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E-mail Discussion Lists:

How They Work
How They Help
How to Find the Best for You

© 1999 Virginia Lawrence, Ph.D.

E-mail discussion lists are focused e-mail discussions for members only. You must be a list member to participate in the discussions and to read the discussions.

How E-mail Discussion Lists Work

PubForum is a good example of an e-mail discussion list. PubForum is dedicated to independent publishers, their questions and their solutions. Interested parties join the list by sending an e-mail to:

Membership List

After joining an e-mail discussion list, the member receives a copy of every e-mail sent to the list members. Each member can ask questions by e-mail or reply to any message from another member.

Moderated List

PubForum is a moderated discussion list. This means that the owner of the list reviews every message sent to the list. The moderator strives to maintain the clear focus of the discussion by eliminating any inappropriate messages.

Digested List

Some e-mail discussion lists are extremely active, leading to 20-30 e-mail responses per day. Such a large number of e-mails, when added our own personal e-mail traffic, can become just another burden in a busy day. But most discussion lists also offer a digest version.

When a list member signs up for the digest version, the member usually receives only one e-mail per day from the list. That single e-mail contains all of that day’s messages.

Receiving one e-mail from the list makes mail management much easier. Rather than receiving 25 separate e-mails every day, the member receives only one which he can save or read.

In digest version, the member opens the one e-mail of the day, then simply uses the PageDown button to run through the e-mail as he reads. Using the digest version of an e-mail discussion list is a quick and efficient way to keep current on your topic of choice.

How E-mail Discussion Lists Help

If you like to talk about a topic, have questions on a topic, or want to learn more about a topic, you should join a discussion list on that topic. In addition, if you have a book or a Web site which might interest the members of a list, you certainly want to tell them about your offering.

After you join a busy list, you will receive daily messages discussing the topic of the list. That topic could be independent publishing, as in PubForum, or it could be geneology, or geology, or air pollution, or racy stories, or chicken farming, or WWII, or any area that interests you.

As the messages arrive, you can simply read and learn, or you can participate in the discussion.

Although I encourage you to let everyone on the list know about your book on the topic, we should avoid blatant self-promotion on a discussion list. The best course is to respond to current messages with well-considered replies. Respond with your expertise on the topic and end with your signature.

Your E-mail Signature

Just as a real-world business letter ends with:

Joe Blow
Blow-by-Blow Enterprises

All of your e-mails should end with your signature. For example, Joe Blow’s e-mail signature might be:

Joe Blow
Blow-by-Blow Enterprises, home of the book marketing wizards

Using your signature to explain who you are and what you offer is the discussion list equivalent of the business card. Just as you don’t force your business card on everyone you meet, you don’t force your information on the discussion list members. Rather, you participate in discussion and use your signature at the end of every message you send.

How to Find the Best E-mail Discussion Lists for You

My best e-mail discussion list will not necessarily be the best list for you, even when we are interested in the same topic. That’s because every list has its own personality. Some lists are light-hearted and funny, even when the topic is fairly serious. Other lists are rigidly serious and pedantic, while many tread a middle ground.

To find discussion lists in any topic, search on the topic in a search engine or start at the discussion list directory Web site.

Join the lists that sound interesting and read the messages for a few days. Evaluate the expertise of the people sending messages to the list, and evaluate the tenor of the list. You will quickly see whether the list will be useful for you.

~ Virginia Lawrence, Ph.D. is an Information Architect who publishes both in print and online. Contact her at

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© Copyright 1997- Virginia Lawrence, Ph.D.
Northridge, CA 91324