Tuesday, June 22, 2010

How not to be an email goober

I’ve been known to do stupid things with email.

Shocking, isn’t it?

My offenses have ranged from typos to a smart-ass rant about the boss sent to a coworker (and subsequently viewed by the boss, who happened to be standing behind my coworker when she opened it).

My most recent faux pas occurred last week, and fortunately, wasn’t too embarrassing. Well, not unless you consider it embarrassing to extend a dinner invitation to a gentleman you’ve never met living 2,500 miles away with a salutation that begins, “Hey, bitches – you owe me wine.”

That one was more amusing than mortifying, but when you’re querying agents or crafting other professional correspondence, it’s important to avoid looking like a dork.

Here are a couple tips I can share:

Don’t fill in the “to” field until you’re certain it’s perfect.
I do this with important messages to avoid the embarrassment of accidentally hitting “send” before spellchecking, proofreading, or removing the note-to-self that reads add something smart here.

Ditch the emoticons and exclamations.
Lord knows I love a good smiley from time to time, but when your email message looks like a minefield of exploding happy faces, you’ve gone too far. Ditto that for exclamation points or goofy abbreviations like LOL or BTW or WTSAGP (duh, that’s Want to Split a Grape Popsicle?)

Watch the formatting.
Back when I was querying agents, it seemed like a good time-saver to copy/paste a query I’d sent to one agent and use that as a starting block to personalize a query for another. Um, no. I couldn’t see it on my end, but that’s a good way to introduce all sorts of weird formatting. I discovered this when I looked in my “sent” folder and realized it looked as though I’d tried to demonstrate my creativity by inserting random paragraph returns in the middle of words.

Sleep on it. I know what it’s like to reach a point that you just want to SEND THE @#$% MESSAGE ALREADY. But when you’ve been staring at the words all day, you’re less apt to notice that you’ve misspelled an agent’s name or extolled the virtues of your extensive background in “pubic relations.” Come back later when you have fresh eyes.

Obviously this isn’t a comprehensive list, but these are a few ways I’ve found to minimize the number of times I look like a goober in a given week.

How about you? Got any embarrassing email mistakes you can share, or tips to help the rest of us avoid those mistakes? Please post in the comments!

I need all the help I can get.


Elizabeth Ryann said...

I just yesterday sent an order for one vendor, personalized appropriately, to their competitor. Oops.

Oh, email.

Sierra Godfrey said...

These are great tips cause I regularly send email that is written by someone else entirely -- presumably me, but when my brain had taken a coffee break from being in my skull.

One I would add is when you're in a furious rampage mood, or PMSing, or the person you're emailing is the most unbelievable cretin who wronged you completely and totally, don't send the email. Wait at least a day. (Not two hours. I've tried that and mere hours don't cool you down enough.)

And also, be careful about sarcasm and snark. You never know if the recipient will forward on your email without carefully deleting your snark first.

KD Easley said...

I once found a book that was awesome, fun to read and reminded me of my own work that I was in the process of shopping around to agents. I found the name of the agent, crafted a beautiful query and sent it. Then I looked back at my list of queried agents and realized I had already queried her. She emailed me back moments later with a question. "I received this email from you, but it has XYZ's name on it. Did you really intend to send it to me. Yikes, to screw ups in the same query. I emailed her back and told her yes I had intended to send it to her, but on checking found that I had already queried her with the same project. She was very sweet about it, but I'm pretty sure she put me on her idiots to be immediately rejected list after that. My advice is the same as Tawna's, check, check, double check, then wait a day and do all the checks again before sending.

prettyswirl said...


I once sent an email to a cousin who had the same first name as the friend I was trying to contact. I just hit "enter" as the auto-fill names popped up, except it was the WRONG ONE and oops.

Luckily it was just, like, "hey where's the party tonight?" and nothing scandalous.

Because I never send scandalous emails.

(hi I am the artist formerly known as gracetopia)

Lucy Woodhull said...

"Don’t fill in the “to” field until you’re certain it’s perfect. " - YES I do this.

You have to watch auto-fill! My husband's name in my contacts starts with M - just like "Mom." I once sent him a rather... ahem, "fun" picture from my phone and did it super fast... and then spent a minute in horrified dread that I'd sent it to the wrong M. I didn't - but take care in sending your ahem, "fun" pictures. Words to live by.

Kelly Breakey said...

I really love the "Sleep on it" advice.

