Writing Commissions

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See also: Cousinjean and Profit Wank, Gift Economy, Pull to Publish
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Writing Commissions are attempts by fans to write fanfic for money.

This relatively new activity challenges some previously held fannish social contracts regarding fandom and profit and fandom as a gift economy, as well as the fine lines of copyright and trademark.

Generally, money has played little role in the desire to create and exchange of fan fiction. In fact, the buying and selling of fan fiction has been almost universally condemned across Western media fandom. The sole exception would be the contributor's copies that fan writers received of print fanzines in which they were published. On occasion, during the early years of print fanzines, fanzine publishers would offer cash prizes to fan writers [1]; however, many fans expressed worry that the practice might cause TPTB to come down hard in fan fiction. To most fans, the lack of profit - or in this case the exchange of funds for fan fiction - was seen as their fig leaf of protection against potential copyright claims.

In more recent years, writing commission offers have emerged. Some are by fans who are struggling with financial issues, others by fans who simply want to be paid for their work.

My money situation is not so great at the moment and I miss writing things quite a lot, so I thought I would open up fanfic commissions! Some expenses I need to take care of (if you guys are curious) are: wisdom teeth removal that has to be done by an oral surgeon because they’re growing in all sorts of wrong (cost about $2000), two dog crates so I can begin crate training my dogs before I move next year (cost about $150), dog training classes (cost about $200), carpet cleaner rental (cost $45), work pants (cost about $30 for a couple pairs), gas money (cost $40 every 3 weeks), etc. This would just be something extra to contribute to that along with my minimum wage paychecks each week!

PRICING:

Paypal only!

  • $3 - 100 to 500 words
  • $5 - 500 to 999 words
  • $10 - 1000 to 1500 words
I’ve limited myself to 1500 words as of right now just so I don’t get overwhelmed.[2]
this banner was used to raise rent money
This has led some fans to ask:
When did fandom go from the fine art of the disclaimer to ‘pay me and I’ll write that prompt for you’? Because ten years ago every heading had a standard line of about no profit being made, so please don’t sue and now people out and out advertise they are writing a fic on commission (and not for charity). waves cane and grumbles about kids on her lawn[3]
And:
Honestly, I think the practice of writing fic for charity is what changed attitudes toward commissioning fic, which is kinda disturbing if you think about it. I mean, charity fic is explicitly in line with the non-profit, gift economy fandom has operated on since the dawn of time (and is the fig leaf keeping the lawsuits at bay). The jump to “aha! people will pay for writing” is logical, but not in keeping with fandom’s traditional ethos (or its fear of lawsuits).[4]
The general approbation against offering fanfic for money still does not stop some fans for asking:
Still trying to commission a fanfic writer to write me some private fanfiction? Is no one interested because I’m asking for private fanfiction? Doesn’t anyone want my money???[5]

Further Topics of Discussion

A No-No on AO3

[2014]:

Patreon and AO3: Oh oh, so! I have a bad habit of never reading rules/fine print/whatever. I mean, if I were signing a Serious Adult Contract, yes, but Netflix user terms? AO3 terms? Nah.

…it turns out that the link to Patreon I’ve been including at the end of my stories is against their user agreement (the one I did not read, because I’m the worst). Annnnd it turns out someone turned in Space Oddity for abuse. Good news is I have time to comb through and make sure all the links are gone. Bad news is I’m a little like…come on, whoever sent the complaint, if you’d sent me a PM or an anon comment pointing to the rule I was breaking, I probably would have made an embarrassed pouty face, but I would have brought it down immediately. I’m a rule-abider by nature and especially don’t like breaking rules of places I respect so much.

So I’m a little bummed about getting a sternly worded letter from an organization I do believe in very much. Any friends of mine who have a Patreon and AO3: use me as your example and take down links!

I’m going to take this as an opportunity to trim a few of my older fics I don’t want on my AO3 account, I think. Silver lining! [6]
[2016]:

psa: don’t mention commissions/patreon on AO3

Hi guys! So I know we all don’t actually read the terms and conditions of things and just hit agree assuming there’s nothing important in there (I do it too oops) but if you take writing commissions or anything involving money, then there’s actually something in the AO3 terms and conditions to be aware of.

