Friday, April 26, 2013

Five Ways to Ask Successfully

by +Jean Oram

While the following tips on how to ask successfully are geared towards writers, you can easily apply them to all areas of your life any time you need to ask for something--whether it is a book review or having the neighbour mow your lawn while you're away.

In a lot of ways favours make the world go around. The problem is that they don't always 'just happen' when we need them to. That's why it is important to learn how to give voice to your needs in a way that leads to success. (In other words your 'ask' isn't all ME ME ME!!)

First a little backstory:

Last weekend I held what I'd consider a successful online promotion for myself and 16 other authors on The Lovebug Blog. (You can see the promotion and download 18 great books for free or almost free. You can also read more about what surprised me about the promo and social media effects on my writing blog, The Helpful Writer.)

Herein lies some of the success: I had a really simple ask. Really simple. Basically my ask could be summed up as: send me your free book's info (almost all of the authors I approached in my network had a perma free book or one that they could put on a price promo for the weekend if they wanted to), and I will share it with my readers via my Earth Day promo: Save a Tree, Read an Ebook by using Facebook, Twitter, my blog (obviously) as well as my mailing list. I didn't ask them to promote the event or anything beyond sending me their info so I could share it with my readers--also their target audience.

In essence, this event was me doing something for them--and yes, it would benefit me as well. But it would really benefit my readers--they would get 18 great reads from authors they may not have read and who had risk-free books (i.e. free). This is starting to look like win-win-win isn't it?

My simple ask worked well, I think, and the promo benefited everyone. Over 4000 people (according to Facebook stats) saw the collage of all our book's images that I had made and there were over 1200 visits to that post in a 48 hour period with the average visitor clicking on more than one book for download.

How did that success happen? Hint: it wasn't me. I think, in part, because I hadn't asked for a ton from these authors and was helping them they wanted to return the favour by spreading the word as well. (And they did a FABULOUS job--simply stunning!!!) As well, they were able to promote themselves but in a way that wasn't all ME ME ME. It was hey readers, look! 18 free books for you! They were offering something of value to someone else that included them, but wasn't all about them.

Unexpected Offshoot

However, because these authors were so WONDERFUL, there was an unexpected offshoot--the requests I now receive from strangers have to be THAT much better in order for me to be interested.

I understand that might sound unkind. But when you are busy, and have recently worked with an amazing group of GREAT authors who are willing to do some heavy lifting and work WITH you… it changes your expectations. In effect, it has reduced my patience and tolerance for the ME ME ME asks. In other words, when I get an email with very little information about the actual ask and the asker pretty much demands I somehow work some magic on their career, it frustrates me. Why should I help? Just because I am a nice person?

As more authors band together to share the burden of promotion there are some things worth keeping in mind when it comes to asking from others. Here are my tips on how to make that ask successful:

1. Be polite and respectful of the other person's time.

This might just be the Canadian in me, but if the person you've asked a favour of replies that they don't have the time to help you out, or they reply and share the info you've asked for, be thankful they took the time to reply. And for heaven's sake thank them for it. This can really turn the tables for you. It makes you look like you actually care about the other person as well as their time. I can't tell you how many times I reply to someone's request and they don't reply back. People who do that--to me--end up looking like a greedy taker/user. I don't expect much, just a one-line acknowledgement saying thanks. And don't you dare try and tell me you are too busy to thank someone. You weren't too busy to email the person in the first place, so you aren't too busy to say thank you--something that takes even less time.

When it comes to the original email you are going to send, think of the info this person may need ahead of time and put it in your initial email. Mention what you want. Don't waste their time as well as your chance to make a favourable first impression. Some people say you should make the ask a curiosity-based thing where they have to email you back to find out more. Good luck with that. Some people can pull it off, but for the majority of us it is a kiss of death that just annoys the receiver. Be respectful of the other person's time. If they are a writer, be cognizant that your request could quite possibly be taking away from their writing time.

Be short, sweet, and to the point. Put yourself in their shoes. And be focussed.

(While this may sound harsh and make you cringe at the idea of asking from another person, don't. Just make sure you aren't wasting someone else's time. That's the big thing I'm trying to convey here. It is okay to ask for help just do it well.)

2. Don't expect a free ride. What can you do for them in return?

Ask what you can contribute. If you aren't sure, ask.

If you have ideas on how you can contribute, mention it--even if it feels small. Maybe you have a great number of Twitter followers who hang on your every word, or you are writing a magazine article and can mention them or their book, maybe it is something very small. Something. Anything!

Whatever it is, offer to help. I managed to turn a no into a yes the other day just by asking what I could do to help.

3. Make it easy. Easy for them to say yes. Easy for them to help you.

Give them every reason to say yes and not no. And frankly, who cares if you have a great reviewer quote? Tell the person what you have that their readers or they may want/need/can use. How do you fit in to the picture? And honestly, I would much rather read your blurb than some book review quote. (In book club we ruthlessly mock book review quotes because half the time they are taken out of context or are so generic they mean nothing. Eg. This is a laugh out loud book. Or This book will keep you on the edge of your seat. See what I mean? Nothing. Doesn't even tell me the genre and whether it would appeal to my readers.)

4. Be gracious and don't expect the world. Make your requests reasonable.

Don't expect your own special post or top billing--especially if the person you are contacting doesn't do that. And if they are doing something like that for you, be reasonable about it. Be gracious. And certainly don't badmouth the person. Ever.

5. Follow through.

Do what you say you will, when you say you will. And for crying out loud don't use some lame excuse that someone was sick or your dog barfed all over your slippers. You are an adult. We all are. And we all have our own sh*t going on. Man up--even if you are of the female persuasion. We don't need to hear about your tragedies because we all have our own that we are struggling with. This is business. Just because you are on your couch in your jammies yelling at your kids when you write the ask email, it doesn't mean it isn't business. Treat it as such and you will go further.

Remember, you're mama might know you're special and have years of backup knowledge, but to a stranger you are just some joe--prove you are something special and worth helping out. They are doing you a favour out of the goodness of their heart--they owe you nothing. Always keep that in mind.

Now that you've seen asking for favours from the write angle, what do you think? What do you have to add? What turns you off? What makes you want to say yes when asked for a favour? What makes you want to help others?

Thanks for sharing!

Jean Oram writes chick lit contemporary romances and is a sucker for a nice ask. Her first book Champagne and Lemon Drops is free on most major ebook vendors. Her short story, Crumbs, is in The Fall: Tales From the Apocalypse which also includes many other wonderful From the Write Angle authors. You can get more free romance on her site, more writing tips at You can follow her on Twitter: @jeanoram.


SC Author said...

I was about to pick one of your 5 that I really think is MOST necessary, but all your tips are so important! And congrats on your promo!

T.J. said...

Wonderful! Loved every word.

Jean Oram said...

Thanks, SC and TJ. I appreciate it. I um, kind of went on a bit of a rant. BUT I think it needed to be said.


Jemi Fraser said...

Totally agree! I've heard of a few weird asks lately and some people need to think a little before they start to ask!

Lori Sjoberg said...

Great post!