THIS PAGE IS INCOMPLETE.
- Add section about SSL certificates
- Add section about DNS & connecting server to domain name (need to better research this)
- Put more help/reference links
- Rearrange unconventional hosts section to better integrate squidge
- Rearrange sitehost recommendations for better structure/readability
You can make one of these! You, yes, you -- or if not you, a friend, or a bunch of them together can make a fanfiction archive all to your own!
I know, it sounds like a lot! And depending on how you do it and want you want out of it, it can be. But it's not impossible, not at all, and it might be a lot easier than you think.
In order to have a website, you will need some kind of webhost.
Technically, it's possible to host your own site from a computer in your own home. AO3 owns its servers, after all! But there's a reason AO3 also runs regular thousands-of-dollars donations drives to keep the lights on, and it's not just for OTW's sake.
If you run your own server, that means your site runs on a physical computer in your house, and you are responsible for the uptime, the maintenance, the bandwidth (and non-residential/business ISP plans needed for even middling-traffic sites can be very expensive compared to residential internet rates), setting up the webserver software, troubleshooting said software (and having your site potentially go down) if something goes wrong -- everything.
This can be doable, and even worth your while if you're really invested in it, but if you're reading a guide like this, it will probably be more trouble than it's worth. (If you are intent on trying it out, though, this article from Cheapskate's Guide might be of use.)
... but unless you work with computers for a living, it probably won't be.
So let's look at webhosting.
If your archive is only going to be for your own fic, or maybe some stuff from one or two friends, you may be able to get away with just static hosting. (If not, move on.)
Static hosting means that your site can only send and display files on a visitor's computer. You can't run your own programs on the server computer (though you can run stuff on the visitor's computer.) This means:
The biggest pro of static sites, though, is that there are several places where you can host them for free, often with a complimentary domain name.
My recommendation for fanfiction is Neocities, since they have a very open TOS that won't shy away from smut fic or problematic stuff, but other options include Github, w3schools, and Hostinger (this last one does require a separate domain name, though.)
Other places to look might be pubnix/tilde communities like tilde.town, which are basically informal shared webhosting on a single computer. These can also allow non-static sites, using PHP/SQL/etc... but be warned! Because of their personal and amateur nature, these spaces may have tighter content restrictions, and they are much less stable as long-term webhosts, since you never know when the owner might just disappear or pull the plug. In short, approach with caution. You may get what you pay for.
If you want to run an archive serving multiple people, and you don't plan for the default update method to be "email me your chapters and I'll upload them for you", you'll need to be able to do stuff server-side. And that means proper webhosting. The kind that (usually) costs money.
This will be the most expensive part by far, but again, not as bad as you might think. Site hosting, for a small website (say, <50GB) will usually cost you $5 to $15 a month, depending on your host and specific hosting plan.
The prices on the front page are often much lower, but that's because they're usually a special deal for the first year of hosting -- check what price it renews at, because that will be your long-term cost.
(Yeah, yeah, I know what some of you are thinking right now: if a website costs about as much as a Netflix subscription, then why the hell does AO3 need thousands of dollars to keep running?!
We're not talking AO3 scale. AO3 is a whole other bucket of fish. AO3 is to your personal archive what a fleet of commercial cargo ships is to a lone two-man fishing boat. Plus a bunch of money goes toward legal defense funds. And it's self-hosted.)
Anyway. If this monthly cost is a little pricey for you: never fear! There are, again, workarounds.
Many webhosts have plans which allow for the creation of multiple sites. If you're willing to share the space, and you have some friends who'd like websites, too, you can split the costs between you for a cheaper deal. And if you've already got a friend with a hosting plan, consider asking if they're cool with sharing.
Recommendations: Dreamhost (reliable and friendly, good policy, mid-range pricing), Hostinger (cheaper, similar service, very open policy), HostGator (cheap, well-respected, good TOS), A Small Orange (small host with emphasis on "homegrown" sites, good prices and policy), NearlyFreeSpeech.NET (see Unconventional Hosts below.)
Warning! If you wanna host smut...
Keep in mind that some frequently-recommended, big-name hosts like BlueHost don't allow NSFW content, and may not be terribly suitable as a result.