Linking to a personal website or blog/social network where you are taking donations, posting commissions or mentioning published works is permitted, but advertising it directly on the Archive is not, nor is using language which one might interpret as requesting financial contributions. For example, you can say something to the effect of “check out my Tumblr if you want to know more about me and my writing” and include the link to the site, but you cannot specifically state anything about donations, commissions or sales on the Archive.

Today someone reported one of my fics as violating this condition - presumably because I’d mentioned my patreon in the author’s note (I wasn’t actively requesting donations either… I’d literally just mentioned that it existed, and that the fic in question was written as a thank-you for hitting one of my goals).

I’ve written to AO3 to check whether just saying ‘thank you to those who support me on patreon’ is fine and I’ll let you guys know when they get back to me, but if it’s still going too far in terms of being a ‘commercial promotion’ then I’ll just avoid mentioning this in the future! :’)

As I said, someone did actually report my fic for this - so there are people out there who are noticing/reporting these situations. Please be aware of this if you take fic commissions, or use patreon or ko-fi, because your account could end up suspended, which of course no one wants!

<3 <3 [7]
[2016]: That’s a fucking bullshit rule, I’m sorry. They shouldn’t deny you the opportunity to advertise your own work. [8]
[2016]:

archive of our own is run by the organization for transformative works. ao3 and the other services that otw offers - including legal services for fan creators who get in legal trouble - are nonprofit organizations.

this isn’t just a self-determined descriptor; that’s a legal definition that requires adherence to specific rules and laws regarding income, profit, and donations.

this isn’t a “bullshit rule” just meant to prevent creators from advertising. in op’s post, the contact from ao3 offers a roundabout way to advertise. this rule ensures that ao3 and the organization for transformative works to stay a non-profit organization - this “bullshit rule” is essentially a way so that ao3 and the other services that the organization for transformative works can stay online. [9]
[2016]:

it’s not just about maintaining nonprofit status. (i question if that’s even applicable here, since the profits in question don’t go to the organisation, but i know very little about nonprofit law. just a gut feeling.)

the actual point is, they run a legal services organisation for fans who get into legal trouble. they literally exist for the purpose of helping you not get into legal trouble. profiting from fan fiction very much opens you up to the possibility of getting into legal trouble. they’re not going to let people do things on their website that they know will land them in exactly that trouble.

and to be clear, just because everyone who slaps a patreon button on their tumblr isn’t getting sued, doesn’t mean they aren’t doing something for which they could be sued.

let me say it again: profiting from fan fiction very much opens you up to the possibility of getting into legal trouble. here’s why.

[snipped] [10]

For much more on this topic, see PSA: DON'T MENTION COMMISSIONS/PATREON ON AO3.

General Comments

"How do you feel about someone paying an author to write? Does it feel like it changes your reasons for posting? Would it inspire you to write more? Or is this something that you feel is wrong?"

I think that it's a possibility, and if you have a big fanbase there's always a chance some would like to invest some money in you (usually for some kind off perk). As I see it, you'd start transitioning from an amateur writer to a professional.

That would have certain consequences. You can hardly keep going on Hiatus if you do this, nor can you really stop writing the fic they're sponsoring you for. So I do think it could be a motivation to push up and beyond, especially because if people are willing to pay you, they must really like what you write.

Other things that might happen are less happy though. Some of your readers might think you've gotten an inflated ego, and some might turn away from you because of that.

I also don't think you should expect earning a lot of money on this, even if you have a huge fanbase. Fanfiction has always been something really free, and some might not like the Patreon accounts, especially if it spreads through the community.

Second to last point, creating a Patreon for FanFiction is somewhat a grey area, but do consider that you are working with an existing IP, and there might be some legal repercussions from you trying to earn money of it.

Lastly, there is always the chance that you'll start writing for the money and not for the story, which should be avoided. I feel I might start rushing things, and changing things because of the monetary support or wishing to keep that support. You can't keep everyone satisfied, but if they're 'paying' you, you might feel obliged to satisfy at least that group of your readers (which again won't sit well with the rest of them), and thus limiting your own freedom.

