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May 22, 2007

On Responding to E-mail

Someone in my e-mail queue has just-- I suspect unintentionally -- pissed me off, so let me make a general statement here so I can refer people to it later:

I am not your e-mail monkey. I receive dozens and sometimes hundreds of non-spam e-mails each day. I try to get to most of them. However, I don't generally respond to non-critical e-mail immediately, because:

a) I'm not always on the computer.
b) When I am on the computer I am usually doing something else.
c) When I am on the computer not doing something else, sometimes I don't want to bother answering e-mail.

I usually try to respond to non-critical e-mail within a couple of days. If I'm really busy (like when I was on tour, for example), it might be longer than that. Additionally, if you send me something for which I do not feel a response is necessary and/or expected, I may not respond at all. Finally, given the volume of e-mail I get, if I do respond I may be brief. Also, of course, I am the one who determines whether an e-mail is critical to respond to immediately, not anyone else.

I expect that most of you, as humans who are also busy with life and work, understand this. For those of you who don't, I will make this simple:

Pestering me about not immediately answering your e-mail will piss me off. It will make me less likely to respond, and if I do respond, you probably won't like it.

This is not the same as following up an e-mail after several days time. That's entirely legitimate and indeed I encourage that, since sometimes mail slips through the cracks. Please feel free to follow up after a few days (briefly if possible); you'll likely get a response and an apologetic tone.

But, say, sending the same e-mail more than once in a few hours and sending another less than a day later demanding a response is just going to irritate the living crap out of me. Yes, this has happened recently. Indeed, it has happened more than once recently (no, it wasn't from any of the usual gang who frequents here. Relax). People who don't get the concept that I am not slavering to pounce on their e-mail the second it arrives in my queue -- and perhaps are even offended that I am not -- really need to be struck about the head several times with a clue stick.

There, I'm done venting.

Posted by john at May 22, 2007 04:33 PM

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Comments

John H | May 22, 2007 05:03 PM

Email is not IM -- expecting an immediate response is silly...

Dan Bailey | May 22, 2007 05:28 PM

John, you should only accept inbound email via RFC 1149 (IP over Avian Carriers). It'd cut down on the impatient asses. :-)

John H | May 22, 2007 05:34 PM

IPoAC has a major vulnerability, though, in a house with a cat...

Dan Bailey | May 22, 2007 05:41 PM

Sure, but you can just send extra ACs for error-correction. By the time the cat's full, your packet loss rate drops signficantly.

chang, realer than evar! | May 22, 2007 05:46 PM

Yikes. Nice going pisser-offer. You poked the wrong stick at the wrong guy.

Martyn Taylor | May 22, 2007 05:48 PM

Methinks you're ranting to the choir. Teaching manners to those who have none is an exercise in futility. Life is too short. The prat has stolen your time from doing something more worthwhile. In a well ordered world that would be a capital offence.

'Will nobodu rid me of this turbulent emailer?'

John H | May 22, 2007 05:49 PM

Was it you, chang? Couldn't wait for Scalzi to email you back? :-)

Martyn Taylor | May 22, 2007 05:50 PM

Methinks you're ranting to the choir. Teaching manners to those who have none is an exercise in futility. Life is too short. The prat has stolen your time from doing something more worthwhile. In a well ordered world that would be a capital offence.

'Will nobody rid me of this turbulent emailer?'

chang, realer than evar! | May 22, 2007 05:50 PM

I understand that one needs to have infinite patience when dealing with demigods less they get smited.

Or were you referring to >chang?

Karl | May 22, 2007 05:52 PM

I think that I'm burnt out on email. Most of it is either junk mail or professional obligations. Even when there is friendly email, it's surrounded by other things that have to be processed or accomplished and it becomes hard to take joy in the conversation. I feel sick of it.

RooK | May 22, 2007 05:56 PM

Now I'm wondering if Martyn Taylor is about to demand to know why Herr Scalzi hasn't responded yet...

...I know that was my fallback gimmick in this situation. Damn gimmick thieves.

Nick Stump | May 22, 2007 05:57 PM

So, it was you who vented. I thought the air seemed a bit close.

RooK | May 22, 2007 05:59 PM

Karl said:

I think that I'm burnt out on email. Most of it is either junk mail or professional obligations. Even when there is friendly email, it's surrounded by other things that have to be processed or accomplished and it becomes hard to take joy in the conversation. I feel sick of it.

Say, you got my e-mail from a couple days ago, right Karl? I noticed that you hadn't responded yet.

Karl | May 22, 2007 06:37 PM

Don't worry Rook. I know how to ignore email. Please be reassured that I still like you, even if I don't respond.

(...see you in September.)

Dan | May 22, 2007 06:38 PM

The only time anything like that happened to me was a couple of years ago after I dated this girl exactly ONE time, and the next day I got about fifteen emails through out the course of the day. I think what I wrote in response to her said pretty much the same thing as you did here, John. But, I got the point across in far fewer words (Two, to be exact).

MWT | May 22, 2007 06:50 PM

John H said: Email is not IM -- expecting an immediate response is silly...

I get annoyed when people demand that I respond instantly to their IMs, too. Seriously, sometimes I'm flipped over to other windows doing other things (like paid work), or not even in the same room (I might be puttering in the kitchen where I can still hear the computer dinging). Most people seem to understand that a 10-minute pause does not mean that I'm ignoring them, but there are still people out there who think it's rude if I'm talking to more than just them, or if I'm doing anything else besides sitting there staring at their every word as it comes in.

Christian | May 22, 2007 06:51 PM

RE: YOU DIDN'T ANSWER MY EMAIL YOU BASTARD!!!!

