Every week, Grammarly sends me an e-mail, showering me with praise about how well I’ve written that week. I’ve been using the software for more than four years; it even works in addition to the auto-correct in Microsoft Word and Firefox. As such, the company has collected a lot of data about how I type.
In yesterday’s bulletin, it was noted that I was: more productive than 94% of other users. more accurate than 83%, and using more unique words than 92% of folks.
It also notes my top three mistakes, which are usually minor matters involving punctuation. For example, Grammarly doesn’t favour an Oxford comma as much as I do; conversely, I don’t like the software’s style of writing ‘3 PM’ rather than ‘3pm’.
Which brings me to an important point that software can miss certain errors. Depending on the construction of the sentence, ‘from’ might be interchangeable with ‘form’, when only one is correct.
My best advice on the matter, which I repeat often, is to read out loud what you’ve written to see whether it flows and makes sense. If you don’t have the privacy to do that, a decent substitute is to find text-to-speech software and listen through headphones. If it detects a word out of place, it’ll be obvious when it’s read out.
Either way, spelling and grammar checkers should be used as a safety net rather than an authority, however much praise they heap onto their users.
Last week, I made a fool of myself in front of 150 e-mail recipients. I was sending out details of the next meeting of Hotchpotch, an open-mike night for writers. I normally update the previous e-mail with the latest details, but I’d forgotten to change the subject line. I therefore followed it up with a correction.
The most annoying part of this affair is that I use a Gmail extension to cancel the sending of an e-mail as long as I hit Undo within 30 seconds. However, it has encouraged me to become more vigilant with future updates. Aside from this incident, here are some of the lessons I’ve learned when communicating with writing group members.
It’s important to exercise privacy when using e-mail. The addresses of the recipients should be typed in the Bcc box, not To or Cc, so each member will only see their own address on receipt. It’s worthwhile including your own e-mail address on the distribution list to check whether it’s formatted in the same way you intended.
Recipients should also be given the option to unsubscribe from updates. Whenever a Hotchpotch e-mail is sent, there is a signature at the bottom telling people to let us know if they want to unsubscribe.
The other mailing list I maintain is for the Dundee & Angus region of National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo). This is done differently, as e-mails are composed using their website and the Unsubscribe function is added automatically before the message enters members’ inboxes.
Whenever Hotchpotch and NaNoWriMo e-mails are sent, their respective Facebook pages are updated at the same time with the same information to reach as many people as possible. The Hotchpotch page is open to the public since anyone can come along, whereas the NaNoWriMo page has its access restricted to members only.
One great advantage of the Facebook page for Hotchpotch is that we can tag and promote other events, which notifies that page owner, who can then share our event with their audience. I also share our updates on two other arts pages.
Hotchpotch has an active Twitter account. Whenever an e-mail is sent, the date and time are given, followed by a link to the Facebook post. Our updates are occasionally shared by others, while prospective attendees can ask us questions.
Although NaNoWriMo itself has a Twitter presence, our region does not; again, this is because our bulletins are open only to members. However, I do carry a cheap phone with a budget SIM card if our members need to speak to us urgently. In practice, the only time I’ve needed it so far is when the battery on my own phone ran flat.
Frequency of updates
It’s a good idea not to fill people’s inboxes with the same message every day. In my experience, people who are overloaded will permanently unsubscribe or unfollow. It’s different, of course, if the recipient has signed up a daily writing prompt or suchlike.
For NaNoWriMo, once a week is the usual pattern, reflecting our weekly meetings. The next monthly Hotchpotch meeting is usually announced a few days after the previous one, with a reminder around two weeks later. And next time I send one, I’ll be double-checking that subject line.
Tonight I’m hosting a spoken-word evening called Hotchpotch. This is an informal monthly event where writers and poets can read out their own work without judgement or criticism. In recent months, we’ve seen many new faces, a trend we would like to maintain.
To keep our events at the forefront of people’s minds, I’ve made it a priority to communicate with members regularly, also to cross-promote other literary events and the venues we use. I send a bulletin every couple of weeks on Facebook and Twitter, and by e-mail.
The last time, though, there were some problems with the reminders, and it was up to me to fix them.
