The worst they can say is no.

I have no idea when my mother first told me, “You can ask. The worst they can say is no,” but it was certainly long enough ago that it’s become an irrevocable part of my attitude toward life: Always let the other guy say no.

You would be *amazed* how much you can achieve by asking.

Which brings me immediately into Amanda Palmer’s TED Talk:

Watch it if you haven’t already, because it’s fairly inspiring, albeit in a “very few people are that brave” way. Amanda Palmer is a master at self-promotion and personal connections, and I’d love to have a tenth of her skill (debate: is it *possible* for a writer to build an audience the way Amanda’s done? Well, I guess so, I mean, giving it away worked for Scalzi and Cory Doctorow, though not quite in the get-out-and-meet-people way that AFP has done…), but for me one of the huge takeaways of her talk is a subtext of always let the other guy say no.

Amanda takes that to an art level (rather literally). She talks a lot about trust in her talk, and I think that’s part of letting the other guy say no. Maybe not even so much trusting *them*, but trusting yourself to ask, and to be able to deliver the goods if the answer is yes.

Because don’t get me wrong: asking is scary. It can be a real ego thing. If you ask and are denied, wow, does that mean they don’t love you? That they’re not interested? That you’re a FAILURE? That you will NEVER SUCCEED on the terms you hope to? Or if you ask and you don’t succeed BEYOND YOUR WILDEST DREAMS, does that mean you’re a failure, etc, etc etc?

Really, most of the time? No, it doesn’t mean that at all. Most of the time it means you’ve asked the wrong question of the wrong person or at the wrong time. Case in point: my own Kickstarter had about 500 backers. I have access to, say, 3000 or so distinct individual readers. I asked all those people to throw into the hat, and about a sixth of them responded. I just went and checked: Amanda Palmer’s got 800K followers on Twitter right now. 25K of them supported *her* Kickstarter. That’s a hell of a lot less than a sixth of them. For the rest, my takeaway is that it was the wrong time, the wrong project, the wrong request. One or many of those. (Know why I supported her Kickstarter? Because the video for it was worth five dollars to me. It was charming, delightful, sweet, and wonderful. I haven’t listened to the album. I probably won’t. But in the end, the manner of asking pleased me so greatly that I was happy to help out a little.)

Publishing works this way too. You query, you revise, you ask again and again. You get a lot of rejections. But if you don’t keep asking, you’ll never get to the one person who’s going to say yes, and so you just have to keep letting the other guy say no.

Life works this way. I really believe that. I don’t know if AFP thinks it in so many words, but I’m guessing it’s part of how she works, too. She is hoping–trusting–that if she asks, people will say yes. That they will find a way to respond positively.

An anecdote: when I was in high school, a friend and I wanted to cut class for some reason, and went to ask the teacher if we could do so. On the way, my friend remembered that we had a substitute that day, and said we were never going to be let out of class. “Oh,” I said airily, “that substitute likes me. She’ll let us out.”

My friend stopped dead and snarled, “Jesus, Catie, you think everybody likes you.”

Nigh unto a quarter century later and I’m still bemused by that. Well. Yes. As a rule, I do think everybody likes me, or that they *will* like me if they get to know me, because why wouldn’t they? *I* like me, after all, and I have to live with me all the time, so surely if you have a shorter window of exposure in which I can potentially annoy you, you’ll probably like me too. I mean, I’m aware there are people who *don’t* like me, and that’s all right too, but by and large? Yes. I assume people will and do like me. I expect the best of asking.

If you expect the world to be a positive place, it is far more likely to be a positive place. So go ahead and ask. The worst they can say is no.


  1. So, so true :)

    I absolutely *hate* asking for help, in any form. Well, apart from google etc. I’m quite happy to google…

    Anyway, another school story – my best friend and I got dead-keen into photography, and decided it was a disgrace to humanity that our school didn’t have a dark-room. So we bunked off class (sorry, Mrs Walker) and asked for an appointment with the head. We waited for a while, then the deputy head said he’d see us. So we went in, made our passionate speech – and were absolutely dumbstruck when he said “well ok then, if you can set it up, we’ll provide the space.’

    To my everlasting shame, we did not get it set up. We got *part* way there, but somehow lost our enthusiasm somewhere between finding a space and ordering equipment, and our heroic campaign died a pitifully quiet death. Thank god it wasn’t a kickstarter, or we’d probably have had to change our names.

    Anyway! Hooray for people saying yes! And for digital cameras, eh?

  2. You should give her album a listen. Or at least The Bed Song. Which as it turns out, is about asking.

    1. I really should! The problem is really that I like to sit down and listen to a whole album at once, and ahahahah. Right. :) So I’m behind even on my music-listening, which is just pathetic. :)

  3. I admit to not listening to the album either :( I loved the TED talk tho. As one of your 16% I’ve always felt I got more than my money’s worth. I’ve supported several kickstarters and in only one instance do I feel like I didn’t get the better part of the deal.

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