It's something that has a number of pros and cons and I think you need to weigh them of for yourself, as I'm quite sure I've missed some things myself. [11]
"How do you feel about someone paying an author to write? Does it feel like it changes your reasons for posting? Would it inspire you to write more? Or is this something that you feel is wrong?"

Hmm, I don't feel there's anything ethically wrong with it? But I am not sure it would be extremely successful. I mean, people join that site to support an artist and they get some kind of perk. I don't know what kind of perk you could offer? Here's a sneak peek at a chapter? I don't know if anyone would really care since they could wait a week for free.

Unless you already had a loyal fan-base willing to shell cash, you're going to have a really hard time finding them when they can just read other stuff for free? I mean, I would probably immediately stop reading any fanfiction author that started charging.

Something you could consider is maybe taking commissions? I see people on Tumblr saying they will write like, 1000 words for 10 bucks. Seems steep. But then there's this story that an author wrote 3 parts of them stopped, and I REALLY REALLY want them to continue it. I consider commissioning them all the time. [snipped] Anyways. I would commission an artist for a work I wanted, way before I would support someone through patreon.

Oh and like /u/juwch said, you can't take a hiatus. The first time someone i'm paying did not meet a deadline I would be like...yeah I'm taking my dollar back. And if that made their content suffer because of the deadlines, I'd take it back because they went down hill. So I don't know. Seems like a difficult thing to make wirk [12]
"How do you feel about someone paying an author to write? Does it feel like it changes your reasons for posting? Would it inspire you to write more? Or is this something that you feel is wrong?"

I've felt uncomfortable with the idea, but I've considered supporting an author before.

An author would have to be pumping out updates. If I can pick up a kindle book for $2-7 and a hardcover for $18-20, why should I send anybody $5-10/month for a 5k update every two weeks? And they'd have to be quality too. Higher quality than most of the other works in the fandom.

[13]

The Legalities

[Fic commission are ILLEGAL. If someone reported you, you could get in serious trouble. Not just you, but any other fic writer, Don't be selfish.]: i appreciate the warning, but not so much the “don’t be selfish” part. i think you are under the impression that i am doing this just coz i want more money in my pockets. i can assure you that there is more to it than that. i have credit card payments to make and condo dues to pay, and being without a paycheck until april jeopardizes all of that. please do not judge me. there are worse things i could do to make a bit of extra cash.

i also understand how and why fic commissions would be illegal, it’s pretty much like why pirating movies and music is illegal. i’m not an idiot. that is why i specified in my post that i will not be automatically publishing commissions to my AO3, i will give them the option to say yes or no, because i will be sending the fic to their e-mails first and foremost, essentially making the fic for private perusal. oh, and i don’t know if you know this, but i usually specify a disclaimer about not knowing and/or owning the people/characters in the fic, which i admit, doesn’t absolve me of much by ways of copyright infringement and things, but if you’re going to be a stickler for those sort of details, then fanfic and fanart that are published for free would never have existed online, nor would you be able to get away with the movies and shows of your favorite actor that you torrented or streamed because they’re impossible to find anywhere that you can buy them, even through online shopping.

also, consider the fact that the very thing that makes fic commissions illegal is also what makes fan merchandise sold on etsy or redbubble or society6 also illegal. why do you think that one fan who sells tea that USED to be named after hobbit characters had to rename everything? i’m not saying that hundreds of artsy craftsy fans making fan merchandise or fanartists getting paid to draw people’s favorite characters makes the thing less illegal, but i just thought i should bring that to your attention.

and hey, i’m not forcing anyone to actually go with this. it is a request, certainly, but not imperative. i’m certainly not forcing you, nor am i asking you to become interested in the venture. if you’d like to report me, then i can’t stop you. i’d like to thank you for caring enough anyway to send a warning. here’s hoping that other people who are offering fic and fanart commissions receive the same warning from you. [14]

