Friday, 15 June 2012

MY SAD CONFESSION

Hello, Dear Readers (I say sombrely, gazing at you with mournful eyes). On this rainy (entirely weather metaphor appropriate Friday) I must make to you a sad confession.

Unfortunately this isn't one of those pretend sad confessions where I actually end up springing something lovely instead, like the fake snake popping out of a can. It's... an actual confession.

So. I am behind with answering my emails. Very, very behind.

It has always been my policy to reply to EVERY email that I get. All of them. And on my website and here I encourage people to email me and ask me questions about my books, my characters, or maybe writing. I love to get emails! I really do. And as a result I get a LOT. Over the past year the number has probably trebled. Which would be great, except for this funny thing I've noticed.

The majority of the emails I get these days are not coming to me from readers. My readers, I mean. People who want to talk about or ask questions about my books, or have even *read* my books. The vast majority of emails I get now are coming from people who either don't mention my work at all, or tell me they're intending to read something by me one day but haven't quite gotten around to it yet. So why write to me?

Well, they've seen my website or my blog, and I seem like a nice, friendly sort of author and I do say that I welcome emails, soooo... they have this question they really, really, really need an answer to. In fact, they have several questions. Questions about how to write, how to solve this problem in a story or with a character, how to get published, how to find an agent.

And please can I get back to them as soon as possible?

It's not uncommon for me to get an email which contains ten or even twenty questions, packed tightly into four or five paragraphs. And all too often these questions are ones which I have already answered on my blog (which is what the All ABout Writing page is for) or on the various pages about writing on my website. But these guys either didn't read those pages, or else they want personalised advice that requires me to have a lot of information about their personal dilemma. Or, I suspect, they don't really want advice at all. They want The Super Special Awesome Secret which I (as a published author) simply must have, and would surely hand over to them if only they asked nicely enough.

See, here's the thing, Dear Readers. There is no Super Special Awesome Secret to finishing a book or writing brilliant characters or finding an agent or getting published. There really isn't. If I knew it, I promise I would share. But it doesn't exist. And if you can't finish your story, and you've read the article about Neverending Stories here, and you still can't manage it? There's nothing more I can do to help - it's up to you now. And if you didn't bother to read the Neverending Stories post because you're sure that it doesn't apply to you and your situation is different and unique? There's still nothing extra I can offer you. Everything I have to say about the issue is already there.

So far, when I get one of these emails I've made it a practise to write a kind and thoughtful reply offering up all the links to the information which is already freely available here and on my website. And that takes TIME. A lot of time.

Because that's the funny thing about emails from readers. If someone writes to you to tell you that they read one of your books and they loved it, it doesn't take very long to reply. All I have to do is open my heart and thank that person, so much, for reading my books, for taking the time to email me. I love to get emails like that. They brighten my whole world for a while, like an unexpected hug in or a smile from a stranger in the street.

But those emails, these days, are out-numbered three to one by the other type. And the other type take HOURS to answer because they demand so many different pieces of information that I have to go hunting for, so many hyperlinks, and so much tact to respond in a way that's nice but also firm. What's more, it feels kind of sad and pointless answering them, because I know I'm not giving those guys what they really want (that Super Special Awesome Secret) and that they're probably going to go off and email some other author with the exact same questions when they don't get what they want from me.

It's gotten to the point where when I get an email with the spammer codeword in the subject line, I *cringe* instead of smiling. If I open it and it's an email from an actual reader I can relax. But if it's not, then I get this awful sinking feeling which, honestly, shouldn't be part of my working day. What I've been doing since before Christmas is stuffing all these emails into a folder in my inbox without even looking at the contents because I just can't take any more stress or pressure. Which leads back to my original point.

I am behind on my emails. Very, very behind.

I feel awful about it. Awful. I try not to even think about it, because it drowns me in guilt and worry. But whatever I do, that folder is like a folder-shaped ghost that haunts my inbox, making reproachful wwwooo-wwwwooo! noises whenever I pass through. I'm sure there are emails in there which 100% deserve a reply from me. I'm sure there are emails in there that would be a joy to read. But I can't bring myself to look and find out, because I CANNOT face the inevitable hundred requests for the Super Special Awesome Secret which will also be in there, and which I cannot grant.

So here's what I'm going to do. It's taken me a lot of soul-searching to get to this point, and I'm not sure it's the best or wisest or nicest thing to do; but right now it feels like the best option I have.

The folder is going to get deleted. I'm not going to look at it anymore, or look at the emails inside it. If you've sent me an email and I haven't already replied to it? I'm so sorry, but, as of now, you won't get a reply. Consider that email lost in the post (so to speak). And I'm never going to make a folder like that again, because all too quickly it becomes a black hole, and results in people who deserve replies getting ignored because it's just easier for me to lump everyone together in there.

