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07 March 2013 @ 09:11 am
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.

(x-posted from The Essential Kit)

mevennenmevennen on March 7th, 2013 10:58 am (UTC)
I agree with this. I quite often expect the best of people and this is generally reinforced - sure, there are a lot of assholes out there, but in general, people often come up trumps. My mother always said 'don't ask, don't get,' too.
The Bellinghmanbellinghman on March 7th, 2013 12:10 pm (UTC)
Hmm, it's almost as though what goes around comes around. Approach other people in a generous frame of mind and that so often gets reflected. Reap as you sew and all that.

(Which is why cynicism is such a destructive attitude.)
Laura Anne Gilmansuricattus on March 7th, 2013 12:31 pm (UTC)
I wish I COULD expect the best of asking. I may have been too battered by humanity, at this point, and I've seen that They can do a lot worse than say just no...

That said, "no" loses much of its power after the third or fourth time the dream gets broken and you keep breathing. I've learned to look for the person(s) who says Yes rather than anticipating the No. Which is a dissimilar but related philosophy, I guess.

saare_snowqueensaare_snowqueen on March 7th, 2013 12:53 pm (UTC)
"Publishing works that way too....." You just made my day. I got a rejection yesterday for a story I'm really keen on.

Time to start the rewrites. I think I can make it better.
Jason Drakejasondrake on March 7th, 2013 01:37 pm (UTC)
I wasn't able to throw in on your Kickstarter because of timing, I had just started a new job after being unemployed for a while and my first paycheck was *just* after the closing date.

I did order a physical copy of "No Dominion" off Amazon, as soon as the general public could so that counts? sort of?
silkiemom on March 7th, 2013 05:11 pm (UTC)
Huh. I wonder how you teach "Always let the other guy say no" or if it's something you're born with.

Kate started to go out for the freshman soccer team, but then quit trying. "I won't make it anyway. I'll just look stupid." We tried to get her to make them say no, but that was too hard. This is currently driving me crazy, because there are so many things you're expected to fail but take a shot at anyway (Reach college, frex.).

Maybe telling isn't enough. Maybe I'm too cautious and my kid is just modeling me. :P

Sorry, tired and rambling. And misreading the tag as "philosphy of Kit".
irishkateirishkate on March 7th, 2013 06:52 pm (UTC)
I try to let the other guy say no - I really do - and I assume everyone will like me even when I don't like me at all (I'm very boring)

Ask and you shall get an answer at least, don't ask and all you have is an assumption.

But sometimes, when trying for something, it can be very hard to give it your best and fear you will fail. It's not the same as having the nerve to ask but the nerve to try.

And now it's time for dinner - the kitchen just went ding
Chrysoulachrysoula on March 7th, 2013 07:22 pm (UTC)
This is generally a strategy I approve of but it's interesting viewing it through my personal lens. You may have seen an animated video about an ASD kid interviewing his mother. (http://www.youtube.com/watch?feature=player_embedded&v=eO7sKVKMO2s) At one point he discusses his experience with friends vs. his little sister's experience with friends. I remember having the exact same conversation with my mother re: my sister, all the way down to 'quality over quantity, right?' From that perspective, the world is full of people who 'get' without first seeming to 'ask'. And people who 'ask' in the only ways they know how and aren't even _noticed_, let alone rejected. The sort of people for whom being seen by the 8-Foot Bride really is a magical moment.

Anyhow, I hope very much to teach my kids to go ahead and ask. The worst they can do is say 'no' or ignore you or give you a really uncomfortable 'okay' and then ignore you. (I haven't yet gotten to the point where I'm comfortable asking somebody who is ignoring me until they do say 'no', just because there's a whole lot of social pressure against spamming and harassment.)