Vol 44, Issue 6

July/August 2005

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Netiquette for the 21 st Century

Getting Your E-mails through the Gauntlet

by Gary Michael Smith, Houston Chapter

Corresponding through cyberspace via e-mail gained popularity in the early and mid-1990s, and it quickly became the preferred method of communication, not only by researchers and scientists but also by the general public, who were getting online in droves. Although some, such as the publishing industry, were slow to set up web sites and e-mail addresses, preferring to continue business as in previous decades, others were discovering the marketing potential of this truly global network.

A History of Ubiquity

Fifty years ago, we didn't worry about insider trading, hostile takeovers, or Internet fraud. And nearly 80 years ago, spam meant “canned sealed ham” when it was first introduced in 1926. Then, on April 12, 1994, we were introduced to electronic junk mail, thanks to attorneys Laurence Canter and Martha Siegel of Scottsdale, Arizona. By using a usenet newsgroup they were able to post to six thousand forums a single message offering their law firm's services to anyone who wanted to take part in a federal government lottery of green card work permits.

While Canter and Siegel may have only been using the resources available to them to help promote their business, they single-handedly revealed a marketing method with the potential of exponential and uncontrollable growth. And although the private and public sectors are employing the latest in anti-spam technology, many individuals are still behind the curve and trying to cope with getting their e-mail messages to the intended recipient.

With a little knowledge about computer systems and e-mail programs, writers can increase their odds of successful transmission of their articles and books to publishers everywhere. This article offers some tips.

Caution with File Formats

One of the most common uses of e-mail is to transmit material as attachments. However, this is increasingly becoming a hazardous practice. Reasons to avoid sending or receiving e-mail attachments include

•  The potential for virus infection
•  Incompatibility of hardware
•  Incompatibility of different software versions
•  Software not present on the receiving computer
•  Oversized files slowing down Internet connections
•  Filters blocking attachments

One of the best methods to ensure that your e-mail gets through is to avoid sending attachments altogether and simply cut and paste text into the body of the message. Unfortunately, this does not always allow for graphics, and user-defined format can be lost.

Another method is to use File Transfer Protocol (FTP) to send a file, or, better yet, send the electronic version of the book or article to a web site that uses Online File Transfer Protocol (OLFTP), whereby the sender simply uploads a file to the recipient's server. This method even allows a sender to transmit files that are larger than would normally be practical with e-mail. FTP is a protocol used to transfer files over the Internet. Unlike e-mail programs in which graphics and program files have to be attached, FTP is designed to handle binary files directly and does not require encoding and decoding the data.

Yet another method to send material supplemental to the e-mail message is to convert a word processing document to HTML or to a Rich Text Format (RTF), which is a Microsoft standard for encoding formatted text and graphics but without some of the fancy styles. RTF supports ANSI, IBM PC, and Macintosh character sets.

Finally, a sender can submit a document in Portable Document Format (PDF), converted using Adobe Acrobat Writer or Distiller. The benefit here is that PDF maintains the integrity of the original format of the document and compresses the original file size, similar to “zipping” it.

Subject Lines

Unless you haven't been using a computer or an e-mail device, you know that e-mail spam is out of control. Between January 1 and April 24, 2004, the Federal Trade Commission received more than 889,000 consumer complaints of just two companies sending spam. In April 2004, Maryland was the first state to draft its own antispam laws (penalties of up to 10 years of jail time, asset forfeiture, and fines up to $25,000) since the federal Controlling the Assault of Non-Solicited Pornography and Marketing Act ( Can-Spam ) was enacted, which was signed into law by President Bush on December 16, 2003. And even though under the federal law, spammers who falsify e-mail headers to mask an e-mailer's identity could face 1 to 5 years in prison, the mass mailings continue.

Unfortunately, because publishers and editorial offices receive so many unsolicited e-mail messages, many from unrecognizable addresses, they may be using any of the plethora of spam blockers available, such as those from SPAM-Blockers.com, Cloudmark, Air Spell, and Spam Bully, as well as free systems provided by Google, Yahoo, Internet Explorer, and Netscape. Because of these precautions, the best method to ensure your message—and attachment—get through may be as simple as putting something identifiable in the subject line of your e-mail. It may be your name, the title of your book or article, or even the name and title of the recipient. You could even work out a code in advance so the receiver will know what to look for.

Avoid Multiple Recipients

Some e-mail programs are set to not accept an incoming message with courtesy copy (cc) or blind courtesy copy (bcc) e-mail addresses included—they treat this message as a mass mailing. Consequently, you should try to target one individual recipient at a time if possible, which is always preferable when sending a submission to a publisher.

Confirmation of Receipt

Even if you've tried the tricks mentioned to ensure your message gets to your recipient, those on the receiving end still may not receive your message. Maybe your e-mail is spooling around in their company's server, delaying it hours or even days. Perhaps their or your server or e-mail system crashed, losing all messages for that day. Your recipient may even have accidentally deleted your message, forgetting about the code you two had agreed upon.

In any event, don't wait indefinitely for a reply or simply assume that since you know you sent it, it must have been received. Anything can happen, so be sure to ask the recipient for acknowledgment of receipt, or set your e-mail program to notify you when the e-mail reached the recipient or was opened.

Post to a Site

If you are managing a publication and prefer to receive no e-mail messages at all that could potentially bring down your entire network, you could try routing all correspondence through your web site. Material could be uploaded periodically and retrieved by you at your leisure. Just remember that some senders who do not know you could be wary of this process, because viruses now can reside on a web site, waiting to be downloaded to those who access the site.

Final Thoughts

These are just a few tips to help you get your message across. With any luck, you'll be rewarded with uninterrupted correspondence and communication, sending publishable files that are virus free and decipherable by your recipient.

This article is an excerpt from the writer's latest book Writing for Magazines and Trade Journals—Finding Them, Writing for Them, Getting Paid by Them (Chatgris Press, ISBN 1 -930554-03-6 ). He can be reached at www.ChatgrisPress.com.

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