I know there are other areas in my life where I can make that work. Thanks for the tips.

Danica Avet said...

I'm with Lucy...auto-fill is not always your friend. I didn't do this, but the VP of my company had interviewed someone for a job I was being considered for. He decided to hire the man and sent a job description and salary scale to the human resource director...who happens to share the first 2 initials I do. Needless to say, I got to see how much the person who was hired over me was making (which was waaaay more than me).

What I ended up doing was e-mailing the VP back and telling him he'd mistakenly sent it to me. Yeah, I'm sure he felt um...well, horrible really and if he didn't shame on him!

So auto-fill, while one of the coolest thingamabobs in e-mail, isn't always your friend. In fact, it's like an assassin waiting to take you out when you least expect it.

Cynthia Reese said...

I once sent an e-mail about my editor (intended for a fellow writer who shared said editor) to the editor instead.

Thank GOODNESS the e-mail extolled my editor's goodness. *blushing still*

Unknown said...

Do you mean to tell me that prospective agents DON'T want to split a grape popsicle with me? boo...I don't know if I can go on after learning that. :)

KatOwens: Insect Collector said...

Autofill can be a nightmare. I once sent an email discussing bridesmaid dress options, not to my bridesmaids, but to all the professors in the department where I was getting my Masters. I immediately sent an "ignore previous email" email, and hoped for the best.

Linda G. said...

Exceedingly wise advice, especially the part about not filling in the the "To" until ready to send.


*Want to split a bottle of wine sometime?

Anonymous said...

*snort* "Pubic relations."

Yeah *that's* the part that stood out for me.


Elizabeth, oops! I had a boss once that sent a detailed RFP (complete with confidential pricing info) to a competitor instead of the company that requested it. Big oops there.

Sierra, great point on not sending things when you're upset and being cautious about snark. It's tough to read tone in email messages, and too easy to write something that can be misunderstood.

KD, gah! Don't you hate that? If it's any comfort, I really think agents don't remember that kind of thing. If you'd called her a raging whore, she might make a note of it. Otherwise, you're probably in the clear.

Prettyswirl, yup, the autofill is exactly what got me on the misdirected dinner invite last week. Two people in my address book with the same first name (but who couldn't be more different if they'd come from other planets). Oh well.

Lucy, oh my, that WOULD be a funny mistake. Well, maybe a few years later, after you stopped blushing.

Kelly, indeed, there area lot of areas in my life where I'd be wise to sleep on it. Or maybe I mean sleep with it, I get confused sometimes.

Danica oh man, that's the autofill story from hell! Sounds like you handled it well though!

Cynthia, you are lucky indeed that it didn't say anything awful (er, not that I'm implying there's anything awful to say).

Karla, ALL agents want to share a grape popsicle with you. Well, some prefer cherry, but why split hairs?

KO, did you get any good bridesmaid dress advice from the professors?! :)

Linda G, what type of wine would go best with the grape popsicles?

Mireyah, I've worked in marketing & corporate communications for 10+ years, so I've seen the "pubic relations" typo more times than you can imagine!

Thanks for reading, guys!

Dawn Ius said...

I'm notorious for sending mass work emails and forgetting to change the salutation because I've copied and pasted from the previous message. Whoops. Your idea of not addressing it until it's perfect is great. I suspect that would save heartache. I also try not to knee-jerk respond to emails. Instead, I give myself an hour to actually think through what I want to say.

All that said, I totally know I'll have a screw up.

Jen Stayrook said...

I haven't done anything particularly embarrassing with emails (though I think after all of my social faux pas I've grown accustomed to being embarrassed).

However, I DID have a mishap when I was on gchat (a quicker, more dangerous form of email). I messaged a friend, complaining about a coworker. Of COURSE the friend's message box was the coworker I was complaining about. Full of panic and dread, I rushed from my office and hid in the bathroom for what felt like 3 days (I thought about sending out smoke signals to my husband). Like a coward, I finally skulked back into the office, avoiding all eye contact and trying to pretend like I never messaged said coworker. If I ignore it, it never happened (like the dirty laundry). I am nothing if not a master at making work spaces incredibly awkward.

Elisabeth Black said...

Awesome tips - I also try to remember that email can't be taken back or destroyed once it's sent. So watch what you say.

You're so funny. Have I mentioned that? BTW, I've got this grape popsicle here...

mi said...

great advice!

thanks for the pointers!

Jessica L. Brooks (coffeelvnmom) said...

