The Inbox Explosion: How Do You Manage Yours?

by Jami Gold on September 20, 2012

in Over-Achieving Perfectionist

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 below - Time to Add your own.

C.E.Schwilk September 20, 2012 at 7:14 am

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! :)

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Jami Gold September 20, 2012 at 7:30 am

Hi C.E.,

LOL! *whew* I’m glad my life doesn’t look as chaotic from the outside as it feels to me. ;)

Okay, that’s one vote for a passing on of information in some way. I’m not sure everyone who emails me would be on Twitter, so I would probably lean more toward a posting board of some kind. Also, I kind of don’t want to be in the middle of this.

I appreciate the trust people have in me–greatly–and it’s hard for me to tell from these mostly non-personalized emails how much trust and respect these people deserve from my regular readers/followers. If I tweet about them, no one gets a sense of how serious of a writer they are, just the genre. Whereas if I direct them to a board where they have to fill in information, that might winnow down those who just messaged me hoping for a shortcut. I don’t want to inflict those types on all of you. :)

I’m always looking out for what’s best for my readers/followers/friends. ;) Thanks for the comment!

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Tamara LeBlanc September 20, 2012 at 11:31 am

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 to look at the pros and cons in reference to YOU. It would be great for everyone out there in computer land, but what about you.
As Obi Wan would say, “Search your feelings.”
Do what’s best for you.
That’s my advice for the day.
Have a great weekend, Jami!
And happy writing,
Tamara

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Jami Gold September 20, 2012 at 11:44 am

Hi Tamara,

Aww, thank you! And you’re absolutely right–I do feel honored. :)

I tried to ensure that I wouldn’t come across as whiny or snarky in this post for that very reason. Like I said, some people who email me out of the blue might feel like they know me because they read my blog, and they might not realize that without blog comments or social media interaction, that connection has been a one-way street. That’s not a knock against them, just a statement of fact.

Yesterday on Twitter some people (humorously) made suggestions that I would consider rude or mean, but I don’t want to belittle those who write me. I want to help those who are earnest every time I can.

As for a possible beta reading connections page, I’d set it up so people could just leave their information in a comment, so it wouldn’t take up my time beyond approving new commenters. And what’s right for me is what would make me feel good about helping others. :) Thanks for the comment!

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Amanda September 20, 2012 at 11:48 am

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!)

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Jami Gold September 20, 2012 at 11:52 am

Hi Amanda,

Ooo, I haven’t seen what Deanna set up for that. If anyone is interested, here’s the link. I’ll take a look and see what she has there. Thanks for the tip and for the comment!

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Jordan McCollum September 20, 2012 at 12:12 pm

Thanks for the shoutout :D !

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 ;) .

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Jami Gold September 20, 2012 at 2:51 pm

Hi Jordan,

Ooo, great idea about including the link to that post on my contact page. And I’m wary of autoresponders, but I should probably look at coming up with some standard replies I can copy and paste anyway. :) Thanks for the ideas and the comment!

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Renee Schuls-Jacobson September 20, 2012 at 12:26 pm

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! ;-)

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Jami Gold September 20, 2012 at 4:15 pm

Hi Renee,

Yes, I read your story and it was fantastic. Unfortunately I had to go back in time to before your computer crashed to read it. And the 1.21 gigawatts I used to power the DeLorean fried the flash drive that I’d copied your manuscript to. :(

Oh yes, I know what you mean about editing better than you write. I say that about query letters and blurbs. I can identify what does or doesn’t work for me in someone else’s work without having a clue about my own. :) Thanks for the comment!

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Janice Hardy September 20, 2012 at 12:52 pm

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.

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Jami Gold September 20, 2012 at 4:19 pm

Hi Janice,

Ooo, yeah, I can relate to this–today especially. I just spent a couple of hours writing a 1500 word essay to a young writer who’d asked for advice. Yes, writing all that ate up a huge part of my day, but I wanted to reply to that one because I could understand where he was coming from. Thanks for the comment!

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Melinda Collins September 20, 2012 at 1:50 pm

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 is what’s helped me a lot because, like you, I will say “yes” to everything everyone ever asks me to do because I love giving.

I like Jordan’s idea above. Put in bold on your contact page that if they’re looking for a beta read, please refer to your beta post, and/or you can add a page to your site for beta reading and include the links to sites where they can find a beta reader and/or critique partner, or you can possibly set up a beta search page as well (though that might take up some more of your time). And as for a form response when you get those requests, I think a combo of Angela and Alison’s suggestions would be perfect.

