Tuesday, March 19, 2013

The Person on the Other End

Every morning I awaken to many, many emails. Okay, I don't wake up until ten but still, I sit down around eleven to a lot of messages. Many are blog post notifications I receive via email, like reading the morning paper. Others, however, are from individuals in need of something. A grant, a contest, a publisher, all of the above. I adore personal correspondence. I love mail. I love meeting new people and helping them with their problems.

That's what's so wonderful about being online . . . the resources. We can do a search, locate options for what we need, fill out a form or query. We can do it multiple times. We can do it every morning. Heck, we can hunt for what we need at three o'clock in the morning, if we like. We do so much that we easily forget one major thing. . .

There's a human being on the other end.

While electronic communication has simplified so much of our lives, it also has a tendency to sterilize them. Before you hit send, stop and read your message aloud and ask yourself if the person receiving it will see it as professional and will feel respected you took the time to address him as if he were seated across a table from you.

Here's how we make mistakes communicating online:

1. We hit send too soon. The message is wrought with errors. Sentences aren't clear or cut off. No subject, or one that might not grab a person's attention strongly enough to even open it. If it's a query or application, you might prepare a first or second draft and just shoot it off into the Ethernet, thinking the person on the other end won't notice . . . or care.

2. We forget it's two-way. In today's world we ship out info, we receive info, but we rarely hold an honest conversation. Particularly if we're online doing it. "Hey, I want to be your proofreader. Look forward to hearing from you." No website, no list of credentials, no publishing credits, not even a blog to clue in the reader on the other end.

3. Here I am; what have you got? Some emails that come to me simply say they want a grant for their very important book. Others say they have a manuscript and want me to place it with a publisher or agent. When we make inquiries, we type so quickly we forget the person on the other end doesn't know us. In real life, if we sought information from a person, we'd make an introduction, explain what we do, and ask for assistance, leaving contact information at the end, maybe exchanging cards. Maybe some social niceties sprinkled in. Imagine walking up to someone you've never met before and using the same words as you type. What would be their impression? No introduction, no references, no thought to manners. Everyone loves receiving correspondence from real people ( in lieu of list serves and robots). So make it a real letter.

Who doesn't adore what electronic communication has done for us? Oh my gosh, opportunities abound today as compared to as simple as ten years ago. So many chances, so much information, so many people with advice, products and services to aid our quality of life. Publishers, editors, agents, peers, bookstore managers, computer support, conference contacts, and yes, fans and readers. Just remember they are just that . . . people. Treating them like humans instead of vending machines might just earn you a close acquaintance, and a networking opportunity that will aid you down the road.


Sioux Roslawski said...

Hope--I have a writing friend who is in love with the art of letter writing. I have no idea how many she sends off each week, but she handwrites them AND crafts the stationary cards herself. Yikes!

Yes, electronic communication makes it easier to reach each other, but it also makes it easier to screw things up.

It's hard to convey, "I'm being snarky with that comment." Sad.

Hope Clark said...

Yes, because we can write and send fast, we often think faster than we should, assuming the person on the other end gets it.

Once someone emailed me and said, "Hey, you misspelled a word in your editorial. Want to hire me as your proofreader?" That was it. No background, website, experience, not even that she's familiar with the newsletter. Who knows? I may have hired her, but she gave me nothing to go on.