I just recently had the problem of typing something out and thinking it was perfectly fine, sending it out (queries - gasp!), THEN realizing I had a simple typo the next day.

Definitely going to get it all prepared and sit on it for a while next time. (Which is hard, because as you said, by the time you're done you just want to send it out already.)

Dianne K. Salerni said...

Oh, yes! That autofill can get you, especially when sending something from the phone, where you can't see the whole address! I have accidentally sent emails and/or pictures to people's work address instead of home address -- nothing too awful, luckily.

I like that idea of not filling in the "to" field until later. Good advice!

Elizabeth Flora Ross said...

The first and last tips are golden! So true!

My worst offenses were when I would hit "reply all" when I only meant to email the original sender. I hated doing that.

Jen J. Danna said...

Great list, Tawna, and one with especially good timing for me this week. I've been preparing to send out my first batch of query letters tomorrow and have been busily filtering my Word query, synopsis, samples pages and sample chapters through Notepad or e-mail to pull out all the heavy Word formatting. Your best piece of advice in my opinion? Don't fill out the 'to' field until you're sure it's ready to go because that way you can't screw up... unless you do it on purpose. ACK!

So far I've sent out two letters, both right from Word. One is fine. But why is one half in black and half in purple? It was NEVER in purple. Gads. Learned my lesson relatively early, but apparently no quite early enough.

Steph Schmidt said...

Always double check the email account the email is being sent from & not just to!

Nothing more horrifying then to use a personal email account (which is not appropriate and borders on an inside joke) to email someone important. Professor thankfully ignored the email and never brought it up.

Kathryn Rose said...

Today, Nathan Bransford talked about writers who misspell his name in their queries and your post reminds me of that. I'm always paranoid with email. Especially with the agents whose email addresses aren't their names, but perhaps their initials (or the initials of the agency, which could be five or six constanants in a row). I swear I must be dyslexic when it comes to email.

As for the paragraph breaks in the sent emails when you copy/paste, I think that Word and Pages has fixed that recently, so that with any updated versions of the programs, the pasted info will automatically format itself so that it looks proper. I read that somewhere on this World Wyyyde Webbb thang...

Anne R. Allen said...

Great tips. From now on I'll always fill in the "to" window last.

There's always the old hit "reply all" instead of "reply". Hilarity often ensues.

And spellcheck doesn't apply to the header, just in case anybody hasn't noticed. I once sent off a query mispelling the name of my own book.

Claire Dawn said...

A writer friend pointed out the 'T' is right above the 'G' on a keyboard. Here's to those "higlhy reTarded agents!" :)

Unknown said...

Formatting mistakes, mostly and most are exactly what you said about cut and paste, Tawna. I sent an e-mail to an agent and when I looked at what I'd sent, the e-mail was written in four different fonts. It looked like a ransom note.

I still haven't heard from her...

WendyCinNYC said...

I sent an email to my daughter's coach that read JUST FUCKING DO IT ALREADY.

It was meant for my husband. As a joke. Ha ha?

Purple Cow said...

I once sent a sexy male slide show to 25 European Commissioners and over 700 MEPs. Basically I had to write a report and sent it from my home mail to my office for someone to send from my office mail so it could look more official. First I sent the actual message and immediately after, for my colleague's amusement I sent another message titled FOR YOUR ENJOYMENT. She sent the "ENJOYMENT" message rather than the message titled EU REPORT ON INTEGRATION. It was not amusing.

Another time I accidently sent the EP questions for another article I was doing - and the questions were for one of Greece's leading sexologists. So there you have it, in Brussels and Strassbourg they must think I am a sexpot.

Only MEP Rachida Dati understands:



Dawn, yeah, that copy/pasting stuff probably ends up causing me more trouble than it's worth!

Jen, ouch, that sucks! I totally know the feeling. That story I referenced where the boss was reading my email over my co-worker's shoulder? I saw it happening, knew there was nothing I could do, so I got up and went out to the conference room and seriously thought about throwing myself off the back deck :)

Elizabeth, excellent point! And now that you've said it, I'm pondering all the emails that might be floating around out there that I really, really hope have been deleted.

mi, no problem!

coffeelvnmom, I always hate that feeling of seeing the typo in the "sent" folder and knowing there's not a damn thing I can do about it.

Dianne, I hadn't even thought of the phone thing, thanks for the heads-up! I recently got an iPhone and haven't quite mastered it yet, so it's good to consider all the ways I can get myself into trouble with it.

