Wednesday, 16 February 2011

Letter larks

Tonight is a short post because it is late and my mother has texted me to tell me to go to bed. I'm feeling a bit better today (not so headachey, which is good considering how much of my day I have to spend surrounded by giant computer screens) but my throat now has that bruised feeling that portends a nasty cold if you're not careful, so I am taking her advice.

I opened a letter today which said that Ed Miliband is an Antichrist, and so is Microsoft. I've opened letters from this guy before. The first one seemed quite reasonable, about computer ID numbers and software copyright fraud or something, right up until the point I realised that the author titles himself "King of Heaven". And he's not the craziest - at least his letters are on normal printer paper, not ripped-out calendar pages or torn-up Sky junkmail.

With this in mind, I've decided to offer a brief guide for anyone who's going to the trouble of writing in to a newspaper because they actually want to get their letter published:

1. Make it short. Even crazy letters have a chance if they're brief enough to fill a tricky gap on the page. Also, people like me who go through piles of letters every day tend to have quite short attention spans. Which leads on to:

2. Type it. At this point you should be wondering why you aren't just sending an email. If trapped in an internetless void, or out of arm's-reach of a computer, use your best handwriting (by which I mean your simplest handwriting - oldschool calligraphy may look pretty but it doesn't aid reading). It is true but perhaps reprehensible that every letter has a five second chance to get passed on to higher powers - if I can't decipher it in that time, it's going in the bin. (Also bear in mind that if it's in non-digital format, someone will have to type it up. As that's often me, I'm not even going to consider a letter that's going to take me ten minutes to double-check whether you were writing about cows, cauls, colds or roods.)

3. Don't be a obviously crazy, hyper-religious or a Tory. Your letter will be relocated to a garbage environment faster than I can snort derisively.

4. Refer to any previous letters or articles by date and title. Makes your letter much easier to publish, and you get brownie points for knowing the format.

5. Don't write more than one letter a week. It's only fair to share the limelight. Also, someone who writes multiple letters is at best extremely opinionated and underemployed, and at worse a nuisance.

6. Be important. We got a letter on House of Commons notepaper the other day and it was personally referred upwards by someone much more important than me (right speedily, I should add). Similarly, if you are a group of like-minded rabbis or chairmen or suchlike, you make the page look better with your fancy list of names.

7. Be funny. Everyone likes a laugh. (Although if I judge your attempt at humour sub-par or dangerously right-wing, your letter will of course be binned.)

8. Use your best spelling and grammar. If a mistake gets through our thin sub line, it makes both you and the paper look stupid.

I know I probably sound quite cruel and self-important, but very very few actual letters get into the paper - it's all about email these days. It's up to me to make sure as few letters bother the important people as possible (although I do try to get the good ones in).  Also, hard-copy letters tend to be the preserve of nutters and the aged, both of whom are a little hit-and-miss when it comes to scintillating correspondence.

I wish the editor opened his own letters, if only because then he'd see the card currently in pride of place on my desk, which wishes him a happy Christmas, a happy new year, a happy Easter and a happy birthday (with lots of kisses).

That's all for tonight, apologies for the lack of picture (the blog doesn't quite look right without them now!)


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