Monetizing Creativity: 3 Red Flags in Jeff Goins’ Four Keys Webinar & 5 Bits of Advice

I signed up, I logged in, I saw, I listened and seriously thought about what Jeff Goins has to say. Now here’s what I have to say:

Goins’ presentation was a nice, long, sensitive way of saying “You’ll have to sell out quite bit but don’t think of it that way”.

His advice is great…for people actively seeking to write for money. As a low income/no income author, I know how tempting it is to use what you’ve got to try to make a living to take care of yourself and the things you care about–HELLO people, we live in a capitalist nation bent on subsuming everybody’s existence in the pursuit of monetary and material wealth. But going down that road just isn’t right for everyone and can cause more problems than it solves. (I would argue that it isn’t right for anybody honestly.)

What Goins’ is saying is that no one in the world has any interest in anything unless you maneuver it under their noses. Maybe its true to an extent but is that how it should be? His webinar and his book, You Are a Writer (So Start Acting Like One), is little more than the fluff of a stranger’s encouragement and marketing advice, a gentle-handed way of telling writers that they need to face the facts of the market, suck it up, and get in the game. I miss the days where I was incapable of falling for stuff like this.

These are the red flags every writer should watch out for to stop big business advice from getting in the way of their creativity, and each of them appear in the advice Jeff Goins gives in his book and his Four Keys webinar/seminar. Keep reading for 5 bits of personal advice from yours truly.

1. Giving something in exchange for something else.

“Give away something for free–like an eBook–in exchange for attention.” –from You’re a Writer (So Start Acting Like One)

Stressing that you should always ask permission first, Goins advises writers to build an e-mail list, one method being getting people’s information by offering them something, like a free book. Exchanging an e-mail for a book or an interview IS STILL AN EXCHANGE. If giving something for free is only defined by an exchange of money for goods or services, then we need widen the definition.

I like how puts it in their submissions requirements:


If any form of registration is required in order to be able to view the novel, then it is not free. It then becomes an exchange of personal information for access to your novel. A request for information or even a donation is acceptable provided that it is clearly stated that it is optional, and is in fact optional.

2. Spend money.

Jeff Goins writes, “Having a free account on some blogging service is nice for updating your grandma […] but its not enough for a professional”. He encourages people to monetize their blogs/websites, to purchase web domains. I did the research and I tried that, believing in promises of a “money back guarantee” without strings if I decided I couldn’t do it: I was cheated out of $21.99 that I couldn’t afford by Bluehost using fine print on that refund clause plastered all over their website.

At the end of the webinar, Goins plugged Tribe Writers–a very expensive writing program he started.

MONEY MONEY MONEY. Spend it to get it. Well, some of us don’t have it to spend, especially not the kind he’s talking about. The actual total of expenses or rough estimation Goins is pretty much suggesting that writers be able to invest is not mentioned in any meaningful way at all.

3. Use of marketing language and techniques

“Don’t misuse marketing gimmicks to trick your audience into believing something that isn’t true.”

–from You Are a Writer (So Start Acting Like One)

So basically sell yourself and use the same sleazy marketing techniques as everyone else, only be classy about it.

Notice that Goins doesn’t advise against using marketing gimmicks, he just says don’t “misuse” them. Goins uses words and phrases like platform, branding, buzz/generate buzz, tricks of the trade, successful, assembly line, business, pitching is selling, salesperson/entrepreneur/marketer, play the game, meaningful connections, serving people. All of this is wrapped up in otherwise harmless anecdotes and encouragements. How can you be a marketer telling other writers not to do what other marketers do when marketing is the problem in the first place?

There’s a lot of you-scratch-my-back-I-scratch-your-back going on with what Jeff Goins is putting out there though he tries to phrase it in the most polite and thorough way possible to mask it.

After listening to the Four Keys webinar, I was prepared to try everything Goins’ advised–even though I knew it was wrong and it wasn’t what I would ordinarily do. I want people to know I’m there, I want to be able to support myself and my work and live in a better environment of my own choosing. It sounded so sensible and practical, so pragmatic and kindly offered. I know what its like to feel desperate and to have people tell me to “be smart” and “promote myself the right way”, get a job that pays even if it makes you miserable and your real writing can come later.

So while I seriously considered Goins’ advice, I had real doubts that underneath all his sincerity and well thought-out words, there was a this-is-the-real-world-this-is-how-things-work-get-with-the-program message. Because these people don’t care about you. Because you have to give them something they want in order for them to look at even you.

