Tuesday, 25 August 2009


My daughter is (rather usefully, some might say) working in the children's bookshop in the Edinburgh Book Festival. This in no way explains why my books are so beautifully displayed, of course. But a conversation with her on one of the prep days before the festival opened has engendered this pointful point.

Being nice is a very useful and under-rated quality.

No, I'm not saying I was nice to her. Or that she was nice to me. It was something quite different.

This was how the conversation went:

Rebecca: Recommend me some teenage books to read so that I know a bit more about them. Apart from yours, obviously. I know enough about those.

Me: (showing her the teenage section of my personal library, all in alph order, of course) Well, you could try a David Almond or a Julia Bertagna or a Tim Bowler or a Kevin Brooks or a Cathy Forde or a Keith Gray or an Elizabeth Laird or a ...

Rebecca: Which of them are your friends?

Me: All of them. But that's not why I recommend them, of course.

Rebecca: I'll take this Keith Gray one. He's always nice and friendly to me.

So, she picked Keith Gray because he was nice and friendly to her. The tart. (btw, I'm sure the others would be just as nice but she hasn't met them). So, she read his book and is now very likely to recommend it to teenagers when they or their parents ask for recommendations. His being nice and friendly to her could start a word of mouth Keith Gray-fest.

There's a lesson there. Especially when measured against that crappy author at the launch I told you about recently. We're always being told we have to develop a platform, a profile. If niceness is part of yours, I reckon that will draw people to you. And one good and surprising thing about niceness is that it's hard to fake for longer than five minutes.

It may sound trite but trust me: nice can get you a very long way. It makes the world go round more smoothly. If someone who'd written a book brought me sparkly wine, I'd definitely buy their book. Which is another pointy thought for you.

By the way, you may be wondering why, if niceness is so important, I am still proud of being the "crabbit old bat". My theory is that in fact your own niceness has smoothed all my crabbitness away over the last few months. I am but a shadow of my former self. You have destroyed my persona.

I could hate you if I didn't like you so much.


DOT said...

So true - my unfortunate part-time job, people bothering as I call it, charity fund-raising as others do, involves being pleasant under all circumstances.

It works wonderfully, even with the most indignant individuals who are dragged from their evening meals to be asked for money for some worthy cause or other.

DanielB said...

I always try to be nice. It doesn't help, of course, to hear stories (as I used to, from reps) of successful writers who are always complete arses!

storyqueen said...

Oh, I love you, crabbit old bat! This is a great post and very important. I especially like the part about the quality of the platform vs the quantity!

Nice makes the world go around.


Agnieszkas Shoes said...

This is something that constantly extraordinates me about writers' sites like Authonomy. The sheer volume of posts along the lines of "no-one **** reads my **** book but what do I care they're a bunch of **** anyway" uttered without the slightest hint of irony or self-awareness....

Anonymous said...

So true and so unfortunate! I'm a bit of an asshole, myself. I should've gone into finance. I'd be getting $50 million bonuses for being an insufferable prick and ruining the economy.

Instead, I just got a $15,000 advance and need to be-nice-, dammit.


Nicola Morgan said...

Proe - my husband is in finance. He is the boss of a company but he a) does not get a bonus b) fights for his staff and c) is not an insufferable prick. Instead, he and his also very nice and hard-working colleagues have to put up with people who know nothing about him or his business assuming that they must be insufferable pricks. Interesting that you chose to make your point on a post about being nice!

As for your advance, I have never judged anyone by the size of their income. If I did, I'd have pretty low self-esteem.

Jane Smith said...

I prefer to judge people on the size of their hearts and the generosity of their spirits, Nicola. I can assure you that you measure up very well indeed. You crabbit old bat.

And you're right about being nice, too. It's important, and sadly underrated.

Catherine Hughes said...

I'm sorry Nicola but, during the short time that I have been reading your blog, I have found absolutely no evidence whatsoever that you are not nice. The fact that, for example, you respond to those who comment is really - well - rather nice, you know!

Niceness is not profession-specific. My bugbear tends to be with the medical profession and yet I would be the first to admit that there are some wonderfully kind and fabulous medics out there, for all that I have encountered some who typify the opposite.

It's a shame that there are those who don't realise that being pleasant,thoughtful, kind and - yes - nice makes their lives easier as well as being better for those around them.

I try to be nice - until someone hurts one of my kids. Under those circumstances, I am a complete and utter ferocious bitch!

Sarah said...

I could not agree with you more.

