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What’s in My Toolbox

For my ERWA blog posting this month, I’m going through the tools I normally use while scribbling out my smut stories. I’ve discovered that there are ways to save money, yet not scrimp on performance or capability.

Philosophy

The traditional way to publish a book involves the use of editors to proof your manuscript, graphics designers to create a cover, and a publishing house to put it all together. In a perfect world, this is the way to go, but unfortunately most of us live in the real world.

Assuming that our story sells for $2.99 or $3.99 and we have a 70% margin, then your profit from a $3 book is $2, and a $4 book is $3. I’m using rounded figures here and know this isn’t strictly correct.

For a cover, let’s assume a price of $50 to $200 per cover. In terms of sales this translates to 25 sales at $50/cover or 70-100 sales at $200/cover. The painful truth that most of us quickly learn, your sales on an erotic story will be slim. Then you have to ask yourself, how long will it take until my new story is in the black or when you stop bleeding money?

Until you become rich and famous or have a spouse who doesn’t pay a lot of attention to the credit card bill, the average beginning smut writer can’t afford the luxury of hiring outside help.

Getting your foot in the door can be a pricy first step unless you are willing to do the grunt work yourself. Designing a cover is not that hard if you are reasonably competent, and using inexpensive or free tools can get you started. Certainly a professional graphics designer or copy editor can do a better job, but I don’t think you should drive yourself into the poor house doing it.

Make sure that you join our group of talented people who write erotica. They can offer a lot of advice to both new and seasoned writers. Erotica Readers and Writers Association (ERWA) has been around for many years and should be high on your list of blogs to follow. https://www.erotica-readers.com/blog/

Hardware

I’ve always been a PC person and generally considered those who had drunk the Kool-Aid to be under the influence of Steve Jobs, even from the grave, but not any longer. Like many, I’ve been seduced and taken a bite out of the forbidden Apple. Like Adam and Eve, who just ran around naked in the woods and screwed all the time until they succumbed to the forbidden fruit. They took a bite of the Apple and found themselves outside the fence.

In 2012, when I first started writing porn, I realized that I needed a laptop that I could take to the bathroom when I had one of those urges. I have purchased three Ultrabooks or thin, light PC laptops for the successful executive on the go. Every time I bought one, I quickly realized that they were not very good. Buyer’s remorse quickly set in as I discovered their shortcomings.

The problems I discovered centered around a couple of necessary features for me. Touchpads under Windows sucked, and many people are plagued with “ghost” touches. The touchpad would do things by itself and drove me crazy. This is a common problem, and many users complain about it.

I finally figured out how to stop the problem, but by this time, I had moved on to my MacBook Air. Others have suggested that I use a mouse to eliminate the issues, but then you have to lug the mouse around and deal with it.

The other problem is battery life and performance with Windows laptops. If you don’t get a good CPU like an i7 processor, performance sucks. Battery life is always measured in a few hours. Manufacturers boast 8-10 hours of run time, but they typically lie. When you can only get maybe 3-4 hours, you’re as bad as someone with an iPhone. You walk around with the charger cord in your hand, looking for an outlet.

Foxy uses an iPhone 8S with 256 Gig of ram and constantly has it plugged in and complains about battery life. For a thousand-dollar phone, I’d expect more, but that’s what she wanted and who am I to complain. I’ve learned to just hand over my credit card and close my eyes. What I don’t know won’t hurt me.

My love affair with Apple started in 2012 with my purchase of a 2012 MacBook Air, which only has an i5 processor, but you’d think there was an i7 under the hood. As a touch typist, the MBA’s keyboard is the best I’ve ever seen. My mistakes dropped like a rock, and once I got used to the differences between the PC and Mac operating systems, I’ve never looked back, mostly.

In 2015, I upgraded to a new model MBA with 8 Gb of ram and gave my old Mac to Wifey. It works well with her iPhone and saves me a lot of time dealing with Mac to PC problems. My new Mac was just like the old one except for twice the memory. To be honest, I’ve never noticed any problems with the previous Mac’s 4 Gig of memory, but I’m a sucker for new stuff, especially if it’s shiny.

I’ve got money in my bank account for my writing and have been thinking about upgrading, but the new style keyboard scares me. My 2015 Mac is doing well, and I’ve been thinking about swapping out the 256 Gb hard disk for a 1-Tb disk, which is pretty reasonable. Not that I need it, but it would be something new.

One other neat thing about the MBA is that it boots instantly when you raise the lid and doesn’t drain the battery like a Windows laptop does. Fast Start is turned on by default, and that means when you power off, you don’t really power off but enter a hybrid state that allows the computer to boot faster. The downside is that the laptop is constantly using power and will rarely go more than two days without exhausting the battery. My Mac will go for several weeks at least by just closing the lid, with minimal battery loss.

