Thursday, January 20, 2011

Which E-mail God Do You Serve?

Sitting there among your new e-mail messages, you see a name you don’t recognize. And though the wording is always different it is always the same, “I need your advice.” What do you do?

I ask that as a rhetorical question. Of course, you respond to it. It’s the right thing to do. You don’t turn your back on someone asking for help. And yet, that is exactly what we see happen so often. I’ve lost count of how many blog posts I’ve read in which a literary agent is arguing that he/she shouldn’t be expected to respond to every e-mail and query they receive. While their logic sounds correct, are they right?

I’m reminded of the parable Jesus used to address the question of “who is my neighbor?” We know that we are to love our neighbor as ourselves, but who is our neighbor? We usually call this the parable of the good Samaritan. A man fell among thieves and was in great need, lying half dead on the side of the road. First, a priest came, but seeing the man, he passed by on the other side. Likewise a Levite looked on him and passed by on the other side. But a Samaritan came, bound his wounds, treated him with oil and wine and carried him to an inn to care for him. The next day, he left, but he left money with the host to care for the man and promised to provide more if needed.

Too many people worship money, the god of business rather than doing the right thing. What we notice about the good Samaritan is that he owed this man nothing and would get nothing in return, but he not only took time out of his journey but he willingly gave financially and committed himself to checking up on the man later. The doesn’t fit with this idea that the only people who have to respond to are clients who have gained that right because they are paying us.

I, like most authors, wish I could say that I receive a lot of e-mail from readers after they read my book. I don’t. I receive more e-mail from people who have never read any of my books and many of them never will. I don’t keep close track of my time, but I’ve sometimes spent many minutes or even hours trying answering one person’s e-mail, even though that person never bought a book or compensated me for that time. Just business? I think not.

Now, if I received more e-mail, I wouldn’t have as much time to address each question, so I might have to find ways to deal with it that didn’t require as much of my time, but the right thing to do is still to respond to each one. I won’t say that I respond to every e-mail I receive. I’m not perfect. But our policy should be to respond to every legitimate request we receive. Whether we are writers, literary agents, or publishers, we should never adopt the thinking that we don’t have an obligation to respond to people who aren’t paying us. Those who worship the money god do that, but we are to serve the living God who hears and responds to our every need.