• Kamy Wicoff
  • Five Tips On How To Ask People For S*** So They Will Say YES
This blog was featured on 08/30/2016
Five Tips On How To Ask People For S*** So They Will Say YES

Even as I was typing the subject line for this post, I was wondering if I was qualified to write it. I thought about calling it "Five Tips On How To Ask People For S***...From Someone With A Moderate Success Rate." But asking people for things is like batting in the major leagues: the degree of difficulty is an eleven, a wildly successful average is three out of ten, and if you get on base, it really doesn't matter how you did it as long as you didn't cheat. (In the case of asking people for stuff, cheating may include anything from illegal use of guilt to making a request under false pretenses.) I am constantly struck by how hard it is to get other people to actually do stuff--rather than to just say they will. As an author pitching her second book to an indifferent universe, however, and as the former board chair of Girls Write Now, and as the mother of two boys who had to be asked eight thousand two hundred and sixty-seven times to put on their coats this morning, I have some experience with the art of the ask, and will now humbly share it here. All I ask in return is that you read to the end, because that's when I'm going to ask you for something (I guess that's ask number two), and you can vote with your mouse on how well I do it. 

1) Embrace your right to ask. This is hard to do, I know. But one of the things I've learned is that people almost never mind being asked for things, as long as you do it thoughtfully (see tips 2-5), because asking for things is a part of life, and all of us have a right to do it. I find that when I truly embrace my right to ask for things, the results are better than when I ask from a place of anxiety, embarrassment, or shame--the cringing ask versus the confident one. Sometimes I have to give myself a pep talk, of course. Usually I pretend that one of my kids is the one who needs to make the ask, and talk to myself like I would talk to them, saying 1) it's okay to ask; 2) it's okay if the person you ask says no. Which leads me to tip #2.

2) Be Prepared--Not Just "I Know I Have to Be Prepared" Prepared, but Truly Prepared--for "No." This is somewhat related to number one. To make a good ask, it helps to normalize, and de-personalize, rejection as much as you can. When I ask someone for something, I usually assume the answer will be no, which makes it all the more wonderful when I get a yes instead. More important, perhaps: I always have a backup plan. If you really feel your life, your book, your organization, or your whatever absolutely depends on getting a yes to this one particular ask, the person in question can usually tell, and, unless she is your mother or your best friend, she will probably run for the hills. (Those who say yes under these circumstances often say yes just to avoid saying no, which results in a yes-with-an-asterisk, which means you'll worry the whole time about whether or not you can truly count on it.) That's why having a backup plan--or, preferably, plans--is important. Don't make this ask the only ask. It's too much pressure on you and on the person you are asking for help.

3) Aim low. This one is simple. I always start with asks I feel pretty sure I'll get yeses to. Take blurbs, for example. A lot of people's instinct is to start by aiming high (Toni Morrison, why not?!), and only after doing that do they go to their backup list, and then to their backup backup list. But even if you should ask Toni Morrison (why not, indeed?), I'd suggest going to your "almost-a-lock" list first, or, if you don't have one, asking someone to whom you can offer something meaningful in return--even if he or she isn't the biggest name in the literary phone book. Getting the yes, not to mention the blurb, feels good, and puts you in a better position to ask others confidently, without feeling the world will end if you get a no.

4) Ask Not What Someone Can Do For You...But What You Can Do For Someone. This tip is not always applicable, because in the case of some asks, there isn't an available quid pro quo. When I ask someone to donate to Girls Write Now, for example, I try to be responsive when that person asks me to donate to a cause they care about, but if I explicitly offered that up every time I asked, I'd have nothing left to give. It also doesn't work when you are asking somebody higher up the "ask ladder" than you, like when I asked a celebrity to lend her name to the Honorary Committee for the upcoming GWN gala. (Lena Dunham wants nothing from me, it turns out.) If, however, you can find a way to offer something to the person you are asking a favor from, it is one of the best ways to get a yes there is. (It feels better, too.) Take the time to find out what that person might need, or simply offer a few concrete things that you have to give, or simply ask, "How can I help you with X?" Just make sure you know what X is. In other words, do your homework. Which leads me to tip #5.

