June 3, 2011 at 8:25 AM ET
When I read about a service which lets you outsource your email — or other written correspondences — to a team of professional writers, I thought it was a hilarious yet entirely preposterous idea. But now I'm convinced that it's brilliant, and would encourage just about anyone to give it a try.
The service is called ShameBegone and it's run by Awl co-founder Choire Sicha and Entertainment Weekly senior writer Sara Vilkomerson.
On their site, the duo explains that they "specialize in digging you out, by doing the hard writing for you — whether it involves long-unanswered emails, missed birthdays or apologies for social messes." They add that this means that they'll address "long-lost pals, best friend's ex-boyfriends, family members, low-grade stalkers, people who owe you money, people to whom you owe money —almost anything and anyone."
Anything and anyone — that's where they won my curiosity. I just couldn't resist maneuvering my mouse to the "Let's Do It!" button.
"Alright, I'll bite — gently," I began in the text field which asked me to describe my problem. "I hurt someone's usually not-so-fragile feelings by insulting everything that he stands for."
There. That was a good start.
It wasn't an untrue situation — I was thinking back to the most recent time I felt the need to genuinely apologize to someone — and it would let me easily gauge how good the resulting note is. (After all, I'd already written and sent my version of it weeks ago, so it shouldn't be too difficult to figure out how the ShameBegone version might've gone over.)
"I'd like to apologize ... and kiss-grope-and-make-up," I added on with a cheeky grin before scrutinizing the "Desired Outcome" check boxes.
I wasn't sure what to put into the field which asked what I'm willing to pay, so I simply offered "the equivalent of two cups of coffee." The addition of my name and email address later, I was ready to send off my request.
A YouTube video and an encouraging note appeared:
You are on the road to relief. Why don't you have a nice bowl of soup or a relaxing beverage to celebrate? Be with you shortly!
Now, these folks weren't kidding when they said they'd be with me shortly! Barely 15 minutes passed before an email found its way into my inbox:
I was amused. The tone of the response perfectly matched the cheeky style of my initial request. I quickly sent off a note which elaborated that I may have — inadvertently, I assure you — said a few unkind things about some work the gentleman in question did.
"Heh! Hoo boy. Did he turn purple? Eep."
I was certain that Sicha — the C. really was short for Choire, as I would later confirm — and I would get along perfectly at this point.
He and I exchanged a few more short emails — "I wish he turned Violet Beauregarde on me!" — before he told me that he and Vilkomerson are consulting about the situation "because she has Lady Thoughts about this and [he has] Boy Thoughts about this and somewhere in the middle is the Right Thing."
About nine hours passed before I heard anything further. But then the email arrived.
It began with some almost motherly disclaimers. "It's important to apologize, but it's also important not to grovel. [...] It's crucial that he either accepts your apology or not. If he doesn't, you have done your work and should have no regrets. [...] Don't go chasing waterfalls (or something like that)."
Sicha explained that Vilkomerson started the note and that he finished it off, because they felt that I "need the double-gender perspective." He also added that I should probably send this note "by email or by engraved stationery."
Short, direct, plain, and just right for my situation despite being slightly generic. An ideal apology.
"My goodness, you are perfect," I told Sicha as I hoped that a time machine would materialize in front of me. This was the apology I wish I had given instead of the overly elaborate, run-on sentence-filled mess I'd sent.
"But Rosa," someone out there must be thinking. "You spew out half a dozen blog posts each day. You should certainly be capable of writing an apology just like the one you got from ShameBegone!"
And that someone would be right. I certainly am capable of writing such an apology — it's pretty plain and simple, after all — but I couldn't do it. Not when I had a great deal emotional involvement in the situation.
That's why services like ShameBegone and people like Sicha and Vilkomerson are so brilliant in my eyes. By analyzing a situation from an outsider perspective, they're able to figure out exactly what needs to be said — without silly irrational emotions distracting from the important message. They're ghostwriters, editors, and agony aunts all wrapped up in one — and they can make you sound good even when you're at your worst.
And that, dear folks, is why I'd recommend outsourcing your emails.
Now before you rush off and spam up the ShameBegone folks with your every desperate request, keep in mind that I'm not certain whether everyone will get quite the same level of insanely incredible customer service as I did. After all, in further email exchanges, Sicha expressed what seemed like a sense of surprise regarding the site's success — which went as far as five people even applying for jobs:
I mean, we figured we'd put [the service] out there and see what happens, and either there'd be "business" or there wouldn't be any, but we'd just "be there" anyway. And but... weirdly things are happening?
From the impression I got, it seems that Sicha and Vilkomerson are simply playing things by ear and doing the best they can to help as many troubled souls on the Internet as possible. I hope they can keep up the quality service and not turn into some sort of generic ghostwriting service. There are enough of those out there.
Even with that thought in mind, I still contemplated seeing what would happen if I asked ShameBegone to write the note I would send to my editor about this piece ... on ShameBegone. But then I looked at Sicha's last email again:
I have to deal with some people's truly dicey business tonight. Eeep.
I'd handle this one myself. There are people who need ShameBegone more than I right now.
Rosa Golijan writes about tech here and there. She's obsessed with Twitter and loves to be liked on Facebook. She is concerned that she'll have to make a fresh pot of coffee if Choire Sicha doesn't tell her where to send payment for services rendered by ShameBegone soon.