Librarian’s Nook: Show Your Work! by Austin Kleon

Yes, we’re talking about this ‘Show Your Work‘. I know it’s a well-known book, but it’s a new one for me.

This might be the most useful book I’ve read this year. Admittedly, most books I’ve read were on the topics of botany and occult, which are rather well known to me already. Marketing… Not so much.

A photo of the 'Show Your Work' book by Austin Kleon, borrowed from the author's website.

However, this isn’t a book on marketing, not in the ‘advertising’ sense. This is a book on pain-free self-promotion, and I think as such will be incredibly useful to many creators, especially indie game designers, which often feels iffy when ‘hawking’ their games (like I do, but I’m slowly getting better). The book is the second in the series of guides by Kleon, after ‘Steal Like an Artist‘ and before ‘Keep Going,’ but every book is a stand-alone and doesn’t require others. Well, I assume, because I’ve only read this one so far and didn’t need any explanations from the first volume.

In short, Kleon advocates daily, consistent ‘showing your work’ as the best method of building an audience for your projects – and I have to agree with him. This is exactly what I did with Herbalist’s Primer, although I haven’t thought about it as a marketing method. For me, working on this book publicly, sharing my research and progress on Twitter was a way of keeping myself focused and motivated (my autistic brain knows only hyperfocus and complete lack of interest, and the project’s survival depended on staying in the first mode).

But Kleon is right – showing my work consistently for a year and a half now has created an audience for the project of a size I’ve never expected and could only dream about.

“Show Your Work” is not a long book – barely a bit over 100 pages, and a lot of it is graphic. Still, the ideas on the pages are well worth the afternoon or two spent on reading them. They’re simple, or at least so close to what I came up with over the years that I find it incredibly easy to agree with the author. Quickly, going through the chapters:

A poster with a list of chapters in the book, as listed in the post below.
  1. You don’t have to be a genius. True, talent is just pursued interest, and you can learn it all along the way. Just start doing what you want to do and don’t wait with going public until you’re happy with your result. Embrace the fact that you’re learning something new.
  2. Think process, not product. When trying to find an audience for your project, start with the creative process. Take people through it. Show what’s behind the scenes. Yes, the process is messy. It’s still much more fun to talk about it that just tell people ‘go buy this thing I’ve made’.
  3. Share something small every day. I think that’s very important – not entirely sure about the ‘every day’ part, but that’s because I sometimes don’t have the energy to brush my hair, so daily social media are not something I can do. But Kleon is right again: those small daily things add up over a month or a year. You don’t need a viral tweet every day – just show the public something you’ve been working on.
  4. Open up your cabinet of curiosities. Talk about what inspires you. Be interested in things; it makes you interesting. 100% behind that, nothing is more fun than sharing the cool things I’ve just read. Which should be self-explanatory from this blog post alone.
  5. Tell good stories. Storytelling is something I struggle with – I’m more of a ‘infodump’ person, I have more random trivia than stories in my head. However, again, the author is right: work does not speak for itself, it needs context to be interpreted.
  6. Teach what you know. 100%, share what you’ve learned, we all benefit from it. Next!
  7. Don’t turn into human spam. Use your space to listen, not just talk. Lift as you climb. Have conversations with other fans instead of endlessly talking about yourself.
  8. Learn to take a punch. Meaning, how to take criticism. I’m still learning this one.
  9. Sell out. Well, the only thing you can do with exposure is die of it. Kill the Starving Artist trope, feed the artist. And start a mailing list / newsletter if you haven’t already.
  10. Stick around. Again, consistency is key. Rome wasn’t built in a day and all that. We’re in it for the long haul.

I liked this book a lot, and I’m definitely picking up the other two volumes later. Maybe it’s because I happen to agree with the author on almost all points in this book, and we all like it when others agree with us. Maybe it’s just a good book.

Note: Yes, I’ve decided to write a bit longer still-not-reviews of the books I’m reading – they’ll be separate now, but more detailed, and only covering what I deem worth of talking about. I read a lot, and making notes on everything is time-consuming. I’ll see you soon with another cool book.

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