7.25.2006

Email return receipts

The earlier "pair a noya" post did NOT elicit the comments I expected, ie "WTF??". In other words email return receipts are clearly something y'all know about and have seen.

Well, count me clueless. I've never seen one or heard of it before now.

I'd like to know how it works, if it works on all email programs or which ones it doesn't work on.
Here's your chance to aim the clue gun right at Miss Snark's pointy little probiscus.

59 comments:

John said...

They're a fairly unreliable method of knowing that someone else has read your email. They're supported by some (not all) email clients, and don't always work between different clients even if they do support them!

All they are, in essence, is tiny email messages. What happens is that, when you request a read receipt, your email program adds an extra header to your email. If the message is read in a compliant client program, it will send an automatic email back to the sender saying (in essence) "message X has been opened". When you receive this read receipt, your client recognises that it's a receipt (rather than a normal email) and processes it itself - you never see the email popping up in your Inbox.

HTH!

pax et bonum

Anonymous said...

as with any 'programmed' application (i.e. "ms word", "outlook", etc.) code is used to create such applications. The end user (us nitwits) only sees the final/end result of such complied code. Therefore, many apps are interchangeable or look similar or are compatible with one another.

Such code has evolved into elaborate minipulation of the appropriate strings of text to tell what operators we'd (promgrammers) like it to do or 'what function' to perform.

Tagging or return receipts are just a new or current way of ensuring that we've sent the email to the correct person and yes, they have acknowledged it. But beware...
just because code is used to write this, it can also be written with hidden code that (of course us nitwits will never see) can do simotaneous functions or layered strings to gather info for the person who initially sent it.

Yahoo has this function built into their email accounts. You can set it on or off depending on your personal preferences.

The email return receipts is a modern-day form of the USPS Certified Receipt.

hope this helped!

Lincoln Crisler said...

I know they work in Outlook... basically it's like the return receipt you can pay for when you mail someone a letter or a box.

They read your email, and a dialogue box pops up saying something like "snark@snark.org has requested a read reciept. Do you wish to send one?" and you have the option of sending it or not. If they opt to send it, the confirmation goes to your inbox.

There should be something in the Outlook Help Files about this, and if I wasn't on my way out the door for a meeting, I'd find it for you. Shouldn't be hard though.

Anonymous said...

If you want to request read receipts for the emails you send, so you can figure out when people are opening them, go into Outlook Express, click on 'Tools' and tick 'Request a read receipt for all sent messages.' If you tick the box: 'Notify me for each read receipt request' you'll see who's requesting them, and you can either send a read receipt or not. You can always tick 'never send a read receipt' if you don't want people to know when you're opening their emails. Lots of people unwittingly have the third box ticked to 'Always return a read receipt' and as this happens automatically, the email recipient wouldn't even know they'd returned one.

Uisce said...

I couldn't give you a list of e-mail programs that support it, but all of the ones I'm familiar with give you the *option* of not automatically returning the receipt. It's a violation of your privacy, in my opinion, and I suspect that's why you get to choose whether it's sent. Personally, I sometimes request one for something important, but I never return them myself. Call my hypocritical. No, really -- go right ahead! :)

Anonymous said...

I should have made clear that once in Outlook Express Tools, you need to click on 'Options' and then 'Receipts,' in order to bring up the read receipts menu.

Precie said...

I know Mozilla Thunderbird and Microsoft Outlook include "return receipt" options, and so have other email systems I've used.

In Mozilla Thunderbird, go to Options > Advanced. Click on Return Receipts. Check the box for "When sending messages, always request a return receipt."

Some other mail systems allow you to specify return receipt on individual outgoing messages rather than all.

And some email systems allow the recipient to decide whether or not they want to send a return receipt in response.

HTH.

Author's Journey said...

RR works in MS Outlook and Mozilla Thunderbird. The Mac email program might as well. I don't think any others do.

Basically, the way it works is that you make a request for a receipt with the email you're sending out. When the person on the other end gets it (provided their program supports it) a little dialogue pops up and you can send the receipt. The sender then is notified that you 'read' the email.

At my company, where we use outlook exclusively, it's used a lot for important memos, meeting requests, etc.

Another Dejected Writer said...

