This is one of those fundamental facts that, of course, I’ve known all along, but now, as I think of ways to do my best to support my book, I realize the deep and absolute truth of it.
If you want something, you have to ask for it.
This is almost always true. It’s also somehow counterintuitive to how human brains are wired. Often, we don’t want to have to ask. We love those stories about super models being discovered just walking through a shopping mall. We subscribe to the notion “if you build it, they will come.” We want our loved ones to know what we want – and give it to us – “without having to ask.” Have you ever said, or thought that?
I’m not going to say it’s NEVER true. That serendipity and good chance never happen. My husband surprised me with a trip to Spruce Meadows for my last birthday and I didn’t ask him to. (Then again, I had made it pretty clear that if I were ever to be persuaded to get on a plane and leave my children behind, one of the few places that would do it for me was Spruce Meadows …).
Still, mostly, you do have to ask when you want something – at least something of value to you: something important.
I had to ask / apply for university. Then, when I finished university in 1994, in the middle of a big recession, with an English degree, I had to pretty much beg for a job. Then I had to apply for university again as my ticket out of a job and city I didn’t love.
I had a few different jobs after journalism school and, all but one, I had to apply for. The one that came for “free” – the one that was offered to me – was OK, did in a pinch, but staying in it wouldn’t have fulfilled any of my life dreams.
Every single story I’ve been paid to write (and many I did for free) was pitched by me – in other words I asked an editor to let me write it. I applied for the first writing grant I got. I put together a proposal for the workshops I teach at the Ottawa Catholic School board.
As to my novel, well that was asking on a grand scale. That was asking with about a two per cent return on my asks. I tried, fell down, climbed back up, inquired, requested, queried, re-queried, followed-up – you get the picture – my publishing contract did not fall into my lap. I chased it.
And now? More of the same. People are lovely and wonderful and supportive. They enrich my life. They make me smile. I love my publisher. I love the representative responsible for selling my book in Ontario. I am so buoyed by Patricia Sanford’s instant agreement to sell my book in her wonderful art gallery this summer.
These things have come to me, and they are blessings, and I count them, but I did ask.
I try to make my asks creative and considerate. I strive for them to be fully reasoned. I also attempt to include some win-win in them. But I keep asking.
So, please don’t get discouraged if you’re not making the progress you’d like to be. Please don’t feel like you’ll never get there. I know it can be hard, and I know sometimes you wish you didn’t have to, but you do need to just keep asking.
And, no, you won’t get yesses all the time. Probably not half the time. But some of the time. Eventually, enough of the time. And the yesses you earn – the ones you fight for – can sometimes lead to those sweet moments when you’re given something without having to ask first.
It is worth it. I promise.
P.S. To help lend some perspective to this – that first job in 1994? The one I ended up taking for $35,000.00 / year, out of which I had to pay living expenses in Toronto? I sent out 100 resumes to get that job. One hundred. And this was in the days when each one had to be printed and mailed – no email back then.