Business, writing, Writing Business

Safety For Writers Part 1: Online Security

Image via Pixabay

I wrote this article because of the uptick in hackings targeting small and medium-sized businesses. Since many countries have entered their respective COVID-19 quarantines, it’s made things worse because most people are either continuing their education or working on the same networks that aren’t well protected. Most home networks are designed with convenience and not safety in mind which can open the door to malware, scams and identity theft.

It’s no secret that we are in a worldwide recession which has thieves and con artists coming out of the woodwork making life difficult. Sadly, this doesn’t look like it’s going to be a short-term event either. In fact, the NSA, in a series of public reports, warned U.S. business owners to be vigilant about hackers targeting certain software systems. This is unusual for them and it has me rethinking how I secure my data. 

Now before I go on, I want to inform you that I am in no way affiliated with any of the products or services I mention in this post.      

The Elephant In The Room  

Ask any security expert and they’ll tell you that people are their own worst enemy when it comes to online safety. They use terrible passwords, or worse, they just stick to factory default ones. So, what kind of password should we be using? Well, according to former NSA contractor and whistle-blower Edward Snowden, we should be using passphrases not passwords. His example of a good passphrase was: MargaretThatcherIs110%Hot. Now I won’t judge his taste in women but his passphrase is pretty solid, it has numbers, upper- and lower-case letters, and even includes a symbol so this isn’t going to be easy to guess.    

Poison All Unnecessary Data   

Do you find it absurd how much information sites like Google and Microsoft want from users? When a user creates an account, they ask for your gender, age, and even your location. They claim it helps them personalize your experience when using their services but the fact is, they use this information to sell to 3rd parties. My one tip is to never give your real name or age, the only thing they need to know is that you’re an adult and won’t use their services illegally. Also, turn off all GEO tracking and ad customization, these things can lead to your personal information being exposed.  And if you’re using Google services be sure to delete not only the cookies on your Chrome browser frequently, but your search history as well.  

Are Your Devices Unsafe?  

Did you know that most software companies like Apple, Microsoft, and Google stop servicing their products after a specific number of years? They do this because they can’t afford to keep updating and patching older software however, users are often unaware of this. That means you could be using an unsafe phone or computer which could be vulnerable to hacking. So be sure to check that your devices have the latest software to keep them running safely. If your device is obsolete and not being serviced anymore then, you’re going to have to upgrade to a new one.      

Antivirus Software       

When I first started using the internet years ago, security experts scoffed at the idea of purchasing antivirus software. They reasoned, the one provided by Windows or Apple were sufficient enough. However now, since most home business owners share an internet connection with family members, they are changing their tune. Before experts figured if users were responsible, then there would be no need for extra protection. But the reality is children and teens are often not responsible. If they access a shady website in order to download music or look at something naughty, your business will be affected if they inadvertently install malware. And no, Windows and Apple products aren’t the best when it comes to protection, don’t believe me? Check out this Youtube video by PC Security where they test Windows Defender against several different types of ransomware. To make a long story short, it inspired me to upgrade the software on all of my devices.

The most popular antivirus software on the market today are:

  • Kaspersky
  • Bitdefender
  • Norton

Email Hacking 

Recently, I revealed that my email had been hacked twice in the past 15 years and the woman that I was speaking to exclaimed, “Oh, I’ve never been hacked!” which is unbelievable. In fact, it’s a flat out lie, everyone and their mother has been hacked, every social media site, major retailer, banks, and even governments have been hacked. The media often calls them data breaches and that means if you’re employed or do business with any of these types of institutions then you’ve been hacked.   

However, most people associate hacking with viruses and trolling on their personal devices. But the word hacking just means to compromise a device to steal data, corrupt files or commandeer a device. Sadly, you can’t control how companies and governments protect your data which will always make you vulnerable and that’s why you have to be vigilant.        

If you want to know if your email account has been compromised, just head over to: https://haveibeenpwned.com/ and type in all of your email addresses.  

Also, on that same site, you can check to see if your passwords have been stolen. It’s worth finding out.     

What To Do If Your Email Address Has Been Hacked?  

