Debbie Ridpath Ohi reads, writes and illustrates for young people. Every few weeks, she shares new art, writing and reading resources; subscribe below. Browse the archives here.

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Entries in e-mail (2)


Freelance writers & e-mail: Part II

I received so much useful feedback to my column on business e-mail last week that I thought I'd devote this week's column to follow-up excerpts.

Make sure you use plain text

Steve Savitsky advises writers not to use the default font set in many mail programs. "Don’t use the default font' — set your mail program to send *plain text* rather than HTML. Many email users, especially the old-timers, automatically associate HTML mail with spam, and use mail readers that show plain text if there is any."

Avoid using acronyms

Mark Bernstein advises against using acronyms. "I’d say acronyms in general aren’t a great idea, even the ones that most people are likely to understand. Yes, I mean LOL and IMHO, but I also mean things as simple as BTW. (FYI has been around long enough in other contexts to be acceptable.) Never make the reader’s job harder, just to save yourself a few keystrokes."

Include context quotations

Several users disagreed with my advice to leave the conversation thread relatively intact at the end of your e-mail, but instead to use short context quotations. I find it depends heavily on the editor and on the writer, though of course I always cut off the annoying accumulated signature blocks at the end.

As a former editor, I preferred seeing the whole thread. I found that sometimes when writers only included selected bits, they sometimes didn’t select the bits I needed reminding about, which forced me to have to go back through my archives to find their older e-mails. I was generally corresponding with about 30-40 writers at a time.

When the thread got too unwieldy, I’d cut off the parts I didn’t need anymore. This is the method I use as a freelance writer now, leaving it up to the editor to control the thread. I always include the most recent/important info at the beginning of the message so the editor can ignore/delete the rest if they’d like.

When you do include bits of a previous thread, make sure you use the convention ">" to differentiate quoted text from the rest of the message. From Monica Cellio: "I get mail sometimes from people who interspersed their comments with the replied-to message, not using the conventional '>' to differentiate, and they say things like “see my comments in red below”. Your red is not my red, and if you make it too hard I’m just going to delete your message (if it was unsolicited) or send you a 'try again' note (if it was part of a conversation)."

Does your e-mail address and signature block give the right impression?

Monica also points out that writers should be aware of the impression given by their e-mail addresses. "Think about your choice of email address. I’ve seen people who already had ids like 'studmuffin' or the like send professional mail. That’s fine for chatting with your friends, but it doesn’t make a good impression in other contexts. Go to the trouble of getting a respectable From: line."

Readers advised against elaborate signature blocks, especially ones with cute ascii art or even clever quotes.

Be concise

Julie Duffy advises writers to be very brief and very clear about they want from the editor. "As publisher of a site about self-publishing, I receive emails from authors full of pages of information about their latest project, yet they never tell me why they are sending me the email. Do they want me to read their book? Buy it? Review it on my site? Proofread it for them? Who knows? Also, if you want an editor to take an action, mention that action: e.g. “Please email or call me if you would like to see the full article”. Make it easy for them to take the next step."

If your info is time-sensitive, ask for verification

Andrea Dale suggests including a contact phone number after your name at the end of your e-mail message. She also advises writers not to assume that e-mail is as reliable as the telephone. "If you are sending an attachment (with preapproval from the editor) ask them to send a simple 'got it' message when they receive the file, just so you know they got it (especially when you’ve got a deadline to meet)."

Never write anything in e-mail that you wouldn't say face-to-face

Also from Andrea: "While this doesn’t need to be mentioned most of the time, it’s an easy way remind yourself when you are frustrated with your editor, client, etc. and are tempted to send a snippy email."

Thanks for all the feedback, everyone!

Freelance writers and e-mail: keep it professional

The speed and convenience of electronic mail provides a major advantage in business correspondence, especially for freelance writers. Some people mistakenly assume, however, that the casual atmosphere in personal e-mail can carry over into one's business interactions with editors.

Here are a few tips on how to keep your freelance writing business e-mail professional:

Use a meaningful subject header. Don't leave the subject header blank. Choose a subject that clearly and concisely communicates the topic of the message. A breezy "hi" may cause the editor or the editor's e-mail program to discard your letter as junk mail.

When mailing to a large group, use the BCC: field. If you are sending an announcement to a group of people, put the recipients' e-mail addresses in the BCC: (blind carbon copy) field rather than the TO: field. That way if anyone does a direct reply, they will be replying only to you and not to the whole group.

Avoid fancy formatting. Even if your e-mail program offers extra formatting features like different font types, colors, and sizes, stick to the default font. The editor's e-mail program may not have the same features, and a letter that is impressive-looking on your monitor may be illegible on theirs.

Don't use attachments unless you ask the editor first. With destructive computer viruses making the rounds on the Internet, many editors and freelance writers are wary about opening attachments. Always try to send your message within the body of an e-mail rather than an attachment. If your data is such that an attachment is necessary (such as in the case of a spreadsheet or Word document), always ask first.

Don't type in all caps. This problem is less prevalent than it used to be, but there are occasional newcomers to the Internet who don't understand that typing in all uppercase comes across as shouting in an e-mail message.

Proofread before you send. Sloppy spelling and grammar mistakes may convey a general impression of sloppiness to an editor. If your e-mail program comes with a built-in spellchecker, use it. If not, manually proofread your message.

Set the context. Never reply with an e-mail that says only, "Sure, that sounds fine to me." The editor is likely corresponding with many other freelance writers and may not remember the original context of your conversation thread, even if it only took place the day before. The best way to set the context is to include at least part of the message thread. If your message thread is lengthy, post it at the end of your reply rather than at the beginning; this will save the recipient from having to scroll down already-seen text to find your reply.

Keep your language business-like. Avoid using slang, emoticons (e.g. smiley-faces), or abbreviations that the other person may not understand.

Be concise. Get to the point quickly. Avoid using longer sentences. Take time to make sure you are explaining yourself clearly.

Sign your message. It's common courtesy to add your name at the bottom of the message. Don't assume that the recipient will be able to figure it out from the message headers.

Bottom line: For work-related correspondence, be as professional in your e-mail as you would in a regular letter.

Do you have any other tips to add to this list? Any e-mail pet peeves? Feel free to post them below.