Friday, April 15, 2016

April 2016: Author to Author: Are You Telling Your Stories?

Author to Author: Are You Telling Your Stories?

Share Your World

The two predators at the start of "The Lioness" exist in a London I know far too well. The stretch of sidewalks drenched in black tears that have washed litter into soggy piles in the shadows of streetlamps clinging to the streets of Camden Town. I've gone back to that same spot over and over for close to eighteen years. Given the current plans economic development within the area, that bit of London won't exist for much longer. It will be built over, the references in "The Lioness" will no longer be anchored to a physical reality, and that part of my world will have come to an end.

What does it matter? This is the normal state of our existence. We are transient in a landscape that evolves and changes as much as we do. The technology we use, the things we take for granted, and the places we know are moments in time. A friend of mine, now in her late seventies, lamented the lack of stories about the shenanigans and sexual passions of a generation confounded by war and loss over tea, and I asked her what should we know now. "Well," she said, "this whole gays and lesbians thing isn't new at all." She was half laughing expecting me to be shocked and sipped some fancy Whittard blend which was a personal preference before continuing. "We were all huddled together, waiting for the bombers to pass, and my second girlfriend liked to sneak in a quick grope under my skirt when she knew I couldn't make a sound." Unfortunately, there are very few stories about those other relationships. No one told them. People conveniently forgot. My friend's memories will fade with her, and no one will know any differently than the popular fiction and radio shows of that era which largely censored homosexuality to avoid government intervention.

Unable to sleep while winging my way across the Atlantic, my friend's smirk stuck with me long after I forgot the name and scent of her favorite tea. This is our job now. The barriers have been removed. The publishers can no longer bar the gates and prevent the people from being heard. Do you want other authors to speak for you? Do you want their beliefs to eclipse yours? Will you share your world? Or will you let it wither and fade as if it never existed at all?

How does your personal journey shape your stories?

Are your characters friends? Many authors incorporate elements of the people and relationships that they know best. When I was first working on Angel, everyone in my small circle of companions knew exactly who those stories were about. Specific friends and acquaintances of mine recur in different settings - cameos for the worthy and the damned. It wasn't until I was working with Miez and Priya that I became much more aware of how so many authors, including me, normalized and sculpted our characters to keep some quirks or special traits from our real life friends, but otherwise made them bland and mainstream. With Sexy Identities and She Comes First, there's been a lot of mutual encouragement between Lelith and I to actually write about the real men and women we know without cleansing and scrubbing them for a vanilla audience. There's a sense that some of these stories are really our secret memoirs, but there's so much satisfaction saying, "That moment will not be forgotten."

There's more to it than that though. Where do your stories happen? In the new revelations that Sable and Sara discover about their father, there's a set of locations and settings which I know far too well. Other times, much like Hollywood, it's easy enough to fashion a generic neighborhood with the right blend of franchises and highlights that readers would expect. That fabricated reality is almost always a puzzling together of an author's experience painted in the colours of the intended genre. We can go further. We can make it real. We can write about the actual rows of houses crowded beside potholed streets. We can write about how drumming tires sing with an uneven cadence as they pass by at night. Maybe we need to have that to remind people of those places that aren't perfect and pristine as well as those places that aren't dystopias and damaged beyond repair.

In the middle, the grey space, there's so much to say. I have come to believe this is the most important thing to keep in mind. While our lives are often defined by peaks and troughs, time mostly passes doing the routine and mundane with a backdrop of the average and plain. We attenuate our senses to tune out the ordinary. We react with adrenaline when things get different, challenging, or strange. As authors, we're often encouraged to write about the stuff that matters, but what about the rest? Is a montage good enough? Here's another place where we can tell stories about our world by filling in the blanks. The stories of Alexi & Andrea raising Sable and Sara are about home life. The rich tapestry of emotions is much more difficult to express, but there are scenes that make Miez and I laugh and grin every time we re-read them. There are others that trouble us both, though she doesn't know what Baby Ruth candy bars really mean because they aren't common in England. The imbetween moments of life slipping through our fingers have beautifully intricate arrangements of sentiment and action in motion, and it's worth exploring and sharing.

