I really loved The Art of Asking, but part of that may be my own mild obsessions with twitter, blogging, and the idea that you can get rich online if you find your people. That whole street performing thing is also failry close to what I did when I was taking portraits on the floor of a busy Wal-Mart store at Christmas time.
I’d never heard of Amanda Palmer or the Dresden Dolls, though I have been a fan of Neil Gaiman, Amanda’s husband, for lo these many years. A fan of his writing I should say, and clearly not too interested in his personal life or I might have heard of Amanda before now.
The Art of Asking isn’t exactly a self help book or a book on how to bring in a million dollars with a Kickstarter campaign. It’s a book about how Amanda managed to help herself and bring in a million dollars with a Kickstarter campaign. Like many other successful people, she tells how she did it and makes it clear that you can do it too, if you are willing to spend ten years and every waking hour working on becoming an overnight success.
Amanda Palmer has a nice, easy writing style. For the most part you feel like she’s talking to you and not lecturing or offering advice from on high. She goes to great lengths to show that she makes mistakes and has occasionally suffered from them. She also spends a lot of time talking about trust and how many stranger’s couches she has slept on and how many free meals she has eaten. She seems to have a personal aversion to ever paying for anything if someone else is willing to give it to her. I have to admit, there is something very nice about being given food.
There is one very odd bit where she signs with a record label, though she is already very clearly in favor of sharing her music online and making money by having direct interaction with her fans. Yes, she got a nice bundle of money for signing with the label, but she knew she was never even going to try and make a commercial single for them. Most one hit wonders tend to have at least one hit. But Amanda didn’t want that. The Label is clearly a villain in Amada’s eyes, much like the evil Tom Hanks in That Thing You Do, but it begs the question; why would she seek a label at all?
Another bit of controversy comes near the end of the book, where Amanda writes a poem showing sympathy for the surviving Boston Marathon Bomber and she is shocked, SHOCKED!, that people were upset about it. She’s supposed to be this massive Twitter/blogger/social media goddess and she didn’t think the trolls would come out to play? Odd. Odder still she let them get to her.
She did have one little affectation that bugged me, she talked about twittering, where I tend to think the correct term is tweeting. I know, it’s all silly anyway, but she had several Amanda-isms that jangled my nerves. The otherwise clear and simple language didn’t need the spice of her made up words.
For all that, I still loved the book and its stories of standing on milk crates, letting people sign her naked body, sleeping on random couches around the world, and trying to get people to understand that there is a difference between begging and asking. The difference seems to be that a beggar doesn’t give you anything, whereas PBS and Street Performers just want to be paid for their services. She also marks the difference between forcing people to pay and letting people pay.
She makes me think of Darren and Major Nelson once she marries Neil Gaiman. Her husband has all the money in the world, but she doesn’t want to spend any of it, because, well, that would be, you know, kind of, totally, wrong. Uh, yeah. I guess she makes sure not to enjoy reading his books as well, unless she bought one, of course.
Amanda does a lot of name dropping, but they are more like shout outs, since the bulk of them are people known only to her and her little hidden world. But that is also part of the book’s charm, she talks about having this personal relationship with her million or so followers on Twitter. And that is how she can roll into any city and have a free meal and a free place to stay when she gets there. She also talks about how using Social Media is part of her work day and not just screwing around. She would also likely object to my use of the word ‘free’ since all these people are given tickets to her shows or even given private shows in return for their gifts. She could have put Bartering in the title of her book and it would have made as much sense as Asking.
A lot of people are unhappy that Amanda continues to trade shows for food and lodging, since she now seems to be making enough money to stay in hotels like a normal person. But that, of course, would mean lowering herself to being normal, and who the hell wants that?
The Art of Asking is a great book, even if it does ramble a bit from time to time. Everyone with a Twitter account should read it.