Wednesday, September 17, 2014

Letter-Writing: Aunt Agony Letters

You probably see them all the time- in newspapers, in magazines, so much so we don't really give that much thought to them. But letters to advice columns must be written by someone, and, if you have an issue you can't talk to with someone else- why not you? Letters to advice columnists- sometimes referred to as Aunt Agony Letters, or by popular advice columnist names such as Dear Prudence or Dear Abby letters- are letters every day people write, mostly anonymously, to people on the payroll of a publication. The publication will print some of those letters, as well as the columnist's response. Nowadays, these publications might be magazines, or newspapers but they are just as likely to be online. And the array of topics covered is staggering. Emily Post might tell you about etiquette, while Cosmo has advice on one's sex life. Dear Abby seems to specialize in complicated personal relationships and you'll find there are advice columnists kids write to, businessmen write to, the happy, the sad and the confused all write to.

Dear Abby, letter, writing, newspaper, never fully dressed, withoutastyle, If you have an issue troubling you, consider if an advice columnist is the right person to turn to. There may be someone in your life that has the power to help you change the situation, or who may be going through the same thing. If the situation is life threatening for you or another person, see if there are  people, or groups that can more directly be of aid. If a columnist is the right choice for you, consider which columnist fields questions with similar topics to the one you have, what types of responses they give, and how qualified they are to be giving that advice. For example, the Rolling Stones featured an "Ask Dr. Ozzy" column where people often wrote to Ozzy Ozbournre about personal and health issues. his responses are often humorous, rather than practical and he himself stresses that he is no doctor. If one wants a fun way to look at things to lighten the mood- "Dr. Ozzy" might be the way to go. If one was looking for serious medical advice, another columnist- or better yet a doctor's office- might be the better bet. Lastly, when looking at what advice column to write to, consider if you want a reply. Sometimes writing out a problem can be therapeutic enough, but if one truly desires a reply, check to make sure that the publication you considering sending in a letter to replies to all letters regardless of whether they are published or not. For example, Deirdre of the Sun always replies to letters. Dear Abby had one day a week that even boasted one day turn around, meaning if your letter got to her on a Tuesday, a reply would be in the mail the next day (if the letter arrived on another day it might take several days for her or her staff to reply, but she did). Some publications are so undulated with letters though, they are not able to reply to them all.  If the situation is very serious though, most do try to reply.

The next step is writing the letter itself. Unlike most letters, an advice letter is very informal with no need for a date, just start with "Dear So-and-So..." and explain the issue that is bothering you and what you want advice on. While most publications do reserve the right to edit a letter- which they might  do in order to cut the length for publication, or to preserve privacy- try to be as clear and concise as you can. After all, these columnists and their staff receive a lot of letters each day; be respectful of their time. If you want honest feedback, be honest with yourself about what the situation is, your feelings about it, and any other critical factors. Lay out all those relevant facts. Lastly, though this is unlikely to be an issues, especially since publications do try to edit to preserve privacy, you can be proactive  if you are worried about protecting others' privacy and/or yourself against allegations of libel or defamation of character. Use initials, or fake names for people, places and other identifying details. End by asking your question and thanking the columnist for their response. lastly, you would close with a benediction. While "sincerely" is always appropriate, many letters to advice columns close using a benediction or pseudonym based on their predicament, such as "Confused, In Austin" or "Sincerely, Heart-broke Heartthrob."
aunt agony, advice, letter, writing, newspaper,

Most publications will provide an address and any relevant instruction on how to send a letter to them in their publication or online. After you send off your letter, keep an eye out for a response. Most publications do try to contact you before publishing your letter (so do write down your contact information on the envelope or even on the letter itself!). These publications will also honor the wishes of any who do not want their letter made public, so if you don't want it to be published, you can mention it when they ask, or up front in your letter.

While these columnists do often offer good advice, it is important to remember that they're in the business of selling papers (or magazines or page views as the case may be). They are meant to be entertaining. As Deirdre points out, though she and her staff all have training and aim to help their readers, "All agony aunts... wanted a story, a drama, what was the personal feeling rather than justifying a problem." So have fun, get good advice, but take it with a grain of salt!

For further reading, look here:
Advice Columns (on Wikipedia)
The Sun's Dear Deirdre Reflects on a Life in Letters in the Guardian
Words of Wisdom: Best of Dear Abby on the Daily Beast
Dear Deirdre FAQs

LETTER WRITING SERIES: THANK YOU NOTES | PERSONAL CORRESPONDENCE | LOVE LETTERS | SYMPATHY LETTERS | CONGRATULATORY LETTERS | POSTCARDS | LETTERS OF APPRECIATION | CORRESPONDENCE CHESS | GET WELL CARDS | LETTERS TO SICK CHILDREN | INVITATIONS | HOLIDAY LETTERS | LETTERS TO SANTA| LETTERS OF RECOMMENDATION | LETTERS TO THE EDITOR | CIRCLE LETTERS | LETTERS TO POLITICIANS | WRITING TO ADVICE COLUMNS | THE LETTER WRITING GAME | PENPAL LETTERS | LETTER OF COMPLAINT | COVER LETTERS | LETTERS TO PRISONERS | OPEN LETTERS | LETTERS TO FUTURE YOURSELF | LETTERS OF APOLOGY | "OPEN WHEN" LETTERS | FAN MAIL | GOOD BYE LETTER |

2 comments:

  1. "They are meant to be entertaining" - that does seem to be the point. I guess I'd hope they'd publish letters that have a wide appeal, that many people could be secretly struggling with the same problem.
    I never heard the description "Aunt Agony" before, funny!

    ReplyDelete
  2. The image of an “agony aunt”, along with the image of someone writing a letter and sending it to an advice column like “Dear Abby”, are some really good ones that I find to be pretty neat, as well as very inspiring, too… :)

    ReplyDelete

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