Balance, though, isn't always the best draw for readers. Are your stories about conflict and resolution? Skimming my sizable collection of movies at Orlando base, I know I'm more interested in the setup and consequences than the slow burn. I want to get sucked into a book, rage at the characters, know what they should have done instead, and read all the way through the night to see what happens in the end. Other readers want to understand the world the characters are in. I'll be the first to admit that Cherish Desire Divinations diverges from classic shapeshifter and paranormal books because no one - not even the characters - know what the rules are. It might be a bit too much like real life even. There was a conscious trade off in "The Lioness" to favour action over explanation, and that sets a fierce pace which demands a leap of faith from readers. Despite being from an overlapping narrative universe, "Sexy Identities, Collection 1" slows things down and takes the time to explore the unique experiences of individual characters trying to explore their passions and their natures. While leaving the overall relationship between the stories loosely coupled by recurring meta-references, there's a lot more room to answer important questions while leaving some hooks for later.

Perception and placement matter, too. How soft are a unicorn's kisses? Most good writing should incorporate all five senses, but erotica needs to acknowledge a sixth sense: arousal. Far too often, there's a lack of hunt and chase, a strange irrational willingness, and immediate submission which would raise an eyebrow in my world. Getting into the details, I'm in awe of how basic logistics seem to be irrelevant. Look, if you're having a threesome then the people involved need to be close enough to touch each other. I know that I would be a terrible writer if I tried to explain some sportsball game in play. I'm terrified to think about what the usual written sexual exploits of mainstream authors says about their skill in bed. Combine senses with context, walk around the bedroom and think about who is where, and then apply the brush strokes of the writer's craft. The light from the window can indicate dawn or dusk. The heat of a lover can suggest proximity. When there's action and contact, how does she balance while sliding over his legs? What does he see first, can she scent his lust, and is the humming of the refrigerator joining in as they gasp and whisper? A unicorn's kisses are so sweet that they mark the lips of her lovers with a warmth that returns on lonely nights.

Let's wrap this up. You've got writing to do. Even if you have to do it under a different pseudonym, try your hand at telling stories about your world. The one you live in. Embellish, craft, spin, but hold some elements true. Your words will be found long after those moments have passed on, and you may be the only one who ever described that intersection at sunset, the wood grain of the bar cutting into your palms while hoping she'd notice you, the glowing embers of her cigarette in a shadowy motel room afterward, and the long walk home on damp cobblestone streets. We don't just write fiction. We inform the future of our truth.

Thank you for your support.

Cherish Desire Erotica

All pages and images copyright ©2016 Cherish Desire unless otherwise noted.
All rights reserved. Duplication or distribution of this media is forbidden except with express permission.

Tuesday, March 15, 2016

March 2016: Author to Author: Ten Things To Consider About Your Web Presence

Author to Author: Ten Things To Consider About Your Web Presence

Is Your Presence You?

Blogger, Wordpress, Wix, Weebly... what do these have in common? Free. Setting up a website, blog, or even an online store has always been about what you're willing to spend, and free is powerful bait.

Is free you though? Free isn't always the least expensive option. Even with free hosting - which is a really good deal - you still need to find a template, work through layouts, produce visual and multimedia content, and then actually get down to the business of tailoring a web presence that represents you. That's a lot of time and energy that is not usually your core business. You need an approach that streamlines your time away from the products and services that you provide.

So read along while I talk through some of the basics. We're going to explore what's important in your web presence, and then touch on how to make your web presence an asset instead of a time sink.

Do you pick your own clothes out or do you let someone else handle it?

Well, do you? I've always been a fan of cherry picking specific elements of my wardrobe. 5.11 Tactical Pant plus Loot Crate black -tshirt with a fandom print suit me well for casual days. I prefer functional with pockets so I can go all-terrain as necessary without feeling burdened by bulk. That matters to me, and it's what people expect. Your web presence has a lot in common with how you present yourself.

