Wednesday, November 1, 2017

November 2017: Author to Author: Nailing Down The Details

Author to Author: Nailing Down The Details

The Highway To Hell... aka Publication

The journey every update of the Cherish Desire Erotica Catalog takes is a combination of trailblazing and masochism. There's no denying the stupefying level of interwoven complexities that need to be broken down into bite sized chunks, tackled, completed, and then woven back together again for each release. Catalog changes range from minor corrections to additions of new titles to re-architecting the entire book layout and style sheets to accommodate fresh ideas on how to best present the stories we want people to know about.

And that's just step one.

After innumerable hours spent writing, publication looms overhead. Tame the process, and you can get it done. Here's how we navigate the labyrinth to get our titles on the virtual shelves.

Structure Matters as much as Content

Finish the stories. At this moment there are over 500 stories in progress in the Cherish Desire writing folder. While some of those may only be a paragraph or two, many have been fleshed out with events and characters in need of direction. The backlog of stories is one of the reasons why there is always a wealth of material for new Very Dirty Stories titles.

For those stories to make it into a title, three things need to happen. An initial editing pass is required to make sure that each story is complete. Coding to indicate sexual content comes next to indicate what type of erotica content is included in the story. Finally, a deep editing pass is completed which may include related stories that precede and follow the new content. After all, details matter. No one likes stumbling across vanishing tattoos or randomly changing piercings as they read through a story arc.

For the sake of reading and reviewing stories with a fresh eye, each pass through is done separately. We may do the initial proofread and edit pass on twenty stories before circling back to the first to do content coding. It's far too easy to be comfortable with a story, to read ahead with familiar material, and visual words that aren't actually there. The deep editing pass often includes sidebar notes and may result in revisions to prior stories because of minor inconsistencies that didn't stand out previously. It's never easy, and even leveraging multiple editors doesn't guarantee minor mistakes don't slip through. So we revisit stories over and over to get them to the 99.9% mark and use every miswritten word we discover as an example to search for similar errors in other stories.

Prepare the story descriptions. Descriptions are less an attempt to tell what happens in a story and more of a fifteen second elevator pitch about why the story is worth reading. We try to limit descriptions to two sentences - whether the story is 2,000 words or 15,000 words - and it's not easy. Even with content coding as a crutch so readers can immediately search for sexual content they enjoy, those two sentences are what we goes up on Amazon, Kobo, and Smashwords. Despite being erotica, that means the descriptions also have to be kid safe. Let's not even get started on how subjective and bizarre that requirement can be.

Looking over story descriptions and story coding occurs in a master document maintained for the entire catalog. By placing the story in context within a character's timeline, there's a second chance to make sure the story truly fits the right mood, achievements, and passions over the progression of the character's life. That can be particularly challenging for complex women like Angel and Miez whose motivations can rapidly change and who frequently swerve toward new inspirations of lust. For more focused ladies like Daphne, there's a distinct goal which allows for building expectations and accomplishments to guide the description content. Looking over past, present, and future stories helps set the hook and enable readers to dive into the stories they care about.

Let's talk about covers. Separate from the story content itself, Very Dirty Stories titles add another layer of meta to the presentation of our erotica. Each title needs a book cover, and arranging for model shoots, working with visual artists, and basking in inspiration takes long hours and hard work. Building out a deep set of images to use for covers as well as formatting, styling, and structuring the covers is a parallel process necessary for publishing.

At any given time, we work with four or five photographers, a dozen models or more, while also leveraging digital artists to make sure there is material for title covers. Our goal is to refresh covers every 24 months based on restyling as new capabilities (and memory capacity) allow for better cover art in digital editions. With the 2017 restyling, this has been an eight month process because we also aim to use the new styling for print releases. The competing requirements and standards creates a minefield of gotchas to navigate, and often our digital artists end up providing a raw templated cover which needs to be finalized based on target medium. That even effects digital only covers since Amazon, Kobo, and Smashwords actually have different though overlapping requirements for image format and size.

Assembly is the first real test. With covers and title page images complete, the key image assets are ready for each title. With story description and content coding complete, the stories are ready to be placed within a title document. We use multiple document templates due to minor variances needed for our three publishing platforms. Assembly is the first time we see what a finished book title might look like.

Typically, the only changes in stories that comes up are minor grammatical or spelling errors due to our hybrid of American and British English. Occasionally, we have to proof any German expressions and phrases - which the Mistress of Wiesbaden kindly assists with - but the content text rarely changes much. Structuring the table of contents and reading through the title can result in rearranging the story order. There may also be revisions to the front and rear content for the title based on how evolving story arcs transform what we should be emphasizing with characters.

All this gets done in Microsoft Word. Up to the point of assembly, most stories are in text only format so I can use UltraEdit (99%) and Scrivener (1%) off of a USB thumb drive across any of my ultrabooks or laptops. So there's an eye opening moment when I see how the book will really look, and that is always a fascinating checkpoint on what stories may or may not work well together. Any changes in story order and inclusion impacts covers, so there's an iterative process here to get everything pinned in place.

Sorting the supporting assets. Every title has its own description, formatted three different ways with content variants to satisfy retailer requirements, so that has to be created. Templating makes this go quickly, but proofreading is important since some formats include active HTML coding. Each title needs to be added to Catalog pages, so that's another HTML encoding hurdle plus the covers need to be uploaded and linked for inclusion in the Catalog. Even before marketing material can be created, a dry run on the Catalog itself is necessary to make sure links to Catalog titles are configured with For existing titles, there are ISBNs and related identifiers to work with. For new titles, these are "To Be Determined" so there will be additional book content updates once we have the assigned ids.