I'm aware of it in Outlook and Outlook Express. Basically, it's an email that the other person's email client sends back when they open your email. If the sender requested a receipt, the receiver will get a pop-up asking them if they'd like to send confirmation. The receipt looks like any other email, and to the best of my memory, it says something like, “uranitwit@wtf.com has received your email.”

To my knowledge, it only works on those two email consoles. I've never seen a web-based email that used it. And, I might add, I find it extremely annoying.

Anonymous said...

M Snark:

In most cases, the sender's email has this feature that reads "do you want to send a receipt request?" If yes, then the email comes with a flag set for your email server to ask you, when you read the mail "Do you want to acknowledge receipt of this mail" to which you can answer yes or no. If you answer yes, then the sender gets a form email that says "miss.snark@gmail.com received your email at blahblahbo-clock Siberian standard daylight time."

The only time this feature is not co-operative and voluntary is when organizations set it up to be so, for users of identical email clients and servers. Think Citi, for example.

This feature tends to come up less with Entourage users because unlike so many corporate Outlook users, Mac people tend to trust each other not to need these childish little Orwellian tics.

One thing I can say for sure:
Entourage does not support receipt tracking from an Outlook client. So if you get email from someone who sent it using Outlook, they won't see anything you do.

For other cross-program compatibility, you will have to consult an oracle of the gmail to discover exactly how google is handling this. I'm sure someone here knows.

-kd

Dwight The Troubled Teen said...

And then there is a little (free) third-party companion program for Outlook called MSGTAG.

MSGTAG doesn't ask the recipient to respond to a read receipt. It triggers one automatically and returns a report on:

* The time you sent the message.
* The time they opened the message.
* Elapsed time between sending and opening.

I'm relieved to say that I have never been insecure enough to need this kind of software.

-c- said...

I'd like some opinions:

1) Why would anyone find "return receipts" annoying?
2) Why do you think some agents feel justified in stating that they don't respond to e-queries that they are not interested in, when responding to an email is so much easier than responding to snail mail?

My feeling is, so much email is accidently deleted as spam, or simply does not arrive, that return receipts should prevent the follow up email (did you get it?), and replies to e-queries should be the norm (and perhaps replies to paper queries should not--it's easy enough to get a delivery confirmation from the PO). But maybe I'm not seeing the whole picture here.

Kim said...

I switched off my return receipt feature because it seemed like it only worked some of the time and that seemed kind of pointless to me. I originally wanted it to ensure that emails arrived at their destination since my email is flaky and not the most reliable source in the world, but it was more trouble than it was worth. Half the time I still didn't know.

Now I just wait and follow up when necessary. Much fewer headaches that way!

Kiskadee said...

A few years ago AOL had a built in feature that told you when a mail you'd sent had been opened. I don't know if AOL still does this. The recipient possible didn't know I could tell, and didn't have to sign anything. Personally, I liked knowing if someone had received my mails or not. But I didn't like AOL.

Anonymous said...

My "read receipts" have saved my bacon on many occasions not to mention made some of my antagonizers look foolish. They just serve as evidence that the person did at least open the e-mail (or deleted it without reading it, or have the preview payne on which is illegal for the employees of the "company" I work for).

Fairy Queen said...

As for AOL - this only works for other AOL users: I do not believe there is a “read return” feature. However, go into your sent items, highlight the message in question and click on the STATUS button. It will tell you when the message was read etc. Crude yet functional.

roach said...

I find the return receipt function annoying because it slows me down and most of the time it doesn't work. There you are scrolling through your e-mail trying to find the one legitimate e-mail in a sea of spam. You open the e-mail, find that it's a forwarded joke from your cousin Millie and hit the delete key. But does the e-mail go quietly into your deleted items folder? No. A little box pops up telling you that Cousin Millie has requested a notice when her e-mail has been deleted, would you like to send it now? So instead of swiftly going through the e-mail in fifteen minutes and realizing that you've received nothing of importance it now takes fifteen minutes plus however many extra seconds to hit the "God no! Do not send a receipt." It's the same concept for return receipts. Before you can read the e-mail a little Tim The Return Receipter pop up window launches demanding you deal with it.

Anonymous said...

I used to use e-mail receipts, years ago, after an agent who was interested in my work never received an important e-mail. I wanted them mainly for writing contacts---I was looking for an agent---and I stopped using them because I never knew whose e-mail system supported them and whose didn't, which made it useless! Also, my friends and regular correspondents found it annoying.