A lot of our regulars subscribe to the Hotchpotch Facebook page. This is the easiest update to make: it can be done on a PC or a phone, subscribers are notified immediately when a new post appears, and there’s a facility to tag the pages of related literary groups. The posts can also be edited, and people can ask questions in the comments.
On Facebook pages, administrators have the option to post under their own name or to post under the name of the page. The last time, I forgot to change the option and posted as myself. People could still see the message if they happened to look at the page, but they wouldn’t be individually notified.
The post had been up for a few hours before I noticed. Fortunately, all I had to do was copy it, make sure the related events were correctly tagged, and repost it in the correct mode.
After posting on Facebook, I send out the link on Twitter using HootSuite software. This can calculate the times of day that people are most likely to see your updates; in our case, it typically posts at 9am the following day.
Shortly after I’d corrected the Facebook error discussed above, I saw our Twitter post had a spacing error which meant the venue wasn’t properly credited. To add to the problem, the message had already been retweeted by two followers and later a third. One of these is the Scottish Poetry Library, which has an extensive audience and is great exposure for us.
The question was how to correct this error in the least disruptive manner. I didn’t want to leave the post as it was because it looked unprofessional, yet I didn’t want to take it down because users had already engaged with us. I’ve learnt a few things from managing literary groups, and one of them is to admit when you’ve made a mistake.
I posted a corrected version with the venue properly credited. I then sent private messages to the three users explaining what had happened and asking whether they would do me a favour and retweet the correct version. And they did. This move ended up working in our favour, as more Library followers engaged with our new message than the original.
A significant proportion of our members don’t use Facebook or Twitter, so we also maintain a mailing list.
The bulletin I’m most worried about is this one; once an e-mail has been sent, it’s not usually possible to recall or amend it. So when I send Hotchpotch updates, I’ve set up a 30-second delay so it can be cancelled if necessary before it leaves my outbox. Gmail users can find this feature in the Settings.
But despite the problems with the Facebook and Twitter pages, the e-mail was sent without any mistakes.
Between my MLitt essay and the EP, my submissions to publishers had been put on hold. Now I have the time to submit material, I’m sharply reminded of how slow the process can often be, and it’s the exceptions that prove the rule.
I submitted to two places that said they would give a response within approximately two days, and they both kept their respective promises. But because they’ve been so quick, it makes the other two seem painfully slow as I won’t hear from them for between two and six months.
It’s common to find publishers that use Submittable, a website that provides a semi-standard way of submitting work and tracking your correspondence. I rather like doing it this way.
For instance, I’ve had to send in a query to an editor as two of my pieces have been outstanding for six months with nothing more than an acknowledgement. However, if I don’t receive a response in a reasonable timescale, Submittable allows you to withdraw your work.
I also like the ability to attach Word or PDF documents, or whichever format the publisher wants. It’s a personal view, but I dislike having to paste my work into the body of an e-mail. Many writers use Word or Scrivener, or a number of other programs. Whenever you copy from a program, the formatting often goes pear-shaped after pasting. When pasting into Gmail, I sometimes find the line spacing changes to 1.5 and can’t be altered, or the font changes and can’t be harmonised. Ctrl+Shift+V will paste the text without formatting, but you then have to reinsert any bold or italics, or unusual spacing.
Another pet hate is a requirement to submit by post. The cost of postage is an irritation, although my main concern is how much paper must be wasted in the process, as editors select only a fraction of the material submitted. It seems an archaic practice in the age of electronic communication. If I ever have to print a document and notice a mistake, I keep it in a folder so I can print on the blank side in the future. Any paper that can’t be reused goes into the house recycling bin.
While I’m waiting for responses, I would like to know why publishers ask for copy-and-paste or postal submissions. Is there a compelling reason why these practices still happen?
Last week, an editor wanted to make unsolicited contact with me, but was unsure of the best way to approach it. She settled for asking me via Twitter to e-mail her. This started me thinking.
There are several ways to reach me publicly: leave a comment below, send a Twitter message to @LadyGavGav, or post to me on Google+. Yet I hadn’t previously thought about how people could contact me privately. In the case of the editor, it meant putting her e-mail address in the public domain, which I’m keen to avoid thanks to the risk of spam.
So I’m interested in how you manage to maintain contact with others? A ‘disposable’ address that forwards to your real one? A website form? Or some other method I haven’t thought about?