But I have found that there are reasonable alternatives for those who like the Windows operating system. A couple of years back, they took away my work Toshiba laptop and gave me an iPad, which works for 95% of my needs when I’m away from my desktop PC.

A few months ago, I was running a test and needed a PC for the field. Our IT department loaned me a Lenovo business laptop, and I promptly fell in love. It has an older style keyboard that is a joy to type on. It reminds me of my old Dell keyboard, except this one doesn’t clack when you type on it.

The Lenovo is not as skinny and light as a modern Windows ultrabook but is not bad. It probably weighs a pound or so more than my MacBook Air but still not objectionable. Looking through refurbished laptops on Amazon, I discovered that I could buy a 4 year old Lenovo T450s for $315 used and rebuilt with Windows 10 Pro installed.

I’d never bought a used laptop before but liked the one at work so much, I sprung for the unit. It has an i7 processor, 250 Gb solid-state hard disc, and 4 Gb of ram. The unit is probably 4 or 5 years old but looks perfect. Naturally, both of the batteries had degraded to about 75% of new, and I ordered replacement batteries for the unit. While I had the back off, I added 16 Gb of ram to bring the unit up to 20 Gb of ram.

Now I have about $450 invested in the unit with new batteries and lots of ram. I consider this a better alternative than spending almost $2 grand on a high-end laptop. Plus, this thing has huge batteries and will run all day without requiring a charge.

I prefer my MacBook Air as it is lighter and has a phenomenal battery life. The Mac operating system is a form of Unix (Linux) and is more efficient than a Windows computer. On top of that, when you open the lid, the sign-in window shows up instantly. Even if you let it sleep overnight, the boot time is maybe 10-15 seconds, which blows my Windows 10 Pro laptop completely away. Unfortunately, some of the engineering software I use is only available on a Windows machine, so I flip back and forth as needed.

If you are on a tight budget and you need a computer, take a look at refurbished units. I’ve have been pleased with my used computer, and if you grab something with an i7 processor, it will be plenty fast even if it’s a few years old. Make sure you get a solid-state hard disk.

Less expensive laptops are available, such as a Chrome unit, but often have limitations and are slower than a more top of the line unit. By purchasing a used business-grade laptop, I get a unit that is durable and provides power and capability at a reasonable cost.

Word Processing Software

I use Microsoft Word for word processing, but it can be expensive. Now the new Microsoft Office 365 is just a rental that costs you about $120 per year. Renting software pisses, me off and I refuse to upgrade as I want to own the software. Depending on which computer I’m using, I run Office 2016 or 2019, but there are cheaper alternatives.

LibreOffice is a good free alternative that is available for both PCs and Macs. It’s virtually identical to Word, that is except for the Free part! LibreOffice comes with an office suite like Microsoft Office. https://www.libreoffice.org/

I’m also experimenting with Scrivener, which a lot of people like. You can buy it for either PC or Mac for about $50 each. They are beta testing the new Windows version, and you can download the beta version for free until they come out with the final release. If you are running Windows, it’s a good way to grab a word processor for free and will only cost you about $50 sometime in the future, if you like it. https://www.literatureandlatte.com/

Scrivener is kind of cool in that each chapter can be a separate document and allows the writer to deal with a story in parts, yet the software bundles everything together to output. You can also export to Word format to publish. It will publish to electronic book formats, but I’ve haven’t been that adventuresome yet.

Scrivener is a total solution to publishing by giving a writer the ability to build a completed manuscript from the parts, such as cover, front matter, body, and back matter. Plus, it can be set up to publish to different formats with a compiler option.

I’m writing the follow up to House Party, called cleverly House Party 2, using Scrivener, which has been an interesting challenge. There are enough differences to make the program different from Word, and I’m still not sure if I’ll like it going forward but am a glutton for punishment.

Graphics Processing

Having some good graphics tools are a requirement for the Indie writer, in my opinion. While an author can outsource the creation of the cover to a graphics artist, that cost can be difficult to make up with sales.

To replace PhotoShop try GIMP, which is very close to PhotoShop except being free. Download a copy at https://www.gimp.org/

To design your covers, give InkScape a try. InkScape is similar to CorelDraw but free and not hundreds of dollars. https://inkscape.org/

Another good one is Canva, an online cover designer. It’s somewhat limited as you have to pick a template and change it to your story’s details, but it’s free. https://www.canva.com/create/book-covers/

For resizing images, you can’t beat IrfanView, https://www.irfanview.com

To convert document files to ePub, MOBI, or PDF, grab a copy of Calibre. https://calibre-ebook.com/

All the software mentioned above is free and can be downloaded from the Internet. Certainly, commercial software will likely have a few more bells and whistles, but for the struggling artist they can fit your needs. I use mostly open-source (free) software except for a couple, but I pay the bills, and Foxy doesn’t have to bother her pretty little head about where our money goes!

