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September 20, 2012

The Inbox Explosion: How Do You Manage Yours?

Screen shot of email inbox

I fully admit that one of my weaknesses is an out-of-control email inbox. Between my accounts for writing and day job, I have an obscene number of unread emails. (As in, a hundred times the number depicted in this picture.) Granted, the vast majority of those unread emails are list digests and things that don’t need my attention, but the mess still gives me a headache.

Lately, I’ve been noticing a new type of email in my inbox. Someone I don’t recognize from my blog or social media will contact me from my blog’s contact form and ask for a favor.

These aren’t spam emails (although I get plenty of those too). They’re not trying to sell a service, set up a link exchange, or get me to try their product.

Rather, they want something from me: beta reading, giving feedback on why they’re not successful, or general advice. In short, they want my time.

I’m sure published authors get emails like that all the time. Heck, I’m sure their inboxes are worse, with people asking for a cover blurb, a client referral to their agent, or a review of the sender’s book. But I’m not agented or published yet, so I didn’t expect to be on people’s radar screen for this sort of thing.

Don’t worry. I won’t let this go to my head—other than making my headache worse. *grin*

My regular blog readers know I’m not stingy with my time. I respond to every comment here, to most social media shout outs (mentions on Twitter, tags on Facebook or Google+, etc.), and most requests for help. I hold a big contest every year on my blogiversary where people can “win” my time. I’ve beta read for more people than I can count.

But as much as I’d love to do it all, I can’t. And I hate saying “no.” I’m probably not alone in that. *smile*

Many of us hate confrontations. We don’t want to seem mean or stuck up. Or we don’t want to be disliked. Or we don’t want to seem like we’re not a good friend.

So I need a way to avoid my usual stick-my-head-in-the-sand-and-let-those-emails-lie-abandoned-in-my-inbox thing, but I also need a way to say “no”—in a nice way. I asked for advice on Twitter, and as usual, people came through with plenty of suggestions for how I could respond.

  • Angela Ackerman: “Hi, I would love to help, but I am unable to take on anymore commitments at this time. ” Then send them to Critique Circle.
  • Roni Loren: I’m just honest and let people know that I just don’t have time to beta for anyone right now, but offer to tweet out that they are looking for a beta reading exchange for whatever genre they write in case any of my followers are looking.
  • Jordan McCollum: [Y]ou could host a beta search on your blog. … let [people] sign up describing their work in the comments. Then they find/contact one another.
  • Kristina: Perhaps tell them that they could try an online crit group. [Kristina suggested Scribophile and the NaNo message boards.]
  • Alison: “Thank you for asking, but I don’t have the time to beta read your story in the way you deserve. Good luck with your writing.”

I’ve also written about how to find beta readers, and nowhere in that post did I include “email a someone out of the blue and ask them to read your work” on my list of suggestions. But maybe these people had a reason for emailing me.

Maybe they’re a regular reader of my blog. Maybe they’ve never commented because they’re shy. Maybe they feel like they know me.

I’d be honored if my writing accomplished all that, but even if that were the case, it wouldn’t change the fact that I can’t say “yes” to everything I’d like to. I’m going to have to come up with a response that shares other sources for help, like Angel and Kristina’s links above, yet finds a nice way to say “no.”

And to quote Smeagol/Gollum from Lord of the Rings, “We hates it.”

Do you get overwhelmed by requests for help? How do you respond? Do you ever feel guilty, and if so, how do you deal with that? Should I offer a page on my website for matching beta readers? Do you have any other suggestions or advice for me?

P.S. Yes, I’m still open for “Ask Jami” type questions for any issues you’d like to see addressed on my blog (use my contact form and put “Ask Jami” in the subject). I don’t mean to imply with this post that I wish for no email or contact at all. *smile*

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37 Comments on "The Inbox Explosion: How Do You Manage Yours?"

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C.E.Schwilk

Jami, first off – you’re amazing with the way you handle/attend/answer everyone! I marvel at your time management! I definitely get overwhelmed at work & I do feel really guilty when I can’t help (bosses lay a lot on me so coworkers ask questions & I drown)! I have gotten better about saying “no”, even to my bosses!

