Wednesday, August 22, 2007

The Power of Minnesota Nice

Minnesotans are known to be the nicest people in America, and I’m not just saying that because I’m a native Minnesotan and bleed Vikings purple during football season. No, I’m saying that because it’s true. Really, I’ve read it in articles and seen it on TV so it must be true.

Minnesota Nice is truly a big part of who I am and who I always want to be. Even while living in Brooklyn and adopting some really great strategies for sticky situations or sidewalk arguments (and I’ve had some doozies), I’ve always held on to that Minnesota girl. Well, recently that girl came out again when I received an email from the head of contracts at one of the publishers I deal with thanking me for being so nice during contract negotiations. We had gone back and forth for more than a couple of weeks on things and finally we were able to settle on points that made us both happy and built a much stronger contract for my client. Ironically, an editor at that same house said almost the exact thing to me earlier this year. It really makes you wonder what other agents are doing.

But I digress . . . upon receiving her email I jokingly replied that next time I would try harder to make her life miserable. Her reply? She knew that would never be the case, which is why I always got my contracts so quickly. Not all agents are as lucky.

Minnesota Nice rules again!

In this business, and in all business, it never hurts to be nice, or at least polite. I’ve shown it numerous times through my “author beware” posts. It is very possible to be a bestselling author, tough businessperson, and successful negotiator and still retain your niceness. And it amazes me how many people don’t realize that. Remember, I used to be on the other side of the table. I was an editor for more than five years and I saw a spectrum of negotiation techniques. Never did the nasty agents or the whiney agents get what they wanted from me. No, sometimes I held back simply out of irritation. The agents who always got the better deals, the fastest contracts, and the smoothest negotiations were the ones who knew and respected that I was doing my job, just as I knew and respected that they were doing theirs.

And now that I sit on this side of the table the nice still rules. The editors who receive my best projects and first looks are those I know are nice, respectful, good editors, and strong author advocates. They are the editors who take the time to answer emails and make my authors feel special and they are the editors who negotiate fairly and respectfully.

In this business especially, personality matters, and while I remind authors all the time not to burn bridges, the same can be true of editors and agents. Nice and strong can actually be used in the same sentence.



Aimlesswriter said...

I'll have to agree with you on this one. I work with people all over the country/world and lots from Minnesota. They are the very nice and probably the easiest to deal with all around. But bottom line its like our mother's used to catch more flies with honey!

Anonymous said...

Wow, this post makes me wish you repped my genre so I could query you. Nice is my personal philosophy too and it has paid off countless times.

Liz Wolfe said...

The Nice Factor is just another reason you're at the top of so many Most Desired Agents lists. I'm always amazed that people don't realize that you can be nice and still be strong.

Anonymous said...

I've always heard that Pennsylvanians are far more pleasant...

Kate Douglas said...

Gee, Kim...where does that leave Californians? :-) I will admit I've had instances where I really, REALLY want to be a complete bitch, but I haven't figured out yet how to carry it off. Nice works better, and with my firm belief that what goes around, comes around, I'd rather have something good and positive coming back at me.

Sally MacKenzie said...

Hey, Kate, aren't Californians out in the fields eating sprouts...or is that smoking sprouts? (hee, hee--ducking and running) I knew someone who refused to move there because he was afraid of earthquakes.

I'm from D.C.--well, born in D.C., grew up in the Maryland suburbs. For some reason, people seem to have a hard time grasping the fact that there are indeed native (D.C.)Washingtonians.

I married an upstate New York boy. He's actually pretty nice, too.

Anonymous said...

Thank you, Jessica, for this paean to niceness! It's always worked for me, even though I'm from New Jersey/New York/Maryland/Pennsylvania/Kansas/New Mexico/Oregon/Washington/Tennessee/California.

kris said...

I'm having flashbacks to M*A*S*H and Frank Burns telling Hot Lips houlihan that "It's nice to be nice to those who are nice."

My kids are always amazed when a water or flight attendant or store clerk comments on how nice and polite they are. It's sad that those service people are having to deal with folks who are obviously NOT so nice and polite,, but it;s n impressive lesson in the power of nice. I'm sending them all here to read this entry, so they can see that nice, polite, and respectful continues to hold sway in the working world.

Anonymous said...

And may I add that nice cuts both ways. If you are a new writer setting out on your quest to find the right agent, put on your thick skin and get ready to be nice.

If an agent takes the time to make useful comments, I always write a thank you note. (Yes, I know they already get too much mail, but often they write back to tell me they are seldom thanked and they are grateful.)

Also, before you fire off that email telling them exactly what it is they should eat before dying, take a deep breath. Don't do it.

Instead, go out on a writerly blog somewhere (I do so wish Miss Snark were around when I have these urges) and let it rip. BUT - use a pseudonym or comment anonymously. It's not worth a little bit of self-satisfaction to ruin your good name.

That being said, I did receive a comment once -- on a query letter! -- that was so rude and mean-spirited, I would never query that agent or her agency again. But I've learned since that the agent in question is known for being a first-class -- something that rhymes with "Rich." Interestingly, said agent couldn't make it when she tried opening her own, boutique agency. Now she does mostly foreign rights.

Caren Crane said...

I believe nice begets nice. Those who are polite, attentive and mindful of their thoughts and actions will generally receive the same. But not always.

I often observe people acting rudely in traffic and wonder what that person must be like in the rest of her/his life.

The worst is when I observe poor traffic behavior and then realize the person is a coworker. It taints my opinion of them, without a doubt.

I wonder, too, what people think it profits them to be unkind to those they don't know or to people whose job it is to serve them in some way. What do the ill-behaved get from it? A feeling of dominance or superiority? I would love to know how those minds work.

Thank you for being Minnesota nice, Jessica. We all appreciate it!

Anonymous said...

After spending yesterday dealing with Charter's customer service, I have to say Minnesota rocks.

How many people out there can actually say they've had a pleasant and productive exchange with a customer service rep? Yesterday, I had two. Both women reside in Minnesota.

Since my husband lived there when I first met him, I may just have a preference for "nice."


I echo the thanks, Jessica, for the Minnesota Nice. Sometimes all it takes is a smile and a polite word.

Aimlesswriter said...

At work today they were talking about this exact thing. We have a rep in Minnesota and she's been great the last few days so everyone in the office was talking about how nice Minnesotians (sp?) are and what a great state it is. (someone said its the cleanest state she's ever been in-but we're in NJ so what do we know?)
Strange this happened today, right after I read this post....

Anonymous said...

So, Jessica, because you are so nice, should I assume that the two times I've queried you and received no response whatsoever (not even a rejection) it was because the query was caught in your spam filter, and not because you deplored my writing? Or maybe you did hate my writing, but were too nice to say so? I know a lot of agents ignore queries they aren't interested in, but I think that's rude. After all, I did a lot of reseach before choosing you, and worked very hard on my query letter. Being so nice and all, you would at least send an acknowledgment that it was received, or a "not for me," wouldn't you? Because I sure didn't get one.