Modern Manners

Zoë Sharp

My parents brought me up to be polite, and most of the time that’s stuck.

I automatically hold doors open for people, write thank you-letters, and let other drivers out into traffic. And if I’ve never actually helped a little old lady across the road, that’s only because I’ve never encountered one who needed — or would have welcomed — such an impertinence.

Don’t get the idea from this that I spend my evenings sitting at home polishing my halo — far from it. I’m sure there are plenty who would tell you I can be as stubborn or downright bloody-minded as anyone else. But being simply pleasant to people creates a kind of calm. It gives me a sense of balance in an otherwise mad world.


Maybe this is a result of having done self-defence training. Knowing that — as a last resort — I could take somebody on physically makes me less inclined to prove it by doing so.

But I also find these days that I am much less inclined to take somebody on at the ancient art of Black Catting.

Never heard of Black Catting? Well, I’m not surprised if the name is unfamiliar, as I believe it may well be something my sister invented, but even if you don’t know the name, you’ll recognise the concept.

We all know Black Catters. We come across them every day — and not simply because they cross the road in front of us. (Old lady optional at this point.)

Black Catters are the ones who just HAVE to get one over on you, no matter what you say, or what you have done, or where have been. They’ve always done it first, faster, bigger, more expensively. Or occasionally you meet reverse Black Catters. “You’ve been ill? Well so have I, and my illness was FAR more serious than yours …”

In other words, “My cat’s blacker than your cat. It is, it is, it bloody is. So there.”

The internet, sadly, is overflowing with Black Catters of all types.

Sometimes I think social media should be renamed socially awkward media, with its false intimacy and anonymity. Throwaway comments can be so easily misjudged because we lack the additional markers of facial expression, body language, and tone of voice. Someone once told me that there are six ways a person can read a letter, from joky or sarcastic to downright offensive. I know I shouldn’t use so many smilies (as opposed to similes) when I post or comment, but it’s the only way I know to show people I have my tongue firmly wedged in my cheek most of the time.

On the social media sites, when someone Friends or Follows me, I try to find out a little about them, visit their website and/or blog, before I follow or friend them back. Not only does this allow me to decide if I’d like to be friends with — or followers of — these people, but I’m then able to make some kind of relevant comment, too. (Usually tongue in cheek.)

I do not say, “Thanks for Friending/Following me. Now go check out my book and BUY IT NOW!”

Amazingly, this is exactly what some people do.

I can appreciate that, as an author, my job is to sell books—

No, that’s not true. While it may be part of my job to sell books, my ‘core activity’ (Gawd, don’t you hate management-speak?) is to write books. And, more specifically, to write the very best books I can possibly craft.

I am not a writer from choice. I am a writer by nature, by obsessive compulsion, by instinct and because I cannot envisage ever letting go of the urge to connect with people through the images created inside my head and blurted onto the page in a swirl of words and ideas, dancing together in the spotlight.

I write not because it is what I am.

I write because it is who I am.

So, if I occasionally neglect my Facebook, Twitter and Goodreads pages, or don’t respond to email like a swinging door, that’s probably because I’m clinging for dear life to that basic tenet.

Nevertheless, I am constantly surprised and delighted to receive emails, posts and messages from people who have read and enjoyed my work.

Last week I came across  Judith Baxter’s excellent blog in which she discovered Charlie Fox through FIRST DROP and wrote about how much she’d enjoyed the book. How lovely is that? So, naturally, I posted a comment to thank her. When I stumble across these mentions, I always try to post a response. Not to do so would be rude, in my opinion. But this was obviously something that not many authors do. Judith was so delighted by this that she posted a follow-up blog. And when I commented on that, too, Judith’s reaction was to post another review, this time of HARD KNOCKS.

I’m absolutely blown away by this enthusiasm and generosity.

Now, I know there’s been a lot of talk on Murderati lately about marketing your work — and particularly marketing your digital work. How you have to make social media work for you, but I honestly didn’t have that in mind when I responded to Judith’s blog(s). I was genuinely over the moon that she loved the series enough to say so, and because that was the way I was brought up. It’s completely ingrained.

I know personally that I will go a long way out of my way for a simple thank you.

And it would seem that others feel the same.

But the other side of the coin is when I Friend or Follow or Like someone only to be subjected to the immediate Hard Sell I mentioned earlier before I’ve had a chance to take my coat off.

I confess that Hard Sell tactics bring out my stubborn side.

