Wednesday, April 20, 2011

The War of Email

You'd think, because I'm a writer, that the written medium of email ought to be my best friend.  Yeah, I've got that delusion, too.

Today, I received this blog post from Karen Caplan, owner of Frieda's, one of the top produce importers of the U.S.  It's about how she despises email and handles it.

Now, she's owner of a multi-million dollar company and she mentions how she was away from email for a few days and had 246 emails.  She says, "… 246 emails.  Yes, you read correctly."

I, really, hadn't doubted her.  In fact, I was surprised it was so low.  After my usual weekend off, I've got almost that much - and weekends are slow for email.  I was sick in bed most of Monday, so when I stopped on for a brief check (after viewing the fab-tacular premier of Game of Thrones the H-of-A recorded), I had well over 100 messages.  And I'm a small-time writer.

What kind of messages do I get?  In the order I think of them:

Informational Blogs and Newsletters

There are a few writers' and agents' blogs I subscribe to.  Normally, I learn something from each every day.  Of course, there are also the food blogs (like Caplan's) and equine blogs and newsletters that I also subscribe to so that I keep up on the stuff I write most about.  On top of that are also the education blogs and newsletters, because I also work in that area.  A writer and editor should stay informed.  Included in that are market listings for places to submit my work.  Some days, I really don't have the time to read these messages, so I have to delete or save them for a day I have time to read.  Some of them I need to unsubscribe to because I haven't read them in months.  My current 190-email inbox has probably about 20-40 newsletters and blogs still saved.

Events Information

As readings & events coordinator for Broad Universe, I get information on genre conventions and writing conferences daily.  New ones, upcoming ones, ones BU members are interested in presenting at, ones who are interested in BU members selling at.  Some are conventions I'm going to - I just got my Wiscon schedule, today, for example.  These are more varied and almost always require some sort of action in a short time period.  On really busy weeks, though, they fall through the cracks.

Charity Information

Some of this comes from charities I've given to, and usually I unsubscribe to these lists - unless the list has made it harder to unsubscribe than to hit "delete" every time they pop up.  I also get other regular information from Broad Universe and Bay State Equine Rescue because I'm heavily involved in both.  I do my best to listen and respond to all the members and needs of those.

Work- and Project-related Emails

Emails that do or may relate to me receiving money.  These, of course, get major attention because, well, I like paying bills on time and I disagree with the widely held belief that writers should starve.  At any one time, I've got multiple articles I'm corresponding over; team-members who need reviews or responses; information from my direct supervisors, editors, and clients; updates to software I use; and more that I can't even think of at the moment. 

Forwards and Reply-Alls

I've raised a stink enough times about this that I almost never get these, and if I do, it's for good reason.  Sometimes they can be read and discarded or read and saved.  Other times they require a response.

Group Emails

Outside of the rescue and BU, I'm on a few writing groups, and we send email to each other.  Sometimes its social, other times it's writing related - like monthly submissions.  I don't get these every day; most of us in the group are extremely busy and understand such.

Daily Reminders

I set up daily reminders in my email for events, and that helps me not forget them.

Direct Correspondence

These are emails that are addressed to me and don't fit into one of the categories mentioned.  Sometimes it's close friends and family with personal updates, other times it's friends or colleagues who want my help or want to catch up or have some other good reason for wanting to talk with me.  Other times they are new connections I've made at conventions or conferences: friends or colleagues-to-be, networking contacts, and so on.

Other Social Networking Reminders

I set my blog and Facebook and Twitter to alert me of stuff, like comments, posts, and so on.  I've been pretty bad about going on Twitter this year because it's been so much busier than last year… and there's no way to really filter the Stuff I Need to Know into email… which, as you see, has become my main workstation.


Of course, there is the ubiquitous "miscellaneous" email.  It ranges from press releases for stuff I do or don't write about to things like responses to the Neil Gaiman audiobook contest that you all are voting for me on, right?  (Pst, PLEASE vote for me?)

I'd love to share with you my insightful and efficient means of dealing with all this, but, really, I don't have one.  Caplan has a strategy, but that fits with her own work style.  She has an office and can go visit people in person to discuss things, and she has press people (I know, I chat with them!) and assistants who remind her of things that need to be done and interviews she needs to do.  I'm thankful that my husband-of-awesome cooks for me many nights and helps with dishes - after he's done with his own demanding job.  I wouldn't feel right asking for more.

It's all on me.

I tried assigning duties to my cat and rabbit, but they wouldn't help.  Also, they don't have opposable thumbs.

Most of my clients and contacts are not in driving distance.  Some aren't even on this side of the globe!  And those that are driveably close, well, it's inefficient to go and talk with them in person.  Current etiquette is also mostly prohibitive of calling them unless it's an urgent, emergency, too.  

My best shot is deciding what's urgent and important, what's urgent, what's important, and go down from there.

How do you battle the email monster? 


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