2001–2010 she worked at Writer's Digest, where she ultimately became publisher; more recently, she was an editor at the Virginia Quarterly Review, where she led digital strategy. Jane currently teaches writing and publishing at the University of Virginia and is a columnist for Publishers Weekly. The Great Courses just released her 24-lecture series, How to Publish Your Book. She also has a book forthcoming from the University of Chicago Press, The Business of Being a Writer (2017). Jane speaks regularly at conferences and industry events such as BookExpo America, Digital Book World, and the AWP Conference, and has served on panels with the National Endowment for the Arts and the Creative Work Fund. Find out more.
Posted in Digital Media, Marketing & Promotion.


  1. Totally agree, and I have committed at least one of these sins in the recent past, too, and learned the error of my ways.

    I also hate when people “invite” me to an “event” on Facebook that is not actually event but rather a promotion for something. I don’t care if it’s free. It’s a promotion. S T O P =)

  2. I have some questions that will show my newbieness at this:

    1.  I’m blogging on WordPress and have a “subscribe/follow” option.  Should I also make sure the blog itself includes an “unsubcribe/unfollow” option for those who aren’t wordpress users and get posts delivered to their inboxes?

    2.  How is it best to handle FaceBook marketing techniques?  For example, in an effort to consolidate and professionalize, I have a Facebook page for my blog and recently sent out an invite to like the page to most of my FB friends who hadn’t liked it–I knew some of my FB friends were reading from my personal page, and wasn’t sure exactly who.  Does that kind of invite count as spam, and if so, how should a writer approach platform building on Facebook?

    3.  Related to #2:  Facebook marketing recommends “ads” to grow your page/business–these are sent out to targeted audience members.  What’s your take on these?

    Thanks for all your help, Jane–you are fantastic!

    Liz Hall Magill

  3. Absolutely spot-on, Jane. This is an issue I confront quite often with my authors. I find the technique of using a personal email address to send mass-mailings from to be especially devious and disconcerting.

  4. Good topic and great information. I don’t see how to unsubscribe from your blog. Is the unsubscribe link  there and I’m just not seeing it? I look forward to the FB discussion. Thank you.

    • If you were subscribed to this blog (, you’d receive the posts via e-mail. At the end of the e-mail, there would be an unsubscribe link.

      Some people subscribe to blogs within “blog networks,” e.g., WordPress or Blogger networks, and in those cases, an e-mail is not necessarily sent. Rather, you may receive some kind of notification within your blogging network. Either way, though, you would unfollow or unsubscribe using the tools inside that network.

  5.  Great post Jane!  Is it okay if I write an article on my blog and then
    post the link on Facebook and Twitter, or is this considered spam?  If
    so, do you have other suggestions for alerting potential readers to our
    blogs???  Thanks, Robin

  6.  No, but I have e-mailed people back to warn them about the reputation hazards of sending out such things. I try to keep it cordial so they’ll learn, and in my experience they do always at least remove me from the list, if not stop altogether.

  7. When I started my blog, I send a link to it in a mass facebook inbox to people I knew were interested in my writing. Of course, I made sure to do it on facebook because it gives them the option to ‘leave the conversation’, and I try to make sure I say every time I post a new link to a new entry, ‘IF YOU DO NOT WANT TO CONTINUE RECEIVING THESE MESSAGES, PLEASE LEAVE THE CONVERSATION! YOU WILL NOT BE JUDGED!’ They listen, and most of them have stayed, so I’m happy and I don’t feel like I’m spamming too much if I’ve given them the option to leave, and those who want to have. 

  8. Well, some of this is a little disconcerting and has made me rethink. I send email messages from my personal address because I personalize them. People in my address book are family, friends, readers or class attendees who signed up to receive emails from me for events, etc. in their area  And when it’s time for me to send something, I spend 2-3 days going through my entire list—is this something this person will want to hear about? Be able to attend? I personalize each one, although they’re grouped, because just like I don’t like getting e-greetings that say, “Love to you all, from The Smiths” (how much effort was that, to click a button?) I don’t like getting mail chimped UNLESS I’ve signed up for a person’s newsletter. My personal email has an opt out at the bottom: “If I’ve made a mistake and have sent you this when you actually don’t want to be on this list, please send an email to:  (and I have my intern’s address here) and she will remove your name without my ever knowing.” Out of over 4000 names, it’s only happened once. The problem with mail chimp, etc, is that if a person has more than one email address for you, you get it multiple times. That’s why I take the time to send personalized ones. NOW, ask me what I’m going to do when that list gets too big to manage like that, and the answer is, I don’t know yet. But I do think one of the reasons I get such a high response rate is because I don’t send invites to people in Florida for an event taking place in Helsinki. (Not that I’ve ever had an event in Helsinki.)

    • Tough decisions ahead!

      As far as MailChimp, I recommend it only for opt-in mailings. You can get away with perhaps an initial send (that says something like “I think you’ll be interested, but if not, unsubscribe below”), but after that, it allows the receiver to completely control their profile and how MailChimp contacts them. Assuming MailChimp is used correctly by sender and receiver, it eliminates the possibility of someone receiving duplicate messages at varying addresses.

      One thing you might not realize is some e-mail programs will block mass sends like you describe (since it’s a huge red flag that says to providers: “I’m spam”), so that would be one practical reason to re-evaluate.

      •  Ms. Friedman — wanted to give you an update. After reading this, I went back and discovered that indeed, some of my emails did NOT get through and had gone into people’s spam folders. This is a kick in the teeth, because those people wanted to receive my messages. I am now in the process of switching over to Mail Chimp. Thanks for pointing this out. Here I thought I was doing something good, and if it hadn’t been for this info, I would have kept on doing it for as long as my list was manageable. YOU ROCK, Jane.  I’ve tweeted your posting, too.

  9. Pingback: 5 Free Services That Help You Build Author Platform | Jane Friedman

  10. There is (usually) a very way to stop receiving unwanted mass mail when an unsubscribe feature isn’t offered: BLOCK the thoughtless jerks. I take those sins seriously. Zero tolerance and zero patience.

    I’ll block anyone’s e-mail address or account who spams/mass e-mails me more than once (of course mass e-mails like newsletters/blog updates are acceptable if I’ve opted in, but if I get them automatically just through site membership not okay). I often use fake or disposable e-mail addresses online to avoid getting bothered.

    I’ve even blocked friends who send nothing but impersonal chain letters or other mass forwards. The sanctity of my inbox and time may not be violated even if I know and like you personally. (I’m not kidding by the way. XD)

    Note: I’d add something to this about the importance of blind cc’ing.

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