Fanfic Symposium

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Name: Fanfic Symposium
Date(s): 1999-2006
Moderator: Cereta
Founder: Cereta
Type: meta
Fandom: pan-fandom
URL: Subpages for Fanfic Symposium:
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The Fanfic Symposium is a site hosting meta essays from various contributors. While technically the site hasn't closed down, it hasn't been updated with a new essay since December 2006.

For a list of the individual essays see the subpage Essays

An Original Announcement

"No, it's not another fanfic page; it's a page about fanfic. For those of you not forced to endure the works of Plato, a Symposium is a series of short speeches or essays by different authors on the same topic (it's also a feast and drinking party, but we won't go there.) In this case, the topic is fan fiction, and the authors are (I hope) all of you. The Symposium will be a weekly 'column' page on all things fanfic, each week featuring a new topic by a new writer. This forum will (hopefully) allow us to explore some of the topics discussed online at greater length and in greater depth. Basically, the Symposium will work like this: The maintainer (that's me, Lucy) will accept submissions via e-mail. No word minimum or maximum is imposed but 500-750 words is a good guideline (give or take 100). Topics are wide open as long as they relate in some way to fan-fic -discussions of the shows will be considered but I make no guarantees (a lot is going to depend on how many submissions I get). Fandom-specific columns are fine - I'm hoping to get a wide enough variety to keep everyone interested. I'd prefer no blatant 'sales pitches' or dissing of particular fandoms. Right now, the plan is to publish all submissions that follow the topic and aren't personal attacks, but it may be a couple of weeks between submission and publication. Columns may be on gen, slash, or both - I'll label things appropriately. Just to give you an idea of what I have in mind, here are some 'sample topics: definitions of 'fanfic'; discussion of a 'genre' (like Missing Scenes or AUs); trends or types of stories that you like/dislike, etc; the fic responses to a given episode; portrayals of a certain character in fic; feedback issues. Note: these need not be serious - humor is really, really welcome. In general, e-mail addresses of the columnists will not be provided. To keep to the spirit of the medium, responses should be in the form of a column or on the 'Letters to the Symposium' page. I will sometimes relay private responses, though. There's more info at the page, so I won't ramble on any further. Please stop by the Symposium, and consider ranting for a while!" [1]


Essays that were submitted were called "columns", and anyone could submit one as long as their column met the submission guidelines, which basically boiled down to: the topic had to be of interest to fanfic readers and writers. (There were also some formatting guidelines.)[2] The site got a whopping 40 submissions in its first year -- or first six months, more accurately, since the first essay was posted on June 9, 1999.[3] After that burst of pent-up meta, things settled down to 15-30 essays per year until 2006, when a bare 8 were posted as a last gasp of activity.[4]

The original purpose of the Symposium was to host essays about fanfic, in particular, but the scope broadened very quickly, and topics ranged all over the media-fandom map, including writing, genres of fanfic (h/c, smarm, AUs, crossovers, darkfic, etc.), feedback and concrit, zines vs. online publishing, BNFs, male privilege, recs and their purpose in fandom, Mary Sues, race and fandom, domestic discipline, POV, beta-reading,, profic vs. fanfic, slash (... lots of essays on slash...), PWPs, RPF, fannish ethics, the fannish community, and far more, including many essays on individual fandoms.

One of the hallmarks of the Symposium was the way people would write essays in response to earlier essays, right from the beginning. For instance, on November 24, 1999, an essay called Joxer?!?! And Other Things I Don't Get was posted. On November 28, someone submitted Ares/Joxer? Sure!; on November 29, someone else posted Response to Joxer?!?! And Other Things I Don't Get; on November 30, a third person posted Why Joxer and Ares?. This was an active, interactive forum for broad-ranging discussion.

In addition to posting response-essays, the Symposium originally also accepted letters in response to columns, which Cereta would post on a Letters page.[5] Later, when the Symposium got more active, she added a message board for more real-time conversation.[6]

In 2008, the site's creator discussed "Fanfic Symposium," and she focused on the styles of communication of the day, and of the fannish platforms available and how these things shaped discussion:

In June 1999, I fired up my Netscape Gold Composer and created a Web site called the Fanfic Symposium (, a site that proclaimed itself a repository for essays about all things fanfic. My motives for doing so were entirely selfish: I was myself an essayist in search of a venue.