Now when so much important stuff is done by e-mail, it would make sense to have a reliable universal system, but there doesn't seem to be one yet.

Lynne

Malia said...

-c-

1. I hate the little pop-up RR screens. It's damn irritating when you're trying to wade your way through 101 email messages.

2. I agree with you here. I think a simple "nay" is better than no "nay" at all.

word verification: fgsbd -- the magic word that makes all RR's go away.

Peg Silloway said...

Call me old fashioned, but I do believe that when and whether I read any email is no one's concern but mine! Any time I get one of those "Mr. Snoopy wants to know when you read this" messages I choose the "None of his damned business!" response. I wouldn't let someone in my house to watch me read mail; why should I allow electronic over-the-shoulder snooping?

If I need confirmation I either ask for a simple reply, or I can bestir myself to lift the phone.

Marcy said...

RE: Yahoo...this is from the mail FAQ.

If I send a message to someone, how can I tell if they've received and read it?

Yahoo! Mail does not currently offer a return receipt feature.

Anonymous said...

Dear -c-,

I fear this might trigger the old "any reply generates more unwanted exchanges" argument.

I think we writers have to chalk this up to the law of large numbers and let it go. Too many submitters (but not you) will just keep responding and responding until the agent is forced to say FOAD. (in computer circles, somtimes known as [While "horse" = dead;
Do "Beat";])

Too, it's unnerving for non-techies to learn that these things exist. It inspires thoughts of vast, powerful surveillance. There is a well known apocryphal anecdote in Microsoft support circles about a customer who didn't understand the automatic update feature of Windows. While on the phone, a support tech sent the customer an automatic update. When the customer freaked that this could be done, the tech then said "And I really like that blue blouse you're wearing," which, by sheer luck, was correct. This urban myth concludes that the customer then ripped the wires out of her computer and never used anything but a typewriter ever again.

Like most UMs, this one exaggerates a very sensible fear: Email is the preferred vector of attack for many black-hat computer crackers, and there is way too much technical detail for end-users to keep up with it all. Paranoia is the sensible response. Just because we're paranoid doesn't mean someone's not out to get us. And, in fact, many are.

-kd

Ray Goldensundrop said...

Having done email back in the days of green screen dumb terminals, also the Xerox international Ethernet (similar to today's email), I can explain why return receipts are irritating.

1) It doesn't mean I actually read the email.

2) Going through email is a pain and the receipt thing slows me down, thus extending my suffering period.

3) Someone's covering butt and I probably don't care, unless this person signs the paycheck.

3.1) Are you really that important?

3.2) It's an ego thing, isn't it.

3.3) What, did you just discover this neat little feature?

3.3.1) Clue: It's a feature. Neatness is not part of it. Someone put it in the software requirements doc, and that someone is clueless.

3.4) Oh great, now the sender's going to try the global button. I can't wait for the global apologies to start showing up (actually happened at Xerox circa 1990).

Fundamentally, the issue is whether the reciever cares about the email. Lost email is like bent cable pins: Sometimes it happens, but most of the time it's an excuse. That was the original reason for receipts, and it came from the corporate world where excuses abound. Frankly, I've never had this problem of lost email, and if I were to lay received email end-to-end, they'd extend into the thirtieth century.

Moon Goddess said...

Wow...

Miss Snark, just thought you should know: you're not alone. I had no idea what a read receipt was. Then I read this. And proceeded to feel technologically inept. Guess I've now been educated.

Sal said...

Frankly, I've never had this problem of lost email, and if I were to lay received email end-to-end, they'd extend into the thirtieth century.

I get more e-mail than is good for me. I setup my e-mail so that sal@ sally@ self@ &c. go to my Comcast mail account and everything else goes to gmail. Well, things weren't showing up at the Comcast account. The Guy and I share an office when we're home and he'd say, "I'm sending you an interesting URL." URL never arrived. This happened a couple times in an afternoon, so I changed my mail settings to send the sal@ sally@ self@ mail not only to my Comcast account but also to a different gmail account than the one that all the general mail falls into.

Surprise. Surprise. Comcast was dropping mail on the floor. Wasn't getting to me. Wasn't caught in their spam filter. Nothing.

I've set things up with Thunderbird now so it picks up the Comcast mail and tucks it into one folder and picks up the gmail for sal@ sally@ self@ and tucks it into another folder. My rough estimate over the last few weeks since I made the change is that Comcast is dropping 10% of my incoming mail. And there's been one mail that came to Comcast and never made it to gmail.

