E-mail overload…or etiquette?

It’s a lovely Tuesday here in the Berkshires with a billion leaves in full splendor. They’re turning and falling far too quickly, however. I spent the weekend in Vermont with family—a much needed break from my writing routine before jumping into Book Two of The Chronicles of Lily Carmichael, called WESTERN DESERT. I would have liked to spend every minute enjoying the company and truly getting away from my work, but the truth is, I brought my computer and sacrificed some time with my siblings and the falling leaves to answer e-mails and stay on top of my blog tour. If I hadn’t, I would have come home today to a thousand e-mails and a to-do list that would take me into the wee hours of the morning to catch up on. You think I’m exaggerating? Let’s take a look…

I belong to several writer’s loops, without which I would not be where I am, or be able to do what I do. I love my writing buddies! There is no doubt that networking is essential to this business and that none of us can do it all alone. As part of various writing loops, I have a certain responsibility to participate, reciprocate, and respond helpfully whenever possible. In these digital days, it’s easier than ever to connect with peers, find support, and work together to help each other succeed. I’m happy to do it, and I budget a considerable amount of time to keeping current—a worthwhile investment, in my opinion.

Some of these loops have strict rules about promotion and participation etiquette. Certain days are allotted for such things as “liking” FB pages, Amazon Author pages, and adding “likes” and “tags” to books. Some groups have no promo or only promo on certain days. Other loops allow promotion of blog appearances and will help “tweet” the word. There are groups that are for information only, and I love them for the invaluable industry scoop that everyone shares. The moderators who keep these groups on task and call us out when we go astray are amazing—giving freely of their time to make this all possible and keep some semblance of order to the chaos. As much of a rebel as I can be, I am happy for the rules because with so many participants (over a thousand in some groups), it can become a bit…well…unruly. 

Although the rules are slightly different for each group, there are some common etiquette tips that are good to know and sometimes ignored due to the fact that we are all insanely busy, and we often drop a few of the many balls we are juggling. I know I do. This post came about because of a few of my unintentional faux pas. Here’s my list of etiquette guidelines that I try to follow, but that have slipped through my fingers more than once. Lord knows that if we could all follow these tips it would certainly save me, personally, about half of the 400 e-mails a day that I have to go through to find the 100 I need to pay attention to. I’d bet I’m not the only one.

1) Trim your posts– This means that you keep enough of the previous poster’s message to give the gist of the content, but trim or delete anything that isn’t pertinent. People on “digest” have to search through every lengthy posting before they get to the final message. This is one of the reasons I’m not on digest. I would be tempted to delete threads without looking at them at all, and would miss a lot of important information. Therefore, I continue to receive individual e-mails.

2) Respond privately to CONGRATULATE, or otherwise personally support another writer. I know we all get excited when someone signs a contract, has a new release, or celebrates an amazing milestone, but I’m sure I’m not alone in my e-mail overload plight where thirty responses to congratulate someone come blasting through my Outlook in-box…ten times a day. I’ve got my e-mail set up so I can get a glimpse of the subject and weed through comments quickly, but multiply the thirty by five different loops, thousands of daily participants, and lots of amazing successes flying through our groups, and it becomes a tad overwhelming. So instead of hitting “reply,” look at the bottom of the page and click on “reply to sender” whenever possible. This is not a hard and fast rule and some people might not agree, perhaps thinking that “congrats” are meant to be shared with the group, but I think public encouragement ends up being more about the sender than the receiver–intentionally, or unintentionally. I’d love to hear the argument for and against this.

3) Check your links-My bad! I did this today. I was at my brother’s, on vacation, and obviously distracted. I requested some “tweet” love from some of my writing loops and figured out about twenty minutes later that I had put an incorrect link in the tweet. Tell me this hasn’t happened to you? Six of my very busy writer pals had graciously tweeted my incorrect link to a few thousand of their followers before I went back and made the correction. Efficient, aren’t they? It’s a waste of their time and makes it appear that I am unprofessional, and therefore reflects poorly on them as well. As a courtesy, I will do my best to check my links in the future before I send information out to my groups. Accept my apologies, gang. 

4) Saying “Thank you”- This one is tricky. Do we say “thanks” to every individual who tweets or re-tweets one of our messages? Should we do it publicly or privately? Do we thank every person who “shares” our FB posts? Is it okay to just respond to the group as a whole or is it clogging up the loops to do so? This one is tough and I’d love to hear what you all think about what the proper etiquette is to show appreciation for all that our writer buddies do for us without clogging the loops and over-running everyone with e-mails saying “thanks” or “congratulations?” One idea that a friend on one of my loops had was that re-tweeting or sharing one of their posts was a good way to thank someone. I tend to agree. 
What do you think? Any other etiquette tips you’d like to share? How many e-mails do you get in a day, and how do you manage them?

24 thoughts on “E-mail overload…or etiquette?”

  1. I agree about congratulating people privately. It’s really annoying to have my inbox clogged with 30 emails that just say congrats or thanks.

  2. Paula, this post is timely. Commenting, tweeting, liking, etc., is supportive on both sides. I do my best to support my fellow authors, but it can get unwieldy. It is always possible to show up briefly to show support. It has been tough getting my WIP written with all the outside activities, but if I give, then I receive. Frankly, all those posts I respond to have given me valuable information towards my writing. And not only have I benefited from participating, but I have made friends. I am grateful to be involved. Thank you for your support and friendship Paula. May you have continued blessings for your amazing journey.

    1. You’re very welcome, Gail. And thank you for sharing your wonderful knowledge with all of us too. It’s true–there is so much to know about in the writing world that networking is really the only way to stay current in this industry. Everything I’ve learned about publishing this past year or two has been through my involvement in the different writing loops and organizations i belong to. I’d be lost without that. I’m in re-assessment mode this month and trying to pare down the unnecessary time consumers and e-mails are at the top of my list.

