Survival Guide to Electronic Fanfic

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Title: Survival Guide to Electronic Fanfic
Creator: Margaret A Martin
Date(s): January 1998
Medium: meta
Fandom: meta
External Links:
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Survival Guide to Electronic Fanfic was a page that was written by Margaret A Martin aka chaomath and posted to the aka BUCKAROO-BONSAI-TREE.MIT.EDU server (which hosted several 1990s-era fanfiction archives and mailing lists) in order to instruct people on how to format fanfic for easy online distribution; the guide's subtitle was "How to post a story so everyone will be happy." Version 1.1 was Copyright January 1998. Various copies still exist around the internet, including one at the Scully Slash Archive and one at The Slipper Archive. It was also widely imitated, abbreviated, and cited [1]; many fandoms had formatting requirements.

The Guide included sections on:

FIT THE FIRST: Not for Writers only.
  1. What can/can't I write about?
  2. How do I get the words from paper to electrons?
  3. Should I spell-check?
  4. What are beta-readers?
  5. How do I make sure my story isn't filled with strange characters?
  6. I've heard that I should post my monster in a series of smaller posts, but how and why?
  7. How do I make sure people read my story in order?
  8. How do I avoid annoying or offending people?
  9. What are those silly disclaimers and copyright notices all about?
  10. How much should I tell about the story?
FIT THE SECOND: Not for Readers only.
FIT THE THIRD: Guidelines: The Shortlist

Fannish History

The Survival Guide is also useful as a map to the fannish internet circa 1998; for instance, check out this detailed explanation of how to divide a story up into multiple posts for emailing:

Since historically everyone was limited to an 80 character screen, the standard response has been to limit posts by number of lines. 500, a nice, round number, is usually regarded as the upper limit. (All programs handle messages that long without arbitrarily cutting off the end.) So, crunching the numbers, 80 characters per line with a 500 line limit,means 40,000 characters is the maximum.
However, the structure of the English language and the more commonly employed 72-character line limit, means that the *true* average number of characters per line in an actual story is approximately 49 -- significantly lower than the maximum. But what if you can't do a character count -- only a word count? Not to worry. The average number of words per line is about 9. What does this mean in the final analysis? A little more math leads us to the following conclusions:
500 lines = 4500 words = 24500 characters
Lines, words, characters -- however you count it, if you stay within these limits when deciding how to divide your story, you will avoid problems. Finally, don't divide your story into pieces that are far below the limits described above. Large numbers of small posts can be as disruptive as overwhelming large ones.

It is also worth noting the Guide's prohibitions against RPF ("Finally, no actor fanfic. It is a major fen sin to confuse actors with characters, and although the temptation is overwhelming sometimes, control it. Everyone will be much happier if you do"), assumption that most fanfic is written longhand ("How do I get the words from paper to electrons?") and references to an "organized fandom" so small and tight-knit that each fandom can keep a list of fen willing to beta ("Organized fandoms often keep lists of people who volunteer to beta-read. Ask for it. Or, if no such list exists, ask the group for volunteers.")


  1. The Basement's Formatting FAQ for Fanfic Authors, or "Formatting Shapely TrekSmut" by Ruth Gifford; last revised 09/04/99 by Ned Fox