Netiquette…because the alternative was a grammar rant

I’m a member of the Romance Writers of America (RWA), and several local chapters of RWA, as well as other local and regional writing support groups. I’m a member of a lot of Yahoo! groups, and I get most of my messages in digest form.

And you wouldn’t believe how clueless, self-absorbed, and rude people can be in e-mail. Well, you might believe it, but there are days where it still astonishes me.

I know these are lovely, wonderful people. They’re thin and attractive, good conversationalists and better dressers. Of course they are — they’re writers. And these breaches of good taste are aberrations from their normal behavior.

But just in case, here is a gut-check list of things to think about before you hit send on that next post.

1. Am I begging for something?

I received a digest (group of 25 messages in one e-mail) yesterday from an RWA special interest chapter–targeted toward writers in a specific romance subgenre–that had 12 message begging for something. Votes in a contest, blog traffic, website feedback, book purchases–whatever.

Nine message were congratulatory, one was the announcement being congratulated, and three were a discussion of a writing topic. By my count, that’s four messages of useful content out of a total of 25, less than 20%.

2. Am I complaining about something to the wrong people?

People seem very fond of directing complaints to the general population of a group, when the complaint really needs to be sent to the board if it’s going to change.

This is particularly useless on RWA groups, where it’s explicitly against the rules to forward something off the list without the sender’s permission (and the complainers never seem to give permission to forward). Standing on a soapbox and yelling merely annoys passersby.

3. Am I asking a question I could have answered myself with Google and two keywords?

If it takes you longer to type the question in e-mail form than it would to do your own search, you’re probably wasting your own time along with everyone else’s. Try the search first. No, really, you’re allowed.

And just for the record (because formatting comes up at least once a month on one or more groups), use 12-point Times New Roman, set your margins to 1″ all around, use a single space between sentences and set your MS Word line spacing to Exactly and 25 pts (not, as I’ve so often read, Exactly and 25 lines per page–it comes out to 25 lines per page, but by coincidence).

For italics you can use italics, and start a new chapter 1/3 to 1/2 way down the page. Please don’t bring it up again this month.

4. Is everyone in the group (one of mine has 800 members) going to care that I said “Congrats!” regarding someone’s good news?

Honestly, send it directly to the person who deserves the accolade for his or her accomplishment. Or condolences, if the original post was bad news. Some people have said they like seeing this stuff. Really?

I like the original announcements (of good news, I hate to see bad news), but all the replies? Not so much, unless they’re doing something more than congratulating: “You sold your first book? How wonderful! Tell us about the phone call/e-mail. Is it coming out in time for Christmas next year?”

5. Have I trimmed off the irrelevant previous e-mails and changed the subject line to what we’re currently talking about?

Remember the part about digests? Have you ever seen one that contains other digests (yes, multiple) inside it? Two words: Not. Pretty. Occasionally forgetting to trim is forgivable — I know I’ve done it before. But never trimming, well…it’s simply not done by the best people.

6. Do I really need a signature line longer than the rest of my e-mail?

Most e-mail programs allow the user to set an automatic signature line. I’ve seen whole excerpted scenes in signature lines, decade-long lists of contest finals/wins, entire backlists, and a few legal disclaimers of ridiculous length (probably because the posters were at day jobs and required to send them).

All I want is a discreet link to your website/blog, so I know where to go look if I think you’re interesting, based on the content of your e-mail. Put all of that other stuff on the other side of that link and you’re golden — tasteful, polite, and classy.

Well, except the ridiculous legal disclaimer, but that wouldn’t be your fault anyway.

7. Is this e-mail going to make me look/sound like a [bleep!]ing [bleep!]head?

E-mail doesn’t have a tone of voice, posture or facial expression, so I have no clue if someone is writing in a tone of dry sarcasm, breathless excitement, or complete rage — unless the poster says so.

Emoticons are also helpful in determining all the non-verbal parts of communication. A simple smiley face can mean the difference between a chuckle and a flame war. Or at least hurt feelings.

And there you have it, Val’s seven simple gut checks before you hit send.

By the way, permission to forwarded is granted. Just in case. 🙂

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