Think of your website in similar terms as your wardrobe. What balance of functionality, style, personality, and ruggedness suits your purposes? Do you need a bundle of lightweight services - a Swiss Army Knife approach - or are you tightly focused and can depend on a single blunt instrument to get the heavy lifting done? Will you really take advantage of lots of plug-ins and pop-ups, or are you going to Keep It Simple Stupid because you don't have time for all that extra stuff?

You're going to hear over and over again that your web presence is about your market. The truth is that your web presence is about delivering information people need while encouraging them to embrace a call to action. A flashy website that is neither informative nor aligned with a specific follow up action has already failed even though you may have invested a lot of time in vanity. Don't let all the fancy make-up smear in a flood of tears when you discover your web presence is just a speedbump on the internet.

The following are the basics I use when reviewing my sites, trying to align them with my market and promotions, and the same when I am advising and mentoring other small businesses. I hope this helps, and I'm open to any questions you might have.

1. Am I making a good first impression?

The first step is ignoring the technicals and just focusing on what's right in front of your eyes. What's your honest reaction? Do you feel comfortable or distracted? Are you curious or bored? Are there clues that stand out and define what you're looking at?

Your web presence needs to invite someone lurking at the window to come in and take a closer look. If you're not making a good impression then the barrier to their entry is too high, and they will almost always move on.

While we all have differing fashion sense, sometimes we forget that style matters within our web presence. Take a minute to look through the eyes of a complete stranger. Socks and belt match? Shirt pressed? Trousers pleated? These are very superficial elements, but our brains are wired to unconciously assess the world. See if you can tailor a positive message with style that encourages your audience to stick around.

2. Can I find my way around?

A gorgeous site can be completely undone by ineffective navigation. You've succeeded at getting someone to visit your website, but how do they get what they wanted?

Technically this is about navigation and layout, but the words you use matter as much if not more than having everything neatly arranged in a multi-tier menu. The golden rule I follow is organizing the navigation by Who, What, Free, and then other teasers.

Who focuses your brand. Branding is a huge topic, but the key is that you need to convey a sense of your identity. Your brand may be yourself, but keep in mind that your brand is probably the version of you that's dressed for success.

What focuses on your product and/or services. What's your industry? What's your offer? What is it that you can do for the visitor? Tackle that right off the bat with an obvious keyword and not a generic catchall expression.

Free is all about giving a taste to potential admirers so they have a risk free opportunity to consider your value in their life. Free is almost always a subtle call to action. Whether you collect emails or just give something away, free should stand out because it's likely to be the first thing clicked on your web site.

The other teasers focus on engagement. What social media do you participate in? Do you have interesting stories of your experience to share? Are you part of a community or industry group? Teasers provide both validation of your excellence and network checks for socializing.

3. Content is King.

Despite all the whizbang excitement you can add to a website template, content is still the number one reason why people came to your site in the first place.

What is your content? Technical considerations apply when you look at what you intend to present to your audience. If your content is predominately writing then Blogger and Wordpress with their blog format model are probably the best platforms to leverage.

If you are more of a visual content creator then you want a site template that emphasizes galleries and creative presentation. If you do a lot of multimedia content, then you've got some additional challenges since your videos probably are hosted on YouTube or Vimeo and need to be framed in specific ways to present them on your website .

While Wix and Weebly probably do well for most general types of content, you might want to look at very specific social media alternatives. Tumblr may make more sense for mixed photosets and microblogging. Vimeo definitely encourages a community to form around multimedia content. What level of templating you can do versus your custom requirements may determine the right choice when you need to make your content shine.

4. What's everyone else doing?

You don't have to trailblaze to have a good web presence. Sometimes it makes sense to look at other people and how they use websites to communicate with their market and audience.

While considering the best medium to present your content, it's definitely worth knowing if you're reinventing the wheel. Check out competitors, people you admire, marketing and social media gurus, and find out what's going on in the marketplace.