Addendum 2019-10-26 – Mom always told me that if I kept on playing with myself, I’d go blind. I’ve always said, I’d just do it until I needed glasses! I now think it’s affected my brain as I missed a couple of things that are not really associated with writing smut but I consider necessary.

NAS Drive – If you have a network at home, which most of us with cable do, you should invest in a Network Attached Storage (NAS) device with RAID. A NAS drive is similar to the USB portable drives people use to backup or store important files such as pictures and videos from your wife’s first gangbang. A NAS drive will have an RJ-45 network jack that looks like an oversized telephone jack (you remember those don’t you?).

Plugging it into your router or a switch if you have a wired network, will allow backups from any device connected to your home wifi or network. The trick is to get a NAS drive with RAID 0. RAID means that the storage device has two physical hard disks inside that are the same size. With RAID, saving a file to the NAS drive means that the unit automatically writes a copy to the second hard disk. The non-techy explanation is there are two copies to every file, stored on different hard disks. So unless the unit is destroyed with a hammer, it’s virtually impossible to lose files if the hard disk crashes. Always remember, it’s not if a hard disk will fail, it’s when the hard disk is going to fail.

If a hard disk fails on the NAS drive, just unplug the bad hard disk and plug in a new disk of the same size or bigger. The NAS drive will automatically format and use the new hard disk by copying all the files from the original drive to it. This takes a few days as it’s done in the background but the drive will continue to work normally.

NAS drives are not cheap but what’s your data worth? I have a Qnap T-420 which holds 4 hard disks. I’ve currently got 2 – 2Tb and 2 – 4Tb drives in it. Using RAID the capacity of the unit is half the installed storage, so in my case, I have a 2 Tb file system for my writing and personal records and a 4Tb drive for scanned images and video. I also store my pictures from my DSLR and our cell phones there.

FastCopy – I use the FastCopy shareware software to backup my files from my desktop and laptop computers. FastCopy is supposed to be the fastest copy utility around and it only copies files that have changed or are new. It skips the existing files so you can just tell FastCopy to copy from folder to folder, which just takes a few clicks. I write batch files and put them on my desktop to backup my computers. The site to download from is partially in Japanese but with a little head-scratching you can figure out how to download an English version. https://fastcopy.jp/en/

Crystal Disk Info – This handy little utility will read the status of your attached hard disks and tell you if any are having problems. When you run it, it will scan all of the connected disk drives and display the health status of each. If you start seeing warning messages, immediately buy a replacement drive and copy the files to the new drive. Typically, you never get warnings when your hard disk is having problems as it will retry to read a bad sector until it manages to get the data. But then one day, it cannot and you are typically history at that point. By watching the Power On hours and if the status changes from good, then you’re okay. A rule of thumb that I use is to replace an external USB hard disk at around 12,000 run hours or an internal at 18,000 – 20,000 hours even if you don’t see problems. These days an 8-Tb USB drive is about $150 so it’s not that expensive to swap them out. A good 4-Tb internal drive is about $85 also. https://crystalmark.info/en/

Sorry, I didn’t think about those at the time I was writing my monthly blog issue but feel that these are also important.

That’s it for this month, and follow me for more ramblings from the dirty mind of Larry Archer. My personal blog is https://LarryArcher.blog.

Censorship and Formatting Your Smut

Welcome fellow perverts, today I want to pontificate about two completely different topics, Censorship, and Formatting.

I recently wrote a blog post about what I saw as a change in Amazon’s censorship standards. You can read the post that started this brouhaha by clicking this link.

I published a story, Idle Hands, about two bored housewives who decide to take care of their problems without having to wait for their husbands to come home. Idle Hands is a HEA explicit erotic story but was written to skirt Amazon’s censor and be published with a “Safe” rating.

Previously, Amazon would rank stories as “Adult” if they violated one of their rules or often even suggested a taboo topic but properly done most porn would receive a “Safe” rating. To say that I was upset about Idle Hands being ranked Adult was an understatement.

This prompted me to get down on my knees and beg for forgiveness while Sister Amazon rapped my knuckles with her ruler. Amazon over the course of several emails told me that the story would show up in their regular searches for people who had indicated that adult material was okay.

I breathed a sigh of relief and told my Frenchie that Daddy will be able to buy your dog food and you can stop chewing up my shoes. But my tale of woe doesn’t end there.

To my knowledge, the only way to find your stories content rank is to use SalesRankExpress which will return Adult, Safe, or Unknown as the content ranking, beyond actually searching for it.

