The Universe Provides (or, If You Ask Them, They Will Contribute)

Last night (well, back in mid-January when I wrote this it really was last night) I finished Amanda Palmer’s The Art of Asking. We are a different generation, she and I, and so I was surprised by how strongly I identified with her, how deeply I was touched by who she is, what I had in common with her.

Palmer came to fame as a musician (the Dresden Dolls) during a time when I was busy doing other things. I was aware of the band’s name … but that’s all. (That she’s married to author Neil Gaiman, whose work was well known to me, is such an interesting fillip in this story. But we’ll get to that.) Palmer became familiar to me in 2012 when she made the news by having the most successful (at that time) Kickstarter (crowdfunding) campaign for music (specifically, to pay to make an album and tour behind it). There was a subsequent brouhaha in the press about Palmer’s invitation to local musicians along the tour to appear onstage … unpaid.

You know how I feel about that now, but it turns out this is an offer Palmer had been making for years, tour after tour. Her fans were neither surprised nor dismayed by this revelation; only the press—the revelators themselves—were. Palmer has a long history of asking the universe for help with her career. And it has provided. “Given the opportunity,” she says in the book, “some small consistent portion of the population will happily pay for art.” But she’s learned to ask them to pay for it.

I can’t tell you how strongly this theme resonates with me. As a freelance editor, I have to ask for work all the time. It should resonate with anyone who is creating art and trying to make a living from it—because it’s not easy. You have to build a platform, a network, a tribe … of fans, clients, supporters.

But Palmer’s Kickstarter campaign wasn’t the most successful in that moment simply because she asked. “Effective crowdfunding is not about relying on the kindness of strangers,” she says, “it’s about relying on the kindness of your crowd. There’s a difference.”

You find your crowd—people who dig what you’re doing (remember: some small consistent portion of the population will pay for your art)—and you (net)work it. Palmer worked it. And she tells you just exactly how she worked it. If you’re considering self-publishing, if you’re considering raising funds for any artistic endeavor, if you want to see how crowdfunding works, The Art of Asking is worth the price (no pun intended) for that story alone.

But there are other stories. Palmer is a public figure. She’s loud, she’s brash, she’s brave. She’s a bit of an exhibitionist, some might say. She makes mistakes (and owns them). She gets negative press. (Wired magazine rightly points out that she’s often the victim of a double standard: women are “supposed” to be nice, feminine, soft-spoken, passive—not aggressive in pursuit of a career. Palmer is also accused of having “married into an audience much larger than the one she commands on her own”—that is, her success is due solely to her husband’s success. And you know how I feel about that.)

Gaiman and Palmer’s relationship began as a creative collaboration, working on various music/writing projects. His public persona is different from hers—private where hers is public, quiet where hers is loud—and yet, and yet. There they are, still publicly collaborating on projects. This story in the Guardian about one of Palmer’s house concerts (“around midnight her husband—the fantasy novelist Neil Gaiman—shows up and signs autographs and poses for photographs”) demonstrates he is as much in her corner as she is in his, I think.

I was touched, though, by her admission that she found it difficult to accept financial help from her husband when she was between projects and found herself short on cash. “I’d been earning my own salary as a working musician for over a decade, … paid my own bills, could get out of any bind on my own, and had always been financially independent from any person I was sleeping with,” she says. The Irishman cheerfully helped me weather the recent recession, although I had, like Palmer, never accepted money from anyone in all these years I’d been a single mom.

All in all … I liked the Amanda Palmer I met in The Art of Asking. She’s been criticized for “only” expanding on her now well-known TED Talk (it’s well worth your thirteen minutes) and at the same time for not having produced a “how-to” book (although anyone who says that hasn’t really read the book, because it’s all there). If you’ve been basing an opinion on what you’ve read in the press, read the Guardian article, which offers this—

I am left with warm feelings for Amanda Palmer. At the house party, she was happy and easygoing and approachable, and she gave her fans a very good time. Plus, I liked her music.

—in an article that is fair and balanced about her ups and downs. Again, I liked the Amanda Palmer I met in this book. She delivers what she says she’s going to deliver, and she always says thank you. She dispenses hugs with those thank-yous too. I enjoyed reading about her career trajectory and admire that pretty much everything she’s done, artistically speaking, has been an experiment (from which she learned). She’s brave. I’m learning be that too.

Tweet: Amanda Palmer asks for it! (Loved the book.)
Tweet: If you’re considering raising funds for any artistic endeavor, The Art of Asking is worth the price.
Tweet: I finished Amanda Palmer’s The Art of Asking. How strongly I identified with her!

Disclosure of Material Connection: I have not received any compensation for writing this post. I have no material connection to the brands, products, or services that I have mentioned. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255: “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”


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  1. I was completely intrigued by The Art of Asking and picked it up several times. I loved the cover and the title, but I have a stack of books to read, one to finish, and…I stink at asking for anything. Unless you are Jesus, I’m probably not going to ask for anything. But everything you said about networking, asking for work, and in my case, asking for support for the work that I do in the ministry takes asking without making an apology for it. And that makes me want vomit and be brave and maybe read an edgy book. :)

    • Jamie Chavez says:

      I hope you’ll be able to take what you need from it, Jennifer. I was certainly glad I read it. Thank you for stopping by—and maybe follow up with me later! :)

  2. Emily says:

    Nice piece, Jamie. And it’s nice to see you weave your own learnings in with the inspiration you took from hers. Kudos for all your growth and continued success.