Thursday, 14 November 2013

10 Enduring Lessons of Snail mail for Selling emails

  • Whatever the long term future of the Royal Mail following its sale , will the art of letter writing disappear?

Author Simon Garfield’s  timely retrospective on the dying craft of letter writing 
To the Letter: A Journey Through a Vanishing World by Simon Garfield  published by Canongate might prove an interesting diversion for sales professionals who still correspond by email.

Back in the day snail mail was weighed in Imperial units Oz !
Although the focus of his book concerns personal correspondence most of these 'lessons' still have worth for our work emails and business communication

1.   Keep it brief, make it simple.
2.   Write as you speak
3.    Don't be afraid to grovel.
4.    Be spontaneous, be free.
5.    Tell it like it is.
6.    Write back swiftly, but carefully
7.     Think before your post
8.     Be more polite than you really want to be
9.     Don't forget the paper clip.
10.    What of those who can write but don’t

 He has researched some great quotes from the long history of letter writing.

For example Artemon, the editor of Aristotle's letters, maintained that 

"a letter should be written in the same manner as a dialogue".

A Latin tract dated  of 2000 years ago advised a  letter should be "restricted" 

"Those that are too long, not to mention too inflated in style, are not in any true sense letters at all but treatises." 

Graceful and Plain 

Correspondents were advised to be both graceful and plain.

"A letter's aim is to express friendship briefly and set out a simple subject in simple terms. The man who utters sententious maxims and exhortations seems to be no longer chatting in a letter but preaching from the pulpit."

 Author of a writing manual one Hugh of Bologna  to another scribe  12th Century suggests the the advantages of good letter writing skills :-
"the uneducated are immediately cultivated, the stutterers are immediately eloquent,
the dull-witted are immediately enlightened,
the twisted are immediately made straight".

How long will the public  red letter post last?

French 16th Century essayist Michel de Montaigne suggested that formality spelled death to authentic correspondence.

 He mistrusted letters that "have no other substance than a fine contexture of courteous words"

Montaigne really would have loved email suggests Simon Garfield, not least our growing tendency to dispense with formal greetings and endings. 

Fine edges and prefaces :

"The letters of this age consist more in fine edges and prefaces than in matter,"  de Montaigne argued. And for the closing niceties,

 "I would with all my heart transfer it to another hand to add those long harangues, offers, and prayers that we place at the bottom, and should be glad that some new custom would discharge us of that trouble"


In 1686, Philip, second Earl of Chesterfield, wrote a book of instruction for his eldest daughter.
Some of it concerned the layout of a letter ("If you write to a Queen, begin your first line within three fingers breadth of the bottom of the paper"), but there was also advice we may heed today. 

He advised his daughter to carefully re-read what she had written before sending it, checking her spelling with a dictionary and making sure not to repeat words. But above all be prompt. 

"It is a very great incivilitie not to answer all the letters we do receive, except they come from our servants or very mean persons."

Lewis Carroll in 1888 

•            " If you have written anything that may offend, put the letter aside for a day and then read it as if you were the recipient," he wrote. "This will often lead to your writing it all over again, taking out a lot of the vinegar and pepper, and putting in honey instead"
•             if your correspondent makes a severe remark, either ignore it or soften your response
•             if your friend is friendly, make your reply ever friendlier

Sorry forgot the attachment !

If you write that you're enclosing a cheque or someone else's letter, "leave off writing for a moment - go and get the document referred to - and put it into the envelope. Otherwise, you are pretty certain to find it lying about, after the post has gone!" 

For "cheque" read "email attachment".

In All The Year Round, the Victorian journal "conducted" by Charles Dickens, a contributor wrote a letter-writing guide that contained the one nugget common to almost all the guides that had preceded it - write legibly. 

But what of those who can write but don't?

"This is more generally the fault of young people, and arises chiefly from thoughtless selfishness. Their thoughts and their time are engrossed with their own pleasures and pursuits. It is more amusing and interesting to write to young people of their own age than to write duty letters to parents and relatives."
"Do these terrible people not write at all? "

"A shabby, ill-considered, stilted letter is written at wide intervals to those whose whole life has been spent in their service, while folios of trash are lavished on bosom friends to whom they owe no duty whatsoever."

Enclosing / Attaching a free gift     PS If all else fails, send a bike !

In 1938 in China, and its authors were Chen Kwan Yi and Whang Shih.

For a promotion in the legal profession, 

 "Sir, I learn with pleasure that you have been admitted to the bar and have established yourself in private chambers. Please accept the accompanying bicycle as a slight token of my wishes for your future success."

This gifting advice has a modern equivalent in the form of  e-cards and text emoticons writes Simon Garfield.

Mr Garfield's book will fill quite  a few stockings this Christmas

Related links

Selling eloquence book review

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