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The Art of Asking: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Let People Help Paperback – October 20, 2015
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"A book unlike any other I've ever read. . . a book I'd have no problem recommending to everyone I know. My mother, my best friend, my work friends, my Facebook friends, my LinkedIn contacts, even the people I meet on the street or see on the subway when I commute to and from work. It's that important and that groundbreaking. This book is not just someone's brave and personal journey from childhood to her life as an artist, but it also addresses why and how it's so hard to look into someone else's eyes and be real, and ask for help when we need it. . . . Palmer has, not to put too fine a point on it, ripped open her chest and exposed her heart for all to see. She's written her truth - and it's at once brutal and gloriously, importantly beautiful."―The Huffington Post
"'The Art of Asking' is a compelling read, easily the most universal work she has ever done."―The Boston Globe
"Much as Anne Lamott offered 'instructions on writing and life' in Bird by Bird, Amanda Palmer will be instructive to anyone who struggles with fear of the 'no.'"―Shelf Awareness
"This is the kind of book that makes you want to call the author up at midnight to whisper, 'My God. I thought I was the only one.'"―Jenny Lawson, the Bloggess and author of Let's Pretend This Never Happened
"To read Amanda Palmer's remarkable memoir about asking and giving is to tumble headlong into her world. At first, you find yourself thinking, 'Goodness, what a crazy world that Amanda Palmer inhabits! How does she possibly endure it?' Then, gradually, as you read along, a doorway opens up in your heart, and you realize, 'I want to live in a world exactly like hers.' God willing, this book will show us all how to do it."―Elizabeth Gilbert, author of Eat, Pray, Love and The Signature of All Things
"Amanda has a direct line with her audience-a lifeline for them and for her, the codependency all truly great performers surrender to . . . She's capable of anything, incapable of telling anything but the truth."
"A story about a life in one dollar bills, from statue to icon, where media doesn't matter, crowds do. Mandatory reading in the digital age, for aspiring artists and their doubtful parents."
―Nicholas Negroponte, founder, MIT Media Lab
"Amanda Palmer joyfully shows a generation how to change their lives."―Caitlin Moran, author of How to Be a Woman and How to Build a Girl
"Amanda Palmer's generous work of genius will change the way you think about connection, love, and grace."
―Seth Godin, author of Tribes
"From this beautiful, heart-wrenching story of art comes an incredible account of the nature and future of commerce."
―Lawrence Lessig, author of Free Culture --This text refers to an alternate Paperback edition.
About the Author
Amanda Palmer rose to fame as the lead singer, pianist, and lyricist for the acclaimed band The Dresden Dolls, and performs as a solo artist as well as collaborating with artists including Jonathan Richman and her husband, author Neil Gaiman.
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Top Customer Reviews
If you have an opinion about Amanda Palmer, reading her new book “The Art of Asking” will very likely reinforce it, many times over.
“The Art of Asking” (subtitle: “How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Let People Help”) is an expansion of the popular TED talk she gave in 2013 of the same name, in which she described her early days working as a “living statue” street performer and how her lifelong business model developed out of the relationships she built with fans. When your work means something to someone, she found, that person will want to pay you for it.
“I think people have been obsessed with the wrong question, which is ‘How do we make people pay for music?’” she said then. “What if we started asking, ‘How do we let people pay for music?’”
Over three million people have since watched that video. Her book takes it farther, delving even deeper into the value she’s found that people place on art when it speaks to them and the transactional nature of human connection. Just as importantly, it’s a master class on how an artist can build, maintain and grow an audience in a new social media environment where record labels rarely promote anyone these days who’s name isn’t Beyonce or Taylor Swift.
“How do we create a world in which people don’t think of art just as a product, but as a relationship?” she asks. And she answers, in detail. For some readers, her description of the trials and triumphs of her record-breaking Kickstarter campaign where she asked for $100,000 and received $1.2 million may be worth the price of the book.
It’s also a memoir, as it has to be because to be Amanda Palmer is to expose yourself completely. If there’s anything that Palmer watchers can agree on, it’s that she puts everything out there, for good or bad, whether it’s on Twitter or Facebook or Tumblr or Instagram or her blog or in her songs or, now, in this book. “The Art of Asking” is as emotionally open and blunt as everything else she does.
But is it any good?
Unquestionably, fans will love it. Palmer has an easy writing style that lends itself perfectly to stories told while sitting around the kitchen table or hanging out by the bar and she opens up here as never before, skipping around her life out of order to talk about influences, seminal moments, important people such as the next-door neighbor who became her mentor, and, throughout, her relationship to her husband, author Neil Gaiman. For that matter, Gaiman fans will appreciate the glimpse into their private life. Anyone who wondered what these two very different people saw in each other may gain some insight as to how they grew together and how they make it work.
If you’re not a fan, you may become one. If you dislike Amanda Palmer you may find your assumptions validated, however, as she occasionally sinks into self-indulgence and skips over a few of the smaller controversies in her life.
She talks about her early life and her decision to become a street performer standing on a box in a wedding dress as “The 8-Foot Bride,” holding motionless until someone dropped a bill or some coins in her hat. She describes the surprising, almost tangible feelings of connection as she offered a flower or made eye contact and how she discovered that such connections had value.