If you sent me an email with five or ten or twenty questions about writing or publishing in it? Please look around my website and on this blog and I'm sure you WILL find the answer already there. If not, leave me a comment on the blog and if your question is both different and interesting, I may answer it here. If you don't want to share your question in the comments or see it answered on the blog, then I'm afraid I am not the author you're looking for.

If you wrote me an email in which you asked questions about my books, my characters or my imaginary worlds? Please resend it. I WANT to see it. I want to know what you think, and I'll try to reply as soon as possible, I promise.

And that is my sad, Friday confession. I hope you'll all forgive me!

19 comments:

Vivienne said...

Eeep! You need a PA!

Zoë Marriott said...

Viv, I would sell my KIDNEY for a PA. *Sigh*

Rhia said...

Zoe, I know exactly how you feel. I get a lot of similar queries on my Proper Job blog (I'm not as nice as you - I don't give an email address) and a lot of the stuff I end up answering I can only reply with words to the effect of 'See my post on...' or 'There is no magic answer.' And it takes a lot more time to answer these. And I don't like having a cut-and-paste-one-size-fits-all-response.
So - I guess what I'm trying to say is yes, it's depressing to realise that you have all these to answer; no, you don't need to feel guilty. You're not being unfair on people - some people are being unfair to you. And the rest of us - who read and love your work - know how busy you are and love you for finding the time to share with us.

Zoë Marriott said...

*Hugs Rhia* Thank you! Gosh, it's hard learning to say NO to people, isn't it?

Rhia said...

We're just too goddamn NICE, that's our problem!

And I do very much appreciate all your help during InCreWriMa.

Love and hugs (and a slice of virtual chocoate cake)

Rhia
xxx

whispering words said...

aww Zoe *hugs*. I really dont think you should feel bad about deleting those emails. You put a lot of time and effort into your blog and I know that those of us who read it really really appreciate it.

You give fab advice and often write really inspiring posts so if people are to lazy to find them themselves then their loss! You have NOTHING to feel guilty over - especially if they havent even read your books(which is a sin in and off itself)because your books are awesome! Yay for saying no to people! :)

Zoë Marriott said...

Whispering: Thank you :) It's nice to have other people confirm that I'm not being horribly selfish. I do want to respond to everyone, but I also want to write books and look after my dad and generally have some kind of a life. And not constantly be dogged with guilt!

Raylin said...

That's got to be brutal. I've never experienced this but I empathize with you. Aspiring authors - like myself - often look for guidance in someone like you. But, when they ask their storm of questions, they don't consider exactly how backlogged that author is. :( I'm sorry that you have to delete that folder for now. But, you're not being selfish. You're just taking a break, a small reprise. (May have spelled that one wrong. Ah well.)

In the meantime, magical timezone-crossing hug! :3

- Ray 'Nervous Nettie'

Q said...

Way to put your foot down! You need to spend your time doing more important things than answering questions for people who couldn't be bothered to look for the answers themselves––like writing (the thing that actually pays you) or reading books or spending time with your family (the thing that ultimately matters most). You shouldn't feel bad about this decision at all. The people who are shamelessly stealing your time should apologize to you.

Zoë Marriott said...

Ray: I do struggle, because not so long ago I was an aspiring writer too and I know how that feels and how desperately I wanted someone to just GIVE ME THE ANSWERS DAMMIT. But no one ever did, and eventually I realised that the whole point was working it out for yourself. So thank you for the support :)

Q: Thanks. I will try to keep my foot firmly down there from now on...

Connie B. Dowell said...

Don't worry about saying no. You're a writer. You're supposed to write! And it sounds like this was a big distraction.

Zoë Marriott said...

Connie: Oh, you're not kidding. Sometimes I was leaving the computer just so I wouldn't have to look at that file. Sounds ridiculous, but 100% true!

Giora said...

It's common sense, Zoe, that as a writer you should focused on your writing and on other aspects of you life. Your website and your videos on YouTube provide most of the information, anyway. Don't feel guilty for not having time to answer e-mails and have a wonderful weekend.

Zoë Marriott said...

Thank you, Giora :)

Marion Pitman said...

Zo, you were ABSOLUTELY right to delete that folder. I hope you will henceforth not hesitate to delete these as they come in. It is NOT your job to teach people to write, let alone feel guilty that you don't have the secret of the universe.

Zoë Marriott said...

Marion: I'm going to write a template auto-reply, just saying 'If you're reading this, then you have written to me for writing advice. All the advice that I have to give can be found here and here. Good luck!' And hopefully that will discourage the phenomenon I've seen a few times where, on not recieving a reply from me within a day or so, they KEEP ON SENDING the same email to me until I crack and answer...

batgirl said...

Zo, will you do my homework for me for free?
signed,
An Aspiring Writer.

Zoë Marriott said...

B: Heh. Yeah, pretty much. But I do understand it. Plus, a lot (though not all!) of the people writing are young enough that I give them the benefit of the doubt when it comes to *realising* what they're asking.

Alessandra @Out of the Blue said...

Wise decision. You're just too nice! Plus, you need time to write.

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