The best thing you can do after you’ve been hacked is to get a new email address. I know the experts say that you only need to change your password which is correct, you should boot out the person and regain control of the account. However, you have to think about the long-term consequences, once your email address is on the dark web, it will be sold to shady marketers (a.k.a. spammers) and other hackers who may try to break into your account again. If this is a business account or official channel of communication, then it’s best to start over.   

That’s because a hacker may use your account or even spoof it to send spam or malware which will get your email address reported and blocked. This is why some people find their emails being sent directly to the spam folder because their email address has been officially blacklisted.

In Closing… 

Before you unplug your modem and swear off the internet, just know there are steps you can take to prevent much of the scenarios I’ve discussed. The odds are in your favor if you are educated and are willing to put in the effort.

I hope you learned something new and if you have a tip to share then let me know in the comments section.  Next week, I move on to part two which involves protecting your network and communicating privately online.

Business, writing, Writing Business

Safety For Writers Part 2: Internet Safety

Image via Pixabay

Last week, I discussed basic internet safety for writers, and this week, I’m going to go a little further into the subject with more tips to help you protect your business and your clients from theft. But before I go on, I need to announce that I am not affiliated with the products and services mentioned in this post. So use them, or don’t use them, I don’t care.

Resetting Your Device

If your device is older or just not working efficiently, then most tech experts recommend resetting the device to the factory default. However, that’s not the only reason to reset a device, if you suspect that your computer or phone has been hacked, you may want to completely reset it to clear any malicious software. I started doing this years ago, and it is rather annoying, because it takes hours but if you value privacy, it’s a necessary step. According to tech guru and Youtuber Rob Braxman, “computers aren’t permanent” and he’s right, we have to change our mindset and go the extra mile if we want to protect our privacy and the privacy of our clients.

Wi-Fi Dangers  

Wi-Fi is a blessing because it makes communication effortless and convenient, however, it can also be a point of entry for hackers. Most home devices are hacked through routers with passwords that are either weak or nonexistent. Also many people working from home share a Wi-Fi connection with family members. If your router is capable, I would recommend trying to create a separate Wi-Fi network for your business devices and don’t mix it up with any personal network. Also, make sure this business network has a strong password that is changed frequently.   

Another tip to protect your online communication is to use a virtual private network or VPN. This type of service encrypts your connection and gives you some protection from prying eyes. VPNs are normally used by people using public Wi-Fi networks in cafes, libraries, or airports and are effective if used correctly. Today, most companies that have employees working from home are insisting they use VPNs. However not all VPNs are created equal, some are free and share your data, while some are just plain slow. It would be wise to learn the ins and outs of VPNs before putting any money down on a service.    

The ideal solution for most business owners would be to use a VPN router which will encrypt your data without the need to remember activating an app. They are a bit more expensive but worth the investment if you work from home and do business online.  However, if you’re going to do this please make sure that you understand how to properly set one up because the NSA has sent out a warning this month about the potential vulnerability of VPNs that are not set up properly.

Browser Danger  

One simple way to protect yourself from prying eyes is to make sure you use a secure browser. Your browser is constantly leaking data such as passwords, email addresses, and possibly even your I.P. address which is why you should never allow your browser to memorize your passwords or login info. Hackers can easily access this info because most browsers don’t encrypt the data.         

Chrome, Edge, and Firefox are the most popular browsers around but they’re not all the same. Chrome and Edge, for example, are both fast and easy to use but not necessarily private. Firefox, on the other hand, gives you some privacy but you have to know how to use the settings and install the right apps to keep people out. Below I list some of the more popular secure browsers:   

⦁ Tor   

⦁ Firefox  

⦁ Brave  

Branding Blindness   

Did you know there’s a prevailing myth that Apple products are safer than Microsoft and Android devices? This of course is false. The reality is Apple products are less likely than others to be hacked because they have a smaller share of the market. Microsoft’s Windows operating system runs on 80% of the world’s PCs. The same goes for Android phones which run on 75% of smartphones. They’re just bigger targets, and no less safe than Apple.    

Still not convinced? In 2013, Apple revealed a new biometric sign in option where users could simply use their fingerprint to log into their iPhone 5s device. Within 48 hours, hackers were able to break into those devices. So much for safety, huh? According to security experts, biometrics are actually worse than passwords because if your device is ever compromised, you can always change a password but you can’t change your face or fingerprints.    

