Agency Lessons: Be nice to the janitor

Agency Lessons is a weekly post that gives authors and readers an inside look into the mind of a literary agent and a peek behind the curtain of how books are made.

My parents imparted a lot of life lessons to me over the years. They got down the basics like work hard, get an education, share your toys. But there is one lesson my mother told me that has been the most helpful.

As I was leaving for college, my mom handed me some advice. "Be nice to the janitor."

Of course, my parents taught me that I should always be nice, so this one puzzled me until she explained.

You see, in life, there are going to be people who are obviously at the top of the ladder. They are the bosses, the professors, the ones in charge. And, in general, they will see a lot of brown-nosing and butt-kissing in their time.

And then there are people who almost everyone overlooks. The ones in the background who quietly do their jobs with little or no appreciation, and usually about the same amount of respect. People like the kitchen staff and janitors.

The thing is, my mom explained, everyone thinks it's only the people at the top who are worth their time and kindness. They wrongly believe that those are the only people who can give them a hand up in life. But they are missing out on meeting some of life's most interesting people. And forgetting that you don't have to be the boss to have power.

Because when you spill an entire cup of coffee on your term paper at 2am and the computer lab is closed, it's the janitor who will be there to let you get in early the next morning so you aren't late turning it in at your 8am class. But not if you're the kid who regularly kicks his mop bucket. And it's the secretary who makes a comment to your professor after you leave a meeting asking for a favor to say what a polite person you are. But not if you walked in, rudely demanding to see that professor.

You see, people are people. And all people like to be treated with dignity and respect. That goes from the executive editor and senior agent down to the mail room guy and the intern. I'm not saying you have to suck up to everyone you meet. But I am saying you should give everyone the courtesy they deserve as a fellow human being.

If someone can help you, make sure you say thank you. And if someone can't help you, don't harass them until they have to block you. Just saying.

Besides, you never know where that mail room guy and intern are going. You might have just met your future agent and didn't even know it.