Participatory media fandom, defined as those fan activities and communities centered around the creation, consumption, and discussion of fannish product (including fan fiction, fan vids, fan art, and even detailed discussion of the source), has used a variety of media and technology to facilitate these activities and communities over its history. In 1999, fannish discussions were taking place in multiple venues, both online and offline. Mailing lists in particular were a popular choice in the fandoms I frequented. Services such as ONElist, eGroups, and later Yahoo Groups ( were emerging as a viable choice for those fans who wanted to start lists but did not have access to a server, although the days when every character or pairing had its own list, or even when individual fan writers had personal lists, were still around the corner. Lists remained fairly concentrated, with perhaps two or three discussion and/or fiction lists largely accounting for the discussion in a given fandom.

These lists were good for many things, but longer, detailed, carefully organized essays were not among them. In addition, although lists to discuss issues and themes across multiple fandoms existed, they weren't always easy to find. Perhaps just as problematic was an implied and even overt hostility to critical discussion. Any nonpositive reaction to an individual story tended to be greeted with recriminations, and even a discussion of the problems of a particular theme or genre was likely to be shouted down as potentially silencing of fiction writers, and thus unacceptable.

Several writers I knew had solved this problem by adding rant pages to their fiction sites, places where they might expound on various topics. However, because I wasn't producing anything in the way of fiction at the time, I didn't see how I could attract readers to such a site with only my essays. Then, a solution presented itself: a site where anyone could submit essays. Surely there were others like me out there, looking for a space to hold forth. And indeed there were. [7]

Six Years Later, Changes in Fannish Platforms

The remainder of 1999 saw 38 essays posted, and although things slowed down a bit after that, the site remained active for another 6 years.

Why only 6 years? Perhaps the single most significant fannish change in the last 10 years was also the reason the Fanfic Symposium itself is no longer active (note 1): the move from mailing lists to LiveJournal (, a combined blogging, discussion, and social networking site. The Symposium was born out of a desire for a space that allowed not only for longer explorations, but also for discussions of themes and issues that crossed fandoms. LiveJournal not only allows for those discussions, but in many ways actively promotes them. The kinds of discussions that once took place on the Symposium have become the norm in LiveJournal-based fandom, and have in some ways abstracted even further. [8]

A Technical Crash

When Trickster, the server the Symposium is hosted on, crashed in 2003, Cereta lost the message-board program, and never recovered it. Instead, she started up a livejournal community called "ffsymposium" and invited people to talk there, posting a link whenever a new column went up so that people could discuss it in the comments. While the comm did have some conversation, it never generated as much steady discussion as the message board had.

The Fanfic Symposium was also associated with the mailing list FCA-L (the Fanfic Critics Association), which sometimes discussed or even sparked Symposium columns, although it carried on a lot of other discussion as well.

The name lives on in The Symposium, a section of the peer-reviewed journal Transformative Works and Cultures and its associated Symposium Blog, published by the Organization for Transformative Works.


  1. from DIAL #10
  2. Fanfic Symposium Submission Guidelines, accessed November 21,2008.
  3. Column index from early 2000 listing all the 1999 submissions, including two removed later, via Wayback Machine. Accessed November 21, 2008.
  4. Symposium Columns by Year, last updated December 28, 2006. Accessed November 21, 2008.
  5. Symposium Letters page from December 1999, via Wayback Machine, accessed November 21, 2008.
  6. Symposium Message board from January 2000, via Wayback Machine. Accessed November 21, 2008. (Sadly, the very active pre-2000 messageboard was completely purged in a cleanup -- see the "Admin cleanup" post on the page-- and no Wayback record exists of the earlier messages.)
  7. On symposia: LiveJournal and the shape of fannish discourse
  8. On symposia: LiveJournal and the shape of fannish discourse
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