I like the idea of passing along the info – via tweets or a message board of some sort. This is the reward for the respect you command! We trust you! 🙂

Tamara LeBlanc
Tamara LeBlanc
I’ll be honest, I think of you as one of the brightest, most savy, most giving person I know on line. Not only have you beta’d for me, but as you said, you respond to each and every comment on this blog as well as answer any and all questions…and not just with a quick yes or no. I’m amazed by your generosity and your wisdom. So…I don’t think you should feel bad AT ALL about getting a bit of a headache over the amount of emails in your inbox from people needing your help. That would give me a brain crush as well. But, you’re also lucky. Yep, I said lucky. Your readers and followers look up to you. Not only do they know who you are, but they respect what you have to say. They trust your advice and think so highly of your blog that they feel it would be an honor to have you read something they’ve written. I know I feel that way 🙂 You’re pretty darn cool!! So I get why they’re flooding your inbox. That being said, you gotta learn to say no. It’s tough, it feels wrong, but you’ll be better off if you take one of the wonderful suggestions you were given and do for Jami, instead of constantly doing for others. Your followers will understand. I thought that an extra page to help people hook up with beta readers would be a great idea on your website, but…hmm, you’d have… Read more »
Amanda

I like the idea of hosting a beta search-kind of like what Deana Barnhart did with GUTGAA (in fact, someone contacted me to beta read because of that list!)

Jordan McCollum

Thanks for the shoutout 😀 !

I think you’ll have to find what works for you. I’d recommend putting a link to your article on finding beta readers in big, bold text above your Contact Form. Most people will still ignore it, but you tried.

You might also be able to set up an autoresponder from your contact form that simply says that if they’re asking something from you (phrased more nicely), you’re so sorry but can’t take on further commitments right now (and again, a link to your article). Then you can at least feel less guilty about the requests sitting in your inbox 😉 .

Renee Schuls-Jacobson

Hey Jami:

Would you please read my fiction MS? The one that was eaten by my computer? That would be great.

It would also be magic.

Seriously, in my now invisible book, the protagonist had to learn to say no. You are one of the most giving, most generous people I know! Your posts are fabulous and you make us feel like we are having a chat with you.

I’m not surprised people are asking you to read their stuff. Truth is: I think I edit other people better than I actually write. That said, I think you just need to type up a kind little document that briefly states that you aren’t able to take on any other commitments. Until you see something you like.

Like my manuscript resurrected from the bowels of a forensics lab! 😉

Janice Hardy

I feel your pain. I get them as well, and worse, I get them from kids 🙂 It’s impossible to say no to a 12-year-old author who wants some feedback. The response suggestions you got are great. I might steal one or two. That’s basically what I say, and I’m honest. If I can help I will, if I can’t I say so. If I can, but it’ll be a while, I say that too. Some folks don’t mind waiting. You might also try agreeing to whatever you have time for. I almost always say no to reading a full manuscript (I just don’t have the time with the folks I regularly read for) but I’ll offer to read a chapter or two. You can usually offer helpful feedback based on that the writer can apply to their full book.

You do what you can. I feel just as guilty when I have to say no, but sometimes you have to.

Melinda Collins
Jami – This reminds me of the laugh you had last month when I said I was in awe of your time management skills with responding to comments. 🙂 Seriously though…you’re one of the most knowledgeable and giving writers online today (I personally have endless amounts of love and respect for you). People look up to, they sit and wait at their computer at 7:55am waiting for your next post to go live. And why is that? Because you care – you respond to every comment on your blog. And you chat online and give extremely helpful advice. This is what makes you awesome! And because you’re so awesome, there will be a larger demand on your time. What is that saying? Hmm…something like, “The better you do your work, the more you’ll get.” Yea, sorta like that, and this is my problem at the dayjob, so I completely understand your pain (though it’s writing related instead). There are 3 other people in my state in my position, yet I’m the one who gets all the projects and work. Ugh….. I know it’s difficult to not feel guilty when saying no. One of the tricks I’ve learned is saying, “No, I can’t right now. Maybe another time.” Because then you’re really not giving a flat-out “no.” You’re just saying not right now. And it’ll help to definitely turn it around on the writer by saying you don’t enough time to give them the proper beta read their story deserves. This… Read more »
Alison
Alison

Oh my gosh, I made the blog! I’ve received numerous unsolicited requests for beta reading (for fan fiction), but just don’t have the time to honor them all. I’ve had a lot of practice declining in a polite way.

It seems to me you do an awful lot–linking to resources, opening your blog for interesting conversations on a variety of topics, responding well in social media. I’m sure those are some of the reasons people are drawn to you as someone willing and able to help. But don’t feel bad saying no; if you don’t have time, the author won’t be getting the beta read they really need and deserve.

