I know that email can be a total pain. Total. I know that email is at the top of many people’s list of Things To Hate. It takes time away from the little bit of the day you have to spend in your studio making stuff, and it’s often silly or tedious or just irritating, what with all the advertising and time-wasting jokes and questions about what, exactly, you meant in a previous email exchange, one that took place so long ago you’ve changed computers since then and have lost all references to that conversation.
So, yeah, I get it: email is easy to hate, and it’s tempting to put “take care of email” down at the bottom of your list of things you reallyreallyreally need to do.
As I write this, I’m waiting for responses from two people with whom I’m working on two separate projects. I need information from them before a really tight deadline, and I sent them notes days ago. For whatever reason, neither appears to be the kind of person who makes it a point to respond to work-related emails ASAP. I know there are all kinds of contingencies, and I know that people’s lives are full and crazy and often take them away from their home computer. I know that. But I also know that most people who do business online, whether they’re selling or showing or keeping in touch with agents or customers or editors, have some sort of regular internet access, either by computer or iPad or smart phone. Today, there’s really no excuse for being out of touch for more than a day, not unless you’ve cut yourself loose from work and are chilling on a desert island, in which case you would have, so very thoughtfully, alerted all the people with whom you’re currently working that this hiatus would occur. So grumble about email if you want to, but if you want to stay in touch, be invited to play, and find a place for you and your work in a digital world, here are some tips you need to read:
~~Don’t abuse the automatic “out-of-office” email response. Sure, sometimes you have to use it when you’re out of the office and are totally out of the range of email. But often that’s not the case–you have an out-of-office response that goes out to people via email, but your tweets are telling the real story about how you just don’t feel like dealing with it today. It may work, but word gets around: you become one of those people who’s a little too flakey to depend on. Also, if I get an out-of-office response and then get an actual response, I know you’re screening your email, and the next time I get an out-of-office response and *don’t* hear from you, I figure I got screened. We think about things like that when we’re deciding whom to invite for a big project. Yes, I have horror stories; no, I’m not going to share them. Trust me when I tell you there’s a list of people who are impossible to work with precisely because they won’t respond to their email. Or sometimes they will, and then they just won’t. And you never know and simply can’t count on them to show up and do their share.
~~Check your spam folder reguarly. I’m really bad about this–I set it and forget it. But I do know that, right this minute, there are only two messages in my spam folder. Neither one is from either of those people from whom I need to receive an email. One offers to sell me a healthcare database, and the other is from Miss Rosmah Majid, who has lost her organ of hearing and wants to give me 30% of her 4.3 million dollars before she dies. What’s in your spam folder?
~~Set up your email filters and Facebook notifications and online group settings so that you receive the email you want and need and will actually read without being inundated by tons of email messages that mean nothing to you. I receive notifications from Facebook about only the things I need to know. I don’t care who comments after me in a post, and even if I did, do I really need to receive and read two dozen emails about the comments people posted on my sister-in-law’s post about breakfast cereal? Because here’s the deal: you’ve got to find a way to receive only the email you can handle in a timely manner. If you’re receiving tons of messages every day and get completley overwhelmed, so that you’re putting off even reading them day after day, that’s a problem. If you open your email and can’t even figure out where to start, something is surely falling through the cracks. In there somewhere is an important message, something exciting or essential or inspiring, and chances are it’s also timely–while it may be important today, if you put off reading it until next Friday, an opportunity may have passed you by.
~~Take time to get to know your email program. It is, most likely, a willing assitant, able to sort and categorize messages, color-code and flag them and alert you to their existence. I have messages from my various editors in one color, and messages from a group of personal friends in another color. If I’m working on a project with someone and need to be able to see that they’ve sent me a message, I assign a color. A quick glance lets me know if there are messages I have to read right that minute.
~~Pay attention to the content. I can’t tell you the number of times that I’ve tried to reach someone to ask them to participate in a project and have never heard back from them. Oh, sure, sometimes it means they don’t want to play but aren’t so good at saying, “No, thanks.” That’s too bad, because whatever the reaons they didn’t like this particular project, their ignoring the invitation means they won’t get asked to participate in future projects, ones that might be exactly what they love most. But sometimes I’m just as sure they skim the message, see a signature they don’t recognize, don’t bother to read the message or follow the links in the signature to see who might be contacting them, and just ignore the message. I’ve asked people to participate in podcasts, interviews, books, and questionaires and have never heard back. I’ve sent follow-up emails from an alternate address, thinking the first one may have landed in a spam folder. And then, after a couple tries, I give up. I should call them, you say? No, I shouldn’t. It’s 2011, and if you want to be contacted and offered opportunities, you have an online presence and a working email address you check regularly. If you don’t respond to the messages going to that email address in a timely manner, what does that tell those of us who would like to work with you? It tells us that, gee, it would probably be a long, hard slog working with you, both frustrating and stressful. Given that there are other people out there with equally compelling work who actually repond when we contact them, guess what? They’re the ones we’ll be working with.
I know that people are arguing right now that that’s not the way it should work and asking what happened to phone calls and insisting that they just don’t have time in their day to deal with all the things they have to deal with and cannot–canNOT–be expected to spend time sitting and going through emails every day. The truth is that if you want to participate in a world that is increasingly taking place online, you must. Hate it if you want, grouse about it all you like, but if you want to take advantage of the opportunities that exist, you’ve got to make yourself available. If you were job-hunting and providing your phone number to potential employers, you wouldn’t take your phone off the hook, not if you really wanted the work. If you have a shop and a business phone, you wouldn’t unplug that phone and put it on a shelf in the stockroom or let the answering machine gather messages for two weeks until it was full. No. You’d answer the phone, respond to the messages–that’s what you’d do if you wanted to stay in business. In 2011, it’s not the phone, though; it’s the email.
Check yours. Please.