Making money as a creative is really, really, really tough. In fact, it's not likely most of the time.
And here's the absolute truth:
Sometimes, hard work = success is a flat out lie.
Sometimes, you can bust your butt for years, and get absolutely nowhere.
I know, I know. This is not the dream that many self-publishing services and vanity presses are selling. It's not the fantasy in your head of selling your art from your quaint studio in a quaint country town. It's not even the vision of life sold to you by countless stories, ads, and nationalist myths.
There is a lot working against creatives, not least of all is the constant undervaluing of the work of creative works by people, the expectation of getting works free (you should be glad you're even being read. Getting paid for it? Phst!), the expectation that working for exposure is acceptable... all these thing collude to make it impossible for a creative to earn money.
It's a situation unique to creatives. No one walks up to a surgeon and demands a surgery for free, promising "exposure."
Now, a lot of writers/would-be publishers have quickly discovered that they will not make the promised money from plying their trade honestly, and so they resort to all manner of underhanded tricks in an effort to make a living wage (or perhaps the millions they had come to believe would be coming their way). From authors making multiple sock-puppet accounts in an effort to bolster their book's reputation, or even attack other authors or reviewers, to vanity publishers and false book awards eager to scam naive writers out thousands of dollars (not so much the book awards, though there are a number of scams that can cost a writer hundreds of dollars), many feel like scamming others or behaving dishonourably is the only way to make a living being creative.
I understand the temptation. Years ago, when I was starting out and no one would look twice in my direction, I was really, really, really tempted to make a few fake profiles and give myself stellar reviews. I so desperately wanted to be successful, I was considering all manner of sneak, underhanded things.
I made the deliberate decision that I would not do any of it. I decided that if I could not be successful honestly, the I would not be successful - dishonest success was, to me, no success at all. But I understand the immense temptation to cheat.
Making a living as a creative is hard. It's really, really hard.
In fact, without a dollop of amazing luck, it might never happen.
Things seem to be improving for me, but these latest small successes might well be a mere flash in the pan. It might be the only success I ever achieve. That's why I crowed so loudly, and celebrated so eagerly, even though they don't seem like all that much. In my creative life, they might be the best I ever do.
Now here's another truth:
I will never stop creating. Even if I never make a cent doing what I do, I will still do it. I will continue to work full time at a regular job, because bills must be paid, and I will continue to write, paint and be creative. I can't help but do it. It makes me happy. It is as intrinsic to me as breathing or sleeping.
The hope is, of course, that I will eventually be able to make a living from it. But I have done my research, and I have worked so hard for so long with nothing to show for it, that I'm fully prepared to not make a living out of it.
And no, that does not mean you can approach me asking for free things. I create because it fulfils me. And I value what I create, so I put value upon it. It will always be that way.
So, dear creatives dreaming about your future, know the risks. Understand the difficulties. Know that you might work hard all your life and never achieve the kind of success you're hoping for. Even if it leads to nothing, even if your best is not good enough, even if reality never matches your dreams...