The Scariest Word In The Universe

BY { 14 comments }

That’s my least favorite word in the whole world. ‘No’ makes my hopes and dreams sag like a pair of soiled underpants. It makes me want to melt into a piddle-pool of shame that leaks quickly and silently through the floorboards.

Throughout my life, I’ve been so terrified of that word, that I’ve limited myself to playing safely within the white picket boundaries of the answer ‘yes.’ I go for achievable goals. I go for ‘yes’ goals. I stick to things I’m good at.

A wise person once tried to talk some sense into me: “Torre, there’s no harm in asking. You always have a ‘no.’” Easy for her to say—this woman has the chutzpah of a blowfly. When she decides she wants something, she beelines over, lands on her target and refuses to budge. She holds her ground despite the fact that people sometimes try in vain to swat her with a rolled up newspaper. She’s shameless. She’s opportunistic. She’s recklessly bold. She’s also very successful at getting what she wants.

The key to her success is that she’s not afraid to hear the answer ‘no.’ Her philosophy is: if you don’t have the guts to ask for a ‘yes,’ the answer will always be ‘no.’ Though I’ve always admired her audacity, I’ve been happy to stay within the restrictive-but-cozy boundaries of ‘yes.’

Until I finished writing a book …

I realize my book won’t sprout legs, walk over to Oprah’s house, crawl up into her bed and spoon her. (If it did, I’m pretty sure Oprah would kill it with a rolled up newspaper.) If I want to succeed, I have to put myself out there and make requests of epically important people; busy, harsh, scary people who eat exclamation marks for breakfast so they can spit out a demonic ‘No!!!!’ by lunchtime. My book’s success depends on this, so I’ve decided:

SCREW IT.

So what if I get a ‘no’? It doesn’t mean I’m naughty or stupid or rude. Maybe people are just busy, or uninspired, or distracted. Sometimes they don’t get what I’m about, and sometimes they’re just plain assholes. Not my problem. In fact, the answer ‘no’ actually has nothing to do with me. On the rare occasion that it does, I can accept the feedback, rework my proposal and keep going. I’m learning to shrug off a closed door and keep on knocking.

Here’s a story:

Amazon has a group of hardcore reviewers who dedicate their free time to rating books and products. Reviews from the elite top 500 can push a book up the Amazon rankings, and books that live in the top 100 get to spoon Oprah. I began pitching to these reviewers, hoping for some of these turbo-powered reviews.

Not long after I began sending emails, the #14 reviewer replied with a dreaded ‘no.’ She also sent me a suggestion: “You might have better luck in targeting reviewers who are not currently in the Top 100, as lower-ranked reviewers are less likely to be overwhelmed with review requests.”

In other words: aim lower, girlfriend.

This is what we’re often taught by society. Shoot for accomplishments that are easy. Go for that guaranteed ‘yes.’ It’s as though people feel vicariously embarrassed by your failure and this embarrassment can turn quickly to condescending anger: How dare you ask me! Stop wasting my time! But isn’t it always an honor to be in demand?

The word ‘no’ is so tightly entangled with our collective disappointments. Our tantrums in aisle 5 over not getting that cherry Hubba Bubba we so desperately wanted are still raw in the subconscious and we feel deeply ashamed to hear ‘no.’ Unnecessarily ashamed. We dish out ‘kind’ advice to ambitious dreamers: Aim lower. Make it easy on yourself. Make it easy on me! So many of us settle for truncated goals just so we can tune in to the easy-listening song of ‘yes.’

But I didn’t take the tip from Amazon reviewer. I don’t want to aim lower. Plus, I’d already heard back from #11:

I’d be happy to give “Swept” a look. I do get quite a few requests, and as a rule I only say “yes” to books that would legitimately interest me in my non-reviewing life.

In fact—1 in every 3 reviewers said ‘yes.’ And it’s not just the Amazon reviewers who have replied positively. Magazines have said ‘yes’ Huge bloggers have said ‘yes.’ Well-known authors have said ’yes.’ I don’t wish to toot my own horn here, I just want to tell you that I never would’ve received these successes if I’d let that one haughty ‘no’ sag my hopes and dreams.

The lesson is simple: don’t be scared to hear ‘no.’ As they say: Ask, and ye shall perhaps get to spoon Oprah.

Leave a Comment

  • Denise September 29, 2011 at 9:03 am edit

    congratulations! However, let’s not forget that you have been getting yeses because you have a fantastic book! If you believe in your product and in your ability, then yes, you need to be persistent.