So What Do We Do To Protect Ourselves?     

If you want to prevent a hacker or thief from taking over your device or accessing your online accounts, you do have options. There are encrypted, hardware devices that can be plugged into your computer or phone that offer 2-factor authentication or 2FA. Often called security keys, these products prevent most unauthorized users from gaining access to your devices and online accounts since they are a physical object rather than a traditional phone number or email address which is normally used for two-factor authentication. So if an unauthorized person tries to log into your device or online account even if they have the correct password, they won’t be allowed access, because they still need the physical key.          

Listed below are just a few popular options:         

⦁ YubiKey   

⦁ NitroKey   

⦁ TitanKey    

Stop Syncing Your Devices    

I know this isn’t going to be very unpopular but syncing your devices can make you vulnerable in the event you are hacked or your device is stolen. I understand the love of convenience but if you have a business where your or your client’s data needs protection then syncing isn’t the way to go unless, it’s encrypted.     

Prepare to be Hacked   

Recently, I purchased a computer that runs on Windows 10S and even though they claim to have enhanced security (try not to laugh), they still advise users to store files on their cloud service OneDrive. In fact, most paid anti-virus software also offer cloud storage (for a price) just in case your device is ever compromised. They understand nothing is 100% effective and having a backup plan makes you less likely to suffer any significant losses after a security breach.   

Popular cloud services include:

  • Dropbox
  • GoogleDrive
  • Apple iCloud Drive
  • Amazon Drive

However, the best way to secure your business files is to save them offline to an external hard drive or server that is encrypted or password protected.              

Privacy   

It’s no secret that privacy is a thing of the past for most people. Emails, social media, as well as phone calls, are all being monitored and if your work depends on anonymity, then you will need private ways to communicate. Say you’re a writer who interviews government officials, whistle-blowers, or even criminals, then you need to keep prying eyes away from your work. There are a few apps that offer private, encrypted email services as well as messaging apps and you should definitely know about them.            

Sadly, these email services need to be used between other users for the messages to be 100% encrypted. So if you’re sending your email from an encrypted service like ProtonMail to an Outlook recipient, the email won’t be encrypted let alone private. However, if you’re paranoid or you’re interviewing someone who is, then these services are a Godsend. Here are just a few well-known ones, keep in mind these are all paid services:        

⦁ ProtonMail   

⦁ Tutanota    

⦁ CounterMail   

If you are live messaging a subject or recording footage, you might need something more than encrypted email. Here’s where encrypted messaging apps come to the rescue. Recently, in the U.S., journalists, and protestors have been using these apps to record the Black Lives Matter protests as well instances of police brutality. There is a concern that phones will be taken by law enforcement who may try to either access or delete the content.    

What makes these apps different than typical social media apps is they don’t save your data on their servers so even if someone sues you or law enforcement tries to obtain the data directly from the company, they won’t get anything that identifies you. Here are some of the more popular ones:   

⦁ Signal    

⦁ Briar   

⦁ Matrix   

I didn’t include the popular apps WhatsApp (owned by Facebook), or Snapchat, even though they offer encryption and private messaging because of the numerous scandals surrounding these two companies.   

In Closing…  

I didn’t write this post to alarm anyone, I wrote it to educate writers on how to protect themselves, and their businesses from those wishing to do harm. We’re living in a world that is quickly changing and the old tips and tricks just don’t work anymore. I hope you learned something new and if you have a tip to share then let me know in the comments section. 

Book Promotion, Business, Indie Publishing, Marketing, Publishing, writing, Writing Business

The Struggles Of Promoting & Publishing Erotica

where are we_ (1)
Pic via Pixabay

Ask any author who writes erotica and they will tell you that publishing and promoting can be tricky these days.  Case in point, on December 3rd, Tumblr, announced they would no longer allow pornographic content after several reports of child pornography on their site. This scandal caused Apple to ban Tumblr from their Apple app store. In response, Tumblr banned pornography and during their announcement, they said they would only allow certain forms of adult content such as erotica stories. However, as Tumblr deployed their new anti-porn bots, several innocent people got caught up in the net when their content was incorrectly labeled pornography.  If that weren’t enough, Youtube, has also long been accused of restricting LGBT vlogs and even demonetizing them.  So it’s reasonable to assume that anything with sexual content can be banned on social media.  If you write and publish erotica, or even steamy romance, this can be troubling not to mention, annoying as hell.

