joelysue (joelysue) wrote,

LB&LI: E-Courtesy

Originally published at Joely Sue Burkhart. You can comment here or there.

Surfing the ‘net can be a miraculous experience.  I’ve made so many wonderful friends over the years, and I’ve learned an incredible amount from blogs like PBW’s.  I’ve followed agents and editors on their blogs for years, learning the ropes and hopefully preventing a stupid mistake before submission.

However, there’s a dark side to the internet.  Recently, my blog was defaced, and honestly, writing up an “E-Courtesy” workshop has been very difficult.  There are people out there who couldn’t care less about your blog, your identity, or your career.  Even if you’re never hacked, anonymous trolls may come into your personal blog space and harass you.  Someone may hack into your account and lock you away from your own e-mail.  They may send viruses or inappropriate e-mail from your account.

Connections are made, yes, and in this lonely writing world, sometimes the only thing helping me hang onto the knot at the end of my rope are my blog friends.  However, the instantaneous nature of the internet can lead to unintentionally rude behavior.  As part of Lynn Viehl’s Left Behind and Loving It Virtual Workshops, I’d like to recommend some general e-courtesies that would make living in the blogosphere and world wide web less stressful for all of us.

I.  Submissions

Maybe you’re not all as neurotic as I am, but before sending an e-mail submission, my finger hovers over that Send button and I stress.  Is my subject line stupid?  Is it going to fall directly into spam?  What if the person I’m sending it to never gets it?  How will I know? 

Then for weeks or months, I obsess about that submission.

Are they reading my story?  It’s been so long.  What if they hate it?  What if my query’s lost in the abyss of their spam folder?  Or is it still whizzing in the black hole of the internet, lost forever?  Why, oh why haven’t they responded?

All of this obsessive worrying could be solved.  It’s so simple. All it takes is a little e-mail reply: 

Thank you for your submission/e-mail/query.

That alone would be enough to confirm the e-mail was delivered successfully.  (Major kudos to Samhain, who has an auto responder that lets you know your submission was received!)  Even better, how about a projected time frame?

I’m really busy right now, so expect a response in x weeks/months.  If you don’t hear from me after this date, feel free to inquire on the status of your submission.

How easy is that?  Do you know how much stress this would take out of a writer’s life? 

Writers, the same courtesy should be extended to your editor.

Dear Editor:  Thank you for your suggestions.  I will read them carefully and return my changes in x days/weeks.

Now the editor knows you’ve received her e-mail, and you’ve set a clear deadline for yourself (if a deadline wasn’t supplied in her request).  This kind of simple communication protects us all and helps eliminate screw ups and missed e-mails that could delay a book’s release entirely.

II.  E-Mail Correspondence

A. Replies

The same simple courtesy would be nice for personal correspondence.  Here, I must admit, I find myself lacking.  I compose e-mails in my head…and then forget to send them.  I save a note that requires some thought or tact for later, and then regretfully, never respond.  Bad excuse, I know!

So why not apply the same courtesy to our friends and loved ones who’d like to hear from us, even if the subject is difficult?

Dear Mom:  Thanks for your lengthy explanation of how many ways I screwed up since I was six years old.  I’m very busy at my Evil Day Job and will respond later.  After I drink a few glasses of wine.

P.S. Sorry, I’m out of stamps and haven’t made it to the post office, so I haven’t mailed your birthday card yet. Happy Birthday!

B.  Tact

How many times have you used anonymity on the internet to blast somebody? 

My personal rule is if my Mom read it–and would be ashamed of my conduct–then I shouldn’t say it.  If I can’t say this to the person face to face, then why would I ever write it down for the whole world to see?

Why is this important?  Because the subject of privacy and copyright always comes up in these arguments.  Is it legal or morally proper to publish someone else’s e-mail that was sent privately?  There are arguments on both sides, but to protect yourself,

Never send a brutal or potentially harmful e-mail to someone if you don’t trust them implicitly. 

Certainly never write an e-mail to a yahoo group or listserv–even if they’re your friends–that would humiliate you if it was published publically without your consent.  It happens, folks, e-courtesy or not.  Protect yourself.  Rant all you want to your sister or trusted critique partner but do not send that e-mail blasting someone else.  It may come back to bite you.

C. Business Correspondence

I read horror stories on agents’ blogs all the time about receiving a negative reply to their e-rejection.  WHY would somebody do this?  Would you sit down and type up a professional business letter after an interview ranting like a lunatic and mail it?  If you wouldn’t, why is it okay to send it via e-mail? 

E-mail is nearly immediate.  Too immediate.  Don’t let spontaneous anger or hurt trash your writing career because of a stupid e-mail you sent to Dream Agent after a rejection.

Do e-mail a polite thank you if you wish.  No one’s going to complain if you thank them politely for their time.

III. Blogs

A. Flaming

Hey, I know the feeling.  Sometimes you’ve got this gut-wrenching need to be heard.  You’ve got to get something off your chest.  So you blog all about it. 

Then someone links to it, and someone else you never dreamed in a million years stops by, and suddenly, a huge internet-wide spotlight is centered right on those words you shared with the world.

Open mouth, insert foot.

I know flame wars are popular.  I know some people swear their sales go up any time they receive attention, even when negative.  I think I speak for many bloggers when I say that I’ve had enough.  Flame wars make my stomach hurt.  I stop reading those blogs.  It may be months before I can bear to come back.

Is that really what you want for your blog?  Is a week or two of heated comments truly worth losing readers–who may have bought your book because they liked your blog?

Write that post if you need to, but make it private.  Stop before hitting that publish button and ask yourself:  if the person or organization this rant is about happened to read it–even if I think it’s impossible–would I be embarrassed?  If Dream Agent or Editor read this, would I be shooting myself in the foot?

Because, remember:  once it’s published, it never goes away.  Thanks to Google cache, your page will be available even if you delete the entry.  Even if you delete your whole blog.

B. Anonymity

The ability to post a comment without attaching your name can facilitate honesty as well as protect a minor’s identity.  However, don’t use anonymity to be discourteous.  Honestly, we’re never really anonymous.  Your IP address is captured by many sites automatically. 

So wouldn’t it be embarrassing if an internet-savvy person knew that the gushing comments posted on the blog’s negative review of a book just happened to come from the exact same IP address as the author’s?  (Unfortunately, a true story, by the way.) 

Do use anonymity when honest feedback is requested or when posting on an industry blog if you truly don’t want to use your name.  But for deliberate flames, trolling, or fakery, don’t go there unless you can live with being unmasked.


I’ve been a Laurell K. Hamilton fan for many years.  Yeah, even after Narcissus in Chains.  I love Nathaniel and some of the other characters too much to stop reading.  However, do you know the last time I read LKH’s blog? 

She was talking about her sex life and how she’d employed candles over the weekend.

When in doubt, apply the Mom rule.  Would you really want Mom to know the intimate elements of your sex life?  Or how about the next time you run into Dream Editor, you wonder if he’s imagining you drizzling hot wax on your lover?  Eep.

We all want to be perceived as warm, approachable, and likable.  But TMI is just that.  Too. Much. Information.  Save it for the book!  Ha, just kidding!!

How about you:  do you have an e-courtesy recommendation that would make the internet a safer, more polite place of communication for us all?

My giveaway:  comment on this entry through midnight on Friday, August 1st, to be entered for a $10 gift certificate to Drollerie Press plus a free download of one story from my backlist.  Anyone on the planet is eligible, even if you’ve won something from me in the past.

Tags: blogosphere, book giveaways, writing

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