Email Gaffes

Do you think what you send across the Internet is private as long as you’re careful? Think again. Here are just a few things that have happened over the years to some of my friends, and to myself:

I didn’t realize Auto-Complete would send my mail to the wrong person

We’ve all misdirected mail when we have people with a similar name in our address books. Steve Laube shared a story with me that happened years ago:

Many years ago I sent contract questions, in an attachment, to an author instead of a publishing executive. The problem was that the author was not associated in any way with that particular deal. Both had the same first name and the computer filled in the rest without me checking carefully. The author was gracious and let me know he did not open the attachment and deleted the email.

A lesson we have all had to learn, the hard way. One way to prevent it is to turn off the Auto-complete feature. Or better yet, double check everything before hitting the “send” button.

I thought the message I sent in response to a loop post was just going to one person but it went to the loop.

Maybe. Maybe not. I’m on several loops, and I can never remember without referring to the address field. Always, always, always check before dashing off a message meant for one pair of eyes only. And while you’re at it, think about the message itself. If it’s a deep, dark secret, should it be addressed in an email? Again, maybe going offline would be better.

We’ve all made this mistake, and I’ve seen people write a second message saying, “So sorry I sent a message to the whole loop saying that Felicity and I are supposed to meet at Holy Grail Grille after the book signing in Richmond on Saturday. That was just supposed to go to Felicity.” While the first message isn’t an embarrassment, by sending a second message apologizing for the mistake, you’ve created yet another reason for 800 people to press the delete key. I say don’t worry about it. I understand the impulse to apologize, and as much as I advocate being the epitome of politeness, I think this is one time you can let it go. Everyone will figure out that the original message was meant for Felicity and move on to the next email.

I thought I could trust the person I emailed not to share with anyone else. 

Sometimes you can. Sometimes you can’t. And you won’t know if you can’t until it’s too late. Too often someone will share with someone else if he promises not to share with anyone else. But even then, your unflattering words were spread to a third party. The second party has violated your trust, and the third party may be in a position to cause you damage. The real disadvantage here is that by putting negative opinions and feelings in writing, you’ve unleashed the potential for private thoughts to be spread all over the Internet without your permission. And, since the missive is in writing rather than a retelling of a conversation, it’s hard to refute with, “I’m sorry, Felicity misinterpreted. Let me explain.”  Feelings expressed in writing don’t have the advantage of voice inflection or facial expressions to tone them down. They are bare, and if angry, can seem even more brutal than you ever meant. Again, better to take hurt feelings offline.

But I must be honest.

Of course you should be honest. And sometimes you need to make points in writing for the person’s reference. One technique I learned years ago is the sandwich. Open with something positive, then move into the thoughtful and careful expression of whatever negative thoughts you need to share, and then close with a sincere compliment. No matter how bad a situation is, there is always something good you can say. Engaging in the sandwich method will also make you feel more positive. Everybody wins.

Most of all, whether you are talking in person or through email, always show love and compassion. One day you’ll need both, and will be glad for the understanding and consideration of others.

Your turn:

What’s the worst email you’ve ever seen misdirected?

Have you ever seen reconciliation and forgiveness occur as a result of misdirected mail?

What tips do you have about sharing negative thoughts in a kind way?

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Yes, This Post Is About You

Almost every time we post a story or give a “don’t do this” example, we receive emails and phone calls. “Were you talking about me?”

Why, yes. Yes we were.

Actually, something you did may have reminded us about something someone else did, which reminded us about something else that happened years ago. I’ve been an agent for well over a decade, so I’ve seen lots of situations happen more than once. So I might be inspired to write about an event because the fact it’s happened more than once shows that addressing it will help a lot of people. Maybe even you.

If it makes you feel better, realize it’s a two-way street. People also write about agents. I may read a post and wonder if I’m the particular agent who offended someone. Maybe. Maybe not. But I can learn from reading posts about how I can be a better agent.

Think about your stories. Aren’t many of your characters composites of people you know? What would happen if you had to field phone calls from offended friends and relatives every time a character misbehaved in your book? How would you address an angry phone call from your sister-in-law? Or the dismay of a cousin? I suggest first, thank her for being one of your readers.

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The Tell-All You Can’t Live Without

Karen Ball

Okay, okay, I admit it, the title of this blog is hyperbolic. Kind of. But let me explain why it’s not that far off the mark to say you really can’t—or at the very least, shouldn’t–live without it. Also, let me explain why I’m addressing something that Tamela addressed a mere 3 months ago.