I used to work as a server and was amazed at how rude people could be- when it would have been so easy to be pleasant. (Or at least quiet!)

I certainly remembered those who were kind.

You know, like folks who blog about how to succeed in the publishing industry. Just don't get too nice. I'd hate for someone else to come up first when Googling "crabbit old bat". (It reminds me of Snow White's stepmother checking in with her magic mirror every morning. Now SHE was a crabbit old bat.)

ps. Good for your husband, Nicola! I love hearing about folks in business who look out for their staff.

David Griffin said...

Two well-worn expressions came to mind while reading this:

"It doesn't cost anything to be nice" and "It's wise to be nice on your way up because you never know who you'll meet on the way down".

Could be true!

Apart from that, in the field of writing it would surprise me to find many people who truly believe "they're the best thing since sliced bread" and who think, in their supposed elevated position, they don't have to be pleasant. That would be so blinkered of them...

"There's always someone worse than you and always someone better than you" as my old mum used to say! (Hang on, was that "worse off" and "better off"? Probably...)

Rebecca Knight said...

This is a very encouranging post :). I'm glad that niceness goes a long way, and that you don't have to be the Sharkiest Author in the Sea to gather some word of mouth.

Hooray! :) Thanks for the post!

Anonymous said...

Well, clearly I proved my point! Now -that- is effective writing.

I'm also American. Here, they get bonuses and are pricks. It's in the job description. I'm sure you've read Lewis's "Liar's Poker": and that was twenty years ago, before Wall Street refined the prickogenic technologies.

(And I don't judge anyone but -myself- by the size of their income. I'm not that much of a prick. Just junior varsity.)


Donna Hosie said...

Well it does work because without your delightful crabbitness, I would never have heard of "Deathwatch" which arrived yesterday, hurrah!

catdownunder said...

I once took a small group of children to visit a well known author at his place of work. (He was the principal of teacher training college and I did not want them to take up an undue amount of his time.) He met them in the staff room, supplied these 10-11 yr olds with very grown up cups of tea and biscuits. He talked to them. He answered their questions (including the one that you should never ask an author) and did everything he could have done to make them feel at ease. They talked about the visit for weeks afterwards. Years later I saw one of those students in a bookshop. He was buying one of the books by that author to give to a child and he greeted me with the words, "Remember when...?" Nice.

Melinda Szymanik said...

Whats the question you should never ask an author?

Nicola Morgan said...

Melinda: "Where do you get your ideas from?" (I did a post about it recently but can't find it without coming out of this comment box...)

Dot - good for you. Keep it up!

DanielB - ah, that's true, but I also know some apparently successful authors whose horrible behaviour is making them such a bad name that they have lost readers and festival gigs. And they get bitched about all the time - I'd rather be nice and have only a modest income. I'm trying to find a way to make lots of money out of niceness but it's not something that easy to do!

storyqueen, Jane, catherine, donna - thank you! (Donna - hooray indeed!)

Agnieskas shoes - I love the word "extraordinates"!

catherine - oh yes, I can also be poisonous when provoked!

Sarah - ooh, if someone else was higher in the google rankings of crabbitness than me, i'd have to DO something

david - I know what you mean, but the difficulty for writers is that we must have this huge belief in ourselves or we wouldn't keep going, and it can be hard to have that belief at the same time as modesty. In some ways, the modesty kicks in after publication, when you realise just what a tiny minnow you are.

Rebecca - thanks! Thing is that sharky authors can also gain word of mouth, just that I (and you) would prefer not to have that kind of word of mouth

Catdownunder - perfect story!

Minnie said...

Just been reading your literate, informative, generous posts with such delight that couldn't leave without saying 'thank you'. And 'hear hear', also. As a lifelong advocate of niceness, now a redundant old bat, I've discovered of late a great deal about how not-nice people can be - and upon what strange criteria they base their judgements ...
Still, glad to have found this site. Horribly belated best wishes for your birthday and for 2010
PS Word verf saying 'giedumb' to me, is it a terrible Scottish insult to lurking Sassenachs ;-)?

Nicola Morgan said...

Minnie - hello and good to see you here. And fear not, I'm a Sassenach too! I just live here. I'm also a bit Welsh, but I'm not in tune with that bit of me.

Josa Young said...

I have been overwhelmed by how nice my fellow writers - hitherto complete strangers but admired from afar - have been since my first book was published. Generous, kind, funny, warm and welcoming. Best thing about being published almost.