Take good notes as you go because there is so much information out there that you may otherwise forget some great ideas along the way.

5. What have you tried?

Ordinarily I advise folks to put together an list of must haves, should haves, could haves, would haves - it's called a MoSCoW list - so they can assess their options. The reality is that you need to know what you're capable of and what platforms work for you before locking down your requirements makes sense.

Websites are a combination of learning a tool or set of tools, selecting templates, managing layout, creating content in an appropriate format, sorting out navigation, and linking it all together. Even if you end up paying someone to do this, you need to understand the concepts and what's needed to achieve your goals.

So consider what you've already set up, and try out a few alternatives if that's appropriate. Revisit or figure out where you're going to host logo images for your header, how you are going to resize icons and buttons for your links, and what the best way to manage your URLs is. Think about what you could be doing better and write that down. Print out website pages and mark them up. Go through the learning cycle with some hands-on experience to balance your expectations.

Timebox this exercise. Make yourself a list of what you need as you go - a shopping list for if you end up hiring someone to help - and invest a fixed number of days in testing changes and ideas, asking questions on forums, Google'ing for snippets of HTML, etc.

6. Assess your capabilities as well as your chosen website tool.

Honestly, I am terrible at graphics. I have a collection of friends who work with templates I provide for bookcovers, but I can kill hours just agonizing over a single image and how to get the right colour text for legibility. You've probably got your weak spots as well.

So considering what you've tried and how that went is a good way to define areas you can grow in, can learn more about, and might just never grasp. You may have also identified critical flaws in the site you picked for hosting. For example, I've had to strip out most of the pre-defined Blogger widgets and replace them with custom code within my templates to implement what I need. In hindsight, I picked a tool that was good for the first few years, but now isn't well-suited for further growth. Compromises are worth noting before they cause you unexpected grief down the road.

This is also a good chance to give all those widgets and template formats a second look. What may have seemed very out of the box simple might be more work than it's worth. Consider carefully how you compliment your content, make it easy to navigate your website, and emphasize your call to action and communities by using widgets and layouts. Remove anything that's a distraction while focusing on your content.

7. Refine your goals.

Based on your prior experience, you've got a good handle on your goals and the effort that may be involved in achieving them. Now revisit those goals and figure out if they are really priorities that add value.

This is one place where style may be trumped by expediency. You want a presentable website, but does it need to be a three piece suit and tie? Be willing to weigh your options, but make sure you don't accidentally throw the baby out with the bathwater.

For folks with an existing web presence, refining your goals is a good time management exercise. Once the initial effort is complete, you need to invest time every month creating content, managing links, etc. All those hours are sucked away from other activities. So make sure your goals are worthwhile so you aren't treading water for limited or zero additional value.

8. What does success mean?

For some people, success is having a large email mailing list. For others, it's active comments on their blog posts. Success is an internal measurement of something tangible to inform the return on your investment in your web presences.

Defining your success quantifies your goals. If you aren't succeeding then it's time to ask why. There's a lot of cyclical maintenance with your web presence, and that usually means looping through my steps #3, #4, #7, #8, and #9. Knowing what makes you successful or that you haven't been successful yet informs your next revisions and updates.

9. Metrics Matter

Whether it's Google Analytics, your webhosting click reports, or MailChimp stats on email opens, you need metrics. If your current web presence doesn't generate and capture metrics then how can you know if it's working?

In the physical world, a mall measures how many people enter the food court. Each individual restaurant tallies up their number of customers and how much those customers spent. This can be plotted against time to produce an understanding of when the food court is busy, when the food court is busy with buyers, and when the food court is largely empty. Surveying customers can add additional demographic information like where they come from and why they came. You want to know all the same for your websites.

Metrics serve little purpose by themselves, so link Goals, Success, and Metrics together with each iteration of your web presence. Read the reports, learn what they tell you about your visitors, and then align your content and call to action to build a bridge to that audience.

