Tl;dr: I’m stopping commissions (except for ongoing commissions) in favor of Jack’s Blacks prompts. If no prompts come, well, I’ve got a number of my own to work on.
A week before the start of 2023, I listened to an audiobook that described the difference in intrinsic vs. extrinsic motivators. Without going into great detail, extrinsic motivators are things like money or fame/reptuation on the positive side or fear of punishment or rebuke on the negative side. For algorithmic tasks—those that follow a prescribed pattern, such as working on an assembly line or as a cashier (greet customer, check purchases, receive payment, thank customer and give him/her a receipt)—these extrinsic motivators can help a person narrow his or her focus to the task at hand and achieve an improvement in productivity. However, for creative (and, by extension, problem-solving) tasks such as writing or engineering, that extrinsic reward or punishment can narrow a person’s focus, making it harder to think outside the box. The book cited a number of studies that confirmed this. For that type of work, intrinsic motivation is required to achieve performance improvements. Intrinsic motivation, in turn, relies on adequate amounts of autonomy (that is, doing a task when, where, and how a person feels is best); mastery (pursuit of honing one’s craft and getting better just for the sake of improving the craft, not for some tangible reward or praise); and purpose (believing there is a point to the activity).
While I originally listened to the audiobook in hopes of applying the lessons to my team at work, it got me thinking that perhaps in charging for commissions, I was extrinsically rewarding myself. One example the book gave was that children who liked to draw were divided into two groups. One was given a dollar for each drawing they did, while the other was not. After a time, the reward was removed, and the researchers observed the children’s behavior over time. Many of those who had been rewarded for drawing ceased drawing once the reward was removed, while most of the group that had never been given the reward continued drawing, many of them into adulthood. I have certainly noticed that between 2018 when the massive influx of commissions involved a wide variety of new kinks, fetishes, and scenarios—in short, when writing was interesting and sparked creativity—and now, when the majority of the stories are about the same fetishes in slightly modified scenarios, I am writing far less. When I wrote Slave Auction, my first full-length novel, it was 84k words and took me four weekends to complete. In contrast, it has taken me four months to finish a 20k-word commission. Clearly the motivation is lacking, and so I’m going to try something different.
I always liked the idea of the Jack’s Blacks, but there have been very few takers on it. To be specific, I’ve only had one taker since I started. But, because I was offering the option to do bespoke commissions, I expect it was much less attractive to commissioners used to getting exactly what they wanted. But, I am realizing that autonomy—being able to write the story how I want it rather than how the commissioner wants it—is a bigger motivator for me than just about any price I could put on it. And, ironically, the higher the price I put on it, the more my creativity will be curbed. So, I am going to stop doing commissions and focus on Jack’s Blacks instead. The fact is, I’ve made very little off of Amazon. In the five years since I started doing this, I’ve made under $200, roughly about 10k words’ worth of commission. But, Jack’s Blacks are kind of fun to write, and there’s always the fantasy that maybe one day I’ll get discovered and sell a bunch of copies of all my stories. But that’s the key: maybe one day; there’s no instant gratification, no direct correlation between effort and reward, which reduces the tunnel-visioning effect. Some days, I see that someone’s read a hundred pages and think “ooh!” Other days, nobody reads anything, and it has little to nothing to do with what I’ve actually written that particular day. Too, I have this idea that if I write enough stories, I might be able to get it so that someone is reading something every day. It still wouldn’t be enough to retire on (or even buy a full tank of gas), but it’s still one of those warm, fuzzy feelings. So, that’s what I’m going to pursue.
I have committed to work on my ongoing commissions, and so I will continue to do those. I am wrapping up the last of my backlog, and once I’ve emptied it out, I’m quitting taking commissions. I want to thank the many commissioners I’ve had over the years, particularly those who have come back again and again for more or whose commission ideas were really fun to work on.
For those interested in trying this experiment with me, please see my Jack’s Blacks request form. For everybody else, I’ll be posting stories to Amazon and making note of them on my Books and Links page. Feel free to follow me on here for news updates or reach out (my Contact page has ways to get hold of me). And, for the occasional story that’s too spicy for Amazon, I’ll post here and to FurAffinity or InkBunny as their terms of service allow.