Um, actually, it’s not that easy just saying ‘It’s illegal, full stop’. Fact is that both fanfiction and fan art are in a virtually grey zone when it comes to law. It cery much depends on the original company/studio/writer/director/artist/whoever. There are some out there who are pretty tolerant, and others who aren’t. Disney, Lucas Film and Anne Rice are among the latter and won’t hesitate to bring the full force of the law upon you - for the copyright infringement of just using a character/name they created; not even for the fact that you’re selling something with that name! Then again, the law is pretty muddled when it comes to that. There’s something called a creative commons license which allows you up to a point to use existing stuff as an inspiration - which means, basically, if someone were to report art that includes this character, specialists/lawyers would have to determine the amount of % with which it features in the work. If Marcy wrote a fic that has, say, 52% of Tolkien’s original wording in it - yep, problem. If it’s only 49% percent, probably nothing will come of it. As you can see, it is immensely difficult to determine where the line is. And it depends on the platform. Ebay, Amazon, Etsy….yep, the companies have an eye on that. Some post somewhere on tumblr? As Anon said, if *somebody* were to report it. And even then. I reported someone who repeatedly used Ngila Dickson’s Arwen costume drawings in ebay auctions, claiming them as their own. New Line wrote me a friendly note of thanks - nothing ever happened. Brilcrist selling body pillows with Bilbo, Thorin, Thranduil on them? Yep, illegal. Aly making phone charms and socks with chibi Fili and Kili? Basically illegal. Evan doing commissions of elves as described in Tolkien’s books? Also illegal. And Marci writing fics that include some popular characters? You know it.

BUT.

This requires two steps, first of all someone would indeed have to report them (looking at Anon here); second, it would have to be determined *how much* of the work is indeed infringing anyone’s copyright. The use of a character’s name, for sure (which is why companies are sensitive when someone sells ‘Bilbo Tea’ or ‘Galadriel Shampoo’). On the other hand, do an ebay search. I search regularly for ‘Arwen’, and I do get stuff that has nothing to do with the character at all: sandals, dresses, tops, a book written by Arwen Brown and a certain part of a motor vehicle that happens to have the same name, whether with the license of the Tolkien Estate or not, I can’t say. Point is, how can you control it? Where do you draw the line? What is tolerable and what isn’t? If someone reported either of these artists, what would follow is a lengthy and cumbersome process of determining *how much* infringement has been caused - and there’s something called artistic freedom. Is a chibi Kili who looks nothing like Aidan Turner or like Tolkien’s description really a copyright infringement, apart from the name? Where does art start, where does it end? Most fanfics are so far from any canon that they have nothing left but a character’s name. Artists are *allowed* to offer their work for commission and/or sell it. When someone requests an illustration to or a tale about a character from an established ‘verse, the artist is allowed to draw/paint/write that and take money for the comission. How the hell do you think artists work? Not everything is an original idea out of some geniuses’ mind. Everyone uses inspirations. Otherwise you wouldn’t be allowed to paint a piece of bread or take a photo of a street at night and sell that, because someone made that bread and holds copyright, and that car on the street just so happens to be a BMW and you could be sued if you sell prints of your photos without getting a license from BMW first. Yes, technically, all of that - but don’t be ridiculous, Anon. [15]
I’d argue the commissioned work is actually two offences - one of behalf of the author, who is writing infringing material AND accepting payment for it therefore making a ‘fair use’ defence less applicable, and secondly, by the customer, who technically is in the driving seat in terms of commissioning the infringing work. They don’t profit, but the infringing work has been produced at their behest …

I don’t actually agree that fanfiction infringes on copyright. My background is such that I have a very, very good understanding of copyright, trademark and patent law, from US as well as UK, European and, to a lesser extent, Australian perspectives. Copyright protections are at their most stringest when you directly reproduce someone’s work (ie photocopy it, plagiarise it, rebadge it for illegal sale etc) or attempt to pass a badly altered version off as your own. The fair use provisions in US law - and broader provisions in other national and international protections - DO allow for transformative works. They do allow for not-for-profit extensions of an author’s idea. You cannot copyright an idea, but it is the expression of the idea that is protected ie your words. Your paragraphs. Your natty phrases.

However. And it’s more … HOWEVER!!!!!!

Most suits are filed under the aegis of trademark protection. Remember in the VM fandom the kerfuffle over the t-shirts in Europe not being able to use the Veronica Mars logo (or whatever it was?) Trademark dispute. Trademark protection is fucking MERCILESS, updated regularly by a gang of sharks, and it is invalidated if not defended, so if someone wants to stop use of a property (ie Veronica Mars universe, Harry Potter etc), it’s the mark itself they will go after. And they will probably win, even if you aren’t using the fancy logo etc.

