Dispatches from the Edge, or, How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love Email

I have this ritual that has, for the past few months, proven to be about as inescapable and as unvarying as a CBS sitcom.

Every morning, I stumble down the stairs, my face pinched into a mole-like expression which manages to express a petulant reluctance to wipe the sleep from my brain as well as a faint outrage that the sun would dare shine its retina-searing light on eyes still sensitive from a restful slumber. Through vaguely eye-like slits, I peer furtively about every few seconds to make sure I don’t walk into a wall or step on a land mine or something. I grunt (in what might pass for a hello in caveman culture) to whoever might be nearby. (It should be said that oftentimes there is no one there to grunt to, but the grunt, or rather the beast that utters it, doesn’t appear to notice that, so the practice persists.) My legs and feet somehow, of their own accord, stumble toward the little office which houses my own shrine to publishing the written—and typed—word.

My computer.

Sleeping Man

I’d like to say that I sleep demurely like a lady, or even cherubically, if it came to that. Unfortunately, this impromptu snooze-fest with Joe Sleepy-head passed out in an inopportune place is the more likely scenario.

It boots up in less time than I do, and almost immediately, I’m logging into my email to see what I’ve missed since quittin’ time the day before.

Some mornings I’m lucky; a few emails, perhaps containing links to media coverage on PQL titles, await. I happily read the articles, feeling faintly proud due to proximity or osmosis or what have you, before scheduling a few messages on Twitter and Facebook to make sure that my pride is adequately broadcast across the inter-webs.

Then again, some mornings, my inbox reports 50 new messages in my various inboxes–and counting.

Mind you, a few of those are spam. And some are digest emails that I always mean to read because, hey, important information about book marketing/EPUB 3/editing and proofreading/interesting fill-in-the-blank.

More often than not they end up in the trash can faster than I can read the headlines.

But once the wheat has been separated from the chaff, so to speak, the real work begins. Then it’s responding to submission queries and publicity questions and information requests and event plans and general updates of all kinds. Sometimes big-mama emails give birth to five more squalling, urgent child-sized emails. Sometimes they’re more weighty and require a good twenty minutes to research, consider and write a reply.


Emails have that pesky little habit of multiplying like, well, these guys. That glimmer in the bunny’s eye is his desire to make more work for you.

And then there’s the politeness.

More often than not, I find myself please-and-thank-you-ing with the best of them. Maybe some day I’ll count the number of times I say thank you over the course of a day’s worth of emails. I’ll probably realize that I thank people three times in the space of two paragraphs. I’m already completely convinced that I routinely thank people for thanking me. A distinctly Canadian sensibility, no doubt.

Some days, after a marathon session of “will you please…” and “thanks for letting me know…” etc., I catch a glimpse of the clock out of the corner of my eye and it’s 11:00 a.m. and I realize that I’ve done almost nothing but answer emails.

Some people might say that I spend an unhealthy amount of time looking at a computer screen.

Some people would probably be right.

The best emails I get are from our intrepid publisher, who is bold enough to do away with the hi-how-are-yous and the repetitive sign-offs. This is a man who gets right to the point. I am now completely appreciative of the single, solitary question mark, which can convey anything from one of the five Ws, to “what do you think” or (most often on my part) “can you please look into this because I have absolutely no earthly idea what it means”–all in eight pithy bits of character data.


This is the business of book publishing, folks. Only, you know, with fewer books and more computers.

But the office environment has certainly shifted to become a virtual (in both senses of the word) chat room of corporate communication, a busy little beehive of constant activity accompanied by hypnotic buzz of the computer fan. As a virtual intern, it is to be expected that most of my time is devoted to the virtual world–but sometimes even I wonder at the amount of email it is possible to receive in one day. And I’m just the intern. I shudder to think about the sheer amount of mail that the editors and publishers of the book industry have to wade through every day. I suppose that’s why they invented assistants.

The funny thing is that, despite my griping about feeling as if I’ve accomplished little in those harried email frenzies, the business of publishing is happening in these emails. Books are sold, events planned, successes celebrated, losses bemoaned. I sometimes think I’ve learned more by reading forwarded emails than I ever did in publishing school. I am humbled by some of the people I get to interact with, and heartened by the willingness of the vast majority to help further the business of PQL.

What else to say but maybe…thank you?


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The Porcupine's Quill would like to acknowledge the support of the Ontario Arts Council and the Canada Council for the Arts for our publishing program. The financial support of the Government of Canada through the Canada Book Fund (CBF) is also gratefully acknowledged.