Getting Better at the Art of Asking

I’ve been thinking about starting a Patreon for a long time. (For those of you who don’t know, Patreon is a website that allows people to become “patrons” for their favorite artists and creators. You can pay $1 a month or $100 a month, and you get rewards. It’s sort of like Kickstarter or IndieGoGo. It’s taking out the middlemen – the record labels, the publishing companies, etc. – and letting fans and creators do a direct exchange of money and art.)

So this week, I finally decided to launch my own Patreon. I’m a patron for several of my favorite artists and podcasts. (Author, Carrie Jones; musician, Juliana Finch; podcast, The Sell More Books Show; author and podcast host, Joanna Penn; and most recently, musician, Amanda Palmer.) This is a really difficult thing for me to do: ask for money in exchange for my art. I decided in preparation for this, I would re-read The Art of Asking by Amanda Palmer.

Amanda Palmer, for those of you who don’t know, is the singer and one half of The Dresden Dolls, a band I’ve been a fan of since 2008. She also does her own solo music and is the queen of crowdfunding. But it was actually the TED talk she did in 2013 and her subsequent book (which is basically an expansion of the TED talk), The Art of Asking, that took her from being cult famous to famous-famous. (Also, being married to Neil Gaiman doesn’t hurt the whole fame thing.)

Saying that Amanda Palmer has been a controversial figure on the internet would be an understatement. But I like her. Does that mean I agree with everything she’s ever said or done? Clearly not. But I love how unapologetic she is. Almost everything she does says “this is who I f’ing am and if you don’t like it, I don’t really care.” That’s what originally drew me to The Dresden Dolls’ music and her solo music. Every song is just dripping with not giving a shit what anyone thinks. Which is very attractive for an insecure introvert like myself.

I’m typically not very good at asking for help from people. I have a hard time even charging people what I’m actually worth when I freelance. I thought about why that is. At first, I thought it’s because I hate being vulnerable. But then that can’t be true because I’ve been vulnerable in some way my entire life. Performing my own songs that I’ve written, putting my novels out there, having my plays produced, if those things don’t make you vulnerable, I don’t know what does.

So why do so many people hate Amanda Palmer? Is it because she has the audacity to ask for help? Asking for help is so unAmerican, isn’t it? But there is no such thing as pulling yourself up by your bootstraps. Anyone who has ever accomplished anything has had help from their supporters, their friends, their families, their fans, their patrons. Back in the day, artists would not have been able to create anything without patrons.

I have been creating so much content for years. YouTube videos, blogs, books, plays, songs, social media posts, etc. And mostly, these things have been free or very affordable. And there’s always a way to consume them for free. Be an usher at one of my plays, get a free copy of my book in exchange for a review, get on the guest list for one of my shows. If someone doesn’t have money and they want to see/experience my art, I always find a way. If they ask. If they don’t ask, I don’t know about it. And I don’t plan to stop creating all of the free content. But now, I’m just “putting my hat out” for tips as Amanda Palmer says.

One day in my early twenties, I went to Little Five Points with my guitar and tried to busk. I felt like an imposter, like I shouldn’t have been there. This suburban girl playing music in the city, asking for money. And when a guy stole five bucks out of my guitar case, I just let him have it. He obviously needed it more than I did, and I felt like I didn’t even have a right to be there. I look back on that now, and I realize I had just as much of a right to be there sharing my art as anyone else did.

Because really it doesn’t matter if you’re homeless or from the suburbs or married to a rich and famous author. Everyone has the right to put their hat out and ask for anyone who enjoys their art to contribute something. It might be a dollar. It might be fifty dollars. It might just be a hug or a painting or a poem. Every little bit helps. When you throw a dollar in the hat or the guitar case, it tells the artist “hey, I like what you’re doing and I hope you keep doing it.” 

So here I am, being vulnerable and actually asking people to contribute something if you like the content I’m producing. And you’ll get tons more content if you do as I plan to create Patron-only blogs and vlogs, share stories as I’m writing them, share songs (oh, yeah, I’m playing music again), share snail mail goodies, share mix CDs, and share coaching sessions or feedback on your writing.

So here’s my Patreon. And thank you for letting me ask.

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