And lets be real. Big corporations with a vested interest in spinning out millions of dollars from their IP, vs small individual who may be represented pro bono (if you are really really lucky) if it gets to court, but is probably more likely to buckle under the first or second cease and desist letter …

Don’t get sued. Don’t raise your head above the parapet of commonly declared fandom neutral territory and get us ALL fired upon, please.

[16]

Publishing the work online is technically a copyright violation. I mean, people would be douchebags to go after you for that, but they do. This is why certain shows are banned from participation on Fanfiction.net. [17]

Profiting from the work only calls attention to the fact that we’re writing fanfics. If studios and writers get pissed off enough, they will pull the plug on their shows and get all of the fan stories based on their characters pulled from the internet .They are within their rights. Again, it would make them huge douchebags, but I can understand why they might be pissed if the fan work crossed over into the for profit sector. We just have to be respectful and smart about it.

Even ‘50 Shades of Grey’ may wind up in legal trouble. The author published it as a fanfic, was open about it origins until the Twilight people started making noise about it, and now the author backtracked and said it was a loose inspiration. She doesn’t want to get sued. 50 Shades is the ultimate in fanfic profiteering. [18]

I’m really not judging the author for trying to make a living at her art or for wanting to charge for writing fan fiction, but I think it’s important for people to know that they can actually be sued for writing fan fiction. Period.

Even writing FREE fan fiction is a *violation* of somebody else’s copyrighted characters and opens you up to being sued.

Being ‘commissioned’ to write fan fics, even if the fan fics are free for everybody to read, is profiting off of somebody else’s intellectual property.

I’m not saying this to be a hater - I’m really not making a judgement call as to whether fan fiction should/not be free. I’m only trying to spread the word because this has become a hot topic on tumblr lately, and I would hate to see talented artists getting cease & desist letters by doing something they believe is legal (but isn’t!).

It’s NOT legal. It IS considered theft, even though the stolen item is not tangible and exists in the ether.

I used to work in television production for a decade - trust me. If they want to sue you, they could and they would win. Congress has been trying to pass a bill to ban ALL fan fiction and fan art that hasn’t expressly been given permission to exist by the owners of the copyrights.

Amazon Worlds is only going to make it harder for free fan fiction to exist, much less ‘commissioned’ work, since the studios and writers now have a way of profiting off of it. They will eventually figure out a way to profit off of fan art, so you can’t point your finger at the artists and scream ‘unfair!’ when we are all stealing. They’re just flying under the radar.

Change the character’s names a’la “50 Shades of Grey” or AU the setting and alter some details - do whatever you have to do to avoid the all-seeing eye, because you don’t want to be the woman who gets made an example of by the police.

You all might be too young to remember Napster, but a lot of regular folks got their asses handed to them for stealing music downloads. The same thing happened a few years ago with stolen movie files. Some regular dude got sued $175,000 for stealing digital movie files and watching them at home. Now we have Netflix/iTunes/Amazon InstantWatch, so people usually just pay, because it’s easier and legal. Stealing characters is the same as stealing music. A writer worked to create each of those things,

Anyway, I feel your pain, fellow writers, but this is a warning, not a brow-beating. I’m not telling you not to monetize your skills, I’m just telling you to be smart about it so you don’t get caught.

Don’t listen to your readers who say it’s ‘okay’ and that people who warn you are being ‘negative’ or killjoys. They have no idea that they’re leading you down a path that could get you sued. I’ve been around the block. I’ve even been involved with an intellectual property case (my work was stolen by MTV after a high-level pitch), so I’m not talking out of my ass. I am watching your back, folks. Just be smart and figure out what you need to change not to get sued.

This concludes your regularly scheduled wake-up call. [19]

The Differing Attitudes Toward Fic for Profit and Art for Profit

Challenges to the Fannish Gift Culture

There is a huge divide among fandom about what should and shouldn’t be allowed to be monetized. This post takes an interesting position.