Unfortunately this isn’t anything new, most authors in these genres will tell you stories of petty people who report their content and even try to get them banned from sites.  I’ve seen it with my own eyes in our Facebook group when a religious author, let’s call her Petty LaBelle, for anonymity purposes (I don’t want her reporting me after all!).  Anyway, Petty LaBelle kept reporting this erotic author’s posts whenever she saw them in our group.  P.S. I was the admin, so every week for about a month, I would see this lady’s report in my inbox.  In the ten years of this page’s existence we never had an issue like this before.  To make a long story short, we reached out to the author of the erotic novel and apologized then, later featured him on our podcast.  It was also explained to Petty LaBelle, that erotica was allowed on the page and she needed to chill out with all the snitching.

Why Is Social Media Clamping Down On Adult Content?

For those of you who have been living under a rock, this past year has been pretty tough for social media.  From data breaches, hackings and scandals, none of the major social media sites have gone unscathed from the criticism of consumer groups and even world governments.  In fact, sites like Twitter and Instagram, are scrambling to clean up their platforms due to a law that passed in the U.S. called FOSTA/SESTA, which is a law that is intended to curb online sex trafficking by punishing websites who foster or are found complicit in sex trafficking.  This law has sent social media and most of the internet in a tizzy.  It also explains why some social media sites have gone to extremes and are now banning accounts as well as any posts that have adult content and not necessarily, those that are violating any sex trafficking laws.

How Do You Stay On The Right Side Of Social Media?

The most obvious way of staying in the good graces of any social media site is to not violate their community guidelines or terms of service.  If you are actively promoting erotica novels or adult products you might was to reacquaint yourself with the rules because they have most likely changed in the past few months.  Here are the community guidelines for the top social media sites:

Tip: It would be extremely helpful if all authors would learn about marketing on their chosen social media site.  Many of the major sites offer free courses that help guide you through the process from advertising to promoting, I blogged about it last year in a post called: Why Authors Need To Learn Social Media: The New Reality there, I list a lot of free resources.

Remember The Time Amazon Was Caught Deranking Erotica?

Last spring, several authors woke up to find that their books had been delisted or recategorized courtesy of Amazon.  Many of these authors were romance and erotica authors who were stunned by the sudden and quiet reshuffling of their books.  Authors claimed that their books were relegated to a separate list away from the rest of the population regardless of how well the book was selling.  Amazon however, claims mistakes were made and rectified it but it goes to show you how erotica is being treated these days.

Is There A Safe Place For Erotica Writers To Promote Their Work?

There are safe areas online for authors to promote their erotic literature and steamy romances without being harassed.  There are newsletters and blogs that still welcome erotica authors with open arms.  The best tip to finding these communities is to find an erotica author that you like and stalk them online.  Research where they’re being interviewed or where their books are being reviewed and hit those places up.  Below, I’ve compiled a small list of places where erotica authors and their books are welcomed:

Passionate Ink

Passionate Ink is a chapter of the Romance Writers of America, and they have a newsletter as well as a website you can check out that’s free but if you want to take workshops and go to conferences, you’ll have to pay membership dues of $35/yr.

Harelquin Junkie

A romance site that welcomes erotica and reviews books, holds live chats, and even offers guest posts as well as author features.  They have a thriving community of book worms that love to speak their minds, so it’s worth giving them a look.

The Erotic Book Review

This site offers reviews, features as well as articles on relationships and sex.

Under The Covers Book Blog

Under The Covers Book Blog offers traditional book reviews as well as author features, release calendars (where they announce publication of a given book), and Youtube book hauls for their readers.

All of the sites I mentioned also offer advertising which leads me to my next point…

Where To Advertise Erotica?