I love some of the suggestions in the post and here in the comments, too–sounds like you’re not alone in dealing with this problem.

William

Jami, it seems like a few of your options are showing up over and over in the comments, so you should be on the right track there. I agree with Tamara and Melinda that you are incredibly hard-working and generous (if a bit too self-effacing).
Question: even though you are AS YET un-agented and un-published… One day (soon) you WILL BE. Have you thought about that yet? What is going to happen to your blog? Is it still going to be about writing? You’ll have an entirely different group of fans. They’ll want any piece of you they can get. Your publisher will also be wanting you to produce: you’ll have deadlines. You’ll need to be creative and continue writing with time pressure.
How about just a FAQ page? Look how JK does it: I remember she had something on her page that was apparently asked frequently “Will you be my Pen Pal?” She had a response along the lines of ‘I have to take care of my own children…’
If you anticipate your own success, if you live now in your dream fulfilled, you’ll see that, however much you may not want to, the reality will simply be that you WILL NOT have the time to give everyone the attention they deserve. And what they’ll REALLY want anyway is for you to keep writing stories and characters that attach themselves to their hearts and fire their imagination with excitement.
Does that make it any easier? 🙂
Keep up the good work.

Laurie Evans

I’m trying to take control of my inbox (sighs…). I really like the first response you posted. Truthful, yet kind.

Todd Moody

You are a hot commodity, Jami! I’m surprised you aren’t selling tons and tons of books already. I’ve been semi-actively blogging for about 2 years and it’s rare for me for to have people ask for that sort of help. Maybe I’m too harsh, I have no idea. But I know you’ll come up with the right answer.

I do have a critiquing suggestion for those interested though. It takes some serious effort on the submitter. It’s http://www.critters.org/

Great post as always!

Meredith

I thought the two suggestions offering other places to get beta readings were the best two also. My mouth turned down at the one suggesting you put up a page on your blog for matching people only because I would hate for you to have to do more work when you’re trying to say no. I don’t really know what’s all involved in having that page, if you would need to monitor it or whatnot, so that’s why I kind of frowned on it. Good luck with your dilemma.

Patrick Thunstrom

I’ve only been asked once via e-mail, and it wasn’t for writing. In fact I was asked to examine some game design elements on a new website. Which was really cool. But it doesn’t happen often enough for me to have a policy yet. Everything on a case-by-case basis!

I.J.Vern

Oh, so that’s why you didn’t respond to the e-mail I sent you a month ago…(Jami is searching her inbox now…frantically. Ooppss, she deleted it). 😀

No, I didn’t send you any e-mail lately. At least, I don’t think so, I have to check it. I have selective memory lately. 😀

Ok. Teasing part over. I like the idea of Jordan McCollum of beta search, kind like a forum, but that will take a lot of more time on moderating it, than replying to e-mails.

There is nothing wrong with polite, thoughtful even, rejections.

On the other hand, one could selectively do some beta reading, as a return in favor for her/his own beta requests. However, I would be reluctant to do that with complete strangers, meaning persons whom I never had any kind of contact before, just the e-mail they sent me out of the blue. To avoid any unpleasant situation that might occur.

So, it comes down to “gut feeling”. If your muse whispers to do a beta reading, do it. If not, then form a polite negative response. Or you could blame it on the neighbor’s dog, he barks too loud and you can’t concentrate to give the proper attention. 😉

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Reetta Raitanen

It’s no wonder you’re getting beta readers requests, Jami. I was awed when I read how thorough feedback you give to your crit buddies. And this blog is the perfect showcase of your dedication and talent.

Too bad that the requests often come from people who haven’t bothered to forge a relationship with you first. But saying no to friends is even harder. Ack.

Thank you for the awesome blog and the time you take to respond our comments.

E.B.Pike

Your time is precious. I think this is especially true for writers because unless we’re NYT bestsellers, or have extremely supportive spouses, we have day jobs. Writing is something we do in our already limited free time. You’ve got to protect your writing time. Don’t ever feel bad doing what you need to do to do that.

Good luck, Jami!

Julia Tomiak

Don’t feel guilty. You’ve got to be honest. There are lots of ways to find beta readers and critiques- I know and I’ve only been in this stuff for a year or so. I wouldn’t spend too much of your time trying to fix this issue. The suggestions above sound great. You can take these requests as a compliment, but don’t feel obligated. I’m sure you have plenty to do!

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