Newsletter Etiquette, Or How I Lost A "Friend" On Facebook

I've been thinking about online newsletters recently, weighing the pros and cons. Will they eventually be fazed out or will they continue to grow? With social-networking sites like Twitter and Facebook, authors and publishers and actors and whoever else can reach the same amount of people with just a few keystrokes -- plus they don't have to worry about e-mails getting bounced back. Newsletters should be promotional tools, obviously, but some authors kick it up a few notches, having giveaways and contests and adding bonus material (like an extra scene to an upcoming novel) exclusive to the newsletter. So yeah, there I can see a benefit. Anyway, all these thoughts about newsletters reminded me about an incident that occurred a few months back ...

I'd had a story published somewhere, and a writer who frequented that particular market e-mailed me complementing the story. We e-mailed back and forth for a bit, discussing writerly things. We even became friends on Facebook, which is, like, the ultimate in friendship. Then I didn't hear from him for awhile and thought that was that.

But then I started getting random e-mails from him about having a recent story published at such-and-such a place.

Okay, I thought, this guy's trying to promote himself. He doesn't have a blog or website (though I'd told him he needs one in today's digital age) and he wants people to know where they can find a new story of his.

So I thought: No big deal.

Only thing is, he didn't blind-copy the e-mail, instead just carbon-copied it, which means everyone saw everyone's else e-mail address.

Again, no big deal.

Sometimes though someone would reply not just to him but would hit Reply All and then I'd get another e-mail.

Again, I guessed, no big deal.

Except then the e-mails became more frequent. And they weren't just about recent publications, either. They were about story acceptances, and what one editor said about a particular story, and so on.

It came to the point I barely even read the e-mails before deleting them.

Then the breaking point came when I got an e-mail from someone I didn't even know, the subject of the e-mail saying I STOLE [insert name here]'S LIST.

Turns out this writer wanted to promote herself too, and had decided to send a mass e-mail to everyone on this guy's e-mail list.

And here, folks, is where I put my foot down.

After seeking the advice of a couple close writer-friends, I waited for the next "newsletter" and then replied asking if could he take me off his list. I said it was nothing personal, that I was "unsubscribing" to a number of mass e-mails, and he responded promptly saying sure, man, no problem.

So, I thought, problem solved.

And in a way it was, though it came to my attention a few weeks later that this writer had apparently un-friended me on Facebook -- and oh how that wound still stings.

Not really, of course, but seriously, if anyone should have done the un-friending, it should have been me. I was trying to be nice about the situation. Fact is, it's rude to just assume someone wants you to e-mail them every week about not only having a story published, but having a story accepted. Yeah, okay, that's great and everything, but eventually as a writer you get to the point where an acceptance is just another acceptance, not another reason to go out on the town celebrating (and based on this writer's credits, he should have been way past that point).

So I propose a newsletter etiquette. Most authors and magazines already have one -- if you contact them, you might get put on their newsletter list, but at least the e-mails are always blind-copied and there is always a link or disclaimer at the bottom saying if you want to unsubscribe, feel free to unsubscribe.

What this guy was doing was the worst example of newsletter etiquette, but God forbid someone tells him that or else they would get un-friended on a social networking site.

Anyway, if you are ever planning on doing a newsletter, here's a few simple things to keep in mind:

  • Make sure to blind-copy everyone on your list
  • Make sure to include a disclaimer saying if anyone would like to unsubscribe at any time, they are welcome to do so (and if they do, don't hold it against them)
  • Make sure to spice the newsletter up with something special, contests or whatever, and not the same boring content (remember, you want to keep people subscribed)
  • Finally, if you do send out a newsletter, in the name of Nickelodeon's Pete and Pete, make sure it's about actual news

Now, am I forgetting anything else to add to the newsletter etiquette?