Go figure.

I still hate return receipts -- don't return them and don't ask for them.

delilah said...

First, I believe all agents should have an auto-reply that acknowledges receipt of a writer's email (assuming the subject line corresponds to what the agent has requested - usually the word "query".)

Second, there is no excuse - none at all - for not replying to a query, be it email or snailmail. This is RUDE, UNPROFESSIONAL, ARROGANT and just plain UNEXCEPTABLE. PERIOD.

If an agent doesn't know how to program a one-click delete - they need to learn how to do it. I suggest they ask one of the professional agents who uses such a reply routinely. And, while they're at it, that same lazy-ass agent should be directed to Miss Snark's blog for a nice little beat-down.

Miss Snark said...

If Comcast is dropping 10% of your email, don't you want a new ISP?

KY didn't eat the Times more than once a month (excluding the Sunday paper) but I still fired him from his paper fetching duties.

-c- said...

Never having gotten a return receipt pop up, this has been enlightening. Thank you.

I wonder how much this whole process is like online dating for the poor agent. I remember when I first joined match.com I was overwhelmed with email, much of it form-letters or dashed off crap, and some of my no-thank-you's started nasty arguments. So I began deleting all but the polite, thoughtful notes. It would be interesting to go through an agent's e-slush for an hour.

Robin L. said...

I have my outlook set up to always ask for a return receipt. You can also configure your outlook to always give return receipts, then you never see the request. If it isn't set up that way it gives you a funky little message like "do you want to send a return receipt" and you have to click yes or no, which is annoying, so mine is automatic.

But, because of that and the preview pane (you can set the preview pane up to automatically mark a letter as read, or mark as read after it's been on preview pane for a few seconds, or not at all) it isn't a reliable way to know if someone as seen your email or not. I do it at work because people will notoriously fake as though they haven't seen my email - this way I've at least got a fighting chance of saying "Hey, you got it last week, get back to me already".

I have no idea how it works if you aren't using outlook or operating over an exchange server.

Stacy said...

Here is what bugs me about people who won't aauthorize return receipts; these are the same f***ers who pretend that they didn't get my email and f*** up my day.

I have a coworker (lovely lass, count her as a friend) who has REPEATEDLY ignored email that is of vital and urgent importance. If I don't see a read receipt, I know I need to get off my large but shapely assets, hunt her down and say, 'hey, R., Did you see my email re the important and urgent matter?' Then I follow her to her desk and make sure she reads it.

When I send email to authors and I get no read receipt, I know that I need to hunt them down, usually playing telephone tag to say 'hey, K., did you get my email regarding that critical change/decision/meeting?' Then I keep them on the line until they give me an answer.

Read receipts are very, very good things.

Barbjn said...

There is an interesting post about this very subject on this blog:
http://zackcompany.blogspot.com/

Me said...

Return receipt is excellent when you have a boss who “accidentally” deletes your email and swears up and down that she (a) has never heard of what you’re talking about and (b) never got that email.

Simply change your account setting to send you both a notification email that your email has been sent and a return receipt from her. Place both in a folder marked “Crazy Woman.” Trust me – it solves the communication problem and keeps egg off your face.

Other than that, return receipt is pretty useless.

Anonymous said...

Dear MS,

Any willingness to comment on the boundaries between corporate behavior and agent/writer behavior, with regard to a reasonable expectation for using this feature?

Would something along the lines of "your corporate authority to micro-manage your email ends at my non-aligned email server" really do anything to change the nature of the world's slush piles?

Is this thread emerging as yet another reason why so many agents refuse to accept e-queries?

-sincerely curious for MS' follow-up, so post me only if you care to fan the flame

Stacy said...

And what is the big secret about the fact that you read the email? What is being discussed here is the ability to deny that an email was received, even if it was read. This crunches my nuts so bad.

Just tell the truth.Did you get the email? Yes. Have you done anything about it? No. I'm not trying to control anybody just because I want to know you got my email. It is information that is important for my job, and it is an option that is available to me, quicker than registered mail, more convenient than telephone tag and does not require the recipient to type me a new email to say -'hey, I read it and I'll get back to you.'

