Few things make me as frustrated as an email of mine that goes ignored. For one reason or another, I take this overly personal. It’s especially demoralizing when blog posts I’ve read have encouraged readers to reach out and say hello, and when I’d take them up on that offer, they wouldn’t respond.

It turned me bitter. “How dare you encourage me to email you and then go on to ignore it!”

I have in time gotten over any bitter feelings I may have had over an email, but I vowed that if I were ever in their position, in a position of mild fame or popularity, that I would reply to and recognize every one of the poor souls who took the time to reach out to me. “Oh I’ll show them! I’ll reply to every email, every tweet, every letter! I’ll never forget where I came from!”

Ha.

A couple weeks ago on Christmas day, a post of mine made it to the front page of Hacker News, and I began to receive an influx of emails and tweets. Awesome, I thought, my chance to prove that it’s possible to respond to everyone and be happy!

But after receiving about five emails, I just wanted it to stop.

It became overwhelming. My mind was constantly “buzzing” with excitement. I couldn’t focus, and for that and the next two days, I couldn’t get any work done. I was grateful for all the attention, but those few days were the least productive days I’ve had in recent memory.

As it turns out, responding to emails is not only difficult, but also distracting. I ended up responding to every email and tweet that I received, and by the time it was all over, I exhaled a heavy deep breath. If I couldn’t handle ten or so emails and a handful of tweets, I can’t imagine how actual “famous” people are able to manage hundreds of emails a day. That’s insanity.

Of the emails I received, my favorite were ones that were short and had inserted a hook that allowed for an easy response:

“Great article, how did you make the apps so fast?”

That’s easy:

“Thanks! Practice practice practice!”

Then there were the difficult ones:

“Great article. I too find it difficult to balance between personal work and a full time job.

{writes three more paragraphs about personal life experience}

Looking forward to your response!”

Ah crap. What do I say here? Crafting a response for vague emails can be difficult, since you’ll have to get creative with a polite response. These types of emails demanded a lot of time and resources, and I on my mission to respond to everyone did not leave them hanging, but I can imagine why someone with a busier schedule might just ignore it.

And then there was the occasional

“I’m working on this idea, would you like to join me?”

from someone half way around the world. These were the most difficult to respond to. I was already involved in my own enterprise and could not be distracted by someone else’s. Giving a plain “no” would be impertinent of me, so it took time to craft an amiable response.

After being on both the receiving and sending ends, I now see the importance of sending clear and concise emails. If we are to email people who, unlike myself, are extremely busy and “important”, there are a few things we should attempt to keep in mind:

  1. Keep them short.
  2. Make them easy to respond to.
  3. Insert a hook in the email so that the recipient can easily find a way to respond.
  4. Don’t make ridiculous requests.
  5. If you’re writing to give a compliment, do just that and nothing else so that you can make it easy for the recipient to be polite and just say “thanks!”
  6. The longer the email, the less likely it is to receive a response.
  7. Don’t ask questions that are too generic and have likely been asked many times before. If you want to engage in a conversation with the recipient, challenge them with a unique question that can be fun and easy to respond to.
  8. If you intend to show them your product, keep in mind there are likely a hundred other people emailing that person with the same intent. Eventually the reader learns to ignore those kinds of emails due to all the noise. Good luck with this route. You will be ignored. Get used to it.

And if you still don’t get a response, don’t take it personally. You might be the 150th person to send them an email that day, and it would literally be impossible for them to respond to everyone. Persevere.