How Often Should I Send Emails?

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Charles Atlas, still from Painting by Numbers, 2011.
Charles Atlas, still from Painting by Numbers, 2011.

*Burning Questions is taking a break in August. It plans to spend time at the beach and visiting family. But keep those questions coming! 

I’m finally hitting a place in my painting career where I’ve got news and updates on a pretty regular, steady basis. SO! I am setting up an email campaign for my art, and I have a couple of questions. I feel regular emailing can be a great way to promote myself and for the people who enjoy my art to keep up with me, but I don’t want to overdo it. Just like most people, I hate when people or businesses over-email me. I guess the main question I’m asking is: how often is too often?
Meg in ATL

Dear Meg, 
First off, congratulations on having news! News means you are moving and shaking and that’s great to hear. Good for you, ladybug!
Now, I’m not going to lie to you. I loathe email. Or rather, I loathe email that is not absolutely necessary and personalized. It’s become a very bizarre evil. Instead of being more informed, I actually find I’m often less informed because I delete so many mass emails I probably shouldn’t. But I can’t bear to open them all! I can’t! And if I do open one, I usually end up doing what I call the “skim-and-forget” which is when I look at an email so quickly that I retain nothing more than a vague notion of something or other. 
I can’t imagine that I’m in any gross minority on this matter either. I’ve never once heard anyone reflect on their day and say, “I wish I’d gotten more mass emails today.” Doesn’t happen. Most of us are receiving not only daily and weekly emails from every online seller we’ve purchased from in the last 5 years (despite myriad attempts to unsubscribe), but we’re also getting caught up in a mind-numbing web of work-related Cc:s and Bcc:s. We’re being looped into conversations that have virtually nothing to do with us, yet we’re expected to keep track of and digest what happened during all that back and forth.
All that is simply to say this: stay humble when you’re planning your email marketing agenda. I know you want to inform people about every little step up you make, but try to stay grounded and respectful of people’s time and attention.

Andy Deck, ASCI Jam," 2001.
Andy Deck, ASCI Jam, 2001.

I know I’m doing a lot of negative vibing right now, but don’t let it murder your excitement for your next promotional venture. It’s important to me that I impress upon you how your email missives might feel to those who are receiving them. And it’s important that during this process of setting up your stuff, you keep these things in mind.
Okay, now that we’ve established that most of people have an ever-decreasing capacity for new email subscriptions, let’s talk potential game plan!
First, think of email like regular mail. When something is not personalized and lands in your mailbox, it’s junk mail; when you hold it in your hand, it feels that way. You grumble as you put it in a nebulous deal-with-it-later pile or toss it directly into the trash. But when a letter comes that’s handwritten or shows an ounce of friendly, personal authorship, you get excited. “Someone sent something to me!” So, try to go for that. Find ways to make your emails as personal and non-mass-email feeling as you can.
Second, be realistic. Don’t send out emails every month. I don’t care how much you’re blowing up. It’s not all about you, sweetness. Most people hardly get updates every month from people they love — their children or relatives or friends who live in town. So a few emails a year is PLENTY. Just because you were mentioned in a magazine, or did a guest post on a blog, or were part of an obscure group show in Australia doesn’t mean that your list of 380 people needs to know about it. Instead, post all that lovely stuff to social media. It’s easier to digest there, and it’s more likely that your friends and followers will respond to it.
So what should you email your people about? Events! New things they can participate in! Say you have a solo show coming up, that’s grounds to email everyone. “Hey guys, this a pretty exciting moment for me, and I’d like to invite you to this thing.” It’s also a good time to add that link to the magazine article about you and to mention the fancy award you won, and whatever else.
Emails are best when used as invitations. So try to wait until you can actually offer something to the people you’re emailing. Naturally there are exceptions, but ultimately, you should ask yourself one question before you blast off: “What’s in it for them?” If the answer is something like “knowledge about my career,” you should probably hold off.
As for those select few who truly do want to know your every artistic achievement, email them directly or pick up the phone and call them. If they care that much about you, you should be grateful and give ’em an ol’ ring.
As a painter, you want to try to get people to experience your art in person, enjoy it in person, and hopefully buy it in person. Use your email campaign as a way to facilitate that process, and you will be good to go!
Sara Estes is a writer and curator based in Nashville. She currently works at David Lusk Gallery and is the former gallery coordinator for the Carl Van Vechten and Aaron Douglas Galleries at Fisk University. She is also the apprentice to paintings conservator Cynthia Stow of Cumberland Art Conservation. Estes is the cofounder and curator of the Nashville-based contemporary exhibition space Threesquared. Her writing has been featured in numerous publications, including BURNAWAY, Number, Nashville Scene, Nashville Arts Magazine, ArtsNash, and ArtNow.

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