I had lunch with a writer friend a while back who had finished her novel and was preparing to query agents. She was understandably nervous about putting her work out into the world and was working really hard to get everything (synopsis, query letter) as good as it can be.
She was also putting together a list of the agents she wants to query, and because she’s smart, she’s reaching out to published authors she knows to ask if she can use their name in her letter. The trouble is, she told me, that no one was offering to help.
The Ask That Isn’t
This surprised me. Usually writers are up for helping out a fellow writer, especially if it’s something as simple as “can I say that I know you?”
So I asked her.
Me: What exactly did you say?
Her (talking about one specific author-friend she reached out to): I texted her and told her that I finished my novel.
Her: She said “congratulations”
Me: And then you asked if you could drop her name when you query her agent?
Her: She didn’t offer.
I told her that, in my best estimation, this writer friend was NOT giving her the cold shoulder, but in fact probably didn’t even realize that she was being asked for something because the ask was never actually made.
You Have to Ask, For Reals
I want to take a minute and talk to the ladies here. This is a thing we do. We wait for things to be offered (check out this piece from NPR about it). Well, I’m here to tell you, people can’t give you what they don’t know you want. It’s time to speak up.
It can be scary, no doubt, but you have to get over it. Take a deep breath and make the ask. Straight forward and unmistakable. Just ask.
Here are just a few of the ways that finding a little bravery and asking for what I wanted changed my life:
- A while back, this blog made the Writer’s Digest’s Best 101 Blogs for Writers. Know how that happened? I asked. I personally emailed every friend I had and asked them to nominate me. I even sent them a handy little script they could easily edit when they sent the email so it required very little thought on their part. And it worked.
- When my now-agent visited a class of mine in grad school he put out the offer that any of us could make an appointment to come talk with him in his office any time (he also said he made that offer every year and no one had ever taken him up on it). I didn’t have a manuscript ready (wouldn’t for another 9 years!), but I called and asked for an appointment and we talked about my book for a little. And when I queried him 9 years later he remembered me.
- Then there was that time I was changing jobs and really didn’t want to work 40 hours a week anymore. I asked for 80% time so I could work just four days a week. That was a super scary ask. I was sure they wouldn’t give me the job if I voiced what I really wanted. But you know what? They did.
Favors as Currency
To be clear, I’m not saying you should try to build a career on favors. You have to be strategic about your asks. Treat them as currency.
- Only ask for the things that are truly important to you.
- Understand that you might still get a no. Don’t be discouraged.
- If you can do something on your own, do it and save your asks for something that you really can’t do alone.
- Do favors for others whenever you can. This is just good karma. If you’re always asking and never helping, you will eventually run out of good will.
What have you been scared to ask for? Did you suck it up and make the ask? Or do you wish you had?