Andromeda Romano-Lax: Asking for Help

At this very moment, I’m nervously waiting to hear back from a half-dozen authors I’ve asked to blurb a new novel coming out in 2021. Even after a lifetime of writing books, and even though I’ve served as both blurber and blurbee, I continue to be confused by peer-written testimonials. Is the key to getting the blurb an author’s own connections? An agent or editor’s? Whose job is it to snag those big blurbs that mean the most?

Nearly a decade ago, I reached out to several authors I admired but didn’t know personally and got lovely blurbs, so I know it can happen. Even so, when it came to the next two books I published, I didn’t ask anyone. That’s how resistant I was to asking another writer to spend her time, uncompensated, on my work! (And let’s not even get started about people offering blurbs without reading, as was revealed again, recently, during the American Dirt controversy.)

But confusion and skepticism aren’t the only reason I find it hard to ask for blurbs. There’s something more basic going on here, the thing I’d like to talk about today: how hard it is to ask for help, period.

Let’s be honest. I resist asking a person for six or eight hours of her time. But I’m equally resistant to asking for three minutes. Earlier this summer, my daughter and I were cooking a recipe that absolutely required a small amount of soy sauce and in the final minutes of serving, realized we had none. Stores—make that store, because we only have one—close early on our small island. The discussion between my daughter, husband and I about who would go next door to the neighbor’s house to ask for a splash of soy sauce consumed our next ten minutes. Would our neighbor, whom we’d never met, think we were nuts? In the age of COVID-19, was it wrong to knock on anyone’s door for anything? (Possibly.) But we’d just moved to our new location, a rural community where people are inclined to help one another. We were all trying to shed our don’t-ask, keep-to-yourself identities. So, Brian went over. He came back with some high-quality tamari and a big smile on his face. The next day, my daughter delivered some home-baked banana bread as a way of saying “thanks” and “hello, again.” A month later, we had a socially distanced garden party with that neighbor and two from another adjacent house. A lifetime curse of not-quite-knowing-our-neighbors finally had been broken.

Maybe you’re adept at asking for soy sauce, flour or milk. But what about asking someone to read your work? Or recommend an agent? Or help you find the right website designer? Or collaborate on some other writing-related challenge?

We all know people who ask for too much. I’ve had writers ask me to read their unpublished books (without acknowledging I am a book coach and reading/analyzing books is how I make a living), give feedback on chapters (without offering mutual assistance), and explain in detail over more than the acceptable one or two emails how to build a website. I’ve given people hours of my time without receiving a thank you in response. But those people are rare—among my contacts, maybe two percent.

Much more common are people like me who are just too worried about asking. We forget that exchanging favors, especially when they are the right size, is a great way to form and strengthen social connections. We forget the wonderful feeling one gets, using one’s expertise to help another person who has asked appropriately, is genuinely grateful, and seems likely to pay it forward. We also forget—I certainly do—that other grown-ups can draw their own boundaries. We must trust them to say “This month is too busy” or “I get too many of these requests, sorry” or “I thought I could do this but I ran out of time.” Those are appropriate answers. It’s okay to ask, and perfectly fine to say no.

Sometimes the problem isn’t “asking anxiety” but sheer lack of creativity. We don’t always realize some of the small things that can be asked for.

I desperately remember the writer I was twenty-five to thirty years ago. I didn’t have an MFA, had never studied writing formally, had never written a book (but dreamed of doing so), and was tiptoeing into features journalism. I was desperate to learn, but didn’t know how. If only I had a reading list, I could educate myself! Good idea. But how did one acquire the right reading lists? I knew lots of Alaska writers by that point, including people I respected. I had addresses at my disposal. Did I send emails, asking people to recommend their top three books? Nope, I did not. (A few years later, I did get a few great reading lists from several Alaska writers, but it sure took me some time to figure out I could ask.)

So, here’s the challenge I am setting for myself, and if you’re still reading, for you as well. Think about whether you don’t ask for enough help. Think about small, appropriate things you’ve forgotten you might ask for (like extremely specific advice that doesn’t take hours). Remember that people can say no, and will. And remember—oh, how we all must remember—to say thanks when someone does give you their time and attention.

Since the time I started this blogpost to the time I finished and proofread it, four hours later, my first blurb rolled in. No kidding.

Now, I am going to write a proper thanks.


Link for American Dirt controversy:


Andromeda Romano-Lax is a 49 Writers co-founder, novelist and book coach who loves helping people draft and revise their books, as well as thrive during the many stages of a writer’s life. Her fifth novel, Annie and the Wolves, will be published in February 2021. Visit or email her at to sign up for her book coaching newsletter.



2 thoughts on “Andromeda Romano-Lax: Asking for Help”

  1. Thank you Andromeda! I find it hard to ask for help, for time, for advice, for a couple of eggs. And yet, when asked, most people are generous. In requesting blurbs for books or other publications, perhaps we also fear rejection of our work, not just the favor. I have written a few blurbs, but I have not been published at a level where I needed to ask for blurbs from others. I was honored to be asked.

    At heart, if we ask honestly, let people know that we will understand if they decline, and thank them before and after, we can do little more. Although writers are reputed to be loners, we are a community of neighbors.

    Two questions: 1) If someone agrees, but doesn’t send you a blurb in time, how do you approach them to encourage them to produce? 2) How do you approach someone who doesn’t know you at all? I’m assuming it must be along the lines of a modified pitch letter to an agent or publisher.

    Thanks for your wise blog post. As for neighbors, my neighbor and I mow each other’s lawn when we mow our own. Such a treat to hear that other lawnmower. Deadline = mowing on the first sunny dry day before he beats me to it. Just postage-stamp yards… but still…

  2. This is great, Andromeda, thank you for writing it. Receiving help is obviously a gift, but asking for help can also be a gift–for the asker it cultivates openness and vulnerability and for the one asked it is often an honor, as it implies trust and respect. I also love your point about allowing adults to state their own boundaries. If there’s anything I hate, it’s the whole “I mean, only if you really want to, and it’s totally okay if not, and please don’t go out of your way, and…” Argh! Ask what you want, and I will tell you what I can or can’t do, thank you. 🙂
    Also, congrats on the new book!

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