I had two requests for commissions this week from two people I have never met before. One was a highly packed plot crammed into 15k words. The other was 5k but I'm not comfortable with it, mainly my trust of the person requesting it verses the content they are requesting.
I also working on a 15k word commission (currently at 30k!) from someone I trust and is a repeated (and loyal) customer.
Commissions are a hard thing to work with. As I mentioned before, you are privy to people's innermost secrets. Most of the commissions aren't general fanfic, such as two characters from a movie getting it on or an expansion of the plot. Instead, I get wish fulfillment ones. I've gotten ones where people putting themselves into a movie or story. I've gotten requests for scenes with two people (one obviously being the commissioner) including a very lovely romance that ended up with them growing old and dying together. I've also gotten requests to expand on secondary (or even background) characters, turning a 5-8 second anime clip into a 10-20k word story.
I have never asked for a down payment on a story and I've been pretty accepting of commissions in general. I'm fulfilling fantasies and I know it is fiction. However, whenever I encounter a new commission, there are always fears. Will they pay me? Will they be high-maintenance and ask for constant revisions? Are they cops trying to trap me with a law I don't know?
Sometimes, it works out very well. The repeat customer from above is almost about to hit the 200k words commissioned, all in 10 and 15k word requests. The repeat business also means that they get 30-50k word stories out of me… and they seem to like it. But, at one point, they were also that new person that I'm hesitating to accept a request. I still remember my finger over the enter key, deciding if I should hit send or not.
I'm doing the same for these two commissions, but I'm not only hesitating on accepting them, but I'm also considering dropping commissions entirely.
On one hand, commissions are pretty much the only income I get from writing. On a good year, its about a grand or so, on a bad year, a few hundred. Despite it being relatively low amount of money (and depressing when I put it on my taxes), it paid for all of my writing, editing, and my nifty laptop.
With the left hand, there is the fear and doubt. I always worry that my story will end up in the news or I'll get in trouble for it. It doesn't matter if it is a fanfic of My Little Pony or Harry Potter (though I was told repeatedly that I wrote a good Dumbledore), there are thousands of lawyers out there that seem to enjoy suing people. And, a fanfic is one thing, but getting paid to write that makes me feel like I'm putting myself more in risk.
(One point is that while I think I'm writing everything legally, the political climate, the brutality of "Big Content" enforcement, and my own position as the primary money-earner in my family, makes me nervous. I can't know everything… as much as I want to.)
There is also a chance that by stopping commissions, I could get better at my other writing projects (you know, for more than one person). However, turning down commissions for a few months means it will probably take me years to get back up if I wanted to resume.
Giving up on commissions is scary. I like writing other people's ideas. It gives me insight into characters of my own. But, I have a naturally guilty and fearful mind, which makes that "send" button that much more terrifying.