Take time to deliberate, but when the time for action has arrived, stop thinking and go in.
- Napoleon

Sunday, March 16, 2008

Sincerity vs Sucking Up

Everybody likes compliments, but nobody likes a brown-noser.

There's a fine line between Sincerity and Sucking Up, but if you think about it, it's only on the part of the person receiving the compliments. The person giving the compliment generally knows exactly where that line is, and it's a wide one. So what do you do when you are trying to give a sincere compliment and the perception is that you're a brown-noser?

Let's step back for a second. Agents like to hear good things about themselves (who doesn't?) in your query letter. It shows you've done your research and that you're paying attention. Additionally, these good things have to be specific to the agent you're addressing, so obviously 'love you, love your blog/website/articles' isn't going to cut it.

On the other hand, agents don't like to hear things that obviously aren't true. For example, agent Colleen Lindsay of FinePrint Literary Management recently pointed out a gaff in a query she received: "Your years of experience in YA book sales make me feel that you are the perfect agent for me", which is unfortunate since she's a new agent and hasn't got years of sales under her belt yet (watch her, though - she's going to bust it out). She gives the sender the benefit of the doubt by assuming this person used copy/paste for sending out multiple e-mails without checking their facts. I think she's probably right, but to me, this is a case of blatant sucking-up.

So, where's the line?

I think the line lays between making a sincere effort to let the other person know you appreciate them and spewing out things you don't really believe (but that you're sure the other person wants to hear). Like telling an acquaintance how much you love her new haircut when in reality, you think it makes her look like her head went through a blender.

My mother always told me "If you don't have anything nice to say, don't say anything at all." Wise words. I'd add a corollary to that: If you don't mean what you're going to say, don't say it.

If I compliment you on something, you can be certain I mean it. If I include a compliment in my query letter, it's sincere. I really do think a certain agent is kick-ass (although I wouldn't put it quite that way in my letter to her), and I'd like to buy her a drink (also something not meant for query letter copy), and I really do believe that a partnership between us will bring us both lots of money with minimal drama (I hate drama, and so, apparently, does she). I occasionally leave compliments in the comments of people's blogs (yes, Allison Brennan rocks and I worship the desk she writes on, I wish I had half of Karin Tabke's chutzpah and a quarter of Kristen Painter's style), and I mean what I say. I don't suck-up.

What's all this mean? Mean what you say and say what you mean, and try not to gush when you're talking (writing a query) to someone who makes you want to squeal with glee at the thought you're having contact with them. I think that last part is the real issue with me. Sometimes I get to feeling like there are so few competent people left in the world, I gush over them when I find them. (Like the story of the incredibly competent gas station attendent and how I freaked her out when I told how much I appreciated her ability. What can I say, she was so good at her job, I still remember her a decade later.)

How do you handle compliments? Do you give them? Do you accept them well, or do they embarass you?


Kristen Painter said...

Everybody likes compliments, but have you ever gotten a compliment from someone and you know it's phony? Those suck.

I try to take compliments graciously (thanks by the way!) and I try to be complimentary when it's deserved.

B.E. Sanderson said...

Ugh. I hate that. I'd rather they just not say anything.

You're welcome, Kristen. =o)