10. Is it time for an refresh?

Even if you've been through this process a dozen times, it's entirely possible that technology will leap ahead and you need to refresh everything. I've been coping with that since 2015 because the proliferation of mobile devices with small screens as the primary device used to visit my website has changed everything.

Some refreshes are about brand evolution. Some are cosmetic. Keep in mind that existing content migration is going to be a burden, so this isn't something to do lightly.

Most of us will never meet in real life, so your web presence really does matter. Be aware of how your websites represents you. Just like your wardrobe, the style and personality of your web presence is conveyed by subtle and superficial elements which people react to instinctively. Plan on changing your look for the right occasions, but consistency tailored to your audience is usually the winning play.

Thank you for your support.

Cherish Desire Erotica

All pages and images copyright ©2016 Cherish Desire unless otherwise noted.
All rights reserved. Duplication or distribution of this media is forbidden except with express permission.

Monday, February 15, 2016

February 2016: Author to Author: We Need To Talk About Apple iBooks

Author to Author: We Need To Talk About Apple iBooks

Why can't iBooks embrace rational consistency?

You've heard of iBooks of course. iTunes was the start of a closed marketplace aimed directly at Apple product owners, and both iBooks and iTunes have the distinct benefit of being tightly bundled with the 231 million iPhones sold since 2007. In terms of customer marketplace, this makes iTunes and iBooks a very lucrative market opportunity.

So I expect some hassles. When you're dealing with a gorilla who can convince people to pay $700 for a smartphone that costs $250 to manufacture, it's going to be all about profit for them. Apple isn't evil, but they want their devices - iPads, MacBooks, iPhones - to be ubiquitous and in the hands of every age group. Adult erotic content is going to have some bumps along the way.

But it's February now, and someone at iBooks unpublished all our Smashwords distributed titles back in November 2015. The reason? "Max" is not an acceptable first name and last name combination.

They're surely going to remove Sophocles next, and, without Oedipus Rex, I fear their whole collection of Greek sagas will be tarnished!

Inconsistency costs time and money

It's a bit shocking that our titles were on Apple for years before they noticed the author's name is Max! Apple has had a long track record of irrational responses to Cherish Desire titles, but we were in a good place - a comfortable detente - for most of 2014 and 2015.

Some titles were removed for questionable reasons. A cover that apparently offended a censor. A story title that must have been alarming. I'd get little love notes from Apple via Smashwords that just said a title was Inappropriate. Sometimes later revised editions were accepted, other times they weren't. It was fairly random.

Then Apple iBooks took down "Free Orgasms, Volume 1". I don't recall the reason, but it was most likely Inappropriate. This was right after the title started to get traction, so I 'm guessing that someone didn't read the description, thought "Free Orgasms" was a sportsball scores reference, and then complained.

And I get it. As a retailer, Apple iBooks retains the right to decide what they stock and sell. They aren't obliged to carry any titles at all. It's just an insanely irrational approach to doing business. We're in the catalog for 18 months and then vanished without any warning. That's how links get broken, and I don't like broken links.

The next block of books that didn't pass the censors' opaque requirements were also free books. The entire Free Erotica Series was blocked by Apple iBooks. The reason given? They had Free in the title.

Can you imagine how many movies, albums, and books would have to be removed if the word Free in the title was verboten? And poor Joe Blow is going to take it horribly if they delete his "How to Be Free" book!

What's going on Apple iBooks? If you want to define a standard then stand by it. Wasting my time, the nice folks over at Smashwords' time, and your time is a tragedy. This is a business, and it shouldn't be your first rodeo, Apple.

Bottom line, inconsistency at Apple costs all of us time and money. I've stripped all iBooks links out of the catalog. Smashwords is supposedly reaching out to ask what is going on. If you are a dedicated iPad or iPhone user that is tightly wedded to the iBooks store, all I can recommend is that you buy the same edition of the book from Smashwords directly.

Heck, go straight to Smashwords today, set up your account, and download "Free Orgasms, Volume 1" for free.

You got this! Apparently Apple doesn't.

Thank you for your support.