5) Ask The Right Question Of The Right Person. I am always getting galleys from publicists who evidently have no clue what She Writes is, who I am, or even what they want me to do with the books they send. I always feel sorry for their authors--those books could have gone to much better use somewhere else! The person sending me the book hasn't bothered to do his or her homework, not only to find out who I am, but to find out, specifically, what I can do for that book, and as a result they commit one of the worst ask-errors there is: failing to ask the right favor of the right person. When I ask people for things I make my ask specific, and limit it to one thing. Sending someone a request with multiple choices (you could do this, or maybe you want to do this, or maybe this?) is not flexible and accommodating, it's confusing, and it makes the recipient of the ask feel exhausted before they even do anything. The best way to avoid this is by doing your homework. Before I write an email to someone, I always spend time getting up-to-date on what he or she is doing, and personalize my ask accordingly. Not that this is a magic bullet; I often get more no-replies than I do no's. But at least I don't feel like an idiot for sending an email that reads like a freelance journalist pitching Sports Illustrated on an article about scrapbooking. 

Do you have tips or advice to share about making an effective ask? If you do, please share them, and feel free to give me some feedback on my ask, too. :)

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  • Karen Lynne Klink

    Signing up. Great post.

  • Isobel cunningham

    Like this post. Just coming up to a year of blogging and might just ask for an interview pretty soon. These tips are good for asking for things in" real life" too. My blog...isobelmtl.wordpress.com

  • Lea Page

    OMG.  Just got an email back from Mr. Schwartz.  He said yes to reviewing and yes to an interview!!  Now I have to figure out how one does an interview.  OK-- another item to add to your list, Kamy.  Be ready for "yes!"  Woohoo!

  • Rita Gardner

    Kamy - if I'm not on your list, I'd love to be on it - [email protected].

    Also, like Laura's note below, if you've not liked my FB author page, I'd be delighted! I post occasionally and tailor my posts to "us"... www.facebook.com/ritamgardner

    Cheers! And thanks for ASKING!

  • I already liked it Laura but I hope others will too! Everyone should check out Laura's page and her beautiful book.

  • Excellent reminders, Kamy! I'm so looking forward to reading Wishful Thinking!

    I believe I'm already signed up for your newsletter, but will double check! And may I ask you to like my FB Author page? In return you will get some useful, funny, heart-filling posts!


  • Thanks all! I'm so glad this was helpful, and thank you SO much for the positive responses I've already gotten to my big ask to join my author newsletter. I love hearing about your successful asks and how you are flexing that "ask" muscle, as you so rightly put it, Cate. Lea, fingers crossed!

  • Melanie Bishop

    Hey Kamy. I signed up for the newsletter, happily! And if you can send me an ARC of Wishful Thinking, I will consider reviewing your novel in Carmel Magazine. 

  • Lea Page

    I just pressed "send" for a letter asking a TED talk presenter, Barry Schwartz, if he would review my new book, Parenting in the Here and Now-- and if he would be interested in an interview!  His work mirrors mine but in a different context (his in economics, the workplace and education, mine is raising children) but when I watched the talk, I realized we were saying the same thing.  So I wrote and asked-- and I told him that I would introduce his work to parents, who need it.  So I am hoping.  But I did just as you describe, Kamy.  I started asking for reviews from people I knew.  Their 'yesses' gave me confidence to work my way up the ladder.   I asked Katrina Kenison to review-- just wrote a personal note that expressed how much her books had meant to me-- and then I asked!  She said yes. I now prefer to do the asking instead of letting my publisher send a form letter.  I can personalize the request and be authentic.  I can connect.  This is a revelation to me.

  • Bar Scott

    Needed reminders this week, thank you. 

  • Barbara Stark-Nemon

    Done! Valuable advice