• Recent Reads

    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.

  • CEMurphy,  Philosophy of Life

    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.

  • Uncategorized

    This I Used To Believe

    This is a rather complex meme stemming from friends’ discussions, prompted by a This American Life podcast called “This I Used To Believe”, about changed ideas and philosophies: what people no longer thought or felt, and why.

    I thought it was sufficiently interesting to take a stab at it myself.

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