Monday, January 15, 2007

Communication

I once heard someone say that the opposite of talking is waiting.

Wise words. How many times do we find ourselves in conversations where we're waiting to say what's on our mind, rather than fully appreciating the words coming at us?

But things are different on the world wide web.

I did a little MySpace experiment three days ago, sending a bulletin to my 1700 friends and asking them to reply.

Three hundred people have replied so far.

Now I'm in the awkward position of responding to their replies, which is taking me forever. Be careful what you ask for...

While I've beenreplying, I took a look at the 800 other emails in my inbox, and realized these people deserved responses as well. Especially since some of them are from July.

Here's my deal with email; if I receive something from someone close to me, I always respond immediately.

If I receive fan mail, I try to respond within a reasonable amount of time---usually within a week.

But a portion of the emails I get are from people who want something. A blurb. A critique. An answer to a detailed question. And I let these accrue, because I always have something else I could be doing other than answering email.

It doesn't take Seth Godin to understand that this isn't very good customer service.

The future of marketing has less to do with finding new customers and more to do with enthralling the customers we already have. As a public figure, and a personal selling a product, I have a responsibility to reply to those who want my attention. Communication is the single most important form of branding.

So why am I slacking?

I have a friend who describes herself as Type A. She keeps a file of interview questions, and has cut and paste responses for every possible question she could be asked online.

I dismissed her method as impersonal. Now I applaud her genius. She's giving great customer service, at very little cost to her. Sure, the answers are canned. But that beats the sendee waiting five months for a reply. And the sendee doesn't know the answers have been given many times before. It's win-win.

So my goal for 2007 is to make sure I keep my inbox empty. I'm delighted to be in a position where people contact me, and I owe it to them to respond.

At least until it becomes so overwhelming that my addy must go dark and I have to hire a web maven to screen my emails. Or a bot. But I hate those bots, don't you? Why can't I email Stephen King or Dan Brown and ask them to blurb me?

Oh. That's why.

30 comments:

Anonymous said...

If your friend has stock answers for common questions, then she should probably have an FAQ section on a Web page.

Just a suggestion.

P.S. Just finished my first Konrath novel, "Whiskey Sour." Great stuff. Now it's out to the bookstore to get the others.

JA Konrath said...

Thanks Ty!

My friend does have an FAQ. But people still ask the same questions, and it's sort of rude to say "Read my web page, moron!"

Though I have said to people "check out the Tips section on my website" when they ask me advice on how to find an agent or write a query letter.

It amazes (ie: flabbergasts) me that complete strangers ask me for advice without buttering me up first by saying how much they love my work or how they named their dog Jack Daniels or how they recommend me to all their friends.

I've gotten MANY emails along the lines of, "I found your blog on the web. You know a lot. Can you proof read my book and query letter?"

For heaven's sake, buy me a few drinks and flirt with me before you demand sex.

Anonymous said...

You already have shown you got high-class hooker money. Now those of us walking the docks for 10 bucks want the shortcut.

If you're lazy enough to email an author with a question that is answered (sometimes repeatedly in different areas) on their site and/or blog, it shouldn't be a surprise that if you get a reply, its canned. The author is still doing you a big favor by personally replying at ALL.

Still, if I promise not to send you a "and how do you write a best-seller" email, you might deign to still keep my link on your blog? I just won't dress it like yours, baby. ;)

Anonymous said...

I'm just sober enough to realize I can no longer tense.

I blame a six-hour jag. Too many words unmaking sense.

Linda said...

I have a friend who is an actor, and he was on a popular TV show many years ago. We have all the most common questions he gets asked posted up on his Web site, and I'll tell you, people do not read. Or they aren't happy with the answer and try to get a different one. We had one guy email us and ask the same question three times differently. We just kept resending him the same link to the answer. And then, at a public Q&A session, the same guy asked the actor that question again and got the same answer.

Some people really need, as Miss Snark puts it, a clue gun. But there's others who are too lazy, and still others who think they're more important than everyone else. But there's also a crowd out there looking for a "special answer," one that no one else has. Information from celebrities is like gold; it's like saying, "I have a secret and you don't, and it's all mine."

I got rid of a lot of the dumb questions for the actor that I was getting in email by putting up an email form rather than an email. It asked for as a required field the email address and the name--both things already coming with an email in most cases. But doing that cut down a lot on the dotty questions.

Stacey Cochran said...

I'm still wondering when you're going to begin phasing in more video blogging. You're so damn funny live.

Speaking of video...

Watch Me Get Interviewed on Google Video

Stacey

ec said...

