There is no such thing as exposure

There is one absolute and inalienable fact about creativity; your success as a creator is 100% dependent on how good you are.

I say this as a pre-cursor to talking about one of the most pernicious problems creators are faced with. Being asked to work for free.

The shady types who make these requests rarely phrase it this way. Instead, like Juan Luis Garcia, who provided concepts for Spike Lee’s new Oldboy movie for free, you’re asked to work in exchange for “exposure”.

There is no such thing as “exposure”. if you believe there is, as many creators and artists of all kinds clearly do, it means you are operating on a faulty paradigm. And the cause of that fault is not understanding the opening statement of this blog.

Your success as a creator is 100% dependent on how good you are.

The entire concept of exposure is built on the denial of this fact. On the assumption that your writing, or artwork, or music, or app, is already good enough. And that the only reason it hasn’t rocketed to the lofty heights of success we all dream of is that it hasn’t had the right “exposure”.

It is so much easier to believe this. Because as long as you can keep telling yourself that “exposure” is the problem, you can duck the hard truth. You aren’t good enough. Not yet. And the only way to change that are the hours of hard work and toil it takes to get good at any creative discipline.

So much easier instead to focus on “exposure”. So much easier to blame nepotism in your industry, or a lack of money and time, or any of the forms of self delusion creators place between themselves and that absolute and inalienable truth: your success as a creator is 100% dependent on how good you are.

If anyone ever asks you to create in exchange for “exposure”, say no. Don’t explain yourself or bother negotiating. If they come back with an offer worth the value of your creation, then OK. Otherwise don’t waste your time. Instead, get back to your studio or desk or wherever it is you do the hard work of creating, and get better.


Published by Damien Walter

Writer and storyteller. Contributor to The Guardian, Independent, BBC, Wired, Buzzfeed and Aeon magazine. Special forces librarian (retired). Teaches the Rhetoric of Story to over 35,000 students worldwide.

6 thoughts on “There is no such thing as exposure

  1. I don’t think I completely agree.

    The core argument is valid. But denying the value of exposure means to ignore the power of publicity. Do you really think that millions of people buy some products, or vote for some politicians, solely for their intrinsic value? Is that really beacuase these are the best available? If so, why do companies and parties spend fortunes trying to get exposed to potential customers/voters?

    So, there’s definitely some value in exposure. Probably not as much as to justify working “for free”. But it’s not a simple scenario.


    1. Its denying the value of publicity in place of payment ie; exposure. Its also slightly different with a work of art. It is its own publicity strategy, its own communication. Publicity in addition to that is largely amplification.


  2. My heart sank a little after reading this but….you’re right. It’s hard to determine how good of a writer you are on your own. I’ve always thought “is this good enough?”, “will I ever be good enough?” (in a writer’s sense of course). It’s a hard gig to follow for sure. Besides, nothing says “you’ve made it!” like a fat cheque in the mail. ;)
    Thanks for this article. It’s great reminder to myself and others to keep working at our craft.


  3. Thank you, Randy.That explanation of ‘shoddy’ is illuminating and has added to my understanding.When your friend prepared the wool for export could it have contained buttons, buckles and such-like?



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