Monday Musings: The Gift of Auctions

June 7th, 2010 § 0 comments

It’s June 7.

The sign-ups for FGB technically end in 8 days.

I haven’t signed up so far. I keep thinking about it. I even know what my auction would look like—two 5K pieces, to the high bidder and second high bidders. But lately, I’ve been bothered. Not because I don’t want to do it, far from it. But because I wonder if much of fandom has lost sight of why auctions are fun in the first place.

Let’s back up a little. One of the main things that protects our creation of fan works is the overt decision not to accept pay for what we do. There are people fighting for fan works to be granted full legal status, and at a minimum, popular acceptance of their legitimacy (cf. The Organization of Transformative Works), but we’re not there yet.

There have always been a few people who skirted this; back in the day when fanzines were popular, it wasn’t unheard of for one to turn a profit. And it’s hard to miss that lately one of our own main FF archives seems to no longer need outside advertising support. But for the most part, money exchanging hands for fan fic in a way that someone profits is a big no-no.

Enter the charity auction.

I’m not sure how this got started (I confess, I need to spend some time with my fandom history wikis) but along the road, some people got some ideas that it we could band fan ficcers together to raise money for a charity. One of the big multi-fandom charities has been the Support Stacie Author Auction, and this was my first exposure to such an endeavor, as the spring auction happened shortly after I joined the fandom in early 2009. Recently the SSAA has come under fire for a lack of transparency, an issue which I’m not sure has been completely resolved.

However. One of the core principles on which the SSAA was built was that the bidders were making a donation to commission the author’s time. They were not paying for the end result, but rather for the right to tell the author what to do.

In September 2009, I signed up for SSAA, offering a 3,000 word fic, because I thought it was unlikely that anyone would make the $25 bid necessary for me to offer a 9,000-worder. I was delightfully, and unexpectedly wrong and I spent the whole weekend bouncing with glee that people cared about my writing so much as to offer such generous donations. In the end, AnjieNet made a lovely contribution in my honor.

Now, here’s where the fun really begins. The only hard lines I’d set were AH, rape, pedophilia, and bestiality, and that if an outtake was requested from IiG, that I get veto power if it were something that would be written into the story later. I thought for sure that anyone who requested me would ask for an IiG outtake or a piece about Carlisle—he is, after all, the one for whom I’m known.

But she didn’t. She asked for Edward. Edward, the boy I feel I don’t understand. The kid who makes me want to throw my monitor when I write him. The character I swore at for 2400 pages in the canon and then for another 250 or so in my own book.

Edward was requested. And Edward it was to be. I sketched out an idea about his rebellious period, per Anjie’s request, and decided on this winding story that would show Edward in three different time periods but all around his departure and return. The name for it came almost immediately: “Da Capo,” Italian for ‘to the head,’ the instruction in a piece of music to repeat back to the beginning.

And when I sat down at the keys, something wonderful started pouring out. I found myself grappling with Edward like I’d never known him. Gone was the cocksure man driven by his own stubbornness that I wrote in Ithaca, and out came this scared child who feared nothing more than the loss of the love of the man who had been his companion. One chapter in I revised the whole outline, two chapters in, I revised it again, and by the end the story seemed to be hanging on Edward himself, not on what I thought I’d understood of him.

I got a completely different look at Edward because someone asked me to take a second a look at him. And that to me, is the real gift of an auction—that a writer might be asked to do something she otherwise might not do, and in doing so, will produce a piece that is phenomenally her own and grow to know the characters differently in the process.

So the current iteration of FGB concerns me. Don’t get me wrong. It’s nice to see such wild support for the cause right off the bat. And I love the utter transparency of FGB and the fact that it’s our fandom coming together. At the same time, however, when I see an author making a choice about what she will post, and then having a “team” assemble to “buy” access to that piece, two things pop up. One, we put ourselves at risk by making the auctioned item actually the fic itself, instead of the right to tell the author what to write. SM has been gracious to her fic writers, and I think we can continue to rely on her support. But other authors (Diana Gabaldon, anyone?) have not been so gracious. And without even having the pretense of auctioning the author’s time, the money-story link is much stronger. Another, newer author, might be bothered, and not permit fic of her stories (as is her right). We protect not only ourselves, but future fan fiction writers, by being careful about the way we treat the fic-money issue.

Two, the authors themselves are missing out. Yes, perhaps a giant team of people paying $5 a pop to read something produces more money in the long run than people auctioning for the right to tell an author what to pen. It certainly does seem that there are far more authors whose fics will be fetching thousands of dollars than there ever have been before, and that’s wonderful. I’m excited for the financial potential of this round of FGB. But to me, the gift of an auction is having someone think through what they wish you would write, and learning about yourself and your work through that process.

AnjieNet, I thank you for Da Capo. It wouldn’t have gone down if it weren’t for your request, and it’s one of the best, if not the best, pieces I’ve ever written. I learned so much from it and grew even more deeply in love with the characters I write. You donated money to help a woman with cancer, but I was the one who got the gift, and it’s one I will treasure forever.


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