As always, if you're planning on adult content of any variety, read the TOS and AUP.
Two other non-static hosts I've given a separate little section here for Reasons are NearlyFreeSpeech.NET and leprd.space. Both of these may be good choices if you are tight on money but willing to work with an individual or DIY.
NearlyFreeSpeech.NET uses a Pay-As-You-Go fee system, which can be much cheaper than a standard webhost at the cost of lower bandwidth. Basically, you put money in your account, and they charge from that account based on how much site resources (storage, bandwidth, etc) your site actually uses. If you run out of money, your site becomes unavailable until funds are put back in.
It's a straightforwardly barebones setup, and also tends to be very DIY. Ensuring your site stays up is considered your responsiblity -- they can help you block IP addresses or do other stuff to help minimize DDOS risks, but you're also encouraged to try and optimize your site to use less resources to begin with.
The user interface is custom to the site and somewhat unintuitive, so that will take some getting used to. But they also have, as their name suggests, a very open TOS for acceptable content, which means all that weird Comics-Code-unfriendly smut fic is good to go.
leprd.space, meanwhile, is a hobbyist offering free hosting for homemade, personal sites, as well as an optional free subdomain (so you don't need to purchase a domain name.) They've been around since at least the early 2010s, which is a good sign for long-term dedication. This means that while it's good for a no-budget fansite, you will need to keep in touch with the human being running the site, and a long period of inactivity might get you kicked.
(You may want to check that your site will be within their TOS, though, since "illegal adult content/pornography" is not allowed, and I'm not entirely clear what that covers or where their line is on written erotica.)
Edit: Another contender! Squidge.org is a long-running fan organization that offers free webhosting for fanfiction archives! They also have long-term plans for stability, including passing ownership to OTW if anything happens to the webmaster, which is a good sign (unless you don't want that, I guess.)
Your domain is your site URL -- whateverthenameis.com, or something.
If you're on a host that already lets you use a subdomain URL like Neocities, Github, Wordpress, etc, and you don't feel the burning urge for a custom URL, feel free to skip this step entirely. If not, read on.
Domain names, at least, are cheaper than hosting -- usually about $10 to $20 per year. There is some setup involved, but the technical part is usually pretty painless.
You will need to register the domain with a registrar -- most webhosts will offer this in addition to hosting, sometimes with better deals like "first year free", but you don't have to use the same service for both.
Different Top Level Domains (TLDs) may have different costs. (Your Top Level Domain is that little suffix at the end of your URL like .com, .net, .org, etc.) Some are way more expensive than $20, but unless you have a burning need to name your website fanfiction.auto or whatever, it shouldn't be a problem.
Do pay attention to your choice of TLD, though! Some TLDs have special rules for the sites that use them -- for example, .io doesn't allow adult content. (Pillowfort had a whole kerfuffle with that, back when people were flooding in from the Tumblr porn ban.) Sticking to the usual .com, .net, or .org is a safe bet.
Important: WHOIS Data!
Domain registration involves a lot of personal info, including a postal address, phone number, real name, and other contact information. By default, this information is publicly visible on ICANN's WHOIS domain name lookup system.
That means if you don't have privacy measures in place, anyone on the internet could look up who owns your domain name and see this information!
Registrars will normally include an anonymization and privacy service to replace all this info with the name and info of their privacy service in public-facing records. Though many include it for free by default, some have it as an added option for an extra fee instead.
Be careful, and make sure your data is protected!
(tutorial section goes here)
SSL is short for Secure Sockets Layer, and basically it's encyption security for your website. You know how some website URLs start with https:// instead of http://, and have a little padlock next to them? Or sometimes you try to go to a site and your browser freaks out and tells you it's a sEcUrItY RiSk because something something certificate has expired? That's because of SSL (or, uh, a lack thereof.)
If you have your own domain, you'll probably want this no matter want kind of site you're making, but it's especially important if you're running a dynamic site with any kind of login system that could be at risk of people trying to intercept your data.
To have SSL on your site, you will need an SSL certificate. This is not a permanent thing, and will need to be re-issued about once a year, as another part of your site's maintenance.