Fortunately for erotica authors there are still plenty of places that will accept their money below, I list just a few of the major discount book newsletters:

Have A Seat, I’m About To Preach

I’ve said this several times on this blog, but I’ll say it again: You have to find book bloggers, influencers as well as book communities and support them.  If someone takes the time to review your book or send you a kind word, you need to remember those people and help them out when you can.  Offer to reciprocate any favors and most importantly, keep these people in your network.  You don’t need social media or Amazon for that!  As time goes on, promotion won’t feel like such a chore and you won’t have to keep starting over with each book launch.  Anyway, I hope I this post helps a few of you out there that are overwhelmed by all the drama that the internet is giving you.  If you know of any tips that could help authors who publish and promote erotica, let us know in the comments section.

apps, writing

Editing Software For Authors: The Good, The Bad & The Meh!

facebook_1b1d966980
Image via Pixabay

Not long ago, a writer friend talked about having to quit publishing because she could no longer afford to hire editors.  I thought that was sad and asked if she had tried editing software?  She scoffed at the idea of using a machine to replace a flesh and blood human being.  I explained that she wasn’t replacing anyone, editing software can help cut the costs of the editing process.  These days most software can help with things like punctuation, typos and repetition.  I don’t know if she’s going to take the advice but in case she doesn’t, I’m spilling the beans here about the best software for writers.

Before I go on, I have to give the disclaimer that I am in no way affiliated or sponsored by any of the products or services mentioned in this post.

Grammarly

Grammarly is by far the most well-known editing software out there.  It’s free for the basic service, and you can add their app either to your browser, or on your desktop.  You only have to opt in with your email for the basic service however, their premium service will run you between $29.95 per month to $139.95 for a yearly subscription.

Analysis: Grammarly is easy to use and guides you through the process, by asking you important questions like the purpose of your work and when I uploaded my content, I was impressed by the analysis; it noticed commas that were out of place and offered suggestions for stronger adverbs.

Hemingway

The Hemingway app is similar to Grammarly and can also be downloaded for your desktop.  The cost for the desktop app is $19.99. You can also go to the website and copy and paste your work into the editor for free.  There is no opt in as with Grammarly, so it’s better for people who are concerned about privacy.

Analysis: Hemingway made more suggestions than Grammarly and even pointed out sentences that were difficult to read.  This is ideal for an author writing to young adults and children.

Typely

Typely is a 100% free editor but unlike Grammarly and Hemingway, it has a limit of 50,000 words.  Also Typely doesn’t focus on grammar and instead focuses on usage such as redundancy and misspellings.

Analysis: I was disappointed by this software, it only pointed out the double spaces after sentences and offered on a suggestion for a redundant adverb.  Yes it may be free but it’s not the best, not by a long shot.

Slick Write

Slick Write is 100% free but you can donate or at the very least, turn off your ad blocker so they can make a little money.  Their software evaluates content based on flow,  and statistics and can even help you with writer’s block with their association feature.

Analysis: It was simple and easy to use, but much better than Typely for a free editor. It gave many suggestions for stronger adverbs and pointed out the redundant verbiage in my work.

Pro Writing Aid

Pro Writing Aid was editing software that I discovered while researching Grammarly.  Their limitations are the most restrictive of all, only allowing 500 words at a time in their free version of the product.  They also cost the most around $50 for a year subscription to their premium service and $285 for a lifetime subscription to their premium+ service.

Analysis: Pro Writing Aid’s free service offered an easy experience and was the most comprehensive of most of the software I tested.  If I were going to put money down on any sort of editing software, this would be it.

Ginger

Has software that can be added to Word or can be uploaded to your browser.  You can use it to listen to your work and also translate from other languages.  However, it does have an annoying feature where it suggests alternative sentences if it finds yours incorrect or too wordy.  Also, its logo is also very similar to Grammarly’s, which can be confusing if you have them both downloaded on your computer like I did.

Analysis: It was easy to install and use, but found its sentence correcting annoying as I was writing.  Also where Grammarly was asking me to take out redundant commas, Ginger was actually telling me to put them back in.  Interesting, eh?  This seems to be a software for non native English speakers because it focuses heavily on sentence structure as well as punctuation.  Not bad, but not exactly what I need either.