One of my authors refuses to get email or Internet access, and if I need something from him, or to get something to him, or ask him a question, I have to drop everything, send him a letter, hunt him down on the phone, send people to his house. What works for me is sending him an email when I get a moment, getting a read receipt later or the next day so I know contact was made. Then when he has a chance to think things through, he responds either by phone or email if he prefers.

I'm not going to stop requesting email receipts because people want to hide from me. Cowards.

litagent said...

Delilah,

So I should have an auto-reply that says, "Thank you for your query. It is now sitting in my inbox with 300 others, and I'll respond when I have a chance to get to it?" The problem with auto-reply (apart from the fact that said answer would probably be disheartening at best and infuriating at worst) is that it only takes one wacky email to set off a loop of emails that grows exponentially and can take out an entire system. I've seen it happen.

Stephen said...

First, I believe all agents should have an auto-reply that acknowledges receipt of a writer's email (assuming the subject line corresponds to what the agent has requested - usually the word "query".)

I like to think that somebody setting up in business can decide how they will conduct themselves. They're the ones putting their time and money into it.

Second, there is no excuse - none at all - for not replying to a query, be it email or snailmail. This is RUDE, UNPROFESSIONAL, ARROGANT and just plain UNEXCEPTABLE. PERIOD.

I can think of little more arrogant than somebody DEMANDING that somebody else jump to their tune, just because they say jump. Valid excuses for not replying to a query might include that the query doesn't follow the agent's guidelines, that they haven't included an SA(S)E, that they agent hasn't time to reply because they are dealing with money-making clients, or because the agent doesn't feel like replying. There are probably other reasons.

If an agent doesn't know how to program a one-click delete - they need to learn how to do it. I suggest they ask one of the professional agents who uses such a reply routinely. And, while they're at it, that same lazy-ass agent should be directed to Miss Snark's blog for a nice little beat-down.

If an agent chooses to deal only in handwritten letters delivered by be-tammed poodles, then that is the agents prerogative. If you don't wish to deal on such terms, that's your prerogative. Don't forget who decides what is or is not "professional", by making it their profession.

Anonymous said...

I don't know - maybe older programs require the recipient to say ya or nay, but our Outlook does it automatically. My boss had no idea that I knew exactly when he read my emails. Needless-to-say, after he unchecked it is his options, I checked it back. I find it very useful. However, and thankfully, it doesn't do it outside my office (and the building manager). I'm constantly deleting "so and so" has read... If I wasn't constantly in email it would drive my insane to open my email and half my space taken up by "so and so has read ..."

If it was universal, unobtrusive, AND assignable I wouldn't mind it but it ain't and it won't be. Oh well.

Southern Writer said...

I never send a receipt. I consider it a violation of my privacy. No one needs to know when I open my mail, or if I even read it.

Another thing that annoys me is the smiley face that pops up on Yahoo IM, if I don't log in as invisible. It drives me crazy to be trying to have a real time conversation with one person and have ten others break in.

That was my initial dislike with AOL too, and their "buddy list." Sometimes I'm busy, damn it, and just don't want to talk to you! You don't need to know when I'm online. The other thing I hate about them is that you can't escape their crap. Every single thing that arrives in my mailbox through AOL comes as an attachment. If it's been forwarded fifty times, I have to sit there and open fifty attachments. Nuh uh! I don't care if it has pictures of George Clooney bare-ass naked behind it - if I have to open it more than twice, it's going straight to the trash.

Jessica said...

Don't feel bad, Miss Snark. I didn't know anything about them either.

delilah said...

Well, slap me hard, Stephen!

I don't know any other "profession" where acceptable conduct is determined by an individual's whims.

Miss Snark has advised readers, repeatedly, to conduct themselves as professionals. Most agents, including Miss Snark, respond with the same degree of courtesy and professionalism that they expect from writers.

Writers have a product to sell. Agents help them sell it. Publishers, and finally readers, buy that product.

Why should anyone conduct themselves as if they were selling used cars?

Southern Writer said...

Second, there is no excuse - none at all - for not replying to a query, be it email or snailmail. This is RUDE, UNPROFESSIONAL, ARROGANT and just plain UNEXCEPTABLE. PERIOD.

Delilah, it's UNACCEPTABLE. Spelling words correctly may get you a few more replies.

