When Email Becomes Eek-mail

Okay, enough time has passed that I can now confess. Every so often, an email blunder occurs that is of such grand proportions that it goes viral and does several million laps of the planet before settling down. For each one of those, there must be thousands with less gas in the tank that leave the perpetrator flamingly red-cheeked in the privacy of their own workspace. I own one of those.

I am not the Ray White real estate executive who tried to test his new work email system by sending his wife an email entitled ‘Show Me Your Tits’, and who accidentally sent it to everyone else in his database as well (including at least one News Ltd journalist).

I am not the English school principal who, on receiving from a staff member a forwarded complaint from a woman whose house backed onto the school, replied ‘Tell her to get stuffed,’ not realising (a) the original sender had been copied in on the email sent to him and (b) he had hit ‘reply all’ instead of ‘reply’.

But here’s what I did. First, some background. There are times when I deal with a lot of incoming event requests. This is a good thing, even if it’s not always easy to keep on top of. Request numbers increase when I’m already out doing a lot of events (eg, on a book tour), and unfortunately that’s also when have less capacity to deal with them properly. So, I have a system. I pass them on to my agent, and we have a triage system for assessing them. To make it into my diary, as well as working with what’s already scheduled, an event has to make it through one (just one) of the following hoops:

1. Will I be at least reasonably well paid?
2. Will I sell a lot of books?
3. Will the event benefit a cause I support?
4. Will it be an adventure?

So, sometimes I earn some money (#1), sometimes I make a fool of myself as Mal Meninga’s partner in a celebrity canoe race (#4).

That checklist came to mind when I received an email from a private school asking me to speak (for no fee) at their father-and-daughter breakfast. I was mid-tour, on a street in Sydney. My choice was to flick the email to my agent then and there or let it languish, perhaps until well after the event. So, I flicked it, with the shorthand message my agent would expect in the circumstances. In an implied request to look through the detail of the original email from the school and weigh it up according to our criteria, I simply said:

Can you think of a reason why I would do this?

She would take that at face value. She would read in detail the email which I had only glanced at on my phone, and she would see if there was a compelling reason to say yes. Was there a charity benefiting? Was there room in my dairy? Etcetera.

But I botched the forward and my email instead became a reply to the original emailer:

Can you think of a reason why I would do this?

All it really lacked was an emoji of a raised middle finger.

But once it’s out, you can’t suck it back. Oh, yes, another email followed. A crawly, explanatory email with a salutation, loads of apologies, the full ‘N i c k’ in the sign-off. But I don’t even have to tell you that, not only did I not speak at the breakfast, I haven’t been back to that school.

I told my agent about it. She said at least it was better than the author who had meant to forward an event request to his agent but who hit reply instead and went with the message ‘I’d rather have another colonoscopy’.

Anyone else ready to confess?

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9 Responses to When Email Becomes Eek-mail

  1. Dimity Powell says:

    Social blunder confessions: should be a book about it. Brightened my horizon no end, Nick. Thanking you big time. (no need to reply – in case you stuff it up)

  2. Noni says:

    Oh dear. This is the stuff of nightmares.

    Ever since someone suggested it to me in high school (it was my very wise best friend in Year 9), I’ve always followed this rule: if you don’t want a certain someone to read it, DO NOT EVER put it in writing. Even if you address it to the right person, it can always get back and if it’s on the page/screen, it is incredibly hard to deny.

    That said, it has made it very hard for me to write any kind of scathing political pieces or memoir ever since.

  3. Oops!

    It’s pretty cheeky of them though to expect you to give up your time to speak free of charge. Surely they must realise that’s an important part of your job.

    • nickearls says:

      Most people get it, some don’t (so thanks for being among the former). If they’d said ‘Our father-daughter breakfast will be a major fundraiser for [insert name of charity I’m involved with]’, that’s a different matter. Even then there’s a risk that, if you charge people nothing, they’ll treat what you’re doing as though it’s worth that.

      Schools that are used to having authors realise that the right authors actually want to do something that’s of value for the students, and put time into preparation as well as on the day, and that it’s reasonable for a fee to be attached to that (rather than vague talk of ‘exposure’), since it’s a job.

      I think more schools get it than once did.

      • It would never have occurred to me to ask an author to come to my school for free. Maybe as an aspiring writer myself and the parent of a daughter who writes for a living I know better. But it’s difficult to understand why people would think you would work for nothing.

  4. Abe Frellman says:

    I was unfortunate enough to work with an Organisational Psychopath about a decade ago. Let’s call him ‘Max’, short for ‘Max Power’. We all thought he was just an a%%hole until one day a Catalyst (ABC) episode on Organisational Psychopaths helpfully provided us with a checklist, which we managed to check off in pretty short order the next morning around the water cooler. Anyway, not long after, I had dropped Max into a stinking pile of proverbial with the boss that was almost entirely of Max’s own making but he’d try to deflect it my way. Shortly after he’d emerged from the CEO’s office, I sent an email to a colleague (who sits within earshot of both the CEO’s office and Max’s) – that said, “So, did ‘Max’ get b&ttf&cked on national television?” You can guess who I actually sent it to.

  5. nickearls says:

    Think I might have broken out in a sweat for a while though. Good that it ended the way it did.

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