Publishing Trendsetter is a production of Market Partners International and Publishing Trends.

Just Ask for It! The Art of Asking: A Trendsetter Roundtable

Amanda Palmer is a musician, artist, and entrepreneur of asking. Those who haven’t listened to her music perhaps know her from her Ted Talk, called The Art of Asking, which led to her getting a contract for a book with a similar title: The Art of Asking, or How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Let People Help (Grand Central, 2014). Palmer starts her story with her job as a statue in Boston, and takes readers on a journey throughout her life of asking for what she needs to keep doing what she loves, all while dealing with the occasional haters that come her way.  Samantha and Jennifer sat down to discuss the method of simply asking for what you want and how that might help you get a leg up in the publishing industry.

Jennifer: Singing Mulan in my head as a pump-up… I’M READY.Palmer_TheArtofAsking(HC)

Samantha: Yes! Okay, so let’s just start simple and ask, well, did you like it?

Jennifer: I did. I thought it was interesting and different and a fun read. What did you think?

Samantha: I was really pleasantly surprised by how much I liked it. I wasn’t sure what I’d think of it since I don’t know a lot about Amanda Palmer herself. It started off a little rocky for me, but once I realized it was part memoir, I liked it a lot. What made it “interesting and different” for you?

Jennifer: I think it was largely the structure. I liked that it moved easily from anecdote to advice without feeling the need to be strictly linear with the timeline.

Samantha: That’s definitely a good point. Was there any advice or anecdotes that particularly struck you?

Jennifer: I love the part about taking the donuts. I think creative people tend to have their own processes and the idea that, as consumers, we should respect those processes and, as creators, we shouldn’t feel guilty about them was a great realization. I think my favorite anecdote is when she finally sees her mom, like really sees her as a real person and not just her mom. That was beautiful.  What stood out for you?

Samantha: It’s certainly a learning curve for consumers and creators in this book. I think the most basic concept of the book was what kind of blew me away, just asking for what you want, like, all of the time. It’s so stupidly simple, and yet so hard to do. But at the same time, asking for what I want is due in large part to how I ended up in the publishing industry, so I don’t know why it still seems so difficult to me to ask for what I need.

Jennifer: I think she explains that feeling perfectly too. I talked to other people about their feelings on asking while I was reading in a reflecting out loud moment and most of them would never think to ask for things for themselves but were happy to help other people by asking on their behalf or helping someone who asked.  I think too many people today have the same mentality as that one guy from the opening band: that asking is equivalent to begging, when it’s not. But speaking of your start in publishing, do you want to expand on how asking helped you get to where you are today?

Samantha: I got my internship because my college mentor and I asked a professor that I didn’t know if he had any publishing connections, and put me in touch with a woman at W.W. Norton who ended up becoming my internship boss. Then with this job, I saw the posting, and asked my brother if he knew anyone here (the funny part being that I had no idea what a small company this is) and he put me in touch with a former employee. I just asked her for cover letter tips and she just forwarded my query straight to Lorraine and Kim and well, long story short, here I am! It wasn’t asking directly for the job, but asking was a huge part of landing those positions.

Jennifer: I feel like that’s incredibly common in publishing, because it’s such a small industry.  Part of how I got my job here was by asking a previous internship boss if she would mind giving me a reference and then finding out that she’s known the partners here for a while. So, lesson learned, in a small industry, asking is definitely a good step toward finding a job.  I hate to use the career building cliché, but networking is very important.

Samantha: Absolutely! The book comes back to that point too. Palmer constantly references people who have reached out to her for help, and people who have helped her throughout her career as a musician and artist. It’s really great that she’s able to bring together a community of people all just because they were willing to say hi or ask a question.

Jennifer: Yes, I love how much she emphasizes community.  Using social media like tweeting and blogging seem to be especially important for building such a community.

Samantha: It’s so interesting to think that technology is really a tool that brings her so much closer to her fans, when we always hear of technology being a thing that drives us apart or separate from each other. I’m glad that she was honest and did include a few times that she was fooled or tricked by some seemingly well-intentioned or down and out folks, because that’s an unfortunate reality of creating a huge community. Sometimes people can take advantage.

Jennifer: I agree that it’s good that she talks about being tricked and fooled, but I think the most interesting thing for me was that she also included the hate.  She wasn’t afraid to be like, yeah, of course social media will lead to negative feedback, here’s how I deal with it.

Samantha: Ugh. We all need a user’s guide on that sometimes, even us not-famous folks.

Jennifer: It’s fun to think about how this entire book stemmed from a TED Talk that was less than 15 minutes long. She seems to mix all the different kinds of media she works with pretty seamlessly in her book. I loved watching the talk and I really appreciated her inclusion of lyrics to songs that were inspired by a specific anecdote or pictures from one of the events she tells us about.

Samantha: I didn’t even watch the TED Talk! I am a bad reader.

Jennifer : OMG. Go now! I’ll wait.

Samantha: Haha! I will later. I promise! Readers, you go now, and we will still be here when you get back.  It is really inspiring to know that someone who asks for help, gets a sweet TED Talk, makes tons of people feel moved and cry, and then gets a book deal.

Jennifer: Yes, please! It’s worthwhile. You’ll totally understand why she got a book deal.

Samantha: It’s really a magical thing.

Jennifer: Right! She was asked to do the TED Talk because she has the most successful Kickstarter in the history of Kickstarter (unless Reading Rainbow passed it?). She was able to release an album and tour, all because she asked. Crazy.

Samantha:  It was fascinating to read the thoughts of doubt she had as she was about to launch the Kickstarter, that she thought that people would think she didn’t have talent, or didn’t deserve it, etc, and even more fascinating to hear that that backlash didn’t really start until after she was fully funded.

Jennifer: The Fraud Police were definitely in fine form during her Kickstarter days, but I’m glad she stuck by what she believed was the right path for her music.

Samantha: The world is full of jerks, and full of people that donate to Kickstarter campaigns. It’s all a balance, I guess.  But that’s another great thing about this read, even if you’re not an artist or creator, I think there’s a lot to learn from in this book.

Jennifer: Right. It’s not just about artists. It’s trying to tell everyone that it’s okay to ask.

Samantha: Another thing that was really moving was hearing her troubles asking her husband, Neil Gaiman for things, particularly money.

Jennifer: Oh Neil. He’s so British about things. Her struggle with asking him just goes to show that even when asking the people closest to us, it’s difficult. It might even be more intimidating sometimes.

Samantha: Definitely. I have a hard time accepting things from people close to me, like we all do. What do you think the Trendsetter audience in particular can learn from this book?

Jennifer: I think this book is a good read for the Trendsetter readers who are trying to find their place in a work environment, especially if they’re just getting started in their career. It teaches some valuable lessons on how to ask and how to embrace different outcomes graciously.  What do you think they can learn?

Samantha: Well, I agree with you, first of all, and I think it’s valuable to Trendsetters because Palmer really focuses on personal value, and I think some of the first few years in publishing can be tough. It’s hard enough to get in and it’s hard enough to move up. I think overall this is a story about sticking with it and staying tough, and getting help from anyone that will give it to you through ASKING, which is poignant for anyone, but definitely those trying to break into publishing as well.

This is all to say. I recommend this book to, well, anyone!

Jennifer: Same here! I’m already planning to share my copy with a friend.

Samantha: Me too!

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