On a recent road trip, Mr. Misdiagnosed & Admitted and I stopped for a late breakfast at a small-town Blue Highways-style diner that served real home fries and bacon so salty it chapped my lips. It was delicious. I ordered scrambled eggs, but the short-order cook overlooked the specs and fried them over easy. Mr. M&A thought I should send the eggs back to the kitchen, but I couldn’t do it.
I’ve never worked as a waitress, and I’m a lousy cook. A typical restaurant’s profit margin can’t be more than a few cents per dollar, and I didn’t need all those calories anyway.
I’ve overheard visitors to my city describe other Midwesterners as being far too polite. It drives them crazy that some people in the flyover states are loath to give offense. Coastal natives claim that a four-way stop is an insurmountable barrier in Appalachia, where no one wants to assert the right to proceed through the intersection.
Diffidence can be seen as foolish, if not self-defeating. I point to natural selection as an example when I think inordinate modesty is hampering someone’s progress. Nevertheless, it’s not clear to me why some people consider thoughtfulness annoying. Because it compels them to reciprocate? It’s true that thoughtfulness taken to the extreme—to the point of a martyr complex—can be a form of passive aggression sufficient to provoke legitimate dismay, but I don’t think that’s what we’re talking about.
Honesty is a virtue, and assertiveness has its place, but it’s better to err in favor of courtesy. Every time I respond to a writer’s query regarding representation, honesty, in particular, poses a risk. It’s safer to focus on the subjectivity of my decision to take on a client. If I offer to form a partnership with someone, the collaboration should be enjoyable. After all, neither of us will see a dime until we’ve put in many hours of work. There are loads of talented writers. I have the task of selecting those who are also the easiest to work with—professional, courteous, tech-savvy, intelligent, open-minded—for my sake and for the benefit of their publishers.