You have scholars like De Kosnik who are pro-monetization (sort of) and then there are the Hellekson’s of the world who believe that we cannot find a way to do that without disrupting the gift economy. For both scholars, however, it is important for us to find a way to allow these fanwriters to be rewarded for the hard work they put out. There’s just so much disagreement about how.

This post focuses more on the legal and moral issues with asking for monetary compensation with fan writing. It does a good job of discussing the hypotethical ways in which perhaps some writing may be worse to be compensated than others (as with the Night Vale fanfic example) and I don’t think either De Kosnik or Hellekson really talked about that. Some fan writings have different fan context to them and would be easier to monetize than others.

It does, however, propose the idea of asking for more of a donation sort of situation rather than for direct compensation for the money, which I think would be a De Kosnik approved way of perhaps allowing writers to self-regulate. This might also appeal to Hellekson, who concluded that “Fan community clearly cannot be constituted by anyone other than the fans themselves” so perhaps just allowing each individual fan to decide how to seek compensation is the best way to handle fan monetization.

The problem then would be about which writers will have access to which forms of actually receiving compensation and who deserves it as well as how much. It seems like no matter what solutions to this debate we come up with, there will always be something else that presents itself as a problem because of the murky legal issues behind it.

Referenced works:

Karen Hellekson, “A Fannish Field of Value: Online Fan Gift Culture.”

Abigail De Kosnik, “Should Fan Fiction Be Free?” [20]

Possible Regrets on Wasted Words

Then, I was thinking about how profitable writing fanfic could be. Well, I was just discussing with my friend about her plan to ask an author who opens a fanfic commission and when she told me how expensive[21] it is going to be, I was just like… “Gorblimey, how about my fanfics?” (lol) But my writings are not for anyone, mostly for myself, so I can’t really expect it to be profitable. Even so, it was still quite heartbreaking to know that every one page of could be worth at least $1 (lol) My chapter is like 5-7 pages essay, with word count at least 3000 words per chapter, so I could get at least $7 for every chapter (lol) and yet, getting one comment is like finding an oasis in the middle of desert (lol) But it’s all right. I never regret writing anything with no or very few people appreciating. [22]

Some Examples of Promotions

Further Reading/Meta

References

  1. See Alien Brothers for an example.
  2. FanFic Comissions post on tumblr dated September 1, 2013; reference link. Additional examples can be found under the tumblr tags fanficton commissions, fanfic commissions and writing commissions.
  3. When Did Fandom... post on tumblr dated Nov 10, 2013; reference link.
  4. I have mixed feelings... post on tumblr dated dated Nov 10, 2013; reference link.
  5. Still trying to commission... post on tumblr dated August 30, 2013; reference link.
  6. Patreon and AO3 (November 2014]
  7. PSA: DON’T MENTION COMMISSIONS/PATREON ON AO3, Archived version, tumblr post by whalehuntingboyfriends, 25 September 2016. (Accessed 26 June 2017.)
  8. comment by sinningsleepingandshitposting at psa: don’t mention commissions/patreon on AO3; archive link (2016)
  9. comment by softpunkbucky at psa: don’t mention commissions/patreon on AO3; archive link (2016)
  10. comment by ratherembarrassing at psa: don’t mention commissions/patreon on AO3; archive link (2016)
  11. comment by Juwch Ethics of Patreon for fan fiction authors? ; archive link (2016)
  12. comment by pegacornicopia at Ethics of Patreon for fan fiction authors? ; archive link (2016)
  13. comment by VLANQuestion at Ethics of Patreon for fan fiction authors? ; archive link (2016)
  14. comment at ledamemangociana.tumblr; archive link (April 2016)
  15. comment at ledamemangociana.tumblr; archive link (April 2016)
  16. comment at happilyshanghaied.tumblr; archive link (2016)
  17. Also see List of Content Banned by Archives.
  18. happilyshanghaied.tumblr; archive link (2016)
  19. comment by jacofspades at happilyshanghaied.tumblr; archive link (2016)
  20. Gender and Fan Culture; archive link (2016)
  21. This fan probably means, "how much money they could make"
  22. Fanfic Commission?! And Other Things about what I write; archive link (2016)