Or I find their only posts are their five-star reviews or links to Buy My Book pages. Yes, it’s lovely to blow your own trumpet occasionally. But if that’s all you do then it starts to hurt people’s ears!

What are your views about the Hard Sell and Modern Manners, ‘Rati?

Oh, speaking of blowing trumpets, I’m happy to blow other people’s FOR them, occasionally, particularly writers of the calibre of our own Gar Anthony Haywood, whose Aaron Gunner novel, IT’S NOT A PRETTY SIGHT has just been released by Mysterious Press/Open Road at the bargain price of $3.99 until Tues, July 17th.

And another author friend, the excellent historical crime writer Michael Jecks (he’s also a Morris Dancer, but you can’t hold that against him) has just released a short story anthology, FOR THE LOVE OF OLD BONES — which you can buy in the UK, or US.

If you’ve never read Mike, you’re missing a treat!

And finally <shuffles feet awkwardly> might I mention that the UK mass-market paperback of FIFTH VICTIM: Charlie Fox book nine is hot off the press with a spanking new cover design, and is Allison & Busby’s Book of the Month?

Right, I’ll put this trumpet down now …

This week’s Word of the Week is exoculation, the action of putting out the eyes; blinding.

30 thoughts on “Modern Manners

  1. Debbie

    I had a boss who was a black catter. If you'd been on holiday, he'd have been there first. Me and my colleague used to invent more and more outrageous stories to see how far we could push him.

    And I've had several people "friend" me on facebook too – and promptly post their book on my wall before they've even said hello. Instant delete/defriend. How rude can you get?

  2. Bobby Mangahas

    I agree with you on the hard sell, Zoe. It only makes me stubborn. Which is also why I try not to practice it. I remember when I worked for Borders (during its last days) the company implemented a program where we had to get every customer to buy particular books every month, even if it may not be something the customer was interested in. Boy was that a disaster!

    As far as moderns manner, yes, they seem to be lacking. I think a large part of it is definitely social media. Don't get me wrong, I like (ha ha) Facebook just as much as the next person, but it can also deteriorate one's ability to interact with others face to face.

    *Steps off soapbox*

  3. Gar Haywood

    You've said it all here better than I could have, Zoe. Self-promotion sucks, but it's never been more of a necessity in our profession than it is now.

    I think what some authors don't understand is that all you can really do without turning people off is make them AWARE of your stuff (and the occasional sales/promotions attached to them). Actively SELLING them on it ("Hey, it's terrific, because Joe Blow said so, and it's the fantastic story of…") comes off too strong. It's okay to quote a rave review or two, but a full list, plus a self-aggrandizing synopsis of the plot, is overkill. At least for me, the reader.

    Thanks for the plug for IT'S NOT A PRETTY SIGHT!

  4. Jake Nantz

    I had a good friend of mine get exasperated with me once and point out what a black-catter I was being and how often I did it. Now I'm aware of it and know when I do it so I feel shitty, but I still find myself doing it once in a while. Thanks for the title though, at least now I know what to call it (before I just said it was another example of me being an asshole).

    As for manners and the hard sell, I gotta figure the hard sell works on some or people wouldn't do it, but I'm with you. A personal connection with an author means so much more to me because it's genuine and usually appreciative. Those are the authors whose books I buy sight unseen. Sometimes I read and love them, sometimes they're just "meh", but I'll buy more than one just because I'd rather spend money on the work of someone who is a good person than one who's just another self-important ass like me. The ones who keep blowing their own horn just annoy me.

  5. Gordon Harries

    To be honest, I get frustrated by authors who’s entire promotional campaigns seem to be facebook posts and retweeting whenever says anything flattering about them or the latest Amazon 5/4 star review. (not that anyone who uses this board engages in that kind of behaviour of course.) I understand the need for promotion, but twitter/FB is still a forum in which your likely to end up preaching to the same people over and over and there has to be a way to do it even in that forum that isn’t obnoxious.

  6. David DeLee

    And there is the problem, at least for me. I hate doing the promotion stuff, but know I have to do it. So what is the balance? How much is too much, how much is too little and what is appropriate? I facebook announce my new releases or a promotion, but that's about it.
    Right now I'm searching for places that offer reviews (have found some and made the requests– no takers yet) and places to announce my free ebook days for the Kindle Select program. (like today-hint, hint) but so far, they're not burning up the wires.
    If someone has a good take on how to do this, I'm all ears.
    BTW — Great covers for your books Gar and Zoe'. I'm already a big fan of Charlie Fox, looks like I'll have to see what this Aaron Gunner's all about.