Elizabeth, ugh, I've been burned by the "reply all" myself. Hate that!

Jen J. Danna, super huge good luck to you in the querying process!!!

SM Schmidt, great point on which email address to send from!

Kathryn, great to know about the Word fix! My problem (before I figured out it wasn't a good idea) was that I'd go into my "sent" folder, copy the text from a query I'd just sent, and use that to start a new one. All sorts of buggy stuff would show up on the other end, but I didn't realize it until I'd done it a few times. Oh well.

Anne, no joke, spellcheck doesn't apply to the header on my blog, either! (I've found that out the hard way once or twice!)

Claire Dawn, OK now THAT was officially the funniest thing I've read all day!

Jeannie, maybe there's something to be said for a ransom note query? Try it a few more times and report back!

WendyCinNYC, OK, now you're rivaling Claire Dawn for my laugh-of-the-day. That's pretty hilarious! Did the coach reply?

Purple Cow, OMG, that's hysterical! Who knows, maybe they found the information very useful!

Thanks for reading, guys!

Durango Writer said...

Last week, I finally got brave enough to query Janet Reid. I had her 10-point list handy (how to send an electronic query). I went over and over that list. Thought I had covered every base... and then forgot the stinkin' salutation. Live and learn!

Laura Renegar said...

The "to" advice is not to be ignored. I was touching up a cover letter & 10 pages to send to an agent on my old desktop. The monitor blinks often. When I finally hit send, I received an email back saying it was the third time in 30 minutes she had received it. Not the sort of "multiple submission" one wants to send out. *blushes*

Emilia Plater said...

This is hilarious! I'm definitely a culprit of Smiley Mindfield. It's just soo much easier to express my emotions with a little symbol than to actually try to use *words*... Great post :) (damn, I've done it again!)

Anonymous said...

I too have sent an email to a co-worker, dissing the boss, which was subsequently read by said boss. Oops, my bad. May be why I was sacked.
I have also sent my Spring bulb order to the Accountant, and sent a chatty family letter to a complete stranger when I mistyped my mother's email address.

- NaomiM

Bethany C Morrow said...

I am blissfully unaware of any email snafus and still. Yes.

That is all.

Roberta said...

Once I sent a magazine editor an article that was named sh*t.doc and it was (of course) rejected within hours.

Julie Musil said...

I noticed my font comes out super small on the e-mail, so now I make it a little larger only for the digital queries. Too many goober moments to list!

Liz said...

I do the same with the "to" field on important emails -- that way I won't slip and send it before I'm ready.

Fresh from college, I was emailing out resumes. I used the same form cover letter, changing the details to fit each employer. I inadvertently hit send before I had erased the previous employer's name -- sending an application to Newspaper A that was addressed to Newspaper B. I quickly sent a new email with the correct info, hoping that improved the situation somehow. But my stomach dropped a second after I hit send and saw the wrong greeting atop the email as it was whisked away on the Web.

Oddly, thatt was the paper that called me in for an interview and offered me a job (I didn't take it). And of course they mentioned the email snafu during the interview. My face was beet red.

Some Screaming Fangirl said...

This really saddened me when I did it...but back when I was naive and copying and pasting the same query to every agent (the horror!) I accidentally didn't copy and paste the whole thing for an agency that requested the first three pages. No, I didn't forget the sample pages. Well, I remembered a paragraph or two. But I totally didn't paste the query letter in there!

To this day I wonder what poor agent had to receive a paragraph for a book he had no idea about...


Durango Writer, aren't Janet Reid's checklists the best? I've done the exact same thing w/ the forgotten salutation.

Laura, gah! I hate that. I check my "sent" folder constantly to see if things really do get sent.

Emilia, I do use smileys on occasion, but I try to keep it to one or two per message. Or per blog comment :)

NaomiM, did the accountant fill your bulb order for you?

Bethany, ignorance sometimes is bliss, isn't it?!

Roberta, all my manuscripts have working titles with some variation of the word "bitch." I can't tell you how many times I've inappropriately sent out PIRATEBITCH or PSYCHICBITCH to someone unaware of my naming system.

Julie, I've been very fond of 10pt Arial for email lately. Seems like a good size.

Liz, it hurts to read that story because that's totally something I'd do!

Some Screaming Fangirl, gah! That sucks. So you didn't follow up with the agent?

Thanks for reading, guys, and welcome to all the new readers!