Robert J. Sawyer

Hugo and Nebula Award-Winning Science Fiction Writer

Charity auctions and SF conventions

by Rob - October 16th, 2009.
Filed under: cons, Conventions.

More and more science-fiction conventions have taken to asking authors to donate things to charity auctions, which, on its surface, seems like a great idea: let’s see if we can raise some money for this cause or that.

The problem: conventions that don’t have the turnout, or don’t do the hustle at the con, to actually get the fair value of the things being auctioned. (Many charity auctions turn out to be “silent auctions,” with bidding sheets hidden away somewhere and not promoted much or all during the convention; others have real auctioneering, but with tiny turnouts.)

At one recent con, a copy of The Bakka Anthology — one of only 400 in existence, signed by me (and containing the first appearance of my Hugo-nominated story “Shed Skin”), Tanya Huff, Michelle Sagara West, Fiona Patton, Cory Doctorow, Nalo Hopkinson, Ed Greenwood, and others, went for just $10, a fraction of its original cover price, let alone what it’s worth now.

Another con recently got me to donate a Tuckerization [naming a character after a real person] in one of my upcoming novels — something I might agree to do once per book, maybe — and then managed to raise just 25% of what the last Tuckerization I let be auctioned off went for, because the con was so small.

Memo to con-runners: there aren’t an endless number of such goodies out there, folks. Think twice before you decide to mount a charity auction; it’s real work to do one properly, and they don’t do well at small cons. If you’re not coming close to realizing the actual value of the things you’ve gotten authors and others to donate, please note that you are likely taking those things away from other conventions that might have managed to actually raise some real money for charity with them. Just sayin’.

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