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Jami Gold September 20, 2012 at 5:26 pm

Hi Melinda,

LOL! Yes, apparently I make my random flailing look graceful. I’m a klutz in real life–trust me. :)

You’re right about that saying. And that all once again makes me feel honored. I’m not sure you feel honored in your day job though. ;) But here, I feel a sense of responsibility to all those who put their trust in me to deliver that advice and content.

Thanks for the suggestion! Yes, sometimes it comes down to being an especially bad time for our schedules, and we’d be happy to consider helping at another point in the future if we can. Thanks for the tips and the comment!

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Alison September 20, 2012 at 4:33 pm

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.

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Jami Gold September 20, 2012 at 5:28 pm

Hi Alison,

LOL! Yes, you did. :) You had a great suggestion–Thank you! And thanks for the tips here too!

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William September 20, 2012 at 6:30 pm

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.

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Jami Gold September 20, 2012 at 10:38 pm

Hi William,

“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.”

Ha! Brilliant! You’re absolutely right. :)

Yes, I’ve thought about what would have to adjust in the future if my publishing situation changes, but with each thing I’ve had to “give up” (reading every tweet in my “All Friends” column on Twitter, etc.), I’ve pouted a bit. I want to be able to do it all. However, your point here is important for all of us to remember. In the big picture, we’ll affect the most people if we continue doing the big things, our books, our blogs, whatever. Thanks for the insightful comment!

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Laurie Evans September 20, 2012 at 6:51 pm

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

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Jami Gold September 20, 2012 at 10:39 pm

Hi Laurie,

Yes, truthful yet kind is the right road for me to take. Good luck with your inbox, and thanks for the comment! :)

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Todd Moody September 20, 2012 at 7:16 pm

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!

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Jami Gold September 20, 2012 at 10:41 pm

Hi Todd,

LOL! Well, my books would have to be for sale first. ;)

Ooo, great suggestion for another critique site. Thanks for the comment!

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Meredith September 21, 2012 at 7:40 am

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.

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Jami Gold September 21, 2012 at 3:14 pm

Hi Meredith,

Thanks for watching out for me and my time. :) If I can figure out a way to make a beta sign up easy, I might give that a try too, but providing helpful links should be a no-brainer. Thanks for the comment!

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Patrick Thunstrom September 21, 2012 at 7:50 am

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!

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Jami Gold September 21, 2012 at 3:20 pm

Hi Patrick,

Oh that does sound cool! And that’s a good reason to have a case-by-case policy.

As I mentioned above, I’m not a fan of autoresponders. They have no nuance. And those who read my blog know I try to see various possibilities. Obviously, I’m still thinking things through, so I really appreciate you making me think. :) Thanks for the comment!

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I.J.Vern September 22, 2012 at 4:07 pm

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). :D

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. :D

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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Jami Gold September 22, 2012 at 5:56 pm

Hi Irene,

LOL! It wouldn’t surprise me at all to learn I’d lost an email or two (or three ;) ).

Yes, I still beta read for people all the time, but as you said, reading for friends or those we already have a relationship with is different from reading for strangers. I have many friends that I would absolutely read for unless my schedule made it impossible. That’s actually what makes it tricky to read for strangers–I’ve already made so many promises to friends that I want to honor. :) Thanks for the comment!

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Reetta Raitanen September 23, 2012 at 1:24 am

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.

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Jami Gold September 23, 2012 at 12:32 pm

Hi Reetta,

Aww, thanks. :) Yes, sometimes we do have to say no to our friends too, and that sucks, but deadlines are deadlines. All we can do is our best. Thanks for the comment!

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E.B.Pike September 23, 2012 at 10:47 am

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!

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Jami Gold September 23, 2012 at 12:37 pm

Hi E. B.,

Very true. My day job won’t be going away anytime soon. My limited writing time is where I squish in blog writing, beta reading, and actual work on my novels. It is a juggling act to get it all done, and many writers have even crazier schedules. This is just the reality that we all have to deal with, and sometimes that mean we have to say no. I’ll still pout about it though. ;) Thanks for the comment!

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Julia Tomiak September 24, 2012 at 10:54 am

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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Jami Gold September 24, 2012 at 11:18 am

Hi Julia,

You’re right–and I know all that logically. :) But I also know that some people have a harder time “plugging into” the writing community, so it’s harder for them to find people. Being introverted myself, I can understand those issues, so a big part of me wishes I could help them all.

Maybe the real message here is for us all to reach out to help other writers the best we can. :) Thanks for the comment!

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