Most SSL certificates are only for a single domain, too, so if you need to handle multiple domains or subdomains with SSL, you will need to get either multiple certificates or a special kind of certificate that handles that. Otherwise, your other site(s) will not only be unsecured, but give a warning on some browsers that there might be something wrong, because the certificate is only valid for [insert other site here] (which will, incidentally, identify them as sharing an owner.)
Many web hosts will at least include a free SSL certificate for one site as part of hosting, or offer certificates very cheaply (sometimes even as a small one-time payment) as long as your site is on their servers.
If you're willing to get more into the configuration guts of things, there's also Let's Encrypt, a nonprofit organization that issues certificates for free. This works best if you have SSH (secure shell, i.e. the command terminal) access on your web server, though, so if you're exclusively using something like Wordpress or cPanel, this might be a bit tricky, as you'll have to talk to your webhosting provider and ask them to handle it on your behalf.
... your choices will be a lot simpler, and mostly depend on how much automation you want.
If you're okay with just a single list of works and links to the individual fics, a manually maintained archive may suit you best. Just write the HTML pages yourself, link them to each other, and be done with it.
Comments, if desired, can be implemented through third-party sites like Disqus or HTMLCommentBoxes, too! Or you could just offer a contact email and live with the reduced feedback from passing internet strangers. It's cool.
If you want built-in organization tools (or you just don't wanna have to do everything by hand) you might try a site generator. This is basically a program that takes some input (usually files formatted in Markdown), and outputs the HTML and CSS files for a full website you can upload to your host.
Most of these tools are geared towards blogs or business sites, but can be reasonably repurposed for a personal fanfiction archive. Additionally, many site generators have optional plugins for special functionality, and Tumblr and Wordpress-style installable themes for easy site style.
Some static site generators will have some dependencies on other scripting languages you may need to install, like Ruby or Go, and the generators themselves some work to set up. They will also require you to use the command line, which can be a little intimidating. However, once you've got them installed and configured, it's very easy to just plug in your files and let it build your site automatically.
Some good static site generators include (but are obviously not limited to):
Hugo is written in Go, and while it takes a fair bit of setup, it supports categories and tags, which is really nice.
A fellow Neocitizen wrote a tutorial for how they made their site using it, which I have linked above!
Dependent on Ruby and Git. Has category organization, a large collection of premade themes, and loads of plugins.
Zonelets is a bit of an odd duck here -- it's a static blog generator, but a very simple one, and it's optimized primarily for Neocities.
I wouldn't entirely recommend this one, since it's only a reverse chronological weblog and doesn't have much internal organization, but it could still be kludged into a fanfiction archive if you really wanted to
, and I just think it's neat. People have definitely made archives with less.
... there's other options, and more of them are actually aimed at running an archive rather than a blog. Or at least, something other than a blog.
This is what you're probably really here for. The staple of early 2000s/2010s fanfiction archives, eFiction was written specifically as a fanfic-archive software.
It runs on PHP and MySQL, which are both standard installations on most webhosts, so dependencies shouldn't be an issue.
Realistically, if you want a multi-user automated archive, you'll probably be using this one.
Pros: It is designed to do exactly the thing you're asking it to do. And while it's no AO3, it is a pretty servicable system, with plenty of basic expected features like collections, series, stats, reviews, etc.
Cons: Its maintenance is a little uncertain. It had a reputation for most of the late 2010s/early 2020s for being a slow-decaying and increasingly unstable system, vulnerable to spam and security exploits (though it's hard to say how much of that was to do with eFiction itself, versus just the fact that most eFiction sites were abandoned and unmoderated in general.) It has a new maintainer as of 2022, but no new releases.
Okay, you probably won't use this one, but it turns out technically Wordpress has a plugin for
everything fanfiction archives? From what I've seen, it's not ideal in structure, and it may have become unmaintained as of late (though there's talk of a new release soon), but if you want a Wordpress site for your fanfiction archive, you can definitely do this.
(Side note: Wordpress does technically forbid "pornography" in their TOS, but they specifically define it as visual depiction, not text, so fic should be a non-issue.)
Pros: Wordpress is very non-coder friendly, highly customizable in other ways, and commonly used enough there's a metric shitton of help reference out there. Many hosts offer extremely streamlined and easy Wordpress installation, and some even have special optimized hosting plans for Wordpress sites.