And Stacy, thank dog I don't work with you! I'll bet your co-workers roll their eyes everytime you turn your back. If it's a question of whether or not you delivered the vital information, there should be a copy of it in your "sent" box you can point to and say, "I told them." If you followed me to my desk to make sure I read your e-mail, I'm afraid I'd have to turn around and smack you a good one.

Robin L. said...

BTW - if you don't want to see your read receipts in your e-mail inbox, you can set up a rule in outlook and have them automatically forwarded to a folder you set up, like a receipts folder. Then you can just go check it if you need to know if so and so got your mail. That's how I do it and it works like a charm!

That said - I don't know that it would have occured to me to ask for a read receipt from an agent, since I use a different program. I probably wouldn't on the off chance I'd make them mad or come off looking like a nitwit. I just use it for CYA at work.

Quite possibly, the person that sent Miss Snark the email sent it from work and didn't remember that they had the read receipt thing turned on. I do that to family members all the time because I forget about it...

BUT, I could see wanting a read receipt just to still that inner voice saying "what if the agent didn't even get my email. What if there was a server glitch? what if it went to junk mail?" It might actually stop them from requerying.

alau said...

I don't know any other "profession" where acceptable conduct is determined by an individual's whims.

You clearly have never worked with judges before.

I'm of two minds regarding return receipts:

-in professional situations where you might need to CYA (cover your ass), such as dealing with bone-headed bosses in your company. When working in corporate law, I found return receipts to be absolutely necessary.

-all other situations, return receipts are just plain annoying. Yes, submitting a query to an agent or editor is a professional act, but its not an something that might, if you DON'T do, result in the loss of your job. Rather its another one of those questionable things (like sticking purple sparklies in your query to make it stand out) that might have the effect that you want, but is most likely going to just annoy someone.

Janny said...

"Second, there is no excuse - none at all - for not replying to a query, be it email or snailmail. This is RUDE, UNPROFESSIONAL, ARROGANT and just plain UNEXCEPTABLE. PERIOD."

Ummm, except for the fact that it should be spelled "unacceptable," I actually agree with this.

Yes, I KNOW that agents get tons of e-mails and other pieces of mail in a week. I'm not even in the agenting business, but in the area of publishing that I do work in, I get dozens of e-mails a day myself. Between that and belonging to a couple of authors'/writers' lists online, my total e-mail reading can easily top out at over 100+ per day. Do I answer all of them? No, because some of them are just posts from other authors on specific lists, industry news, etc., that require no answer. But you can betcher sweet bippy that if someone writes me an e-mail about a specific subject, and it's addressed to me specifically, and it asks for my input or feedback, I answer.

Yes, answering e-mail isn't the only thing I have to do all day. Far from it! And yes, it's only a small part of my job. And yes, I even end up answering some clueless people in the bargain. But the fact remains that answering these direct requests is common courtesy, and therefore, it's a part of my job I shouldn't be neglecting.

The same goes for queries, IMHO. We sweat and stew about getting these things right. We put our best feet forward, either in electronic or snail mail...and then what we send vanishes into the ether (US Mail counts as ether too!), and we don't even know if it ever sees any other eyes than ours. There's got to be a better way.

The "auto-responder" feature, it's true, can engender some interesting e-mail experiences if things go awry. And yes, the great majority of queries may scream "clueless" all over them. But the fact is, a query is still business correspondence, and it deserves an answer, however brief. Even one line saying, "Sorry, not for me," which can be generated the moment the Clueless Alarm goes off, would be better than nothing.

The other side of the coin is equally valid: if other things go awry, legitimate e-mails can vanish into the ether, without either author or agent knowing they're gone. Yet many, many agents out there imply--or come right out and say!--that if you've sent them one e-mail and they don't respond to it, you should assume they just have no interest in your work (an assumption that, for many reasons, has at best a shaky foundation). Dog help you if you send a second e-mail or even think about calling (!) just to get an idea if you should pitch your work elsewhere! Does this sound like good business practice to you? It doesn't to me.

The person who talked about setting up auto-responders expressed it very well. Other sales professionals have auto-responders on their sites; agents who deal in e-queries, especially those who take ONLY e-queries, should have (and exercise) the same options.

And no, Ms. Agent, it would not bother me in the slightest to get an auto-responder message that said, "Your query is buried underneath 300 others, and I'll read it when I get to it." That at least tells me you got it, and that at least tells me you're going to look at it. Without any kind of response from you, however, I can know neither of those things...and so I'm placed in the rock-and-hard-place situation of limbo-land.

