This article is an excerpt from the Shortform book guide to "Show Your Work" by Austin Kleon. Shortform has the world's best summaries and analyses of books you should be reading.
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What is Show Your Work! by Austin Kleon about? What does it say about self-promotion?
In Show Your Work!, Kleon argues that the best way to promote what you do is to publicly share it throughout your whole process, from the earliest phases to the finished product. This allows you to focus on honing your skills while making yourself available to be discovered.
Continue reading for an overview of Austin Kleon’s Show Your Work!.
Show Your Work! by Austin Kleon
In Show Your Work!, Austin Kleon guides readers through his view of effective self-promotion. As he sees it, the best way to promote what you do—whether you’re an artist in the traditional sense or someone who uses creativity in your job—is to publicly share it through your process, from the earliest phases to the finished product. This kind of sharing allows you to focus on honing your skills while making yourself available to be discovered and appreciated. Kleon attributes much of his own success to this practice of sharing.
As a bestselling author and illustrator, Kleon’s work has been featured in numerous media outlets, including The New York Times and The Wall Street Journal. He rose to fame with his book Steal Like an Artist, which was the first in a trilogy about creativity in our digital culture. Show Your Work! is the second book of that trilogy, followed by Keep Going. He’s been invited to share his ideas at several prominent venues, including Pixar, Google, and TEDx.
Kleon follows a similar structure in Show Your Work! to the one he used in Steal Like an Artist—he presents his ideas as 10 pieces of advice, which he intersperses with his original illustrations. We’ve reorganized these ideas into five themes, shared below.
Why You Should Share Your Work Through Your Process
Many creative people hesitate to share their work because they don’t feel they have anything worth showing. Kleon believes a solution to this problem is to share the process of creating, not just the finished products. By distinguishing between these two aspects of creativity, Kleon seeks to reframe the idea of sharing your work.
Kleon offers three main reasons why you should share your work through your process. First, doing so lets you focus on developing your skills while growing your audience. Second, it’s a powerful way to make valuable connections. Third, it can enable you to live the life you want to live.
How to Share Your Creative Process
Kleon offers specific insights on how to share your work with others. He recommends first and foremost engaging with social media platforms to showcase your creative process and help people find you. In addition to social media, he recommends having your own website.
(Shortform note: In the time since Show Your Work! was published, numerous studies have found that social media has profoundly negative effects on mental health. Kleon’s advice to use social media as a primary means of sharing your work should be considered with this in mind. It’s still valuable for advancing your creative career—in certain fields, such as the fashion industry, it’s even considered a requirement—but it’s important to monitor its impact on your well-being. One study found that limiting social media use to 30 minutes per day can significantly improve your mental health.)
How to Deal With Online Attention
Sharing your work online brings all kinds of attention, some of which may distract you, discourage you, or even completely derail your progress, writes Kleon. He has some specific advice about avoiding the wrong kinds of connections and handling criticism, so you can focus on what matters and continue doing the work you want to do.
Making Money From Your Work
As you create things, you’ll invariably reach a point where you consider making money from your work. Many creatives balk at the idea, believing it might corrupt the process. Kleon wants you to get over this inhibition. Everyone needs money to survive, and there’s nothing wrong with making money off your work—it doesn’t inherently corrupt creativity. Kleon has ideas to earn an income as a creative person, such as donations and crowdfunding.
(Shortform note: Kleon isn’t suggesting that you shouldn’t have another income besides your creative work. In his previous book, Steal Like an Artist, he encourages keeping a day job to foster your creativity. The reason for this is that having a reliable income will alleviate money worries. Also, the routine of a day job will help build a rhythm to your schedule that frees you up to focus on your creative interests when you’re off the clock.)
How to Persevere
Kleon warns that there will be both good times and hard times as an artist. Sometimes the only thing that separates the successful from the unsuccessful is sticking to it. If you quit prematurely, you’ve already failed. Just keep at it and leave the door open to success whenever it may come. He offers three strategies that can help you persevere:
- Maintain momentum
- Refresh and recharge
- Reframe your past work
(Shortform note: According to some experts, perseverance is a critical part of success—it’s less about innate talent than it is about sticking with it and working hard. In her bestselling book, Grit, psychologist Angela Duckworth argues that your level of achievement is determined by how much skill you have and how much effort you put forth. As you increase your skill, your effort, or both, you increase your chances of success, no matter what your creative interest.)
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Here's what you'll find in our full Show Your Work summary :
- How to succeed at your creative endeavors
- How to make money off your creative work
- Why you should share your creative process