Cons: Using a plugin like Writeshare requires a $15 a month Wordpress Pro account, which might be more than your actual hosting costs, so you'd want to be either be hosted by Wordpress directly, or really convinced it was worth your while. On top of that, WriteShare is just... not that great, tbh. Their demo feels like someone just reworked a blog slightly to be a fanfiction archive -- and to be fair, that's basically what it is, but still.
(Official Site | Too many tutorials to count. Just Google it or something.)
Speaking of, if you're running an archive of one, you could also just use an actual vanilla Wordpress blog to post your fic on. It's not ideal, but Wordpress does support tags and categorization systems, and has comments, which could be good enough for some people.
Pros: See WriteShare. Your site will also probably look slick and professional, in a generic sort of way. Also, if you're not using any plugins or a custom domain name, you can host your site on Wordpress.com for free.
Cons: This isn't really fanfiction archive software, and you will have to kludge things a bit to make it work. Also, Wordpress's Free version kinda sucks and will show ads on your website, which is. Not great.
Believe it or not, it is doable! But I wouldn't recommend this for anyone who doesn't have some serious webserver/coding knowledge and skills already.
AO3's code is open source, and a portable, reproducible version of the software is on its roadmap, but it's kind of a mess. To date, one person, squidgiepdx, has successfully made their own archive using AO3's code, but it took weeks of wrangling and effort to get it up and running. However, they also made a very useful guide to how they set up their archive for anyone following in their footsteps, so that's a plus!
It does have a lot of dependencies, though, which you'll see in the setup and installation guides. TL;DR, it's not easy, and you have been warned.
Pros: Very good software, especially for bigger archives. Familiar interface. Probably quite secure/stable, since it's actively being maintained.
Cons: Difficult to set up; may be more trouble than it's worth for a smaller site.
Putting this as a catch-all for various software, but yeah -- forums can be adapted as fanfiction archives, too. In fact, there are communities out there that write fanfiction primarily as forum threads, and any other archival is secondary! (See: SpaceBattles, Sufficient Velocity, etc.)
Pros: The software exists, it's well-maintained, and it's often easy to install and set up. The format also encourages moderated audience participation and commenting.
Cons: This is not actually fanfiction archive software. Anything you construct from this will be inherently super kludgy and ugly, and you will have to fight your own tools to make them do what you want, which is generally bad design.
If your archive is still just for you and your friends, you don't need a full scripting setup. As long as your friends are all reasonably computer and HTML-savvy, you can also made do with just a manually maintained system of static sites.
Most hosting plans above the bare-bones minimum tier will allow you to make multiple websites and FTP (file transfer protocol) accounts, so if your friends are able, you could make an archive that's just several static archives glued together under a single hosting account and domain name, and let your friends update their sub-sites individually.
Pros: No fancy installations needed. Your friends may be more motivated to pitch in and help hosting costs.
Cons: Your friends will need to be tech-savvy enough to maintain their own sites, which may be... difficult. Organization may be very idiosyncronatic, since several each author is each maintaining their own independent section of the site.
Okay, I don't recommend this one. It will take a shitton of time, effort and coding knowledge to pull off... but technically, if such resources existed, you could do this.
I don't expect anyone to, though; this is only on the list for posterity and a sense of completion. (I was also going to include astolat's defunct Automated Archive software, but I couldn't actually find it anywhere, and all the support stuff was on Yahoo Groups and is deleted, so...)
Pros: It will definitely be fanfiction archive software, and you might not spend any money on it (just time and labor. Though, same thing, really...) You will have full customization and control over the archive's structure, features, what programming or scripting language it's written in, and how it works. If you release under a decent FOSS license, other people could also reuse your code for their own archives, which would be neat.
Cons: Almost everything else. You have to write a system from scratch, maintain the codebase (fixing bugs, fielding questions, making sure stuff doesn't break when languages and servers update), think about who will maintain the code if you lose interest, make it actually functional and secure, etc... it's a lot of work!
Some resources from various sites, offering tutorials, more in-depth information, etc about how to make and set up a site. Many of these were used as references for writing this article, so thank you all, even if some of you are terrible people who suck.
Credits ⬝ Top