No author should have to float around, wondering...or worry about incurring an agent's wrath if he or she dares to ask "Did you get it?" This leaves the same unpleasant taste in one's mouth as having your doctor make you wait an hour past your appointment time to get in, and then bawling you out if you ask what caused the delay. If you're overbooked, stop inviting queries. If you're understaffed, close your boxes to submissions temporarily. I'd rather have that than keep wondering whether...if...or maybe.

These kinds of practices may be "business as usual" in many offices, but that doesn't make them right. If I as an author have to conduct myself as a businessperson and respond in timely fashion to an agent or editor's request, an agent or editor should respond in timely fashion to mine. Anything else equates to them being the "adults" in this business and us being the "children," and that's REALLY no way to do business.

My two dollars' worth,
Janny

Anonymous said...

anon said:
They just serve as evidence that the person did at least open the e-mail (or deleted it without reading it, or have the preview payne on which is illegal for the employees of the "company" I work for).

Is using the e-mail inbox preview pane seriously frowned upon where you work? Why is that? What purpose can that possibly serve? I'd think that if the employer didn't want that option available to employees, for whatever reason, then it'd be specifically disallowed and disabled altogether as an option in the company's e-mail system software. Can you fill us in? What's the deal?

WitLiz said...

Email return receipts don't work if you have a mother, or friends! Trust me, I have neither anymore.

As far as making sure your email query got to the agent in question, I firmly believe the little message that pops up and says mail has been sent, until I hear back from the Demon from Hell, written in Demon code,(see below)that it touched down there first and imploded.

SLDKFJ#*$&%)(##*&Q^%&^$^#&Q*#&SXXX*#&*HEXLKKLL..##%FLK*$#FIR#FK#FIRE

Sal said...

If Comcast is dropping 10% of your email, don't you want a new ISP?

Comcast has the broadband franchise for my 'ville. I have no alternative provider if I want broadband access.

I didn't realize until a couple weeks ago that Comcast was dropping a certain percentage of my e-mails. Now that I know, I've worked around the problem.

I'd rather have cable with a belt-and-suspenders e-mail kluge than a slower connection, with no guarantee that said slower connection wasn't prone to dropping e-mails too.

Anonymous said...

Since C asked why return receipts are annoying:

I think they should be reserved for time-sensitive and critical emails. I usually receive them attached to emails like, "I'm about to order office supplies. Does anyone need more paper clips?"

I read them as a nag. "Don't ignore me, I'm important! I know you got my email, so hurry up and answer it!" Attached to an email about paper clips, it feels to me like, "I know you got this email, so hurry up and order paper clips or forever hold your peace!" Since I've never thrown a hissy fit about missing a paper clip order deadline (nay, nor ever used a paper clip at work), I feel this is unwarranted.

DownWithReadReceipt said...

While I think it's all been said, I thought I'd toss in my personal sentiments on the read receipt function.

I hate read receipts. I can understand their value from a theoretical standpoint: receive confirmation that your email has been received and opened. Sure. Sounds good.

In practice, however, I have encountered this being used as a tool of micro-management (which I abhor). As others have mentioned, opening an email does not necessarily equate to a thorough read.

Worst of all is the all-too-common scenario wherein I have opened an email from someone who tagged it with read-receipt, and when I have failed respond right away, I find that person chasing me down, calling me up, or sending me another email of, “Why is my email not the single most important thing in the world right now Right Now RIGHT NOW!!?!??! ”

Down with the read receipt!

Anonymous said...

I am not a busy or important person, and I find email return receipts extremely annoying, so dog knows what publishers/ agents think of them. They automatically make me detest the person who sent me the email. Asking for one comes across as really egotistical. It's like they can't just send the email and let you deal with it in your own good time, they have to follow it into your inbox and sit there shouting "Hello??? Have you read it yet??? I am an extremely important and busy person and I demand your full attention right now!!!!" I invariably choose not to send the receipt.

Anonymous said...

"Why should anyone conduct themselves as if they were selling used cars?"
What if they actually are selling used cars?

Marie said...

In Outlook, you can set 2 things. First, whether you want to ask for a confirmation of receipt, and second, i fyou want to be notified when a confirmation is asked when you open an email.

