There are no easy answers in writing and publishing, right? When I went through some of the biggest changes in my writing career — for example, getting an agent, or inking my first publishing deal — I thought, “Oh good, now everything’s different.” Surprise! Some things are different, but some things remain very much the same. And no matter what stage of your writing career you’re in, whether you’ve published zero books or two dozen, you never really get to stop worrying. All that changes is what you’re worrying about.
So! Why am I claiming that there’s one way to make everything better in your writing and publishing career? Because there’s one thing that you might be particularly worried about doing, and I’m here to tell you it’s the one thing you need never worry about.
Here’s the one thing you can always know it’s right to do: ask.
Not sure whether you should follow up on hearing from that agent you sent your full manuscript to three months ago? Ask. Wondering whether that fellow writer you met at a conference one time might be interested in exchanging manuscripts for a beta read? Ask. Thinking it might be a good idea to ask that well-known author you met at a reading once to take a look at your soon-to-be-published manuscript for a blurb? Ask. Not sure whether your publisher is delivering the marketing punch you want and think your agent might have an informed opinion on the matter? Ask, ask, ask.
There are ways to go about asking wrong, sure. Don’t follow up with agents too frequently or too aggressively. Don’t hassle fellow writers. Don’t presume that the author you met once will definitely deliver a blurb, and certainly don’t trash them on social media if they don’t say yes or even respond. (I’ve seen it. It’s not pretty. And it doesn’t make them look bad; it’s not a great look for you.)
But a humble inquiry? From you to virtually anyone involved in the publishing process? I’m going to go out on a limb and say it’s nearly always the right move.
Not because it’ll always get you the result you want: it won’t. Following up with that agent very well might shake loose a rejection, for example. But the rejection doesn’t happen because you asked the question. If you follow up and hear a no, that no was there anyway — you just didn’t know about it yet. (Schrodinger’s rejection!) The fellow writer might not be interested in beta reading. There’s a very good chance the well-known author doesn’t have time to blurb your book, as fabulous as it might be.
But this is why you ask: because no one can say yes to you if you don’t. You have to put yourself out there a little bit, take that risk, for the chance at getting the yes you want.
Q: What have you asked for and gotten in your writing career? What have you asked for but not gotten, but still been glad you asked?