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Conversations with Colleagues: A Guide to Online Publishing Lists

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Recently, some local colleagues asked me about the various online e-mail discussion groups–a.k.a. mailing lists–that are of benefit to publishers. I’m a staunch proponent of such lists. Because I think they are incredibly valuable tools, I subscribe to a bunch of them, including specialized discussions on design and on using a couple of major applications.

Here’s a quick introduction to the lists that are most helpful to startup and not-so-terribly-experienced publishers.

Pub-Forum. To date, Pub-Forum is what I consider the most advanced and most active of the lot. Subscribers get into some philosophical questions, as well as some marketing practices, and other topics too. It has a fairly large membership, somewhere around 700, and its reach is international–two of my favorite participants on there are guys from Australia, both very knowledgeable. Their presence, along with that of people from several other countries, underscores the fact that we are in a global economy. This list also attracts a lot of very knowledgeable vendors who participate.

Smallpub-civil. Not long ago, several subscribers to the Pub-Forum list got tired of the inappropriate behavior characteristic of some members and formed a new list.Active since September, it has a growing membership. Many subscribers are or were members of the Pub-Forum. Although both groups have “list-moms” who do the administration chores, neither is moderated.

Self-Publishing. The largest of the lists I subscribe to is the Self-Publishing list, with some 1,150 members. Self-Publishing is a SPAN (Small Publishers Association of North America) list, although SPAN founder Marilyn Ross never participates. Unlike the other two lists, this one is moderated, meaning that a list-mom reads every post before it circulates.

This list has a lot of first-time publishers and a string of authors who use dot-com publishers. Contributors who send solid information, constructive suggestions, and positive support include some people from the other lists. Cross-posting (sending the same message to several lists at the same time) is discouraged, but I don’t mind it all that much, because the responses elicited in different forums may cover a much wider range of thinking than just one list would produce.

Publish-L. The Publish-L list picked up the mailing list of the original PMA-L list. Pat Gundry, who now owns it, offered to keep the community going because it had been a darned good discussion list most of the time, and she still has it. It’s a semi-moderated list with several strong contributors who are not active on the other lists, and it fits somewhere between the Pub-Forum and SPAN lists in terms of personality. It certainly isn’t as rowdy and vociferous (even occasionally contentious) as the Pub-Forum.

How to Take Part

Now to the nitty-gritty; here’s how you can sign on to the lists that appeal to you.


The Pub-Forum has recently migrated to a new list location and format. To learn about the list and get signed up, go to http://six.pairlist.net/mailman/listinfo/pub-forum.

The Self-Publishing list (the SPAN list) and the smallpub-civil lists are both Yahoo! lists (Yahoo! calls them “groups”). You’ll need to create an account on Yahoo! if you don’t already have one (www.yahoogroups.com); then follow Yahoo!’s instructions to subscribe to the groups you want to join. You can add or drop groups and select or modify your preferences for receiving messages at http://groups.yahoo.com/mygroups; log in, then click on Edit My Groups. You can choose to get the messages individually, or in digest form (my recommendation). If you want a break from receiving messages because you’ll be away or for some other reason, you can select No Mail to temporarily suspend delivery of the e-mails. Or you can choose to read and respond to the messages online on the Yahoo! Groups Web site instead of receiving them as e-mails.

Yahoo! has been blamed for transmitting a lot of spam. Much of this can be prevented. Click on Review My Account Information and drop down to Edit Your Marketing Preferences. Check No on all the things you don’t want coming in to you.


Yahoo will ask you to confirm your subscription(s) by going to a special Web page to report that you do indeed want to be part of that group.


Signing onto the Publish-L list was a pain.I finally found detailed instructions on

the list’s Web site at www.publish-l.com/generic6.html. To browse the Publish-L message archives, go to www.hslc.org/archives/publish-l.html.

Each list will send a confirmation e-mail along with its guidelines and instructions on altering your subscription. I recommend opting for the “digest” versions to get compilations of around a day’s worth of messages from a particular list in a single e-mail. It’s much tidier, and I have found that I’m not so apt to respond to everything. (“Digest” is something of a misnomer; the full text of each message is included in the compilation.)


Finally, to keep valuable information easily accessible and your inbox a reasonable size, devise a system for managing the email from your lists. I have created folders on my hard disk to hold the messages for each list I subscribe to, with subfolders devoted to specific topics. Or you could simply create folders for each list in your e-mail program. By all means, save the lists’ Welcome messages in the appropriate folders; these tell you how to change your subscription.

Pat Bell is the owner of Cat’s-paw Press. A member of the PMA board, she is the affiliates chairman. She also is a board member for Affiliate Midwest Independent Publishers Association

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