    Reply
  • Dina Santorelli September 29, 2011 at 11:22 am edit

    “No” is actually one of my favorite words. When it hear it, it makes me stop and think about how to get around it. :)

    Reply
  • Julia September 29, 2011 at 3:06 pm edit

    I feel like the word “no” shouldn’t matter (even though it definitely can hurt!). There have been so many examples of rejections that, after one person said ‘yes’, became hits or even legends. The most recent example I can think of is the book The Help. I couldn’t put it down when I started reading it 2 years ago and I have seen the movie twice already! The public is in love with this story and it was told ‘no’ over 60 times. It wasn’t until it was told ‘yes’ that everything started to really matter to that author. If we can retrain our minds to think that ‘no’ doesn’t matter, we can really get somewhere with our ideas :)

    Reply
  • Tatiana September 29, 2011 at 3:39 pm edit

    That’s so great! It’s awesome to hear about your success! “No” is definitely rather frightening when it’s something we really care about and want to happen! And I agree that people often want us to aim lower, to not have as high expectations specifically so that we don’t experience rejection! This is pathological – how can you get any further with the things you want to do if you refuse to put yourself in the line of rejection-fire?

    Reply
  • Berlinertorte September 29, 2011 at 4:20 pm edit

    Just what I needed to hear today! I’m usually too afraid to go for the things I really want because I’m afraid of the rejection, but almost every time I actully ask for what I want I get it. Reminding myself of this and reading your blog post diminishes this fear, thank you :)

    Reply
  • Sarah September 29, 2011 at 6:07 pm edit

    Wow! I love this post so much, I am trying to think of something to ask for! ;) I, too, can feel shy, not want to bother anyone, think I would die of shame if someone said “no” to me. But, whatever! It never hurts to ask, worse case scenario, you don’t get what you want, so you move on and find another way. Great food for thought!

    Reply
  • Shawndra Russell September 29, 2011 at 10:15 pm edit

    This post is awesome! One of my mantras is “it never hurts to ask” because the worst case scenario is no and the best is yes. And sometimes even though nos can lead to something later and are one step closer to a future yes. This post was also insightful as to great tips on how to promote your book and who to target for reviews, which I haven’t give much thought to since I am in the “proposal is almost finished and ready to start pitching” phase. And I am definitely interested in reading your book after reading your voice and style in this post. Adding it to my “to-read” list. Congrats on all your yeses!

    Reply
  • Sarah September 30, 2011 at 9:00 am edit

    Maybe #14 was a little bitter? Too many newspaper swattings back in her early days when she quested to be in the top 100?

    Congratulations again, lady! And please, toot your own horn!

    Preferably to a remix of the song of yes-no-maybe.

    Reply
  • Kim September 30, 2011 at 3:33 pm edit

    I’ve found, too, that more people say “yes” than “no.” There are so many people out there that are too afraid to ask that the one’s that do make it on the radar simply for trying. Add to the fact that your book is fantastic and Oprah will be singing your praises in no time.

    Reply
  • Lisa Duran September 30, 2011 at 5:06 pm edit

    Woo-hoo for you, Torre! Congratulations on fighting the fear of “no,” and thanks so much for sharing your battle. For the past year I’ve had big dreams rolling around in my head, but I haven’t had the courage to acknowledge them–too many no’s surrounding them. Lately, though, I’ve been getting so many signs that it’s time to haul those dreams out into the light of day–like finding your blog–that I can’t really ignore them anymore. Thanks so much!

    Reply
  • Monica September 30, 2011 at 11:37 pm edit

    Yes…..my dear Torre…..we always have to go for the yes….May have to knock a lot of doors for one to open……. and when one opens a lot of more will open soon…….
    The one’s didn’t want to read your book is their loss .
    The one we read it and enjoyed say thanks to you for having the opportunity to read this Swept great book.

    Reply
  • Skip October 7, 2011 at 3:16 am edit

    Perhaps you need to date more women. I’ve dated quite few and even married a couple of them. So, the following advise comes from considerable expertise.

    When a woman says “maybe” she means no. When a woman says”no” she means “talk me into it”. Reviewer #14 is obviously a woman so she just wants you to give her a reason to read your book. In fact, she’s probably already started reading it!

    Reply
  • Charley @Secret_Water October 13, 2011 at 12:01 pm edit

    Apparently when I was 2 and my mum was in hospital having my little brother my sister told our babysitter (with very serious look on her face) “Charley doesn’t like No”. Its stuck with me ever since. NO is boring. Nice work on the reviews. I have your book on my list for the Christmas holidays when I can sit and read it properly, hanging from a hammock between the gumtrees in the yard of my new house :)

    Reply