why you need to give it away (to be a successful creative)




We give it away because art is a gift, and the Internet is a gift economy.

“As the ‘greed is good’ exchange-based economic system goes into terminal meltdown, alternative paradigms are emerging.”

We give it away because the purpose of gifts is to establish relationships, and we are entering an age of interconnectedness like never before.

Our fates are so interwoven that by keeping others down, you provoke acts of hostility and retaliation that ripple through your network and ultimately bring you down. But by lifting others up, you create a rising tide that lifts you up.

We give it away because each person you draw into your network increases your reach and influence and potential audience. They can share it with people in their network, who share it with people in their network, and so on and so forth.

We give it away because the law of reciprocity is embedded in our soul DNA. If I give something to you, you feel a moral debt to do something for me sometime in the future (ie: buy my book). For this to be true, though, the gift has to be honestly given with no expectation of return and no sense of obligation, otherwise it no longer qualifies as a gift.

“In a market economy, one can hoard one’s goods without losing wealth. Indeed, wealth is increased by hoarding— although we generally call it ‘saving’. In contrast, in a gift economy, wealth is decreased by hoarding, for it is the circulation of the gift(s) within the community that leads to increase— increase in connections, increase in relationship strength.” JoAnn Schwartz

We give it away because we live in an era of convergence. Just as your phone is no longer a phone, but a cell camera and a browsing device and a reading device and personal organizer and portable music player and entertainment system and the gods know what else, a writer is no longer simply a writer but also a marketer and producer of content, preferably across multiple platforms.

And marketing is not what it used to be. People have learned to tune out traditional advertising and the Internet has exploded the traditional idea of the ‘mass audience’. There are too many choices and too many different spaces online to hang out in for a single advertisement to reach “the masses”. For a ‘message’ to penetrate the culture, the audience has to take it and engage with it and share it throughout multiple networks. Marketing, creation, and community converge:

“The consumer control era has meant that creatives must make things that people want, that they seek out and share with their circle, or with the world. It has meant that the marketing end game has transcended reach, just grabbing eyeballs, and it has become a matter of engagement, of inviting a conversation and making a meaningful, ongoing connection….”ads” can be almost anything – a film, a TV show, a mobile app, a blog, a retail experience, a product, a song, a game, a distribution idea, a tweet…” — Teressa Iezzi, THE IDEA WRITERS: Copywriting in a New Media and Marketing Age

We give it away because the most powerful marketing always had some kind of gift value: a level of meaning that reached beyond the so-called ‘message’ to touch or enrich the audience’s life in some way.

“The truth was that these brands had become phenomenally valuable not only because of their innovative features or benefits, but also because these properties had been translated into [archetypal] meanings. They were worth millions of dollars because they had gained a kind of meaning that was universal, larger than life, iconic.” — Margaret Mark and Carol S. Pearson, THE HERO AND THE OUTLAW: Building Extraordinary Brands through the Power of Archetypes

We give it away because that’s how we attract the world. We give it away until they can’t live without it.

“…50 Cent didn’t get ensnared in that anxiety. Instead, he simply started giving his music away for “free” via mix-tapes and the Internet…[so] he could corner the street market and, in doing so, once again attract the labels’ attention. Whatever he might initially lose in earnings, he would more than recoup through creating legions of loyal fans. Fans who would actually be first in line to buy his “real” albums once he was able to get a deal….

50 Cent had courage because he knew all he had to focus on was making music honest enough to inspire both him and the streets…[He] instinctively understood Sri Satchidananda’s quote: When you’re honest, the world is going to run after you.” — Russell Simmons, SUPER RICH

We give it away because that’s how we transform the world. Gifts can be material and also immaterial. A gift can be a form of education or a mentoring relationship that empowers, and inspires. Because of the law of reciprocity, we feel an internal pressure that can only be discharged when we return the gift or pass it on in some way. This is the power – and pressure – of gratitude:

“if the teaching begins to ‘take,’ the recipient feels gratitude…I would like to speak of gratitude as a labor undertaken by the soul to effect the transformation after a gift has been received. Between the time a gift comes to us and the time we pass it along, we suffer gratitude. Moreover, with gifts that are agents of change, it is only when the gift has worked in us, only when we have come up to its level, as it were, that we can give it away again. Passing the gift along is the act of gratitude that finishes the labor. The transformation is not accomplished until we have the power to give the gift on our own terms” (47). Lewis Hyde, THE GIFT, Creativity and the Artist in the Modern World

We give it away because in this networked, interconnected world, we must operate from a sense of abundance rather than scarcity.

“As the world goes vertical, something alchemical is happening: we are shifting from an economy of scarcity to an economy of abundance….Unlike physical resources (interestingly, though, much like love) knowledge increases when you share it. This is because of a curious property inherent in all networks:

As the nodes in a network increase arithmetically, the network’s value increases exponentially.

