On writing

Technical tips to think about when creating an author email

Email newsletters

I don’t know about you, but I get lots of email newsletters. Junk mail from Barnes and Noble and Amazon and some smaller booksellers I buy from, newsletters from the various writing groups I belong to, lots (and lots and lots) of junk mail from companies I purchase on-line items from.

I also subscribe to a number of author newsletters, where the author mails updates about their work to the reader. I like these, especially when they tell me close to publication date that they have a new book coming out. I’ll look for the book then.

Both the retail sellers and the authors go to some effort to make the emails look good. Adding pictures, formatting it so that it looks good, maybe even running to two columns.

I use Microsoft Outlook, and before I upgraded to Office 365 my Outlook got itself into a twist and started to resize the images. It’s a known issue, which you are supposed to be able to fix by resetting the resolution, but let me tell you, I reset everything I possibly could and nothing fixed it.

Except an upgrade to a new version of Office.

When I got emails with images in them, this was what I saw:



When what I was supposed to see was :


(Both these images were the full extent of what I saw when I opened the mail.)

The text was there, hidden beneath gigantic images that I had to scroll past to look at. After I scrolled sometimes I found the text was in one block and was readable, but other times I had to chase all over the screen to read it because of the way the mail was formatted.

If there was a link at the top of the message to view the newsletter on a webpage, then I clicked on the link.

Otherwise I simply deleted the email.

Sadly, the junk mail proponents always have an ‘if you can’t read this email click here to view in browser’ link. But I have yet to receive a single author newsletter that does.

Not everyone sees the email the way you sent it

Microsoft bugs notwithstanding, there are other reasons people don’t see emails the way you sent them. The most common one nowadays is the user who reads your email on their mobile phone.

Some readers even set their mail provider to receive email as text, rather than as html.  They will do this for a number of reasons.  It’s more secure, because they want to read it on a small screen so they only want the text, or even to save on image downloads.

Sometimes images are not downloaded initially, you have to request them. Or (another Microsoft ‘feature’) sometimes your temporary folders fill up and your mail refuses to display the images and all you see are little red crosses.

Sometimes again, this is fine, because if you’re like me you don’t need to see the pictures, all you want to do is read the words. However, depending on how you have built your message, those words can still be all over the place, making your message difficult to understand.

Some steps you can take as a writer, to eliminate problems like this

As a writer, there are two things you do to encourage your readers to read your newsletters even when the formatting is mucked up.

First, and most obvious, is to put the newsletter into an html page online and provide a link in your email. That link should be at the top, so the reader doesn’t have to hunt for it.

Second, learn some tricks to formatting your email with styles rather tables so that if something goes wrong with your images then the text of your email is still readable, rather than all over the place.

As a reader, I’ll thank you for it.

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