How to ask for help (and get the best results)

I’ve experienced it more than a few times: you ask for help, and you don’t get helpful answers. One example: I once asked in a facebook group whether they’d classify urban fantasy as a romance or a fantasy genre and a lot of people responded with “traditional publishing sucks anyway”. Or, worse, you don’t get an answer at all! 

There are two reasons for this. One, people are busy. Unless you make it easy for them to answer, they’ll likely find it too much effort (depending on who you are to them). Two, if you don’t give them a context or scope, they’ll supply some form of context themselves, and it’s not always the thing you’re looking for. 

So here are some things that you can do to make sure that you’re getting helpful answers:

Ask specific questions

Don’t message someone and say: “Hey, what do you think of this?”. It’s incredibly vague and sets you up for a lot of unhelpful answers. A much easier question to answer would be things like “I have two variations, which one do you prefer?” or “I feel like I’m repeating myself too much in this article, can you let me know what you think?”. 

Alternatively, if you’re asking for someone to help you by performing an action: “Hi, I’m trying to reach John Doe, could you check in with him to ask if he’ll get back to me?” or “I’m trying to get as many votes as possible, could you use this link [insert link] and click my name to let them know you support me?” 

That way, the people you’re asking for feedback or help from know exactly what to do, and will be more likely to do it because it’s a small effort.

Ask specific people

It can be tempting to just “throw the question out there” on our social media platforms. For general questions that you need a large number of responses for, this is fine. But the more specific your question is, the more you should think about asking specific people to help you. 

Asking someone specifically allows you to take advantage of their expertise instead of getting uneducated guesses. For example, for Netherrealms’ logo design I asked a few graphic designer friends of mine for their opinions, instead of illustrators or just random friends or family, who don’t work in design.

Have a relationship before you ask

The closer or relevant your relationship with someone is, the more you can ask from them. You can ask more from your parents/caregivers than from some random person on the street, right? Similarly, you can ask a friend that you regularly talk to for some in-depth feedback on your work, but probably can’t expect a reply from that one artist/author you really look up to but haven’t ever spoken to. 

Sometimes there’s a valid relationship that won’t be instantly obvious. If so, make sure to state that clearly in the first sentence of your DM or in the title of your email. As an example, I regularly email art directors for them to consider my work. I always put “artist submission” in the title. Similarly, I had some questions a couple months ago for some artists that I’d never talked to before about joining an agency. My subject line in my email to them was “Questions about X Agency (from a fellow artist)”. The implications were clear: I was a fellow artist and wanted to know about their experiences at the agency.

Lastly, thank them for their help!

Yes, I really need to state this. Don’t forget to thank the people that are helping you and even better, keep them in the loop if you think they’re interested! People love to see their advice had an effect. If something was really helpful, just send a short message with “Thank you for your help! We managed to do X, just like you suggested.” You might not get a reply depending on your relationship with your helper, but I’m sure that they’ll be happy to hear their advice was valuable!