By Samantha Ettus
After publishing four books I have now persuaded 400 of the world’s leading experts to write chapters in my series, on every topic from weight loss to vexilology (the study of flags). Each is asked to write a succinct chapter, comply with a strict deadline, and agree to my edits. People assume managing so many diverse and powerful personalities is the hardest part of my job. But the biggest hurdle is the task of identifying, finding and then securing the ideal expert for each category.
You see, I am obsessive about selecting the perfect expert for each topic, so every time I’m turned down I feel like I have been rejected by my biggest high school crush. Don’t they realize I spent weeks finding them – their rare blends of charisma, experience and gift with the written word beckoning me? Of course not. They have blogs to write, speeches to give, TV shows to tape and their own books to pen. So while it pains me to hear a pass after I have painstakingly selected and cold called an expert, very rarely do I take the word “No” at face value. Instead, I put on my emotional body armor, throw my ego to the wind, and try to turn that “No” into a “Yes.”
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Photo Credit: Donna Newman
There have been the seemingly impossible-to-get luminaries who said yes immediately upon invitation. I keep a running list of such experts in my head, and when I’m feeling down about my progress I need only think of them to reawaken my enthusiasm. Then there are those experts who turned me down and never yielded — each and every one of them broke my heart anew. But the ones who made me fight for a yes… they strengthened my resolve. Real estate maven Barbara Corcoran said yes after saying no five times. Unfortunately she lands only in the middle of the challenging scale — there are others who tested my endurance even further.
Ira Glass – storyteller extraordinaire – said no every day for two weeks. A low point in our dialogue came when he told me his girlfriend concurred that he would have nothing to write about how to tell a story. That was the only opening I needed – knowing what was holding him back, I closed him in that very conversation.
Suze Orman’s publicist took two months to say no but I had a nagging feeling Suze herself was never even presented with the idea. I searched everywhere for her address to no avail, finally resorting to the fine print on her website as my best clue. I cold called her webmaster, told an alabaster fib to get her assistant’s information, and pitched it to her right hand, Mary, who thought Suze would love the idea. Indeed Suze was a yes.
Of course it isn’t just the big names that keep my stomach churning. When I received a call informing me that Mohamed Sayadehl, Holiday Inn’s Housekeeper of the Year, had left his job to work for another hotel chain, I almost wept. As luck would have it, the following month a new Housekeeper of the Year title was awarded to Tracey Henderson, who composed a brand new “how to make a bed” chapter.
The etiquette gurus have been among my favorites – when I was pitching Peggy Post my cell phone cut out twice in a row. What to do when you have just hung up on the grand dame of etiquette? I chose the obvious route and apologized profusely, which worked, yet I suspect Peggy would have handled the situation more elegantly had she been the offender.
Heloise lived up to her reputation for offering “helpful hints” while I was on my first book tour. My most treasured bit of her guidance was to always arrive for television appearances with hair and makeup done, wisdom informed by her own experience appearing sans makeup on national television after a last minute change to the network’s schedule.
And then there is Jean Chatzky. Few possess the constitution to return to an object of their affection after having been rebuffed so frequently and completely. Those who do either get huge points for perseverance or are labeled stalkers. If this book series were a romantic pursuit, Jean would be my paramour. She is the quintessential finance expert – smart, a specialist in her field, charismatic, and a writer. Sadly, Jean is the one who got away. Not Donald Trump, Rachael Ray, Al Roker or Sir Richard Branson. Jean Chatzky.
After all this time I am still unable to predict which experts will say yes, yet I have learned how to maximize my chance of success. We all have bad days, and when mine come along I leave the phone in its cradle and turn my attention to the more solitary tasks of writing, editing, or paperwork. But on those days when my confidence is high, I put myself out there. Because when you partner unshakeable determination with unyielding persistence, you are more likely to receive a yes — and a “no” won’t have the power to bring you down.
Samantha Ettus is the creator of the new non-fiction book, The Experts’ Guide to Doing Things Faster (Clarkson Potter), the fourth in her bestselling Experts’ Guide series. She is a TV correspondent, a former syndicated columnist for Scripps-Howard news service, and previously founded and ran a marketing firm representing personality-driven brands.