I've written over a dozen books set in various shared-world settings: the Forgotten Realms, Star Wars, and EverQuest. One of my characters and a magical artifact from my books have been written into video games. Quite a few gamers incorporate characters I've created into their Dungeons & Dragon role-playing campaigns. Since this is such an interactive setting, people have questions; I get a ***load of email.

When people email with questions that are addressed on my FAQ page, I'll sometimes give a short answer and a link to the more detailed answer. That seems to cover the bases; it's a personal response, and it provides a convenient way for the reader to access the information. And it avoids the pitfall JAK pointed out: the rudeness inherent in the "Read my web page, moron!" approach. I also invite them to email back if they have further questions. Most don't, but those who do generally have a fairly manageable follow-up question. And it seems to me that the stated willingness to follow up indicates that I'm not just brushing them off. Time is saved, customer service is kept at a reasonably good level.

Mark said...

When I was freelancing and building up my clientele, I finally wrote a canned query letter, but I tweaked and personalized it for each client. Because there are always going to be commonalities in those letters. And it saved a lot of time.

So use the canned responses--you can always tack on a personal sentence at the end.

Anonymous said...

"I did a little MySpace experiment three days ago, sending a bulletin to my 1700 friends and asking them to reply. Three hundred people have replied so far."

Two problems with that - I also have over 1000 Myspace friends, and the front page only shows the latest 4 or 5 bulletins. Once you're off that page I don't see it.

Second problem ... I get three or four of those 'Reply to this if you're really my friend' bulletins PER DAY. It's actually become a chain letter of sorts.

A couple of times, long ago, I replied, only to have the original poster write back and say 'Oh, I didn't mean you. I know you're a friend.' So, now I don't reply to any of them, assuming I'm excluded.

I guess 1400 other people are also fed up with the 'repost if you're a real friend' bulletins, eh?

JA Konrath said...

I guess 1400 other people are also fed up with the 'repost if you're a real friend' bulletins, eh?

I don't even read the bulletins I get, so I assumed no one else did either.

But the cool thing about bots is you can send messages and comments just as easily---and those are read more often than bulletins.

Not that I advocate, endorse, or recommend using bots.

I also do not advocate, endorse, or recommend drinking, drugs, casual sex, and a lot of other fun cool stuff.

Anonymous said...

The MySpace Bulletins are like any advertising. They're there for whoever will to see. Not everybody sees everything, no matter what kind of ad it is.

Tasha Alexander said...

Joe, an empty inbox is a goal I share with you. It's a never-ending cycle; the more you answer, the more you get. But I do love those fleeting moments when there are no messages, short-lived though they are.

Still, better than getting nothing in the first place...

Jude Hardin said...

As someone who has benefitted from your generosity from time to time, Joe, I truly appreciate it.

I hope I'm in a position to reciprocate some time in the near future.

You rock, bud!

Stacey Cochran said...

I don't mean to sound mildly resentful, but all this talk about having too many emails makes me feel pathetic.

There are whole weeks go by, when I get nothing but spam and email from my mom.

Which reminds me, have you seen my Writers Group presentation in South Boston, Virginia?

I love you guys. Too many emails...

I feel for you.

Stacey

Anonymous said...

Hats off to you just for making the effort. So many authors shy away from communication with their fan base, and even more avoid all public discourse. Not you, though, and I'm sure your accessibility continues to expand your fan base.

And, I guess we'd all still like you if you turned into a bot. As long as Ms. Daniels doesn't turn into a bot. That would get you e-mail you REALLY don't want.

Aimless Writer said...

Its time to branch out into mulitple email boxes. I have three. One for personal use; friends, relatives and anyone I don't want to miss. Email two is for groups and peeps I want to check on my own time. Email three is for junk. Anytime I think someone is going to send crap or I give them email three. Also for things that want you to give your email to post or request info.
Keeps the junk flowing in one direction and the important stuff in the main box.
Of course JA, you got email one.

Anonymous said...

There's a bit of craft to writing a Myspace bulletin. You need a teaser in the title, and if they click that you need a short hook to encourage whatever the required reaction is (visit a website, read a blog.)

Usually I'll lay it all out in the bulletin, because I figure one hook is enough. Getting them to follow up with a second click is ten times harder.

Beth Ciotta said...

I was one of the people who responded to your MySpace question, Joe. When I saw you wrote me back, my first thought was: How nice. My second: I can't believe he's responding to this when he probably has 2000 other emails in his in-box. *g* Just want to say the fact that you did respond was most excellent customer service. I felt the effect. Most positive. Good luck with your 2007 goal.

Devon Ellington said...