  7. Gordon Harries

    I think that, say, linking to interviews or guest posts that are off FB/Twitter is a start. (although blogs seem to be dying a slow death now that the popularity of Twitter seems to have turned everyone towards micro-publishing.) but I really don’t need to know that Mavis Scuddlethorpe of Kent has given a book 5 stars on Amazon. Also a decent looking website.

    (half the time the reviews on Amazon are gleefully over the top, all posted on the same day –which always looks suspicious to anyone who notices – or complaining that the American edition of said tome doesn’t share the name of the British edition and therefore said author is evil and trying to steal your money anyway.)

  8. Stephen Jay Schwartz

    I'm with you, babe. I hate the hard sell. I was at an author event recently where each author was supposed to stand by his/her book in the bookstore and "pitch" it to the folks walking in. I settled in near the back of the room and chatted with readers and authors alike. The bookstore owner asked why I wasn't standing by my books and I replied, "If they like my work, they'll find me." She mentioned that this was a rather les affaire approach to selling books. You know, I just don't want to come off as a used car salesman. I don't think grabbing someone by the wrist and pushing them to buy my book does much good. That's not the thing that's going to make my work suddenly "go viral." I think we can influence word-of-mouth a little, but not a lot.

  9. Sarah W

    A few years ago, I was tackled in the vendor's room of a conference by a woman who asked me if I was a librarian and upon confirmation asked me if I'd heard of her or her series and smothered me in promo-paper, all the while speaking like an auctioneer who desperately needed one more sale before running for the ladies' room. She did this to a few of my coworkers, too. We don't remember her name or her books–but we sure do remember *her*.

    But at the same conference, we attended several panels of authors who were speaking on topics generally related to their work, and we made *long* lists of books to try. We also met a few at various events (and at the nearby deli at lunch) and those who were friendly stuck in our minds, so we tracked down their books and, more often than not, bought them.

    I think blogs like Murderati work, too, for the same reason that the panels worked. We're getting to know you as people and that makes us want to read your stuff. Free giveaways don't hurt, either—FOX FIVE was a gateway to buying every Charlie Fox book I could find!

    'Course, it goes without saying that pretty much anything Alex does will work–she's a marketing *ninja.*

    (Does this comment make me a black catter? Does *asking* if this comment makes me one, make me one?)

  10. Kristi Belcamino

    That strategy to sell books never works with me, either.
    I was super flattered that you stopped by my blog and commented when I sent you a friend request. THAT is what made me want to buy your book — that you cared and were interested in other writers and seemed like a really cool person!

  11. Zoë Sharp

    Hi Debbie
    Sorry to be slow getting back to comments today — been doing car body repairs so have been away from my computer and up to my ears in filler and rust treatment. (Not my car, I hasten to add.)
    LOL on the boss. I just try to remember that Black Catting is a sign of basic insecurity, or certain anatomical deficiencies, and leave it at that 🙂
    I simply don’t respond to instant Hard Sell, even when what I really I want is to be very, very sarcastic …

  12. Zoë Sharp

    Hi Bobby
    Us stubborners should stick together!I can’t imagine a chain bookstore trying to sell me a book I wasn’t remotely interested in. Most of the time they don’t even say hello when you walk into the store, never mind attempt any kind of sales technique. It’s the same in big electronics stores over here. My usual line when I finally managed to pin down a member of staff is the question: “Excuse me, can I interest you in selling me something …?”
    Can I borrow your soapbox? I think I feel the urge to stand on it coming on …

  13. Zoë Sharp

    Hi Gar
    I find it really hard to go the BSP route, too. I’m really happy to plug books by writers whose work I admire and enjoy, but I’ve had some attempts to get me to blurb stuff — or pass it on to my agent or other authors who have blurbed *my* stuff — that were downright crass, if I’m honest.
    You’re welcome on the mention, btw. I hope INAPS does big things in its new incarnation.

  14. Zoë Sharp

    Hi Jake
    You’re right — the Hard Sell *must* be working somewhere along the line. Just like those annoying spam emails telling me I might just have won the Canadian State Lottery, or offering me access to the entire treasury of some small African nation if only I will just furnish my bank account details.
    But it doesn’t work for me.
    Sadly, I have to say I do occasionally buy books unseen by authors who I’ve seen being extremely entertaining on a panel, for instance, only to be disappointed. But equally I refuse to contemplate buying a book by an author who I consider to be a bit of an arse, even though it may well be a very good book.
    <sigh> Life’s never easy, is it?