      I weed through 1-200 of them three times a day and if I don’t get to them until evening, I have 4-500 waiting for me, which can take up to two hours to review and respond appropriately to. That’s NOT a productive use of my time and I’ll never get my WIP done that way. I’d love to hear how others manage their e-mail monster. Thanks for the response, Gail.

  3. My writing time has been severely limited lately by too much email and too much time spent on social media. Lately I’ve been deleting massive amounts of email unread. I might read the first email in a topic, and if it doesn’t interest me or apply to me, I delete all subsequent emails with the same subject line. I know I miss potentially valuable information, but it can’t be helped. If I don’t do this, I won’t write at all. I’ve gotten really bad about thanking people on Twitter for follows and retweets. I do reciprocate by following back and retweeting others’ tweets, but I often don’t try to thank them. Rude, I know, but necessary. I show up on my Facebook fan page once a day and I do try to respond to and like posts there.

    Being an author seems to be 10% writing and 90% other stuff. I have to turn that around somehow and find a better balance.


    1. I think we are all in the same boat, Tori. It does feel rude not to thank people who are essentially giving up their writing time to help us out, but I personally don’t expect a thanks for tweeting or re-tweeting for someone, or even for sharing a FB post. I do it because I want to, think it’s interesting, or want to support my fellow writers. I don’t do it for the recognition, nor do I do it with the expectation of reciprocity. It’s just part of the natural flow of Karma that happens when you give freely.

      I’m at the point where I know I can’t do it all and I’m trying to find that elusive balance. While on a blog tour and keeping up with social media responsibilities, I expect that my writing time will be cut down some, but there is definitely waste in the system that i’m trying to get a handle on. If we could all just consider it a courtesy to use the “reply to sender” for personal thanks and congratulations, that would seriously cut down on the e-mail load…just sayin’.

  4. I hit the reply to sender and congratulate the person individually. It is time comsuming, but most times if I see it is a response to a group instead of the individual I delete it without opening it.

    1. Thanks, Marian. Good for you. That definitely helps:-)

      I’ve gotten good at fielding all of the unnecessary e-mails and zipping through, often deleting dozens at a time, but when I pop in to check e-mails and see 255 of them when I just emptied my inbox three hours ago, it’s disheartening…not the way I want to approach any part of my writing life. I’m trying to find a way to get it all done and still find some joy and peace in this path. Thanks for responding.

  5. Nothing is as much fun as looking at 4000 new emails after a weekend away from the computer. I have outlook so have set my rules to filter emails into different folders. That makes it easier to decided which group I need to deal with and can do all of them together. I also try to email privately when appropriate and not clog up other inboxes.

  6. Great breakdown of social networking etiquette! I’m with you on all of these, too – especially private congratulations. I like to keep my email open while I work, since I sometimes get emails I want to read right away – from friends, from my agent, etc. But when I’m constantly distracted by non-posts, that’s hard. The easiest way I’ve found to deal with it is to have a separate email address for my loops and social networking. I can then tell my computer’s email program not to check messages from that address while I’m working, and I’ll still see messages sent to my personal address. Of course, that does mean lots to wade through when I allow those messages through again, but it’s worth it if I want to keep up with these important groups and not be interrupted. (Plus then I can sort my messages by subject and just whole-sale delete any that don’t appeal to me.)

    1. Thanks for the tips, Caryn. That sounds like it might work, but in the end I still would have to look at them all eventually…Uggh. Thanks for jumping in.

  7. I agree with all of those. And I just made the boo-boo of sending out an incorrect link this morning. I swear I checked it, but apparently I goofed. I get about 150-300 emails a day because of all the loops and emails from other writers working on projects. It helps when posts are trimmed and people don’t respond to one person via the loop. I try myself not to do that, but sometimes we all goof and forget to change the send to section. I’m going to be out of pocket for a few days so I just went no mail on most of my loops. Hopefully that will help cut down on what’s waiting for me when I get back to it. As for thank yous – I know it gets difficult, but as long as I am able, I’ll try to say thank you to those who tweet and share. I wouldn’t be able to do much without all those who help and support me. They took time out of their busy schedule to do something for me, so saying thank you is the least I can do.

    1. I know, Rhonda! It happens to me all the time. mostly when I’m in a hurry:-) Thanks for chiming in and I agree. I want to show my appreciation and wouldn’t feel right NOT thanking folks who take time out of their busy schedule to assist me in getting my message out. it just gets overwhelming sometimes and I wish there was an easier way to do it all.

  8. Great advice, PJ! I think I learned some new tips today! I’ve been wondering about the congrats and thanks issues so it’s good to see your point of view. One thing I do with my loops is switch to “web only” so I can go to the site and peruse them without filling up my mailbox.

  9. I’m with you on the thousand emails. I spent all day yesterday, MY BIRTHDAY no less, going through five days worth of email. UGH! All great advice fo helping a writer out. 🙂

    1. Thanks for “liking” the post, Katy. Not sure why it isn’t working. Glad I’m not the only one drowning in metadata…how weird does that seem? An intangible, electronic, micro-unit of information ruling our lives. That seems wrong on so many levels.

  10. Sometimes I thank people, but sometimes I don’t. I just don’t have time. A lot of times I say at the end of the email “Thank you in advance!” and let that be. I don’t meant it to be rude, but I figure if I don’t have time to type individual replies, my author friends don’t really have time to read them either.

    That said, I absolutely do not expect any thank you’s when I do something for someone. I know they’re busy and I’m glad to help. Most times I figure the best thank you I can give is doing my best to return the favor in the future.

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