Head of the Class
Us wanna-bes compare notes after conferences. We talk about "that guy" and "that agent and what did she say to you?" That is how agents end up marked off some wanna-bes lists. Not that agents need to care. They have more slush than they want/need. I doubt they are passing up a single gem--but I wonder what other agents think and I also wonder if someday it will matter because a lowly, new editor saw or heard certain behavior at a conference? The balance of power makes it easy to set aside professionalism--I used to see it in engineering. A hot-shot engineer would treat other engineers, tech writers, other managers, testers like dirt. They didn't need us because they were going to be great inventors, rise to the top. But after many, many years, there was a pattern. Those that were professional, that cultivated help, that had that little thing called CLASS--whether they were dealing with the janitor or the VP--were certainly happier people and overall, their careers were more successful. They were promoted into management--making more than the best of engineers. They were often the ones that when they needed help, they got it.
One of my favorite stories along this line is from the 1984 Olympics in Los Angeles. A group of six well tailored men approached the entry gate. They had event tickets but not the Olympic pass they needed to get in. They spoke English with crisp European accents and were clearly important, cultivated men. Told they needed a different kind of pass, the leader of the group nodded, and turned away.
Some minutes later they returned with the correct passes. The passes listed the ticket holder's name. The person staffing the gate was horrified to realize he had turned away the King of Norway.
His Majesty never said a word. Never said "do you know who I am" or "it will be alright, I'm the King of Norway and I'm on the Olympic Organizing Committee" (which he was). Nope, he just went and got the right credentials and proceeded to his seat.
That's true class.
Literary agents often times do not work in a corporate setting. There is very little reward for being "nice" or cultivated or classy...other than the reward of being cultivated and classy in and of itself.
People may not like you. They may think you are a stinkbomb on feet, but if you have good clients, mostly they'll work with you. And writers who are eager for "big name agents" will put up with all sorts of crass behavior cause they think they're getting the top dog. And crass behavioir is often times mistaken for aggressive selling.
This is a generalization and not meant as a comment on any specific person in case you're getting hot under the collar. In fact the only people to whom it applies will not think that it does.