Yeah, it's a challenge. At the Circadian Poems address, I get 1200 spams per day, in spite of a high filer, and it makes it difficult to find the real submissions.

And, with the various other projects -- yeah 800-1000 emails per day spread out over them is about right.

I'm trying to designate hours that I go online just to respond to email.

Let me know if you find a system that works. I'm still experimenting.

And I'm sure I don't get anywhere near the volume you do.

Separate addresses for separate projects helps somewhat, with the near and dear getting a specific address that's my primary.

Devon Ellington said...

PS -- regarding your response to Ty -- the other day a wanna-be writer DEMANDED that I walk her in to all my editors and MAKE SURE they hired her at six figure contracts, because, as a working writer, I OWED it to writers starting out.

Of course, this is someone who's never published and thinks the "writing part" is boring. And can't construct a simple sentence, refuses to learn how, and thinks she "shouldn't have to" do any of her own research.

Yeah. Right.

Jess Riley said...

Wow. I'm kind of afraid of myspace, even though I need to set up an account sooner or later. I see people with 77,475 friends and wonder if they really respond to each "friend."

You're the king of writerly advice, Joe. The least we advice-requesters can do in return is buy your books & recommend others do the same!

Allison Brennan said...

I answer all my email usually within 48 hours. I usually do it at night as I'm unwinding. Most email goes really quickly. If I need to put more thought into an answer, I put it aside for a day or two. The only time it gets a little out of control is when I'm on a very short deadline, but then I take the time to catch up.

I mean seriously, it's not like I'm spending eight hours a day writing and then shutting down the computer and going home. I put in about four good hours of writing time a day (okay, that's a lie--I put in 4-6 hours when I'm a month or less from a deadline. The rest of the time I spend far too much of it doing nothing of importance.)

Responding to email is polite. It doesn't matter if they are fans or friends or fellow writers or unpublished authors, people deserve a response. I even respond to people who don't like my books and sought me out to tell me. And, frankly, it doesn't take that much time. It's something you need a process for and a set day a week, or a set time every day, to take care of. And it's more important than blogging.

Anonymous said...

Like Beth, I was also one of those people who replied to your Myspace test. Also like her, I thought it was very cool that you wrote back.

Personally, it always makes me feel good when I get a reply from a writer (or someone else famous/succesful)who I've sent an email to.

Just that little gesture on their part pretty much assures that I'm going to continue supporting their works.

(Unless, of course, their works begin to stink.)

Melanie Lynne Hauser said...

OK, nobody ever emails me. EVER. My inbox is as empty as it can be. What the heck am I doing wrong? At this point, I'd pay someone to be my obsessed stalker fan.

(And I hardly ever read my MySpace bulletins, either, but I do send them out occasionally. I get lots of responses when I'm offering free stuff, but that's the only time.)

Robert Burton Robinson said...

Okay, I don't get any email either--unless one of the subscribers to my free online serial novel decide to cancel. Sometimes they send me a comment when they do this.

I got one yesterday that upset me for a while. Now keep in mind that my books have no graphic sex and no graphic violence. An episode of "Law and Order SVU" would give you more.

But this person said they were cancelling because they were disappointed in the amount of sex, and particularly "OFF sex", as they called it. They wondered why I had to do this--why couldn't I just get on with the story.

What they don't seem to understand is that I can't fully tell who that particular character is and what they're thinking without the "over-the-line sex". And, as I said, we are not talking about graphic sex at all.

I am just now writing my second novel, so I'm new to this type of criticism. But after thinking about this for a while I realized that if my writing doesn't offend anybody on the planet--at least one person, then my writing is probably way too bland.

Anybody else have a similar experience?

Lisa Hunter said...

Hi, Joe. The "opposite of talking is waiting" quote originally comes from Fran Leibowitz. If you haven't read her hilarious books Social Studies and Metrolitan Life, buy them right this minute. You'll love them -- I promise.

(Hmm. Is this that legendary "word of mouth" that's supposed to sell books?)

Anonymous said...

keep up the good work.
Roberto

Anonymous said...

Mr. Ellington,
I would never demand anything of a published author, but hey ... if you want to walk me into your editor and get me that six-figure deal, I'd be more than happy if you can swing it.

And I promise to enjoy the "writing part" and do my own research. :-)

Devon Ellington said...

Melanie -- regarding your empty email box, check your settings. Every time I try to email you, I get "Warning: Delay 24 hours", then "Warning: Delay 2 Days", then a refusal.

There may be many people who are trying to reach you and can't get through!

Parker said...

Have you tried http://five.sentenc.es ?