I'll be out of the office from 5/23 until 5/30. If you need immediate assistance, please contact Ghlaghghee in our service department at 1-800-CAT-MEOW.

John Scalzi, Freelance Troublemaker
www.scalzi.com
"Your insolent mind will never rule this world!"
-- Athena Scalzi

stacey | May 22, 2007 07:31 PM

hey john, why dont u just hit the delete button

Joe Hass | May 22, 2007 08:36 PM

MWT, I will say this: I don't expect an immediate answer to an initial IM. But once I start a conversation with someone in IMs, if they're going to step away from the computer, or do something that's going to take away from the bandwidth of my conversation, then, yeah, I think it's appropriate to give a "brb" or something to the effect of "the pause you are about to experience is not your fault."

This may be because I'm a Grumpy Old* Internet Guy, but I do think the I in IM stands for instant for a reason. People who send IMs in lieu of an e-mail don't quite get the concept.

* Old being relative to the Web, not to my own chronological age; the kids can stay on the front lawn.

Dave Sorgen | May 22, 2007 08:49 PM

MS Outlook used to have a neat little script trick that you could use to drive pests crazy.


Pests are those people who request/require receipts or read notifications.

The Outlook scripting language allowed you to auto-open and close email. If you got one from the pest, you assigned a script to it which would then cause 100s or lots more (depending on the temperament of your admin) of the requested receipts being sent.

Such a nice way to say thanks for bugging me -- filling the other's inbox to overflowing with junk they had requested.

Dave (who used to be a unix mail admin)

Steve Buchheit | May 22, 2007 09:12 PM

So, venting over, do you feel better now, John?

Subspace | May 22, 2007 09:48 PM

The problem with "feeling better" after venting over email is that more email comes. It's not like venting over the wrong president being elected, where it's just that one time -- oh.

Karl Cook | May 23, 2007 01:41 AM

I have the nagging sensation that Minions, Boot Licking Toadies, Lickspittles, Screeching Poo-Flinging Monkeys and Hordes of Nefarious, Demented Fans of Our Favored Dictator of Writing are gathering up their torches along with their sharp, pointy lawn and garden implements just slavering with righteous wrath awaiting the revelation of the Insensitive Interloper's email address...

Annalee Flower Horne | May 23, 2007 01:44 AM

I've got an idea for a form-response for this crap:

"Hello, this is a form response to your concerns about your unanswered email. The complaint department here at the Whatever is run by Ms. Helen Wayte. If you want an answer to your message, please go to hell n' wait."

(because when I say I've got an idea, I clearly mean 'my dad has a saying that probably dates back to his air force days (when dinosaurs still roamed), and I feel that it's germane').

Ray | May 23, 2007 06:21 AM

RwaaR, ROOOAR, rawr, GRrRRRR, SCrAtch, KICK, KICK, PuNch! DIE! DIE! DIE! DIE!

Thats what happens when someone looks at me...
AND THEN KEEPS LOOKING AT ME!!!
j/k...:-D
DONT PISS THE MAN OFF!!

Adam Lipkin | May 23, 2007 08:32 AM

The question, of course, is how exactly does one get an email monkey? Because I think I could use one.

Josh Jasper | May 23, 2007 10:07 AM

You always respond to my telepathic communication, though.

Patty Cryan | May 23, 2007 10:31 AM

Heaven forfend, fans with an inflated sense of entitlement?

I'm shocked, I tell you. Shocked.

John Scalzi | May 23, 2007 10:34 AM

Josh:

No, you're getting the guy I forward all my telepathic communication to.

Bitter | May 23, 2007 10:52 AM

'Clue Stick'

Hommage to Miss Snark?

John Scalzi | May 23, 2007 10:56 AM

No. "Clue stick" existed long before Miss Snark.

Dawno | May 23, 2007 03:29 PM

Coincidentally, I had very recently sent John an email. I wasn't worried about this post being directed at me, because I hadn't followed up and wasn't planning to follow up. I figure if he's busy, he's busy with important stuff and who am I but a lurker, not a regular commenter here (although I do read every post)?

Well, I got a lovely reply, in what I would consider very quick response time in relation to the non-urgent nature of my inquiry. I really don't understand people like the one(s) he's talking about. Maybe they learned as kids that they'd always get what they wanted after bugging the adults to death? Clue stick? No, Clue-bat is what they deserve.

Oh, I should add, thanks John, for the answer to my question!

Owen Strawn | May 23, 2007 08:18 PM

If I sent an email on 3/27 and again on 4/21, would it be irritation to send it again now-ish?

Thanks!

Craig Ranapia | May 24, 2007 05:01 AM

hey john, why dont u just hit the delete button

WTF shouldn't John firmly suggest that folks abstain from obnoxious jerking off in his inbox? It's like asking why doesn't he leave his own party, because I'm following him around his living room demanding he responds to my inane questions.

La Gringa | May 24, 2007 11:38 PM

I am sooooo in the mood to bitch-slap someone - point me in a direction!!!

Scott Elyard | May 25, 2007 03:07 AM

This is why I try not to bother people with my e-mail. I figure there's better things they'd rather be doing with their time than feeling any kind of obligation to respond to something I wrote.

I just can't believe you actually answer that many e-mails. I certainly couldn't. It would be like responding to every e-mail from every technical mailing discussion list I'm on twice over--and from my perspective, this just isn't possible--my wrists writhe in pain just thinking about it.

Obviously, you're super-human, gifted with hands of steel and wrists of molybdenum.

Must be our yellow sun.

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