My Experiences with Charity Auctions for Writers

This Saturday at the CTRWA meeting, I shared my experiences bidding on charity auction items for writers. Let’s just say I’m not the most poised speaker. Shaky hands, I can hide with the podium. Nervous movement I can control. A few ums slid in. But the dreaded quivering voice totally snuck up on me. And the more I realized I was doing it, the more impossible it was to stop.

But at least I conveyed lots of info about charity auctions to my fellow aspiring authors. Here’s my detailed notes, in case you missed my presentation.

Background on Charity Auction for Writers

  • In 2010, I won 14 auction items for writers
  • I heard about these auctions from agent blogs and ads in Writer’s Digest
  • You can also Google charity auctions and literary agents, but it’s pretty hit or miss
  • Auctions may pop up during the year as charities have immediate needs or on a regular monthly/annual basis
  • Charity auctions are a great way to get your work in front of industry people and get one-on-one time with them
  • At an absolute minimum, they are a good tax write off and a chance to help out less fortunate people
  • Some of the personal benefits include:
    • making industry contacts
    • gaining useful feedback
    • having the opportunity to ask follow up questions about the feedback
    • improving your manuscript
    • broadening your knowledge of publishing

What kinds of items are offered?

  • Partial manuscript critique (by editor/agent/published author)
  • Entire manuscript critique
  • Signed ARCs (Advanced Reader Copies)
  • Naming a character in an author’s upcoming book
  • Lunch with an author/editor/agent
  • Editing of manuscript by professional copy editor
  • Skype session with book club by author
  • Writing teacher lesson by phone
  • Query/synopsis critiques

Auctions I participated in 2010:

  • Irene Goodman’s online auction—partial critique from agent Irene Goodman (included synopsis and first 50 pages of manuscript)
    • Every month offers 2 critiques
  • Brenda Novak’s online auction—partial critiques from published authors, agents, and editors (included combination of the following: query, 3 chapters of manuscript, synopsis, and follow-up call with agent)
    • The largest charity auction I’ve seen with almost 1000 items auctioned off
  • Do The Write Thing For Nashville (DTWTFN) one-time blog-based auction after the Nashville flood—partial critiques from published authors, agents, editors, lunch with a PW editor, and signed ARCs.
    • Hundreds of items auctioned off

How are auctions run?

  • Formats differ across auctions—Take your time getting the lay of the land before making any bids
  • Key things to understand:
    • Auction opening date and end date
    • How do you win an auction
    • how bidding works
    • check out all available items to be bid upon
    • read the auction item details carefully
      • Auction prizes can be genre specific so it’s important to know what genre your work is before bidding
      • Not so helpful to your writing if you win an auction item for a partial critique of a sci/fi book, if you write romance
  • Irene Goodman’s auction is run via Ebay and was the easiest format
  • Brenda Novak’s is run via her website and is similar to Ebay’s format
  • For the DTWTFN auctions—an adhoc charity auction, bidding was conducted via blog comments where the last commenter with the highest bid before midnight on the cutoff date wins

Bidding Strategy

  • Keep in mind that big name agents usually get highest bids. Allocate your bidding accordingly
  • Winning an auction prize depends on how popular the prize is and how much the other bidders are willing to spend.  I’ve seen items go for anywhere from $100 to $2000
  • Pay close attention to when bidding ends on an auction item. You don’t want to miss the cutoff time. And you also might want to then bid on another prize
    • You don’t want to overextend yourself or lose out on the auction item you really want to win
    • Also check the blog of the person offering the auction item because they sometimes add additional perks if you comment on their blogs
      • For example, one agent said he’d double the critique if the winner commented on that day’s blog. Then he added additional incentives for each time the bidding went over a certain dollar value. Like 2 manuscript critiques if it hits $500
      • I would recommend getting an agent/editor to give you a partial critique as a good starting point if you’ve never done an auction before
      • Obviously we all have money constraints, so a cheaper option is having a published author critique your partial
      • There are also different prizes like having lunch with a PW editor and picking their brain—I found this tremendously useful because the interaction helped me understand what wasn’t working in my first few pages. She also gave me tips on where my book might fit in the current marketplace. And I got treated to lunch at a new Chinese restaurant in the city

Overall impression of auctions

  • They are cash intensive
  • Authors are much more tactful and their feedback was the easiest to digest and implement. They also tended to follow up with me via email to see how my career was progressing
  • Agents give you a view into their world and their opinions take more time to digest and understand
  • There’s always something to take away from any critique even if someone tells you to destroy your hook.  I didn’t do what they suggested, but I understood there was a gap there and it needed to be addressed
  • My biggest manuscript altering feedback came from Irene Goodman. She gave the most tactful and helpful feedback, pointing out strengths and weaknesses in an easy to hear way. I found myself nodding and agreeing with her comments as I read them. Not a common response to feedback.

Ongoing Charity Auctions for Critiques:

  • Her auction proceeds go to Hope for Vision and Deafness Research Foundation. Her son has a genetic condition that causes progressive loss of both vision and hearing.
  • KidLit4Japan—This one is wrapping up April 12th. The blog featured a children’s and YA literature auction to benefit the victims of the earthquake and tsunami in Japan.

Closed Auction, but you can see what kinds of items are listed and what they went for:

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