The Book Publicity Blog

News, Tips, Trends and Miscellany for Book Publicists

Don’t cry wolf on email — make sure recipients pay attention to you

I’ve checked email on the treadmill, while rollerblading, in the bathroom and at other moments that would generally be considered inappropriate.  I check it on my computer and on my phone.  I check it at work and in bed, while watching TV and reading magazines, and on the subway.  I’m really comfortable with email and I use it a lot, both personally as well as professionally as a book publicist.

But sometimes even I think it can be too much.

With the amount of email messages we all receive today, it’s vital to send a message only when you have something important, informative, useful or at least amusing to say.  When I say “important,” I’m using it the loosest sense: “important” could mean everything from, “Oprah wants to interview your author,” to “I liked the book jacket,” to “I saw this article in which you might be interested,” and anything and everything in between.  Unsolicited information is useful too, which is why I don’t mind getting (book-related) press releases or news about stores and events — in my line of work in book publicity, that’s important information.

But don’t be the person who automatically contributes to an email conversation without new or vital information.  Or the person who sends a thank you message to an entire distribution list.  When people repeatedly send worthless email messages (usually with an old and / or unrelated subject lines — you know what I’m talking about), I eventually stop checking their messages — at least until the end of the day when I take some time to clean out my inbox, at which point I delete their messages.

 So here are some suggestions for how to not “cry wolf” on email:

— Do not send “You’re welcome” messages.  (Thank you messages, however, are useful — not to mention appreciated — particularly when important information has been sent so that the sender knows that you have, in fact, received the information.)

— Do not simply repeat what someone else has said.  For example, if one person on a distribution list says it’s raining, responding by saying “Yes, it’s raining hard,” is utterly useless.   (On the other hand, saying, “Yes, it’s raining now, but it should clear up by lunchtime,” is useful.)

— For the love of all that is holy, DO NOT USE REPLY ALL UNLESS IT IS NECESSARY.  (And yes, it was necessary to use all caps — if you don’t believe me, check the mess that is most peoples’ email inboxes.)

It’s high time we all learned how to use the Internets really good.  Unless you’re one of those people who has to hold for the operator because you still have a rotary dial phone.

What are your top “extraneous email” peeves?


June 9, 2009 - Posted by | Email | ,


  1. I found David Shipley and Will Schwalbe’s SEND useful for considering how to best use email, particularly the use of helpful subject lines.

    Comment by foxyhedgehog | June 9, 2009 | Reply

  2. I use the hash mark or “pound sign” # at the end of my email subject lines to indicate the subject line *is* the entire message and there’s no need to open the email. So if the subject line from me reads: Meet you at 7PM# the hash sign means that’s the whole message, no need to pop it open. Works for the Thank You# responses you want to send as well. No need to burn through others’ time to open the email window just to politely acknowledge you’ve received something.

    Comment by Chris | June 9, 2009 | Reply

  3. I get annoyed with email signatures laid out in stacks of vertical text 10 lines high. Better to be laid out horizontal.

    Also, “Sent from my iphone” or (sent from my blackberry) lines are unnecessary. Even more unnecessary are jokey puns in signatures (sent from my raspberry, sent from my iphoneme). What is that even supposed to mean? Would you tell the same unfunny joke out loud 50+ times per day?

    Comment by John Mark | June 9, 2009 | Reply

    • Sometimes people deliberately leave in the “Sent from my iPhone / Blackberry” autosignature to excuse particularly curt messages or typos. Often, though, I think people just haven’t learned how to turn off / change that default signature.

      Comment by Yen | June 9, 2009 | Reply

  4. Oh, I have so many! Congratulations emails sent to a distribution list – Please send congrats directly; thread hijacking — that is, changing the subject matter of an email such that the subject line now has nothing to do with the new subject; replying to an email when on digest without trimming the digest; when replying, not trimming the original email to at least the relevant portion; bottom posting — I am aware that old skool internet types believe replies should be posted at the bottom of the reply, but times have changed, people! Bottom posting means smart phone users can’t see if they need to look at the actual reply and if they think they do, they must scroll all the way down…. no bottom posting; Sig lines that are longer than a couple of lines.

    Oh my gosh. I’m a curmudgeon. The sad thing is, I could keep going. But I won’t.