*On the flip-side* This software was difficult to uninstall  from my desktop since it was an add-on to Microsoft Word.  Using the traditional uninstall features in Windows wasn’t enough.  I had to go in and find where the software had rooted itself and delete the contents of the Word template folder.  This alone, downgrades the app in my opinion.  No software should be that complicated to uninstall.

Editors That I Wanted To Test But Couldn’t

  • White Smoke (no free trial)
  • Language Tool (no free trial)
  • Smart Edit (Need 2016 version of Word)
  • Ulysses (For Mac Users Only)

The Verdict:

I really didn’t like Typely so I’m not recommending it for authors, if you have a teenager who is writing an essay, then Typely might help them.

Here are my choices in order:

  1. Pro Writing Aid
  2. Grammarly
  3. Hemingway
  4. Ginger

A Final Word

Now before you kick your editor to the curb remember, nothing can replace the human touch.  There is a reason why editors are so heavily used in the publishing industry, it’s because good editors offer real value to a writing project.  They can see what most writers can’t and can tell you if a story is going off the rails whereas a machine simply cannot.  If you want to clean up a manuscript so that you don’t have pay for so much editing, this is a legitimate route to go.  It saves a little money and helps writers see where their basic weaknesses are.

So there you have it, if you know of any other editing software that is useful for authors, please let me know in the comment section.

 

writing

Content Creation For Indie Authors: Answering The Question: What Do I Say?

 

Content Creation For Indie Authors
Image via Pixabay

When it comes to book marketing many authors approach the subject with dread.  They just don’t know where to start and I understand, it’s hard to write books and be a marketer.  Effective marketing requires not only grabbing a reader’s attention but keeping it as well.  I broached this subject last year in my post:  How to Communicate with Readers but today, I hope to go more in depth.

Despite what you may think, you don’t have to put yourself on display like a celebrity in order to maintain a following.  You don’t have to post selfies, or pet photos to keep your readers engaged on social media. You also don’t have to divulge deep, dark secrets with your email subscribers.  In this post I want to present some old school methods used by publishers as well as newer techniques which hopefully, will give you ideas on how to keep your readers engaged through smarter marketing.  Hopefully, you will find ideas for your social media posts, or email newsletters.   Now keep in mind, some of these techniques are free while others are not.

So let’s get started…

Idea #1: Make a Game

Did you know that you can create games and puzzles for your readers based on your book?  There are several websites that allow you to make games like; crossword puzzles, word scramble, jigsaw puzzles, and even sudoku.  You could even create a crossword puzzle for a contest, and announce the winner within the puzzle!  Your imagination is the only limit here.  If you’re interested, here is a list of websites to check out:

I personally created a crossword puzzle for this post on ProProfs Brain Games, just click on the image to check it out:

Crossword Puzzle For WBTSOMP

 

Idea #2: Create an Infographic

A few years ago, infographics were all the rage and were used primarily to convey complex ideas in a visual format.  But over the years, I’ve seen books broken down into infographics such as Pride & Prejudice by Jane Austen and even Harry Potter.  You can even make a funny character chart for readers, it all depends on you.

Course Hero InfographicImage via Course Hero

Here are a few free sites that allow you to create infographics:

Idea #3: Do A Top Ten List

If you’re a romance novelist, you could create a list of the hottest lead characters in the Regency period and encourage readers to contribute.  If you’re writing a historical, that takes place during the Civil War, you can create a list of the biggest battles fought during that war and casually mention that your book takes place during one of those battles.

Idea #4: Do Character Interviews

Since time beyond remembering, the publishing industry always has liked to insert author interviews at the back of a book.  However, if you don’t feel comfortable being interviewed, use one of your characters to do all the talking.

Idea #5: Make A Meme

Memes have become a part of social media for years and you could easily use one to promote your book.  Here’s one I created years ago with the help of a friend and author Karen Vaughan.

1001046_10151666215834795_479295503_n

If you’re interested, here are a few places to check out:

Wrapping it Up:

Well I hope this gives you a few ideas when it comes to content creation as well as book marketing.  I also hope that you learned a few things, as in why it’s so important to make marketing fun.  You know the saying, “No tears in the writer, no tears in the reader.” The same goes for marketing, if it’s not fun for you, it’s probably not gonna be all that fun for your readers either.