Amanda Palmer on Recording Her Audiobook, the Weird Places She Writes, and Fear

If you already follow Amanda Palmer, author of The Art of Asking, on Twitter, then you probably know that lately she’s been busy grieving, battling Lyme Disease, recording with her father, and preparing to have her first baby with her husband Neil Gaiman. So we were incredibly pleased that she took time out from her nonstop, go-go-go life, to answer a few questions for us via email.


[Judy Oldfield] My understanding of the way audiobooks are made is that narrators—even when it’s the author narrating their own work—are given a script that they can’t stray from. It’s hard for many authors. Was it hard for you?

[AP] No, it wasn’t hard. It was actually really helpful to be in the recording studio at that exact moment. I was in New York for three straight days of recording and the book itself was in final editing stages, which meant that I was sitting there with a pencil, changing lines, scratching out repetitive words, saying things like, “Wait . . . that doesn’t actually makes sense, does it?” And I’d stop and ask the audio engineers, “Does that makes sense?” And they acted as editors along with me.

So in a sense, I was still finishing up the script, and lucky for me. Because reading aloud brings new problems into light that silent reading just doesn’t highlight. And it also really solidified my own personal relationship with the book, to just sit there for three days and read the whole thing, in front of an audience, even if the audience was just audio engineers and a rep from the publisher. It was like doing a live performance and seeing how the emotional arcs actually hit me, and hit the people listening. Truth be told, there were two or three times I looked out the studio into the control room and made sure they were crying . . . or at least close to crying. I choked up at least three times.

[JO] In The Art of Asking, you wrote about needing a lot of privacy in order to create. What’s the most unusual place you’ve written something (be it blog posts, your book, or music)?

[AP] Ha. Well—I’ve written in a lot of strange places, especially since getting a phone and being able to leave myself notes and voice memos anytime. Bathrooms everywhere. Friends’ homes. Subways. Closets at parties. One of my favorite birth-spots for a full song was in a keg room of a nightclub in Portland, OR, where I wrote “Astronaut”. I held a gun to my head that night because the guy I was writing it about was in the audience for one night and one night only. And so I just did it. An immediate audience has often been my mother of invention.

[JO] People have very strong opinions on you and your work. I have a friend who says that listening to your former band The Dresden Dolls got her through her divorce. But I’ve also read critics who’ve dismissed you for anything from your appearance to your mistakes (real or perceived). Any idea why you provoke such strong responses from people?

[AP] Sure. I think people with strong emotions elicit strong emotions. It used to bother me more, but I’ve come to realize that it’s just part of the game of life. It’s especially true when you’re a woman, and the more of the world I see, the more I see people being fearful of women who live out loud, mistakes or no. And I figure my job is just to get on with it, and not to cower, and not to try to please people.

[JO] Your TED Talk has 7 million views. Your book, The Art of Asking, is a bestseller. What’s the most surprising thing that’s happened to you because of the talk or the book?

[AP] The most surprising? Honestly the most surprising thing is when I’m walking down the street in New York and a super bad-ass looking hoodlum-esque teenager passes me on the street, takes his headphones off, and says, “Wait, are you that TED girl? I just saw your TED talk and I loved it. That asking shit is dope.” That’s happened multiple times. And I’m always astoundingly happy.

[JO] You’ve recently gone back to crowdfunding, though in a newer, more sustainable way. How has Patreon helped you as an artist?

It’s liberated me. There’s 5,500 people currently entrusting me with their credit cards basically saying, “Go ahead and make art, and charge as needed, forever,” which feels like a massive relief and responsibility at the same time. It’s like I got access, suddenly, to a magic highway spur that bypasses the entirety of the mass media, the music industry, and the entire establishment.

But there are moments when it just feels surreal to be so far off the grid, with absolutely nobody in the “real world” paying attention to the madness that is going on outside the city.

But then again, that’s the modern world. There’s always so much going on nowadays that you don’t know about. Sometimes it feels like me and my fans live in a cave, and I worry that we need more air.

[JO] Libro.fm is a new company. We’re the independent bookstore for digital audiobooks. As a writer, an entrepreneur, and an advocate of independent bookstores, what advice do you have for us?

[AP] Don’t let Amazon and Audible get you down.

[JO] What challenges or fears are you facing right now? What are you doing to overcome them?

Oh dear lord . . . nice timing. I’m eight months pregnant. I have NO IDEA what is about to happen to me, I feel like I’m about to fall of an existential cliff, and I’m just bracing myself for an unknown reality over which I will have little control. And what am I doing to overcome them? Nothing, really, except trying to put every piece of zen wisdom I’ve ever lean red into practice. There is only now, now and now. And now. Whatever happens: birth, death, change, catastrophe . . . it will still be now, and it will still be fine. There is never ever any space for regret or fear. It’s poison.


The Art of Asking is our Book of the Month. Use the code WeLoveAmanda at check out to get 25%.

Book of the Month: The Art of Asking

Each month, the Libro team selects a book that we believe will spark dialogue and discussion for our listeners. Our goal is to create an open space for our audiobook listening community to ponder ideas, pick minds, and talk about what we love most: books. This month we’ve chosen The Art of Asking: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Let People Help by Amanda Palmer.