…You increase value by developing immaterial assets and enlarging people’s access, creating as broad a free user vase as possible and then charging for services that leverage that magnified user base.” — Daniel Burrus Flash Foresight

We give it away because for a gift to be a gift, it has to be an honest expression of soul. Which means that when we give it away, we can discover who we are.

“You are only as good as what you give away.” Keith Ferrazzi

Apr 30, 2011

8 comments · Add Yours

“..by lifting others up, you create a rising tide that lifts you up…”. I love this line. Another great post. Sometimes I struggle with calling blogging and time spent on the internet as “work”, but I’m laying the groundwork for my book (which is coming out soon and gaining traction). It’s working. Plus, I get to interact with potential readers. And isn’t that why I started writing in the first place, to connect with people?


I SO agree with you about giving, Justine. And as have so aptly pointed out, it’s so important to operate from a feeling of abundance so that giving feels like sharing and not depriving yourself of limited resources. I have seen the process manifest time and time again: honest altruism builds more and more abundance. But I think to start this process, one must feel secure and have faith that “things will always work out,” that there will always be enough, or it’s waiting for you when you need it. So I’m back to the “faith” requirement again, something I am slowly learning to trust. When I do, and I feel free to let my possessions go, some much more comes to me!



“Because of the law of reciprocity, we feel an internal pressure that can only be discharged when we return the gift or pass it on in some way.”

Reminds me of an axiom that crossed my mind today: “To whom must is given, much is required.”

A spirit of gratitude for the talents with which a person has been gifted — and conscious acknowledgment that those talents exist — is the starting point. In order to give away the product of one’s talent, she must first understand that she is, indeed, talented.


It really comes down to having an abundance mentality, doesn’t it? I wrestle with that too — fear is such a parasitic and acidic creature, eating away at you — you think you only have so much to draw from, so the act of giving away depletes you. And if you feel that, think that, you make it so….So much faith is required: faith that you have something to say and the ability to say it, faith that there will always be more where that came from. Easier said than done.


Hey Justine, I wanted to send you an email, but your contact info still says “coming soon.” (Maybe by design!)

I’m a comic creator and I have been giving away my comic for over three years – I’d say with very mixed results. In fact, the whole “webcomic movement” is centered on the whole concept of giving it away. It’s been talked about and debated for years now.

The real bottom line, though, is that the number of success stories of those making it on this model abysmally small. They are out there, sure. But then there’s 10,000 plus artists dying on the vine trying to do it, too.

And certainly the problem with 90+% of them is that they just aren’t good enough.

The problem is, there’s a lot of great stuff out there that just fails. Because it turns out giving it away is actually a lot of work. And it’s also about cultivating fans, not just readers (as you have pointed out in another blog post.) I guess a lot of what you write kind of touches on the “how” of giving it away. But I still find myself confused.

More to the point, I’ve finally embarked on writing the fantasy novel I’ve always wanted to write after some 30 years of fiddling around. And I’m as confused as ever about the “how” of giving it away, especially with a novel in progress. When do I give it away? I kind of feel it’s a lot about the process, and sharing my mistakes and journey along the way. But can I attract real readers that way – or just other struggling writers who are interested for a time in my own struggles?

I’m not sure I’m making sense, here, but I guess I’m really lost on the HOW of giving away my novel as it gets written. And although I’ve read it here and elsewhere, I’m very confused about what makes a novel that has garnered a fandom online – that has been published in its entirety – appealing to a publisher.

If you can’t respond to me directly (and I understand if you can’t) it would be great to see you blog about these things if you can. Especially maybe talking about how you went about it with your novels.

Keep up the great work.


Wow… Enlightening article. I’m going to take it to Best Buy and see what that will get me. After all, if I am supposed to give everything away for free….they should to, right?

Look, get real! How much is your time worth? That is the question. Mine is worth enough for me to live on, and to be able to buy my toilet paper and pizza from the grocery store?

Of course, following your logic, I should able to just get what I want and walk out right? Oh yeah…they’d arrest me for shop lifting.

Until the world figures out that we are all on this Earth together….money is a necessity, whether you like it or not. Of course, you could send me all your money. I like money.


Because, Some Logical Thinking Person Who Lacked The Balls To Leave a Real Name, the more your creative work gets out there and becomes known, the more valuable *you* become as the originating source of it, which means you get to charge for your future work (how much are you getting for it now?). It’s not rocket science. This strategy worked exceedingly well for the Grateful Dead, who allowed tapers to make videos of their concerts and pass them around to fans (which won over new fans, who then dropped money on concert tickets….) Yes, it does require some startup capital on your part — time, effort, etc. You have to get all entrepreneurial-like. It took Amazon seven years to turn a profit. Nothing good happens overnight, and sometimes you even have to explode a few rockets along the way (and eat the cost). And of course there’s no guarantee (most startups fail, after all). You have to be excellent. People have to fall in *love* with your stuff.


People don’t believe in Karma.


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