    Comment by Carolyn Jewel | June 9, 2009 | Reply

    • Good ones! (And feel free to keep going. :))

      Comment by Yen | June 9, 2009 | Reply

  5. How about abuse of the high-priority flag (in Outlook)? I correspond frequently with a particularly bad offender. I understand that what’s urgent to one person may not be urgent to anyone else, but I have a lot of compassion for other people’s angst, so I try to withhold judgement until I’ve actually read the message. But sometimes (cynically, I might say “oftentimes”), I wonder if the sender got the high-priority and the low-priority flags mixed up. 😉

    Comment by Tilney | June 9, 2009 | Reply

    • Ah – yes. Some people are definitely too quick to use that function (with the end result being that I end up ignoring their messages whether or not they’re marked urgent).

      Comment by Yen | June 9, 2009 | Reply

  6. This is one of those curmudgeonly things, but I kind of hate it when people don’t sign off. All I want is the name. I don’t need an elaborate closure. I just feel that the email with no name at the bottom is for friends, casual colleagues – not professional messages to people outside your own organization whom you wouldn’t meet for a drink after work.

    That, and when all the important information is only in an attachment. I shouldn’t need to open a Word doc to find out where and when someone’s event is.

    (Also, re: Chris’s no-text thing, I’d always thought using “NT:” before you subject line indicates that there is no further text in the message. Never heard of the hashtag notion before…)

    Comment by Molly | June 9, 2009 | Reply

  7. Yen: As the recipient of numerous messages addressed to “Ms. Champion” and “Dear Producer” and other wretched impersonal anonymities in our boilerplate world, I feel your pain here. But cut folks some slack. A “You’re welcome” can be easily filed away into a folder. Not all email requires response (as several people continue to tell me), nor does it all have to be responded to at once. Other learn by how YOU respond and they can be encouraged to respond back accordingly. But Rome is not built in a day. Just today, I answered a question for someone that was so ridiculously elementary I wanted to scream. But there was no reason to get angry. I steered my correspondent along to self-discovery without vitriol. Such are the possibilities of email. Don’t be so hard on others.

    Comment by Edward Champion | June 9, 2009 | Reply

    • Fair enough — but I’m afraid I don’t have your patience with repeat offenders!

      Comment by Yen | June 9, 2009 | Reply

  8. My peeves include:

    1. Treating e-mail like IM or a pager. I can can get upwards of 100 e-mails a day. 40 e-mails on a slow day. We all have to prioritize, and most of us can’t answer all our e-mail immediately.

    2. Following up on an e-mail with another e-mail. I say this because 9 times out of 10, if I haven’t responded to an e-mail that required a response, it’s because I have been buried under e-mail. Or it was filtered to my SPAM folder. Another e-mail is not helpful. A quick phone call is though.

    3. Saying in 5 sentences what could be said in 2.

    4. NOT using the urgent option (!) when something actually is urgent.

    I’m sure I could think of more, but I don’t want to seem overly cranky. =)

    Comment by Kama Timbrell | June 9, 2009 | Reply

  9. For commercial email–I do hate when every story in an e-newsletter requires clicking through to a website. Especially if there is an interstitial ad.

    Request Read Receipt. I think this should be used sparingly, as it falls under the Crying Wolf category.

    Every email sent for business should have contact information in the signature. And usually full contact information. “Please send me a copy” is hard to do without shipping information.

    Comment by Jean | June 10, 2009 | Reply

  10. Improper use of the cc option. If a person is cc’d, it means it’s informational for them and no response is expected. Doesn’t mean that the cc can’t response, of course.

    Liked the NT and # suggestions for subject line only messages – hadn’t heard of that one before but if you have messages set to preview in Outlook a quick glance tells you there’s no text.

    Guess I shoudl learn how to turn off that auto-reply message from my Blackberry! Ha Ha

    Comment by Mandy | June 10, 2009 | Reply

  11. I just wanted to say that I am with you on all points. I also am guilty of the email/treadmill and email while driving endangerment. I read all the book publicity press releases, and all the author pitch emails, as well as my daily PW & PL newsletters.

    I think my biggest pet peeve is auto responders. Not the standard out of office ones, but several people I meet with often have a standard auto responder that replies to EVERY email. So when I shoot Jen a “let’s meet, I’m in town email”, I get her “thanks for your email, I will get back to you with in 24 to 48 hours” crap. Really? We are all busy right, but her auto responder just littered my inbox for no reason, AND I was actually waiting on a reply from her directly. I think auto responders should only be used with you are actually going to be away from email for an unusually period of time. Otherwise it seems very impersonal and inconsiderate.

    Comment by Renee Giroux | June 11, 2009 | Reply

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