  15. Zoë Sharp

    Hi Gordon
    I *do* post reviews and links to guest blogs, etc on my FB and Twitter pages. Indeed, I posted links there this morning to this very blog! But it’s far from the *only* think I post. I love witty quotations, sharp observations, and amazing video clips like the one I posted yesterday featuring Ken Block and his wild ride round the closed streets of San Francisco in a 650bhp rally-prepared Ford Fiesta. By doing this, I hope people will forgive me the occasional bit of obnoxious horn-blowing 🙂

  16. Zoë Sharp

    Hi David
    Thank you very much for the kind words. And what are the details on your freebie book — seeing as you asked so nice and coyly?
    Yeah, I’m looking for the right balance on how to do this, too! If you find out first, can you let me know?
    Thanks for the comment about the covers. I use Jane Hudson at She’s an incredibly talented graphic designer — the ones she did for my Charlie Fox series were her first eBook covers and I think she has a great eye.

  17. Zoë Sharp

    Hi Gordon
    LOL, yeah, I’ve noticed the 5-star review cluster phenomenon you mention, too. You don’t think <gasp> they might be insincere, do you?
    I’ll have you know that Mavis Scuddlethorpe has proven good taste in literature. I hang on her every word 🙂
    I came across one very well-known crime author who received several 1-star reviews for one of his books … because people had accidentally ordered a French translation. This despite the fact it had a clearly French title, and a translator’s name listed. So, said author is evil and trying to punish them for their own stupidity, huh?

  18. Zoë Sharp

    Hi Stephen
    Well said, my friend. Can I be one of the ones standing at the back with you?
    I just can’t do the desperate grabbing people as they walk in and force-feeding them my work. I know authors who do and seem to sell bucketloads by this method, but I wonder how many of those reluctant customers come back for a second book. Some of them, I know for a fact, don’t even make it out of the store with the first book. Having been cajoled into having it signed and personalised, the staff then discover the unbought and unwanted books scattered among the shelves at the end of the day.
    LOL on being called a ‘babe’ btw. I quite liked the first movie, when he won the sheepdog trials, but wasn’t so keen on the second, where all the farm animals went to the city … 🙂

  19. Zoë Sharp

    Hi Sarah
    I’ve met that same woman, I swear! And yeah, there are one or two who are just so damn pushy I change direction to avoid them. I’ll never forget having a meeting with a publisher hijacked by someone who then proceeded to talk about “My Book” at great length and I didn’t get a word in edgeways. Knowing I could have killed her with my thumbs is no consolation at times like those, I’ve found … And to add insult to injury, I later discovered she was based in NYC, like my publisher, so could have gone to meet with him any time for the price of a subway token, whereas I’d travelled thousands of miles to do so.
    I’m still holding a teensy weensy grudge about that one, I confess.
    Alex is just brilliant at this kind of thing, isn’t she? But if she was a ninja you’d never know she was there. Saw a great joke about that:
    “I searched for the word ‘ninja’ in the online dictionary. It said, ‘ninja cannot be found’. Well played, ninjas, well played.”
    And in answer to your last question, erm … no 🙂

  20. Zoë Sharp

    Hi Kristi
    Thank you so much. I was a reader long before I was a writer, so I’m still very interested in all things connected with writers and writing. Providing it doesn’t trigger my stubborn response 🙂
    Nice to know I’m not alone in really disliking the Hard Sell approach. Maybe that was why I found buying a second-hand car so difficult recently — dealing with second-hand-car salesmen!
    It’s lovely to catch up with you here.

  21. David Corbett

    Each of us, to a greater or lesser extent, has to overcome the marketing = boorish self-aggrandizing rudeness thing. And yet I still grate at the enterprise, which explains perhaps more than I wish it did.

  22. David DeLee

    Thanks for the opportunity, Zoe. I have a two-story collection up on Kindle Select for free today. It's called Bling, Bling and features my series protagonist Grace deHaviland, a female bounty hunter operating out of Columbus, Ohio. Free until midnight tonight. Here are the links for the UK and the US:

    Thanks for the information and link to Jane Hudson. Again, really nicely done.
    For those who need it and are on Facebook, you might want to check out under groups: Review Seekers. They have people looking to provide book reviews in exchange for free or ARC copies of books. An interesting, free service.