If Miss Snark was surprised that this option exists, sounds like that 2nd setting is set to just send the confirmation without asking (if she has the option).

delilah said...

Sorry about the missedspelling (yeah I know how to spell it - just wanted to see if the spelling police were still awake) - I was unusally bleary-eyed today and I don't necessarily proofread comments I post to blogs. I guess a double slap-me is in order.

And just so you can sleep tonight, southern writer, I wanted to assure you that my query letter has been meticulously proofed. (I'm actually getting a lot of requests for partials and fulls from it.) But thanks so much for caring.

Anonymous said...

Hey Delilah - don't let the inventive spelling mistakes get you down. My brain does the same kind of hiccup where it combines parts of two different words - mostly when I'm overtired. Experienced bloggers don't care. I agree with the spirit of what you were trying to say one-hundred percent.

Southern Writer said...

Janny said:

And no, Ms. Agent, it would not bother me in the slightest to get an auto-responder message that said, "Your query is buried underneath 300 others, and I'll read it when I get to it." That at least tells me you got it, and that at least tells me you're going to look at it. Without any kind of response from you, however, I can know neither of those things...and so I'm placed in the rock-and-hard-place situation of limbo-land.

LOL It wouldn't end there for me. Until I got a real reply in my hot little hands, I'd be wondering: Did it accidently get deleted after she received it? Did it get printed out and accidently tossed in the trash? Did the building burn down and my query with it?

Point taken, Delilah. Congrats. Hope you get the perfect acceptance, too.

Anonymous said...

I'm surprised by the wide range of opinion on the topic of requesting read receipts for e-mails! Before reading this thread, I based my understanding and opinions about read receipts on my limited experience.

I'm a lawyer in a small community. Read receipts are the norm in our professional practice here.

It's not considered an invasion of privacy because the receiver has the control of acknowledging. (Do you consider signing for certified mail an invasion of privacy? of course not! This objection to me seems ill-conceived.)

We know that when we get an acknowledgement, it basically means "yeah, yeah, yeah--I got it. Now leave me alone. I'll get back to you when I can/want to." It postpones follow-up, not invites it.

We also know when we don't get a read receipt, it does not mean that the e-mail went awry. It does not mean anything (because it could mean "anything" from not received to received but not read, to received, read but not acknowledged).

When I get an e-mail with a read receipt request, I usually answer "yes" but occasionally check "no." I hit the no when the e-mail is vituperative or worse! This allows me to continue to negotiate with the a-hole who sent the nasty note, without having to deal with the rudeness directly. It also allows the other side to save face. I also occasionally check no when I don't want to have to respond immediately and an acknowledgement would dictate some sort of professional response.

Basically, I think read receipts are a convenience intended to facilitate communication for BOTH sides.

So I think there's little basis for commenters to assume the person who requests a read receipt is intrusive or rude or worse. And I think there's little basis to assume that the person who receives a request to acknowledge receipt must click either yes or be deemed rude,unprofessional or dishonest.

A read-receipt takes only a few seconds, but I guess, as someone up the line commented, when you get thousands of e-mails, those seconds add up to a lot of time and that could be annoying. Nice to know this!

So-what have I learned? I won't send my queries with read receipts requested. If I ever succeed in getting an agent, I'll be sure to find out his or her opinion on read receipts. And if I get an e-mail from an agent with a read receipt, I'll happily check "yes" acknowledging I got it.

Thanks Miss Snark (and liver yumyums to KY) for this thread!

Stacy said...

If I send someone an email asking them to do something in good time so I can do what I need to do, and they don't read it, or act on it, this means I can't do my job. If I need to follow you to your desk to make sure you do your job so I can do my job, then so be it. And if you slap me, be damn sure you're ready for the consequences.

Anonymous said...

What an email receipt does not tell me - the sender - is who actually opened and read my missive. Maybe an assistant, maybe my intended reader. Maybe someone gone crazy with a delete key. Not too useful, in the end.

Anonymous said...

I just looked at my gmail account and couldn't see how to set it. I went to help and couldn't find anything on read receipts. I'll have to dig further, but at this point I assume gmail doesn't support it. If you're using gmail for your business account, then you probably can't do it.

I use outlook express for other accounts, and as was mentioned, it supports read receipt request. I generally don't ask for a read receipt, so will only turn it on for those email where I'm not sure if my emails aren't getting through. But you can set it so all emails request a read receipt.