I was initially drawn to this novel after hearing about Amanda Palmer’s fascinating life story, one that wanders down many paths but ultimately ends in the single realization that asking is a key component of success in life. Frozen as a living statue, Amanda Palmer posed in a wedding dress asking passersby for their pocket change. As a musician, she asked for the literal support of her audience as she flung herself into their arms crowdsurfing. And when Palmer asked fans to support her independent album, she was met with the world’s most successful music Kickstarter. Amanda Palmer is a singer-songwriter, crowdfunding pioneer, and TED speaker, who is definitely not afraid to ask for help. Her TED Talk, on which this book is based, has more than seven million views.

In her memoir, Palmer delves into a paralyzing fear so many people face, that of admitting to needing and asking for help, and how it affects their lives and relationships (including her marriage to novelist Neil Gaiman). Through her revelations, she discovers the emotional, philosophical, and practical aspects of asking for help.

The Art of Asking will inspire its readers to rethink their ideas about asking, giving, art, and life. There is a piece of advice for everyone here—something to take away, apply, or learn from. Not only do her ideas have practical applications in real life relationships and day-to-day situations, but also in career and business decisions. I loved her thoughts on building community. In asking for help we allow others to support us. Moments like this are the foundation for relationships, communities, and life. Palmer tells us of the value in taking risks by asking for what we want and need, a skill most people shy from. Palmer flips the idea of asking as “weakness” on its head, calls it strength, and shows her audience that some of the best creations are those that are built together.

I also absolutely loved the music this audiobook features. It’s a special addition not found in most books. Hearing both her songs and writing allowed me to grasp the entirety of all that is Amanda Palmer, to see her from all sides as a musician, performer, speaker, and writer.

This is a book that speaks for itself. Amanda Palmer has a unique perspective full of valuable, applicable, and unparalleled ideas on life. Palmer’s story is just plain interesting, so it’s no wonder that her words spring to life and make for a tremendously entertaining listen.


The Art of Asking is our August Book of the Month. Make sure to follow us on Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter to join our month-long conversation.

Review: Shotgun Lovesongs

Nickolas Butler’s Shotgun Lovesongs has the lyricism, the cadence, the emotional swelling, the catharsis of any song in the great American songbook. Its lines run through your head long after the story ends. Its words hit like a high soprano note; its characters resonate like a low, vibrating bass.

Like many classic songs, it can also be, at times, overly sweet. The sentiment sometimes comes on too thick; resolutions sometimes have too neat a bow. But that’s OK. The poetry of the story sees it through these patches.

This is the story of five friends, now in their thirties, who grew up together in the 1,000-person town of Little Wing, WI. Henry and Beth were high school sweethearts, who married and had two kids. Henry has taken over his parents’ old dairy farm, and money is often tight. Ronny was the first to get out, joining the rodeo circuit, but a drunk-driving accident put an end to his career and slowed his thinking. Kip has just come back from Chicago, where he made his money in commodities and has grand plans of restoring the town’s old mill. And then there’s Lee. Lee has made it big, becoming a rock star, whose albums over the last decade have sold millions, and flung him around the world on tour, always to return to Little Wing.

Each chapter alternates first-person narrators between the five main characters, giving them a chance to share their histories, their feelings, their sides of the story. So, too, the audiobook employs five different voice actors: Scott Shepherd, Maggie Hoffman, Ari Fliakos, Garry Williams, and Scott Sowers. Each one reflects the nuances and emotion of his or her character.

Quote-Nickolas-Butler-ENHANCED

The five friends shore each other up as much as they tear each other down. They are both there for each other and not. Each character is treated as human. That is to say, each character is fallible. Beth and Henry love each other with the ease of high-school sweethearts. Kip leaks Lee’s intended appearance at his wedding to the paparazzi, violating his trust, as Lee views his home as sacrosanct, a safe place away from the noise of fame. Lee paid all of Ronny’s hospital bills, and pays for his upkeep. Beth and Lee share a secret they’ve long kept from Henry. The whole town has always believed in Lee’s talent, long before he made it. Ever since his accident, everyone keeps careful tabs on Ronny, but not always. Not always.

As rife with emotion, the acceptance and letting go that comes with adulthood, there are moments that spark with the light of youth. Beth and Kip’s wife, Felicia, get drunk, sipping wine out of old jelly jars, amid the clutter of Beth and Henry’s house. This is not the only moment of drinking throughout the book. In a small town with nothing to do, the VFW is the community’s epicenter. No one goes out for coffee. They go out for beers and shots. In the book’s climax, a sophomoric prank plays a pivotal role. This demonstrates Butler’s understanding of human nature and old, deep-rooted friendships. We are never so childish as we are with our friends from high school or college, as if being with them brings us back to a youth we aren’t quite ready to let go of.

Much of the story is influenced by Butler’s own life. He grew up, not in such a small town, but the larger city of Eau Claire, WI, where he went to high school with Justin Vernon, the founder and frontman of rock band Bon Iver. Butler’s in-laws own a large, working farm.

Lee tells young musicians:

Sing like you’ve got no audience, sing like you don’t know what a critic is, sing about your hometown, sing about your prom, sing about deer, sing about the seasons, sing about your mother, sing about chainsaws, sing about the thaw, sing about the rivers, sing about forests, sing about the prairies. But whatever you do, start singing early in the morning, if only just to keep warm. And if you happen to live in a warm, beautiful place . . .

Move to Wisconsin. Buy a woodstove, and spend a week splitting wood. It worked for me”

It worked for Butler too.

Listen to a clip of the beginning of the book, in which Henry talks about Lee for the first time.


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