So far this week, I’ve had no fewer than seven conversations with writers, agents, and editors, all of which hit on the same topic: finding out important information long after they should have. The conversations covered a broad range of information:

An author calling to say s/he was going to miss a deadline—a week before the deadline. A client receiving an extension on a deadline from an editor A publishing house moving a pub date without letting the author know A book arriving with a cover that was completely different from what the author approved

My response in every case was utterly profound:

“Are you KIDDING me??”

So though Tamela addressed the following in March, let’s talk about it again. Because friends, this is important stuff. (And because you know who will address it next: Mr. Steve. And he won’t be as nice as Tamela and I are! <insert evil grin here>)

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A Bit of Blogs, Just for You!

I’ve recently discovered a couple of new blogs that I really like, so I thought I’d share them with you.

The first is by Jeff Goins, at I like his perspective on writing, not just the craft, but the work of it. And he has a sense of humor, too. That’s always nice.

The second is The Creative Penn, by Joanna Penn. I love the diversity of topics she addresses, and her knowledge of publishing is really broad. Plus an added bonus: she’s got a lovely accent!

Last but not least, here’s a blog on, you guessed it, blogging! Anytime you’re struggling with keeping up with the bloggers, or if you want to feel as though someone is walking the blogging road with you, just hop on over to Successful Blog ( with Liz Strauss. She’s got great counsel and ideas that can help not just with blogging, but with your writing as well.

How about you? Any blogs you can’t get through the day without reading? Well, other than the Steve Laube Agency blog, of course! (And those already recommended in the right hand column under “Industry Blogs.”) But share your discoveries so we can all benefit.

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A Few Things Your Agent Needs to Know

You have an agent, but want to be low maintenance. You value your agent’s time and hesitate to fill her in-box with lots of chatty emails or tie him up on the phone all day. I’m sure your agent appreciates you for being considerate.

Still, writing is a serious profession and a business. Therefore some personal events and occasions in your life are critical for your agent to know:

Happy Event

If you are the bride or groom, the parent of the bride or groom, expecting a new life in your family, are taking a month-long vacation to Hawaii, or have another major happy event planned, let us know so we will be aware that you might not be around for stretch of time.

Death of an Immediate Family Member

If you don’t tell us about a death that affects you in a major way, we won’t understand your emotional state. Also, consider that if you are responsible for executing a will and disposing of an estate, it’s best to let your agent know you are involved in time-consuming, heart-wrenching work that could affect your productivity.

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Are We Speaking the Same Language?

by Karen Ball

I love languages. I started studying French in the 7th grade (“Bonjour, Monsieur DuPree. Comment-allez vous?), and by the time I had my double college degree in multiple-languages and journalism, I’d studied French (12 years), Spanish (5 years), and Russian (1 year). But I confess, I never expected to have to learn a new language when I entered the publishing world.


I remember the first time I realized words and terms had very different meanings in publishing. As a PK and PGK (preacher’s kid and preacher’s grandkid), I knew my duty to widow and orphans. It was right there in the Bible. So you imagine my astonishment when I discovered it was now my goal to kill the widows and orphans. Then I learned that bleeding in the gutters had nothing to do with murder, that picas weren’t fuzzy little forest animals, leading wasn’t something done to stained glass, fonts weren’t receptacles for baptismal water, a kill fee wasn’t about hiring a hitman, and a galley wasn’t the kitchen on a ship.

It all reminded me of a line from a poster I had up in my college dorm room: I know you believe you understand what you thought I said, but I’m not sure that what you heard is what I really meant to say. Or the poster in a friend’s room that said, “I’m not as drunk as some thinkle peep I am.” (Okay, it has absolutely nothing to do with that last one. I just put it in because it makes me laugh…)

It’s taken years of study and practice, but I’m finally fluent in Pub-Speak. Or so I thought until a few days ago when I had a discussion of editing terms with the illustrious Steve Laube. It went something like this:

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Build it Before They Come

If you want to be a published writer, realize that someone will look for you on the web. Agents will Google your name. I guarantee that editors and marketing folks will visit your web site to find out more about you.

Thus your web site needs to be both professional and effective. It is a bit like putting on your “Sunday Best” before going to an interview. That first impression is critical.

Allow me to share unscientific, subjective thoughts regarding a few elements I especially enjoy as an agent learning about writers through their web sites:

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