Recent Reads: The Art of Asking

I found THE ART OF ASKING to be a rather strange read.

A lot of it was familiar to me in one way or another: I’ve watched Amanda Palmer’s TED Talk, I followed her Kickstarter and its aftermath, I periodically read her blog, I used to read Neil Gaiman’s blog regularly, etc. I’m not a fan of either Palmer or Gaiman, which is to say their art doesn’t particularly speak to me, but I’ve met them both, albeit briefly, and it’s hard to be in my line of work and not know who they are.

So basically the thing is I’ve never read an autobiography by someone I know, or am modestly familiar with, and that’s what TAOA ended up feeling like. There were things in the book that illuminated tweets that made no sense at the time, for example, and that’s a fairly strange experience. Or–there was one particularly surreal moment in the book where Palmer writes about talking to Gaiman during a week he spent in Ireland, nominally writing but actually totally laid out with the flu; that week a friend of mine (who had never met him before) saw on Twitter that he was flu-ridden and brought him carrageen and spent some time with him and so my perspective of that particular moment is…reading about it in TAOA was like encountering an unexpected funhouse mirror. It was a very strange read.

The book is nominally about making art and crowdfunding, although it’s also greatly about Palmer and Gaiman’s relationship and the art of asking for things within the context of a relationship and could arguably fall under the category of self-help, as well. Overall it’s a nice symbiosis, and given that I read it in one afternoon, it’s clearly a *very* readable book.

It’s also about building a community, and how that community is what comes together when you run a Kickstarter. It’s how Palmer made a million dollars on her Kickstarter, how Evil Hat made nearly half a million on one of theirs (and I have no idea how much they’ve grossed total from their Kickstarter projects other than ‘a lot’), and how the two Kickstarters I’ve run have succeeded beyond expectation: you start ten years ago and build up a group of (listeners, gamers, readers) who dearly love what you’re doing and are willing to support it. Then you go crowdfunding and come out looking like an outrageous success.

From the point of view of trying to learn how to do my own personal community-building better, it’s…well, several things.

One is that it’s clear that the more you live your life online, or the more open/raw/unfiltered you seem to be, the more passionate your supporters become. They feel like they really know you. That’s something I’ve observed in the past anyway, and I struggle with, because part of me is deeply, profoundly envious of the ability to make that kind of connection and harness legions of followers.

Another part of me is either unable or unwilling to throw myself into it that hard, and I’ve become more reluctant to do so since I’ve had a child, as he didn’t sign up for a semi-to-public life. I’ve had a blog for literally twenty years, but I have only a fraction of the readers that (Scalzi, Wendig, Palmer, etc) have. I don’t have enough of a theme. I don’t post often enough. I don’t swear at people (often); I have none of the shock jock technique that others (including Palmer, IMHO) have employed. My life is not generally a train wreck and when it is I don’t expose that to my readers.

And I’m not, as musicians often are, on the road all the time and able to meet readers in real life that way. I don’t know how to bridge that gap, although I’d love to be able to. I often feel as though I’m perhaps failing, not just myself but my readers somehow, and perhaps even potential readers, by *not* being as good at community-building as I’d like to be.

So it was an interesting read, but not, perhaps, enlightening in the way one might hope.