Palmer went on to form The Dresden Dolls with drummer Brian Viglione, seeking “salvation through volume” with their pounding, screaming Victorian punk rock style. Their audience grew, helped in part by her insistence on meeting fans after the show and her use of mailing lists and parties -- early social media -- for more fan interactions. She began building a community. When touring, the Dresden Dolls regularly asked for volunteers, food, crash space, and for local musicians to get up on stage and open for them in exchange for merchandise table space and hugs. Palmer found that asking for help almost invariably resulted in success and an artistic community of people who were joyously looking out for each other.
When the Dolls were signed to a label, their first album sold well but not to the label’s expectations. They also wanted Palmer to stop talking to her current fans to go court new ones, she said. It took her years to finally break away.
“The whole point of being an artist, I thought, was to be connected to people,” she said. “To make a family. A family you were with all the time, like it or not. That was the way we’d been doing it for years, whether or not we had an album or a tour to ‘promote’.”
Not everyone saw it the same way. When she took asking to a whole new level with a Kickstarter campaign for her new album, “Theater of Evil” (disclosure: I was a contributor at the CD level), she broke the site’s record at the time and went on to launch the tour for the new album. As she had for the past decade she asked for local musicians to sit in, but this time the request was coming from someone recently famous for getting a million-plus dollars -- never mind that most of it was for pre-orders and shipping -- and she was soundly castigated for ripping off musicians. She posted a breakdown to prove it wasn’t all profit, and ultimately paid the musicians, but the damage was done and her reputation took a hit. Soon after she wrote a poem empathizing with Boston Marathon bombing suspect Dzhokhar Tsarnaev that brought a firestorm of criticism.
She writes about those events, as she writes about everything. Palmer’s intimate relationship with her fans has, from the beginning, been based on trust. Crowd-surfing, asking for help, couchsurfing, letting people pick their own price for her music... all of it relies on the goodwill of fans to pay her to make more art for them.
Ultimately the book is about learning how to ask.
“Often it is our own sense that we are undeserving of help that has immobilized us,” she said. “Whether it’s in the arts, at work, or in our relationships, we often resist asking not only because we’re afraid of rejection but also because we don’t even think we deserve what we’re asking for.”
When I heard she had a book coming out, I definitely wanted to read it. So I grabbed a copy, and tore through it in a couple of days. It was one of those books people like to refer to as "unputdownable" (though I really hate that word) or maybe "gripping" -- as in I was gripping the covers, refusing to let anyone pull it out of my hands.
I really enjoyed the book, as it gave me a lot of insight into Amanda's mind and personality, two things that fans will definitely have a lot of insider information on already. But guess what? The stuff she does won't work if she's not at the center of it all. She's found her tribe, and she's pulled each member in close by being real with them, one on one. Whether that was at live shows, in the signing line, via email (back when email was new and weird), on Twitter, or through "ninja" shows that she throws together at a moment's notice or by crashing at their house with her band, her success has clearly come from connecting with her people -- the people that get what she's doing and support it. And all of that is intensely interesting, as she details how she did all of this and why.
Some reviewers have noted that this is a book that will give you a lot of info about how things work for Amanda, but not for anybody else, and I would agree with that to some extent. However, that's also the point: this isn't a self-help or how-to book (despite Amazon's placement of it in both categories). It's a memoir.
That being said, if you think there's nothing you can apply to your own life after reading this book, you should read it again. There are lots of great things you can take away from Amanda's story (and the various mini stories woven in throughout), whether you're an aspiring artist, a struggling artist, a world-famous artist in need of some human connection, a fan or even a hater. It got me thinking about how I used to write, back before I went to school to study creative writing and "learn" how to be an artist. And it's got me pondering other things, too, like why it's so frustrating when people stand there staring at me instead of just saying, "Hey, can I ask you something?" or why my first reaction, a lot of the time, is annoyance instead of acceptance or compassion. Why I rebel against sappiness and oversharing, but also avoid those too clever for their own good. Why it's important to me that people be "real," but I am terrible at spotting the phonies. Why asking for things is, indeed, so difficult -- even when it will help, even when it's necessary.
Am I one of AFP's rabid fans? No. But this book certainly made me see her in a different light, and within its pages she has given me plenty to ponder, and therefore it is completely worthy of all 5 stars. Well done, Amanda. And thank you.
P.S. I love the "blender setting" analogy used towards the end of the book. It's a great way to explain fictional works to those that insist on reading them nonfictionally, and especially autobiographically.
Long before I knew there was an Amanda Palmer in the world, I’d been spreading the message that creators and consumers must consider themselves part of an interdependent, peer-to-peer community with the swirling blend of the creator’s works and the consumers experience at the center.
Through carefully chosen, sometimes painfully personal, anecdotes from her own life and the lives of her closest friends, mentors, and family, Amanda Palmer demonstrates how that community coalesces, sustains itself, and grows.
She’s walked the walk of the Conversation-Age creative community member, a beneficiary and sponsor of neo-patronage, on a path that, while uniquely her own, speaks to what’s possible for the rest of us.
The “how to,” put succinctly?
Be vulnerable, trust, give back… and ask.
-- excerpted from a blog post on my website