New York-based artist and writer Molly Crabapple, a columnist for VICE and regular contributor to other publications, as well as a much-traveled visual artist dubbed “equal parts Hieronymus Bosch, William S. Burroughs and Cirque du Soleil,” by The Guardian; has given her “15 rules for creative success in the Internet age” at the invitation of self-publishing star Cory Doctorow. And there are some hard, astringent little pippins of advice in there, equally appropriate for modern writers as for artists.

Before she even starts on the rules, for one thing, Molly Crabapple insists on the importance of the internet for modern creatives. Jonathan Franzen might not like it, but too bad. “My success would not have been possible without the internet,” she writes. “I’ve used every platform, from Craigslist and Suicide Girls to Livejournal, Myspace, Kickstarter, Tumblr and Twitter. I’m both sick of social media and addicted to it.”

As this implies, though, she’s anything but starry-eyed towards the digitally disrupted creative ecosystem. For a successful independent creative figure, she is very objective about the importance of income, business relationships, and financial security. Take Rule #1: “The number one thing that has a possibility of happening is single payer healthcare. This is because artists are humans who need to eat and live and get medical care, and our country punishes anyone who wants to go freelance and pursue their dream by telling them they might get cancer while uninsured, and then not be able to afford to treat it.” Or #2: “Companies are not loyal to you.” Or #3: “I’ve cobbled together many different streams of income, so that if the bottom falls out of one industry, I’m not ruined.”

For those not completely discouraged or frightened off by this, however, Molly Crabapple has some other – not always easily digestible – maxims that could help you follow your gift and actually make it work. Take #5: “I’ve never had a big break. I’ve just had tiny cracks in this wall of indifference until finally the wall wasn’t there any more.” Or #7: “Remember that most people who try to be artists are kind of lazy. Just by busting your ass, you’re probably good enough to put yourself forward, so why not try?” And two more worthwhile warnings: #12: “Don’t ever submit to contests where you have to do new work. They’ll just waste your time”; and #13: “Don’t work for free for rich people. Seriously. Don’t don’t don’t.” And finally, #15: “Be massively idealistic about your art, dream big, open your heart and let the blood pour forth. Be utterly cynical about the business around your art.”

Words that could just as easily serve writers working with traditional publishing outfits as self-published or independently published authors. After all, too many naive and insulated writers of the old school seem ready to take at face value publishers’ self-serving self-image as handmaidens of the Arts. Follow Molly Crabapple’s advice, however, and those same authors could make a decent income, unexploited, and actually be able to live from, as well as for, their art.


  1. Is there a tip that says “Be a young attractive woman, and pose for photos in various stages of undress”? Because that can be a big help.

    I’m sure she’s very talented, but I do get a bit tired of young and good-looking people telling us old and ugly ones how easy it is to be popular.

  2. Jon, be nice to people, and be good to the poor but strict with the rich, as she says elsewhere in her post, seems sound advice for the good-looking, the old and the ugly alike. I didn’t see anything in her post to the effect that you should work on your personal image, or be attractive, and judging from what she wrote, she seems to have faced indifference for a very long time.

  3. Molly Crabapple, says, “I’m both sick of social media and addicted to it.”

    As for me, I am totally sick of social media — period! Indeed, I have been sick of it for a long time and now avoid it altogether. I have come up with 50 to 100 of my own unique book marketing techniques that are more effective than social media.

    I also take issue with this comment: “Remember that most people who try to be artists are kind of lazy. Just by busting your ass, you’re probably good enough to put yourself forward, so why not try?”

    I am not only “kind of lazy”, I am really lazy. Even so, I am — and will continue to be — much more successful than 99 percent of authors.

    The key is not “busting your ass.” Perfection and hard work are vastly overrated. Putting in a somewhat lazy, and less-than-perfect performance, on a well thought-out, world-shaking project will pay off a thousand times more than putting in a flawless and bust-your-ass performance on a pie-in-the-sky project that defies common sense.

    Ernie J. Zelinski
    The Prosperity Guy
    “Helping Adventurous Souls Live Prosperous and Free”
    Author of the Bestseller “How to Retire Happy, Wild, and Free”
    (Over 225,000 copies sold and published in 9 languages)
    and the International Bestseller “The Joy of Not Working”
    (Over 275,000 copies sold and published in 17 languages)

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