It’s a word I’ve heard a lot in various incarnations. If you’re in a creative field, it’s one of those things you just have to get used to. If you’re a human, it’s something you can’t avoid. It’s one of the first words toddlers learn to own. I get that — for the first part of our lives as human beings, we’re funneled everywhere, toted around, and often made to do things we don’t understand or don’t want. Finally having a voice to express displeasure or non-agreement is empowering — even if whatever we’re railing against really is for our own good.
(Ex. “Stay with daddy while we cross this busy street!”)
I still remember asking boys to dances when I was in junior high. Their answers were always no. I learned to expect a no. Later, when I started actively working toward publication, I girded myself for a deluge of them. And they came.
In publishing, they sound like a lot of different things.
It’s great, but not right for my list at this time.
This just isn’t for me.
I just signed something like this.
I don’t know how to sell this.
This genre isn’t selling right now.
This isn’t submission ready.
This didn’t work for me.
I regretfully have to pass.
I expect someone else will feel differently.
Lots of different ways that all mean no. And it’s not really fun to hear at any stage. I’ve had some rejections that felt like a boulder to the gut. We build up expectations in our head when we put ourselves out there, and having those expectations crumble away beneath our feet can make us feel like we’re suddenly plunging to our doom.
This week I had to do A Scary Thing. I had to ask author friends for blurbs.
Asking in general is hard as shit. Asking authors whose work you fangirl over to look at your words and pronounce judgement on them? YEAH OKAY SURE I’LL JUST BE OVER HERE VOMITING UNCONTROLLABLY.
(Sidebar: do you like judgement or judgment? Inquiring minds are curious about which correct spelling feels more natural.)
And these people were even friends, so even if they thought my book was a chunky pile of panic-vomit, they would likely say so in a waaaaaaay gentler fashion than that.
I asked them anyway and pretty much flinched through the rest of the day, imagining them cackling and smoking cigars and drinking straight vodka whilst planning the meanest way to say no they could think of. (Because thanks, brain.)
Here’s the thing though — all silly, overblown, melodramatic imaginings aside — I respect a good no.
I make sure to always include a thing in these asks that says, “Hey! I know you are a frenetically busy human-thing! You have a life! And a job! And your own words to worry about! You have people who depend on you to do things. Maybe even who depend on you to like, exist. So if this is not a thing you can do, I TOTES UNDERSTAND.”
And I do! Because sometimes I have to say no to people as well. I can’t do all the things. Last year I participated in a fundraiser for RAINN that just wrapped this year again (Writers for Hope! Go check out the donation page!) This year I haven’t been able to donate my time that way to anything. I had to turn down one pitch contest in which I was asked to be a mentor, but I was able to say yes to a different one that is during a more feasible time period for my schedule.
I work two full time jobs, so time is something that these days, is a primary deciding factor in what I am able to do.
I pretty much approach any situation where I have to ask people for anything as if they are Anya in that picture. If I’m asking for something that requires a significant time investment (like reading a 700 page book and offering a blurb about it), I definitely understand that sometimes that just ain’t possible without some quantum mechanical acrobatics.
As much as it’s terrifying to ask people for things and as much as I’m always hoping for a yes, I have a lot of respect for a no. Especially a kind no. A “NO. YOU’RE A DOO DOO HEAD” response is less fun, but you know, I think that kind of response would be a good indicator that proceeding with that exchange would be an undesirable turn of events anyway.
Ultimately, that’s what fertilized my growing respect for a good no.
You ask someone if they want to go out with you and they say no? Cool, you should stick to going out with people who want to go out with you.
Ask someone to have sex and they say no? Cool, back off and don’t sexually assault people. (Boundaries are good!)
Ask someone to marry you and they say no? Probably problems in the relationship that mean you shouldn’t be marrying them anyway.
Ask an agent to represent your work and they say no? You want an agent who sees you as a special snowflake and wants to work with you.
Ask an editor to buy your book and they say no? You want an editor who’s gonna be your champion and run circles around NYC shouting how awesome this book is.
Ask someone to help you and they say no? Cool — you want help from people who have the capacity to give it to you fully. They clearly know they can’t. It’s all good!
I respect a good no. It may suck to hear sometimes, but it allows for forward movement in spite of the suckage.
Asking for things with a pre-acknowledgement of a respected no can be really, really hard. It’s always scary to put yourself out there in the world. Amanda Palmer wrote a whole book about it (and it’s great). Regardless of what you’re asking for, it always opens you up to responses you cannot control or predict. I think that’s why it’s so unnerving, because you, an unpredictable and sentient human-thing, are allowing another unpredictable and sentient human-thing, to decide something independently that will have an effect on you. Understandably scary.
Yet asking is a necessary thing to come to terms with, and the word no is an integral part of it. You might hear no more than yes.
The great thing, though, is that learning to deal with a no helps detach yourself from considering it a value judgement (there’s that word again) on you. Accepting that you can continue regardless of what answer comes can be a helpful thing. Obviously in practice it can feel like barefooting it over a lava floe, but you know. Works in progress, all of us.
And hey, people might even say yes.