Behind the scenes of "Send" (a fascinating read)

I thoroughly enjoyed reading “Send“.  It is one of those books I will read many times in the near future. It is also one of those books that I (secretly) wish everybody that sends me an email reads 🙂

Here is a quick interview with the authors of the book. We talk about the book as well as

1. RS: Will, first of all congratulations on producing a masterpiece. What motivated you and David to write this book?

Will and David: Thanks so much for your kind support! The book actually grew out of a lunch that David and I had — at the Saloon at the Oyster Bar in New York. We are old friends and were having a purely social lunch — but complaining, as friends tend to do, about what annoying mornings we had both had. The more we talked, the more we realized that most of our annoyance — not just that morning, but in the weeks and months just past — was due to aggravating or vague or insulting emails we had received, and also stupid or thoughtless emails we had sent. We felt that we ourselves really needed a book like SEND — so we set out to write it. And we also felt that the time had come for more discussion about this great and incredibly pervasive technology that we were barely using at all a decade ago.

2. RS:  Please tell us the history behind the book. Give us the highlights from the day the book was conceptualized to the day it went to the market?

Will and David: After that, we spent some weekend writing a proposal. We then sent the proposal to an agent, John Brockman. He had some excellent suggestions for us — so we worked more on the proposal and sent it back to him. John gave the final proposal exclusively to an editor at Knopf — who immediately saw a need for such a book. Over the next eighteen months or so we worked together — side by side at the computer — on several drafts, with wonderful input from our editor. And the result is the book as it exists now. It was published this spring.

3. RS: I enjoyed reading every bit of the book. However, if someone had mentioned that there was a 200+ page book on email I would have been surprised. How did you and David and you scope this project. How did you decide where to draw the line?

Will and David: We tried to write about things that were unique to email, and not just applicable to all writing — electronic or otherwise — or all human contact. There are so many wonderful books about writing, books like THE ELEMENTS OF STYLE by Strunk and White, or BIRD BY BIRD by Anne Lamott, that we really wanted to make sure not to try to cover what they had already covered so superbly. Foremost in our minds was keeping the book focused on email, and trying to figure out in what ways email communication presents challenges that are different from the challenges of other forms.

4. RS:  What was the chapter that was hardest to write? What was the easiest? Why?

Will and David: The hardest to write was the first chapter, “Why Do We Email So Badly.” It was tough because we ourselves didn’t realize that we emailed badly until we started writing the book. The tendency is to think that everyone else does — but not us! And this chapter really forced us to think about the medium in a way we hadn’t before — as above, what is different about email than other forms of written communication and why?

The easiest was, “The Emotional Email.” It’s great fun to write about anger and sarcasm and duplicity on email, and there are so many wonderful stories and examples of it. We loved the investment banker exchange we found and featured. It devolves into a two word exchange with one participant writing, “Hubris,” and the other, “Laziness.”

5. RS: In our email exchanges, it was clear that you followed your own advice. Were you both always using email this way or did you change after publishing the book 🙂

Will and David: We both changed after the book. Will would frequently send emails he hadn’t proofread. Now he tries to proofread more carefully. David didn’t use to take advantage of the “subject line” and would send emails with no subject line, or an out of date one. Now, he’s scrupulous about that. Both of us try to be more specific. And we both now use “No Reply Necessary” on all emails where we don’t need to hear back. We find that saves a huge amount of email traffic.

6. RS:  Can you give an example of an email that made you say “Wow”. Please explain why?

Will and David: Well, there are good “wow’s” and bad “wow’s.”

The most recent bad “wow” had to be those Justice Department emails. What exactly were those smart, savvy, well-educated lawyers thinking when they made the decision to conduct such a sensitive conversation on email? (Answer: They weren’t thinking that email is a virtually permanent, easily searchable, archivable medium.)

And the good “wow”? We think it’s a good wow whenever we receive a wonderfully specific email that tells us exactly what’s expected of us, or one with a great subject line or — our favorite — one that says “no reply necessary.”

7. RS: What are your after thoughts? If you were to do this book project again, what would you do differently?

Will and David: That’s a terrific question. While one can always find ways to improve, we both couldn’t be happier with the way the book turned out and the conversation it’s started. It seems finally — after the Justice Department incident, and after the email problems at Enron and Boeing and Starwood and Wal-Mart, and after the years of email frustration that have built up, that people finally want to talk about email. They want to know why they keep making mistakes, why it’s the source of so much anxiety and frustration, and what they can do to do it better.

8. RS: Apart from gifting this book to everyone that sends us an email, what do you suggest we do to sort of “train” email senders to send us better emails?

Will and David:
We can all set an example.

We can acknowledge that email is an interruption. Doing so, will allow us to think twice before we send something. (It’s useful to ask yourself if the email you’re about to send will change anything; a surprising amount of the time you’ll find that it won’t, which is a really good reason not to send it.A lot of email is mirroring. Eventually, people will get the message. If we start sending well-formed, precise, specific emails, the people with whom we correspond will pick up on our cues.) Doing so will also remind us that we can control when we get on email. After all, do we really need to check our handhelds before breakfast? At a child’s soccer game?

We can be precise.

If we write with precision and specificity, people will respond in kind. (Eventually.) In the end, we won’t have to waste so much time trying to discern or divine the meaning of vague emails.

There are other examples. Most of all, we need to train ourselves to do something we just haven’t done enough of these last 10 or so years: To think about email. Once we begin to give it some thought — once we stop firing away madly — the electronic world will be a much nicer place.

9. RS: If there was only one thing that you wanted the readers to get from the book, what would it be?

Will and David:
Think before you send.

And send email you’d like to receive.

10. RS: Can you give us a sneak preview of your next project – together or separately?

Will and David: Great question. We don’t know. We love working together and really can’t imagine doing anything separately. But we’re firm advocates of the idea that you should only do things you believe in. We really believe in this, so we imagine that this will be our project for the days ahead.

RS: Once again, thank you for writing a much required book on email. Wish you both success on this project.

Will and David: Thank you. And thank you for the wonderful questions.