I'm going to do my best to keep the commissioner anonymous for the time being, as I don't feel a beware on their behalf is needed, so bare with me!
The run down:
Roughly five months ago, I held an auction via FurAffinity for a character I had designed in a one-off image that seemed to be very popular. The auction came with a ladder option for a full reference sheet in addition to ownership of the character and a high resolution copy of both a NSFW copy of the original image and also a clothed version. Things went really smooth at the start, and the bidding far exceeded my expectations ending at $230.
The winning bidder was very prompt about paying right away in full and was very eager to tell me how pleased and excited they were to have the character. This always warms my heart, because as an artist it's always fantastic to see people who plan to use the characters you design! I got right down to business with them and asked for any changes they wanted made to the character design so I could begin work...and that's where issues started.
I kept contact with the winning bidder as much as possible, but it began to feel like I had to pester them too much to get any kind of response. I waited two weeks after my last contact asking what they wanted to see in the reference sheet before I decided to leave a shout on their FA page politely asking if they could get back to me. I got a response within 24 hours and my commissioner explained that they work throughout the week and would reply to me soon. I waited another two weeks without contact before sending another polite reminder email. I finally got a response from them and I had sufficient information to start the Reference sheet. Three days later, I reply with a copy of a half finished reference sheet asking for any alterations they may need, and for them to give me three "expressions" to draw (as I offered three example facial expressions as part of the reference sheet). A few more weeks go by, I send a few emails poking them to get back to me and wait in silence. We're already in month two at this point, so I'm getting concerned. I ask the commissioner if things are okay and if they need to hold off until they have more free time. After that, I got a reply saying things were fine and that work was just keeping them busy. The rest of the email was very short and didn't really answer my questions; it was just a request to change the hips and breast size on the character. I was excited to get contact back and within the same day send them an altered copy of the reference that reflected the changes they had requested. Additionally, I asked once again for the expressions and any additional information they want added to the reference sheet but never get a reply.
Month three comes by and I send them another email asking if they got my previous email (I understand sometimes emails mess up, as I had some odd problems with gmail in the past, so it's always safe to ask!). No reply. Towards the end of month three, I send another email to check in, but again I'm left in the dark.
We are now four months in since the commissioner won the auction and paid in full, but communication has been so very spotty that I'm still waiting to finish the character sheet. Frustrated, I send them a note to be sure that it's not a snaffu on my end and that my emails are actually reaching them; I also offer FA as a form of contact at this point, which goes against my TOS for commissions, because it seems to be the only reliable way to contact them. A week goes by before I get a response, and they tell me that they have been getting my emails but have just been very preoccupied with life and have not been able to reply. They again promise to get back to me soon and I am left waiting.
Month five/The present. The winning bidder comments on one of my journals (100% unrelated to the commission) and I take the opportunity to reply to them about the journal topic and add "btw! I'm still waiting on hearing from you about your commission!). They respond with "Oh yeah! I was just thinking about that!". That's it; I never got a note, or email reply after that and I'm STILL waiting for input to finish this commission.
What to do?
I'm kind of getting on the frustrated side with this ordeal and I'm not sure how to handle it. I'm honestly very dumbfounded on the idea that someone would bid on an auction and the total of $230 upfront only to deny communication to get the work they paid for? It's also really messing up things on my end as I'm sitting on a commission that's five months old with a mostly completed reference sheet. The reference in question is literally done aside from the three character expressions that I can't seem to get an answer about! I would be happy to link to it as proof of it's current status, but I am reluctant as it would immediately out the commissioner if you were to see the character and browse my gallery to find the auction (I don't delete auction submissions as it's important to keep records of these things, IMO).
I've contemplated explaining to the commissioner that their lack of communication will force me to end business between the two of us and give them what is completed thus far and possibly a refund minus my normal rate for a reference sheet. But that also feels like I am cheating myself in doing that because there were several others bidding to the last minute and would most likely have had this entire transaction completed months ago. Additionally, I think I would also feel guilty given this person hasn't actually wronged me, and their real life circumstances are beyond my knowledge; Maybe they are genuinely busy? I want to stay professional but give the commissioner some initiative to work with me on getting the art they paid for to them. The person is genuinely pleasurable to work with aside from communication issues. I have been making sure I keep record of all transactions between the two of us; I want it to be known I have been attempting contact consistently without any return.
The Big Question
So what I'm asking you guys is, what should I do? Do I continue to wait it out and allow this commission to progress into 6 months? 7 months? possibly a year (I hope not)? Or should I give them the partial refund and work completed and move on? Is there a polite was to inform them that I need more promptness in responses? I'm genuinely having a conundrum on this situation, and any advice would be appreciated!