Here’s 5 bits of advice that came to me after a crazy week of getting sucked into Goins’ kind of advice:

  1. Don’t listen to anyone who is telling you to “act” like a writer or “be professional”. Write what’s in you to write, offer it in an honest way, and try to leave all that other stuff alone. Writers WRITE, so do it.
  2. Leave money out of it as much as possible. Don’t mix money and creativity/money and passion.
  3. Don’t let “getting noticed” consume you. Always create first. I am not an advertiser or a marketer for a reason and not just because it distracts me from my writing and crafting creativity–you may not be either.
  4. If the conversation starts off I’m-Not-a-Marketer-I’m a-Writer-Like-You but ends up I-Just-Told-You-How-To-Market-Yourself, then consider having yourself removed from that mailing list and spend some time deconstructing what you just gave your time to let this marketer worm into your brain. They’re little better than the telemarketers who spam your phone line. Don’t accept it–question it.
  5. If you offer readers your book for free, then give it to them FOR FREE. Don’t try to manipulate people into doing business with you. If they want to buy your book, they’ll buy it. If they want to have contact with you, they will seek you out. Its so much more profound when people come to you because they’re genuinely interested in your creativity. Perhaps its as Goins might suggest–it doesn’t happen like that often enough but I would argue that together readers and writers can transform and change this society which feeds on figures believed to be of authority to tell them what they want to read, this society where advertisers and marketers are working around the clock to get their products and gimmicks into your head and get the very last pennies you got.

Conclusion: Who am I? Some nobody no-income indie author with a cat licking her arm pit. But even if nobody ever reads this post, I’m satisfied that I’ve spoken a truth that others need to hear.


31 thoughts on “Monetizing Creativity: 3 Red Flags in Jeff Goins’ Four Keys Webinar & 5 Bits of Advice

  1. I“ve been a Jeff Goins subscriber since 2013 and just unsubscribed for the reasons you laid out. You are spot on with your analysis and I`m glad I found this so I don`t have to write about it!

    • Thank you for reading. I unsubscribed within a month because I know when someone trying to give me advice cares more about the money than they do about the art and the spirit of writing.

  2. I’m also a low income earner and felt the same way about Goins practices, with just caring about the money and not about genuinely caring about helping people with the creative writing process. Thankyou for putting this post out.

  3. I also watched his seminar, and I just landed here after writing ” Jeff Goins Scam.” I felt that his tactics were very shady, and in fact, he was just trying to market his “program” to me. I fell for his trick of giving my email to him, and now he emails me once a day with links to his website. Ick! I’ve blocked him on my email address now because it all just feels very fake. I’m interested in writing an e-book, but I don’t want to do it as a way to trap people into receiving emails from me. It all leaves a bad taste in my mouth.

    Creativity and passion first! You’ve got it!

    • I agree. I unsubscribed immediately. The worst part about it is he takes advantage of writers for his own gain and markets this exploitation as honest advice while telling writers to literally sell out and sell others out in the most roundabout way possible. Usually, I don’t go for stuff like this but decided to try it when I started as an independent author only to end up writing this post about “the Jeff Goins scam”. It’s difficult in this market but I’ve decided to put my writing, passion, and creativity first.

  4. Thank you for this post S.T. I don’t think monetizing your content is evil or inherently bad, but I agree with you that Goins methods are inauthentic. There are honest marketers, people who remove the veil and reveal what they do and then there are guys like him who reveal just enough to hook people and then he begins non-stop selling. There is this Brian Seacrest-type of a facade to what this guy does that is really off-putting. Goins relies so much on his market-tested formulas and templates that all of the creativity is sapped out. It is soul-less fluff masquerading as inspiration.

    • And thank you, Tiff, for stopping by here. I wonder if this came off as monetizing content being inherently bad or evil. It may not be evil or bad inherently it often comes off in extremely exploitative and negative ways, such as with Mr. Goins’ little pyramid scheme here. People are trying it and obviously I’m not the only one who isn’t feeling it. Indeed soulless fluff masquerading as inspiration.

  5. Just wanted to let you know I read your post and I truly appreciate your honesty.

  6. Stumbled Across…Book Funnel – Sepia Heaven

  7. Well he says that he responds to everyone always right? Why doesn’t he leave some rebuttal points here about while not being for everyone, his methods have merit for many?

    He doesn’t seem to give any indication that he is a creative writer, his products are marketed to those who are creatives and want to learn how to get their work noticed, correct?

    None of the points you raise appear to be on his blog, does he delete unfavourable reviews and only present paid positive testimonials?

    I’m not interested in purchasing his services, but I find it bizare that he’s mentioned on many ‘top blog’ lists.