We're ready to publish! Finally, we're actually ready to publish. Using an Excel spreadsheet to track each title, the process of uploading the titles and covers, copy and pasting the descriptions, and waiting for approvals and ids so revisions and links can be structured begins. There are inevitable back and forth communications with the retailers as they randomly choose to dislike common expressions like "boy toy" or refuse to carry a title because it has the word "free" in the title. The spreadsheet enables us to track how things are going and what titles need to be pushed for finalization. It can take between five to eight days to get all titles uploaded, approved, and ready for sale.

Let's wrap this up. You've got writing to do. I'm curious how other writers work through similar processes. Granted, Cherish Desire will have 291 titles published by the end of 2017, so we're always pushing the limit on what can be done and how to streamline it for efficiency. However, I'm definitely interested in hearing any tricks or tips you do to make your life easier!

Thank you for your support.

Cherish Desire Erotica

All pages and images copyright ©2017 Cherish Desire unless otherwise noted.
All rights reserved. Duplication or distribution of this media is forbidden except with express permission.

Sunday, October 1, 2017

October 2017: Author to Author: Fear Matters

Author to Author: Fear Matters

What lingers in the shadows?

Writing something impactful is never easy. Writing content for Very Wicked Dirty Stories often requires taking a step back and reflecting on the fears which become compulsions, which gnaw at the edge of our awareness, and which make us shout "NOPE!" while pondering "What if?" Most horror has props and stage sets, but fear can come unbidden in broad daylight if done right.

That's the hardest part.

In recognition of our favorite holiday, Halloween, we wanted to talk about fear. It makes any number of stories tick - from Object Confessions to Sexy Identities - and it's a tool that can be used sparingly to haunt the audience or forcefully to provoke a strong emotional connection. What scares you is as important as what scares our characters. After all, you feel you know someone once you know what makes them want to run.

Fear Response

Emotions are relevant. Humans relate to one another based on expectations and emotions. The two are tightly intertwined, and few people even try to disentangle them. Emotions provide a context, a motive, and a sense of familiarity. Without emotion, we describe things as robotic and alien to emphasize our level of disconnect. Whether an author tells the audience how someone feels or expresses it through the actions and expressions of that character, emotions are the sixth sense that needs to be included in the reader's awareness throughout the story.

Fear is a wonderful combination of emotion and reaction though. It goes beyond feeling and directly into responding to stimulus. Sometimes the reason for fear is directly in the present moment. Sometimes fear is more subtle, a growing dread cued by triggers which serve as reminders of past events and experience, and it builds up over time. Causality isn't easy to discern, and the human mind can be easily caught off guard by exposing blind assumptions as false. A little witchery helps as well, someone to personify the compelling terror, and we create monsters without really defining why they are so wrong and unnatural in a given environment.

And then there's fear of what we don't know. Characters serve as surrogates to explore the depths of darkness which we might never dare to enter. Compelled by perverse notions or simply curious about the unknown, these fabricated adventurers step right into the trap, and we get to live vicariously through their harrowing experiences. While this may seem more appropriate to horror and supernatural genres, there's plenty of commonplace fear to leverage in every sexual context. Fear of not being good enough. Fear of being too exposed and vulnerable. Fear of wanting something unspeakable. Fear of judgment and denial. Fear of rejection and abuse. Fear can easily polarize and highlight sexual play in ways that fundamentally change the narrative. After all, we're all afraid of intimacy at some level.

So how do we use fear to communicate with readers? There's no singular answer. The reader needs a enough breathing space to set their own expectations, enough motivation to wonder what will happen next and project themselves into the story, but there are so many familiar archetypes likely to fill that gap for their imagination.

When we write stories, sometimes fear itself becomes a character. Only exposed in the darkness, wisps of tendrils tucking in Miez or forcing Angel down and thrusting into her, fear becomes something greater than just a gloomy cloud overhead. Is it really her touch which freezes his blood, or is it knowing all along that she is not really there? Slowly cutting away at himself, is he really offering his limbs to a truly alien being to study the bones and sinews, or is this a horrible consequence of the madness which inspired his initial compulsion blossoming into something so much worse?

Sometimes fear is only a shadow in a mirror. Several Very Dirty Stories titles explore being watched and under surveillance in multiple settings. As the characters' lives go on, they know there is an invisible observer, and this feeds worries that wouldn't exist otherwise. What is he thinking as he watches her throughout the day? Can she distract him from her mistakes by putting on a performance for him to remember? How would anyone else react knowing they are also being watched? How vulnerable is she to blackmail because she needs his silent attention? The essence of fear can be diluted to one part per million, yet it has an enormous placebo effect on the characters exposed to its presence when applied with care.

So how do you incorporate fear? Do you use bold strokes and villains? Do you use subtle sabotage and hints of things amiss? Do you prefer supernatural elements? Do you really put your characters through the wringer? #AskingForAFriend

Thank you for your support.

Cherish Desire Erotica

All pages and images copyright ©2017 Cherish Desire unless otherwise noted.
All rights reserved. Duplication or distribution of this media is forbidden except with express permission.