Using the program kept telling me that my story was ranked Adult and not Safe as promised. After several emails where I was promised that the story was included in searches, I started testing Amazon. I used different logons to check and see if Idle Hands showed up in searches and it did, even though ranked “Adult.”

Belinda replied that she couldn’t see the story in her searches from down under and as one of the people that I highly respect their competence in computers and the English language, I tried searching the Australia Amazon site and could find my story when she didn’t see it.

I even tried using Chrome’s incognito window and it showed up. Using my VPN, I logged into an Australian server with the same result. So now, I’m even more confused than normal.

I still think that Amazon has changed their system to rate smut as Adult yet allow the story to show up in normal searches but am still not 100% convinced.

I have no idea why she can’t find my stories and know that she certainly should as my smut doesn’t stink. LOL

Stay tuned to this bat channel for updates…!

 

Formatting Your Story

 

Continuing from my previous post On Writing, I want to delve into some of the individual parts of a typical eStory. Keep in mind that my recommendations are only that. Feel free to modify or use settings you prefer and reject anything I say. If you follow my advice, your story should meet the basic publishing requirements of the major publishers and can be a starting point for your literary masterpieces.

Many of us have a fear of the unknown, and your first story is no different, but we’ll take this one step at a time. The hard part is writing the story, getting your thoughts down on paper, and that’s where you need to focus. If you get bogged down, Google for help and you’d be surprised that other people have the same problems that you do.

First, make sure you download a copy of SmashWord’s Style Guide. You will likely have to create an account at SmashWords but do it anyway as they will be one of your best outlets for your stories. What I have found is that for the typical eStory such as Kindle or ePub, the same format works for all publishers that I use.

The typical electronic story contains only text except for the cover image. Personally, I include cover images and a blurb in the Back-Matter section of other stories that the reader may be interested in.

When reading the SmashWords Style Guide, don’t get bogged down in areas that don’t apply to your story. In truth, you could probably take the 100+ page style guide and cut it down to 10 pages or less.

If you refer to my previous post, I outlined the sections of a typical story, and if you need to refer to it, I’d suggest opening a new tab on your browser so that you can flip back and forth as needed. The link to the previous post, On Writing, is here. Below I’m going to run through the typical story and highlight any things to keep in mind.

Cover Image – I recommend 1600 pixels wide x 2400 pixels high at 300 DPI (dots per inch). Amazon recommends a slightly different size, but this one works well and can be easily resized to 200×300 for ads or insertions into blog posts.

Front Matter – The Title Page, Copyright, and Table of Contents (TOC) goes here. Use the Style Guide for an example of the text to include. Remember to never include another publishers name or link in your document, or it will be rejected. If there is any doubt, search the document for “SmashWords” if you are submitting to Amazon and vice versa. My previous post has suggestions on storing sections of the story in folders to keep everything separate. Make sure that you include a statement on the Title page that all characters are 18 years of age or older.

Body – Your story goes here. I typically use two styles, Normal and Heading 1.

Heading 1 is for chapter heads. I normally use Times New Roman, 14-point, centered, and bold. Select a page break before and 12-point spacing after the paragraph. I use a first line indent of 0.01 inches to keep Amazon from auto-indenting which will make the chapter head off center, but it’s not enough to visually show up.

Normal – Format your paragraphs of text as a Normal style. I recommend 12-point Times New Roman, first line indent 0.3 inches, 1.15 line spacing, and 6 points space after the paragraph. You can use another font but keep in mind that you have no control over what device your reader uses and if you use a font that is not available on the device, it may not display properly. For your first story, don’t get fancy and stick to the basics.

Back-Matter – This section includes “About the Author” and advertising for your other stories. You can link to your website but Do Not link to another publisher. I create a Back-Matter document for each publisher and then tack those on the body of the story as required.

In closing, read other people’s smut for ideas. Always remember that besides wanking off, reading another author’s story will provide help on how you want your finished product to look. Look at each section of the author’s story to see how he/she formats the section.

I believe in consistency, and if your story’s structure remains basically the same across your stories, then it’s easier to spot mistakes and ensure that it flows properly.

Keep reading your story as you work on it. I carry a laptop with me at all times or a tablet and use cloud storage, such as DropBox, to keep your manuscript updated on all your devices. If you have enough time, then write but if you’ve only a few minutes, pick a previous part and reread it. You’d be surprised at how often a misspelled or incorrect word will pop out.

Well, folks, that’s about it for this month and hopefully will give you some assistance in assembling your story. Check out my blog at LarryArcher.blog for more from my deranged mind. See you next month on the 24th at ERWA!

Remember this is National Masturbation Month, so remember to do your part!

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