    • I am not sure what is on Goins’ blog. I sat through one of his webinars. And I’m sure people like him don’t post “bad press” or serious criticism in their blogs.

      • I did an analysis of his writing style, traffic, SEO costs and accessed all of his “paid content” free because his website is incorrectly set up.

        A technical assessment of writing function across his testimonials and most blogs which he refers to have been written by him, aside from some friends from his church who aren’t great actors.

        Tell tale signs that most things about him, have been written by himself, (without using an algorithm) include starting sentence with ‘And’, ‘But’ or ‘Then’, demonstrating a lack of understanding about run on sentences, overuse of ‘really’, and constant split infinitives.

        His wife Sandy seems to be a fiction, as her LinkedIn profile picture is a stock photo image (there are other more compelling indicator’s but that’s the funniest)

        His costs compared to traffic/turnover indicate he’s not making the profits he promotes. In fact he’s a low income earner.

        He clearly paid the exorbitant cost of and attended Ramit Sethi’s premium courses hoping to make back his money.

        Ramit teaches tricks derived from BJ Foggs behavioral studies:
        Fogg Maxim #1: “Help people do what they already want to do.” Fogg Maxim #2: “Help people feel successful.” Fogg Maxim #3: “Simplicity changes behavior.”

        I don’t think Jeff even knows this… As his writing jumps around, often not following the above method correctly

        Jeff Goin…

        Such an odd chap.

        I’m going to redistribute his material including his paid content as none of it is protected, via my site for free but fix his terrible writing errors.

        I’d say it’s because I it’s because I want to put creative power back in the hands of creatives. But it’s just for the lolz.

    • It happens, I edited the ones I saw and ones you mentioned. Wish people I comment to would do the same for me when I make typos!

      Not sure what Goins is deal is or if this is true but I’ll take this under advisement. While pretending its for more than “lolz” 😉

    • Did you just say you were going to steal my copyrighted content? That’s an odd thing to say, I think: “I don’t like this person, so I am going to steal from him because he didn’t lock his house and probably deserves it.” Also, if you think the mark of a true writer is that they don’t split infinitives or begin a sentence with “and” or “but” then I don’t know what to tell, other than stop reading grammar websites. 🙂

      • No I didn’t say that, that’s called a straw man argument, again I’d expect a teacher of writers to know that.

        I certainly don’t think basic grammar is the mark of a true writer, but a lack of it is the sign of a poor one.

  8. Thanks for the honest review, and all the honest comments. I was briefly interested, but then discovered all I can see that he has written are basically adverts for himself, rehashing the same things.

    • Hey Geoff,

      I’m glad you also didn’t ended up forking out some cash for “classes” that are in reality an endless stream of advertising.

      I’m still trying to create an alternative that delivers real value at Originally just a spiteful endeavour driven by the rage I felt at discovering how Goins was ripping people off. I’ve now started interviewing established authors and have created some useful, actionable free content. Which leverages captology and other psychological techniques to increase aspiring author’s chances of succes and on-going motivation. I plan to delve into some opt-in paid content later in the year but the vast majority of it is free and always will be forever if you’re interested.

      All the best with your endeavours!

      • Well, I signed up so will give it a try at least 🙂 That’s if I can beat down my growing pile of work to concentrate on anything else

  9. Thank you, Sepia! I went looking for a review to see if there was a “too good to be true” appraisal to this “freebie”, and you hit the nail on the head. I’m just sorry you paid it forward for the rest of us with your time, money, and attention. Thank you.

  10. There are an abundance of these type of seminars out there now. I almost got hooked into paying ONLY 600 for one–can’t remember the guy’s name– British chap. Slept on it–thank God– by morning, I thought, wait a minute, what? To sell, one does have to market, and market smartly, but as my husband said, do I really need all these new DL’s an programs etc. to do that? Ah…that would be, no.

  11. Hi Sepia. Thanks for the thoughtful comments on the webinar. Sorry it wasn’t for you. I would love to write stuff that is for everyone, but I’ve never been able to do that.

    I agree with you that creativity should always come first, and I’ve danced between these two extremes of writing to make a living and writing for the love of it for most of my career. I can’t say that I’ve perfected this—it’s always felt like a tension for me—but I’ve always been aware of it.

    At various times, I’ve felt like a fake and had to over-correct in the other direction. Then, at other times, I’ve swung in the other direction, because, well, the money was running out. I do try to come by my work honestly and with integrity.

    I believe at the beginning of that presentation (and definitely the one I do now), I make it clear that this isn’t for everyone and if you just want to write for the love of it, great.

    I spoke to an author the other day who wanted to republish his self-published memoir as a traditionally published book and wanted to know if I knew any publishers who might be interested in it. The book only sold a few hundred copies and he wanted more people to read it.

