Gift Exchange

From Fanlore
(Redirected from Gift exchange)
Jump to: navigation, search
Synonyms: exchange, sometimes abbreviated "Ex" as in WBEx
See also: challenge, Pinch-hitting, Secret Santa, ficathon
Click here for related articles on Fanlore.

A gift exchange is a type of challenge in which participants create fanworks to give to one another. Because gift exchanges are predicated on the idea of everyone receiving a gift, this type of challenge tends to end up with works that hew closely to the receiver's desires, with some gift-givers doing considerable secret research to discover what would cause the most squee as well as abiding by their DNWs. Recent exchanges have also made the use of dear creator letters.

Gift exchanges are designed so that every participant receives a work from another participant. In cases where a gift may be missing or late, the challenge moderator will call upon a pinch-hitter to provide a story on short notice. Many pinch-hitters take pride in their ability to work quickly on demand, and do not participate in the challenge at all except to give without expectation of receiving anything. Potential participants are advised not to sign up for exchanges without a pinch hitting system because it may signal that the moderator is disorganized or does not care if all participants receive a gift.

In many cases, the gifts are given anonymously, with the authors revealed only several days (or even weeks) after the fanwork has been posted. In such cases only the moderator will know who created the work; the etiquette on publically guessing the author or artist may vary from one challenge to another, but de-anoning oneself at any point before author reveals is usually explicitly against the rules.

AO3 Exchanges

Exchanges on Archive of Our Own are largely based off of Yuletide, the largest yearly multifandom exchange. Yuletide has been running since 2003 and formed the basis of AO3's collection and challenges system:

[Excerpt from AO3 News post: Yuletide Treasure on the AO3!]

Yuletide 2009 will be the first outing for our shiny new Collections and Challenges code, which will be enhanced and expanded in future. It's a great test case for us, because Yuletide mod astolat is one of our senior coders and has done most of the heavy lifting for this new code (which has meant VERY good communication between challenge mods and coders!). The Yuletide challenge is also fairly large and complicated to run, which gives us a good starting baseline of features for other fic-exchange-style challenges.

The common stages of an AO3 exchange are, commonly:

  • Nominations
  • Sign ups
  • Matching
  • Assignments
  • Creation period
  • Posting Deadline
  • Work reveals
  • Anonymous period
  • Author reveals


During nominations, anyone thinking of signing up visits the exchange's tagset, where they suggest fandoms, characters, ships, freeforms, or other tags that they want to be able to produce fanworks for during the exchange. The exchange mod sets up which categories can be nominated in and how many tags in each category can be nominated. The exchange mod also accepts, rejects, corrects, or merges tags either during nominations or after they're closed. Exchange mods may also use clarification posts on their associated Dreamwidth to ask nominators questions about their tags.

This step is not actually necessary to run an exchange, but it allows the exchange mod to control what participants can request and offer, which makes matching run much more smoothly.

Sign ups

During sign ups, participants fill our the necessary number of requests (things they want written for them) and offers (things they are willing to write). Many exchanges have both maximum and minimum limits of tags for sign ups and exchanges. Offers are hidden from everyone except the exchange mod.

Requests usually have optional details, including DNWs and sometimes links to letters.


Main Article: Matching

Matching is the process by which offers are paired with requests. AO3 uses an automated matching system based on the code written by astolat for the original Yuletide archive. Exchange mods can also choose to match participants by hand either entirely or in part.


When the matching is done, participants get their assignment emailed to them. The email contains all of the requests a creator's assigned recipient made, not just the one they matched on. Assignments are secret, so only the exchange mod can see all of them. Participants can chose to default on their assignment as soon as they get it or at any time before their assignment is due. It's generally considered polite to default as soon as possible, so that the mod has a time to put out a pinch hit.

Creation period

Commonly called the "writing period" in fic exchanges, the length of this period varies from exchange to exchange, usually depending on the length or complexity of the fanwork required by the exchange. Creators who have questions about their recipient's requests typically go through the mods in exchanges based on Dreamwidth (or Livejournal), although exchanges based on tumblr may allow or encourage contact through anonymous asks.

During the creation period and before the deadline for everyone to post their works, some exchanges may have a default deadline about a week before the creation period ends. This is the latest date a creator can default on their assignment with no penalty. The BSD Spring Fling 2019 describes this deadline like so:

There is a "default deadline" on March 17. You can default at any time, however, if you default after March 17, you will need to create and post another gift to the collection if you want to participate in future rounds of BSD Spring Fling. Make-up gifts must meet the exchange minimums, and must be posted before the next year's sign-ups begin.[1]

Posting Deadline

This is when fanworks are due, and is usually several days before work reveals. This gives the exchange mod time to check that all of the works uploaded meet the exchange requirements (meets length/complexity requirements, isn't an unfinished draft, isn't picklefic or clearly spitefic) and send out any necessary emergency pinch hits. At this point all works are still hidden from everyone but the exchange mod.

Work reveals, anonymous period, & author reveals

The reveal of works isn't automated, so the exchange mod has to be on-hand to flip the switch. Participants get emails letting them know about their gifts and any treats. Many exchanges chose to keep authors anonymous for a time, usually a week. Although it's hotly debated, many exchange participants feel commenting on ones gift soon after work reveals is an important part of exchange etiquette. If there was an anonymous period, authors sometimes wait to reply to comments until their name is revealed.


  1. shadow_lover, Schedule & Guidelines. Posted Dec. 27th, 2018.