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:
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.