  23. Zoë Sharp

    Hi David
    "Each of us, to a greater or lesser extent, has to overcome the marketing = boorish self-aggrandizing rudeness thing."
    Sadly, there are those among us who have to try to overcome those traits away from marketing as well!
    Naming no names, of course 🙂

  24. Zoë Sharp

    Hi David (DeLee, as opposed to Corbett)

    Thank you for the link. Suitably downloaded and currently in the stack flying a holding pattern around my Kindle. Intriguing opening to the first story, though. I look forward to reading the rest of it!

  25. Gordon Harries

    Hi Zoe,

    I think that’s the key, if your posting a range of things adding in the odd promo-burst is nothing anyone’s going to have a problem with. It’s when the promo-bursts are constant that it becomes problematic. (The British thriller writer Steve Mosby got embroiled in a very minor storm in a tea cup last Christmas when he popped up with the tongue-in-cheek comment: “Gee, I just got a Kindle for Christmas. I wonder if anyone has an E-book that I could download?” and got jumped on by several e-publishers. It just made me not want to read any of their work.)

    And I’d never accuse anyone of being insincere. I’m sure all those Amazon reviewers finish their books on the same day and simultaneously decide to do reviews too. 🙂

    The different title/translation thing baffles me. It’s like some people get on the internet and their brains fall out.

  26. PD Martin

    You've hit on my current dilemma, Zoe! At the moment, I'm trying to increase my ebook sales (yes, like everyone else!) and experimenting with different things. I read a sample of a book about making $42,000 a month from ebooks and one of the things that author proposes is tweeting EVERY HOUR. At first I thought that was completely obscene, but then I started to think about two things:
    1. My own 'behaviour' on Facebook and Twitter.
    2. Some comments I'd received from my existing readers.

    So, personally when I go onto Facebook or Twitter, I maybe scroll through older posts for about 10 minutes (maximum). Problem is, once you've got more than about 100 friends, you might only get the last few hours of posts. As for Twitter – 10 minutes of scrolling only gets me the last hour or so! So if everyone uses Facebook and Twitter the way I do, chances are they haven't heard about a new release that I've mentioned on Facebook or Twitter because they have to be sitting on Twitter or Facebook at the time you post it.

    This thought was reinforced when I had a couple of readers (people who "like" my PD Martin facebook page), comment that they hadn't realised I'd released new books/ebooks. This was after posting about once a day following each new release for about a week. I thought that was a lot, but I'd missed readers — and there are possibly many more who still don't know I've got new material out there.

    So it's a dilemma! Once an hour certainly sounds extreme and obscene to me, but how do we notify people and reach people who have lots of friends/ pages they like/ follow lots of people? My other problem is I often go on Facebook at the same time of day (morning, Aussie time) so if other people do the same thing, I'm possibly reaching the SAME people each day, but only a small % of my followers.


  27. Zoë Sharp

    Hi Gordon
    What — young Mr Mosby saying something controversial? Never! 🙂 Incidentally, hooge congrats to Steve for the inclusion of BLACK FLOWERS on the shortlist for the Theakstons Old Peculier Crime Novel of the Year.
    In my experience, maintaining a dignified silence — accompanied by the stabbing inanimate objects with sharp objects in the privacy of your own home — is a far better way of venting than doing so in a public way that could come back and bite you on the bum.
    LOL on the title/translation thing. Sadly, I don’t think people have to get onto the internet for that to happen …

  28. Zoë Sharp

    Thanks, Michael
    I can’t claim any credit for the FIFTH VICTIM cover — that’s down to the lovely people at my UK publisher, Allison & Busby. But I agree, I love it, too. And the US cover for 5V. Both very different, but equally appealing — to me as the author, anyway 🙂

  29. Zoë Sharp

    Hi Phillipa
    You make a very good point. When I go onto FB, I tend to go to my notifications and answer everything that’s come in since the last time I was on, but that’s very hard to do with Twitter, where it quickly becomes overwhelming. I respond to direct mentions, because those are easier to spot, and I do tend to vary the time of day I go on Twitter, but it is difficult.
    Say, if only you knew a group of people based in different countries who might reTweet stuff for you if you asked them to … 😉
    I also have an e-newsletter, which I ASK people if they’d like to receive when they get in touch, rather than just adding them whether they like it or not. That way people who are really keen get to hear about my latest news/publications, etc. The next one — due out within the next month — will also contain a hidden link to excerpts from DIE EASY: Charlie Fox book ten, which will be out in October, so they’ll be getting something extra as well.

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