October 23rd, 2006

ozarque figure

Writing nonfiction; newslettering; part two...

6billionghosts asked "How do you feel about the transition from print to digital?" I felt awful about it when I did it, because so many people who'd been my subscribers -- my very helpful subscribers -- for decades were so strongly opposed to it. They didn't want to read their newsletters on a computer screen and they didn't want to have to print them out to read them on paper -- they wanted things to stay as they'd always been. I was genuinely sorry; but the physical process of getting out the print newsletter every other month in addition to all the rest of my workload had reached a point where I just couldn't do it by myself any longer, and my husband had reached an age where he was no longer willing to do any part of it. I had three choices. I could hire people to help me, which would mean raising the price of subscriptions substantially. I could cancel the newsletters completely. Or I could switch to e-mail format, which seemed to me to be the best choice of the three, and is what I did. It solved the problem of the labor-intensiveness that goes with print publishing, it kept me from having to hire people and raise prices, and it has simplified the whole newslettering process drastically. I would not willingly go back to print publication unless I had a staff of six and an actual brick-and-mortar office -- and that doesn't appeal to me.

It's wonderful that as I'm writing a section of the newsletter and suddenly realize that I'm missing some date or name or factoid or reference I can just go to Google and get what I need, go back to Eudora and type it in, and hardly miss a beat. It's wonderful that if I want to quote something all I have to do is select and copy and paste it in. It's wonderful that if I can't remember what a subscriber said about some topic I can just send a question by e-mail, get the answer back almost immediately, and insert the information in what I'm writing. To someone from my generation, used to scratching messages on clay tablets, these things are miraculous.

I turned out to be wrong about one thing. I had thought that the e-mail newsletters would be shorter than the print one; I had assumed that people wouldn't want to read long e-mail newsletters. That turned out not to be true; if you print out my newsletters in Times 12-point type they run to about fifteen single-spaced pages. I had thought it would be more like six pages than fifteen; I was wrong.

Over the years I've tried to launch a number of other newsletters: a Touch Dominance one; a Grandmothering one; an Ozark English one; a newsletter specifically for my verbal self-defense trainers; a Planet Ozark Auxiliary one; one on language in healthcare specifically for medical/healthcare professionals; and -- most recently -- a Peacetalk 101 newsletter. I perceived good reasons for doing all of them, and I gave each one a full year, but there wasn't enough enthusiasm for any of them from subscribers to justify going on longer than that one year.

I need to clarify that word "subscribers" a tad, while I'm here. In every case, the amount I charge for the newsletters is annual membership dues, and the subscription itself is free to members. (That's a venerable system; it's what National Geographic does.) That leaves me free to add things on a very ad hoc basis. For example, in the years when I went to a lot of science fiction conventions, it left me free to hold a Linguistics & Science Fiction Network meeting (or party). At other conferences, I've occasionally held Verbal Self-Defense Network meetings or parties. The Linguistics & Science Fiction Network sponsors the free verbal self-defense workshops that I do at conventions and conferences. The Religious Language Network informally sponsors my website at http://www.forlovingkindness.org.

If large numbers of people had joined the Networks, the basic structure would already have been in place for regular meetings and regional meetings and similar doodads. I learned all about how prudent and practical this tactic is from having started the Science Fiction Poetry Association by setting up its newsletter Star*Line -- under the impression that I'd be very lucky if twenty-five people subscribed -- and suddenly finding myself with hundreds of members and no membership structure at all.

The only traumatic experience I've had with the newsletters was the day I got a phone call from a pleasant -- but firm -- gentleman at the Library of Congress telling me that I had to send them two complete sets of the entire print edition of The Lonesome Node. From Day One. Complete, up to the day I switched to the e-mail format. I couldn't believe it. I explained to him that we were talking about twenty years of copies, that the first dozen or so were going to be pale photocopies of pale mimeographed copies, that The Lonesome Node was just an insignificant little old idiosyncratic publication, that the Library of Congress couldn't possibly really want it in its collections.... and a lot more of the same. He kept saying "Mmhmmm," and I kept talking, and then he said, "Nevertheless; you have to send us two complete sets of copies." At which point I finally realized that he was serious -- that is, it wasn't that he had called the wrong person about the wrong publication by mistake. I asked him what would happen if I refused, and he explained to me that refusing wasn't an option; refusing was illegal, and would result in a whopping fine, just for starters. There are, therefore, now two complete sets of The Lonesome Node at the Library of Congress. This will never cease to astonish me.