Cherish Desire Erotica

All pages and images copyright ©2016 Cherish Desire unless otherwise noted.
All rights reserved. Duplication or distribution of this media is forbidden except with express permission.

Friday, January 15, 2016

January 2016: Author to Author: The Dreaded Revised Edition

Author to Author: The Dreaded Revised Edition

Isn't this the digital age?

I'm working hard on the upcoming Cherish Desire Singles: "His Toy Chest (The Complete Seven Part Series) featuring Angel" and along the way I have the usual list of minor edits and corrections to the previously published stories. I know. I know. It's self-inflicted pain. This is the digital age though, when we can recognize a misplaced word, a dangling plot thread, or an annoying redundancy, and just fix it. Right?

Maybe not so much. I don't know how other authors really deal with revisions, but it's a challenge for Cherish Desire. We have a standard revision edition notation in each book - [alpha][alpha] - where the first letter is the publishing year of revision and the second increments by quarter or by major format change.

In 2016 there's a big push underway that goes all the way back to August 2015 to revise all AA, BA through BC, and some CA titles to DA or higher. I bring up August 2015 because our first pass revising AA titles in July 2015 ran into technical glitches at Amazon. So we backed off and prepared for the hard push to DC editions.

On the surface, this should be a straightforward exercise. This is much harder work than it sounds though, and mostly it's for internal consistency. Plus making the covers look nicer and the descriptions match Amazon's latest formating. Still it shouldn't be so hard to just assemble the revised parts of the ebook and publish the revision.

It's the little things that matter so much

Some of you may not know much about how Cherish Desire books are formatted. Honestly, you should be able to open a book, see the table of contents, and click on the story you want to read. I try to keep it that simple.

What you skip by in the front material is a title page that has the Amazon ASIN ID, the KIN Kobo ID, and the Smashwords ISBN. In order to get those identifiers and put them in the book, the book must be published to all three retailers and then updated. WHY??? I'm going to look at how pre-release enables seeing the identifiers before go live day, but it's a nuisance.

The next book section is what I kindly refer to as "Things for sneak previews." With some Very Dirty Stories titles, the sneak previews on Amazon and Smashwords allowed readers to read the entire first story. I'd rather people get a taste but not eat an entire scoop of ice cream without paying. We have plenty of free titles after all.

The front material includes good content! Information about Ladies of Cherish Desire appearing in the book, related Cherish Desire Singles titles, and more provide some context and branding. These paragraphs tend to be pretty static, but revisions do happen. A change to a single lady's background story hits every book she appears or is referenced in. That means hunting down all those titles and marking them for revision. Head desk jackhammer.

After the last story in each title, there are catalog segments by Cherish Desire Lady to outline the additional sexy adventures of the main characters. This back material is probably the most neglected part of each book, but it's there for readers who are trying to get their bearings within short stories that might reference a number of secondary characters or past events. While the catalog is stable, new Cherish Desire titles are being added throughout the year. So the embedded catalog has its own versioning, and new book releases would trigger an update throughout any number of books if that was a priority.

But wait... there's more! Based on feedback from readers, we also include links to referenced characters in the header for each story so they don't need to flip back to the front material for the Ladies of Cherish Desire links. This isn't hard to maintain, but it's got to be added in story by story.

With the Dx series of revisions, there's also a link at the end of each story. This link goes to the next story in the series or an appropriate story linked to the one the reader just finished. This was another reader request, but when the catalog gets updated these next story links become inaccurate. They also must be generated story by story.

So here's the challenge for 2016, and I'm definitely open to suggestions: Make this process clean and fast to enable quick turn around every time a change is made which impacts multiple titles.

Ideas? Is it just me that is working so hard to revise existing content for the best reader experience? Am I making a mistake thinking that since we produce a digital product that it doesn't have to be print and forget like paper editions?

Thank you for your support.

Cherish Desire Erotica

All pages and images copyright ©2016 Cherish Desire unless otherwise noted.
All rights reserved. Duplication or distribution of this media is forbidden except with express permission.