    I said the first thing a publisher will care about is the size of his platform, and he said, “Yeah, I gave up on the platform building business a long time ago.” I said that was fine but that expecting a publisher to care about his work if he didn’t care about growing an audience was probably not going to work.

    Of course, there are exceptions to anything, but this is the norm today.

    My goal with my writing has been always to write what is true to me while helping as many other people along the way as I can. I make a living writing books, speaking, and teaching. Most of the time I feel pretty good about what I’m doing in the world. For every person who doesn’t get it or doesn’t like it, there are hundreds who do.

    I try to make it clear at the beginning of each webinar and live presentation that there is an opportunity to buy something but no pressure to do so. Most people do not buy, take the free information, and run with it. I am fine with that. 80% of the people who read my stuff, watch my videos, etc. don’t buy anything. I love that. It’s great. The 20% who do basically subsidize the podcast, the webinars, and the blog for everyone else. I like it that way.

    And for 12,000+ people who have gone through that program you mentioned, almost all of them are satisfied with what they paid for and experience success as a result of it. For those who aren’t, we refund them.

    Anyway, every once in a while I feel like what I’m doing isn’t as creative or as artistic as I’d like it to be, and I go read something like this, and it helps me find my center again. So, thank you. I hope nothing I wrote came across as defensive or argumentative. That wasn’t my intent. I just wanted to share where I was coming from and express my gratitude for your thoughts. I wish you the best, Sephia.

    • Jeff,

      Seeing you on my blog is not a surprise. Intuition, so to speak, the day I wrote this post told me you might come here someday. At the time, I said honestly what your advice to writers wrought in me, my experience with it. You say that your intention is not to be argumentative or defensive but that’s exactly what your response is. Also a touch low key snarky.

      If I’m just one of so many people who your advice didn’t work for, from my perspective, you would likely just ignore me and move on. Instead of writing half page (your response looks really long on my tablet) reiterating that your gimmicks aren’t for everyone or attempting to passively lecture me (or anyone) about the importance of platform building. Finding and building an audience without a plentiful supply of money or cheap tricks, inauthenticity, or influence is a huge task. As an author, (especially as as Black+working class author, FYI and whether you know this or not) it is difficult to “build a platform” where money is the means AND the aim instead of art, instead of the writing itself. Your business/webinar only reinforces that struggle by telling writers that they have to sell out and pay for it too. Maybe I’m naive in people’s opinions and I’ve struggled putting my writing out there. But literally selling other writers the secrets to your success just feels slimy and inauthentic. That method is a means to an end: money. That (method) is without heart.

      I don’t just “write for the love of it” so don’t be condescending. As a Black womyn writer, it means a lot more to me than just loving my craft. My writing is related to my identities and experiences in life, even if I choose to communicate that through fantasy fiction, poetry, or science fantasy. There is no check box A or check box B. There is no “A) You’re writing for money” or “B) You’re NOT writing for money”. Jeff, that you don’t see that is a problem. And its sad.

      As for publishing and building an audience: When I tried out your webinar, I was thinking about your advice helping me get my name out there. Recognition is more important to me than fame or wealth; this is far from the youth I was who wanted to be a famous and wealthy Black author before I realized that readers knowing what I do is what I really want. I don’t like being poor but, cue the idealism, as someone who has always been poor and has dealt with the degradation and suffering that comes with that, literally a struggling artist (so to speak), I know that money is not everything. There has to be, and there is for me, more to it than making a buck.

      Also, Sepia is not my name, its just part of the name of my blog. I love the word and the color though.

      Jeff, I am (and maybe this is twisted) glad to hear that you struggle with your need for creativity/authenticity as a creative and your need to sell out for money even if it is to pay bills. You gotta do what you gotta do, I guess. But maybe that tension you feel is a sign that you’ve still got some heart in there somewhere.

      Write on,

      (Or maybe its just a sign that you’re choosing to sell out every time the opportunity to choose writing without money arises? I don’t know.)

  12. Great points, well made S.T.

    Jeff’s attitude is a mix of defensive petulance and Ramit Sethi’s ‘I will teach you to be rich’ ( indoctrination. Which is transparently where his ‘teachings’ come from. Hardly the qualities you should seek out in a leader or teacher, I feel sorry for his 12,000+ victims, if they exist.

  13. I’m closing comments for this post. If you wanna talk about it, go talk about it somewhere else. My blog is not a platform for arguing about this guy and his stuff. I said what I have to say and I’m over it. My world does not revolve around guru-wannabes and their fan girls.

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