How to Write and Publish…(Porn): Chapter 2

Yes, I changed the title a bit. This is now How to Write and Publish…(Porn). I intended to do that originally, but forgot until yesterday.

This is an important chapter about protecting yourself online, and how to do that. I’m certain I’ve left out bits of information that would be useful. Please let me know immediately if there is something you don’t understand in this chapter. I’d like to make it as clear as possible what you can do to protect yourself, and how to go about doing that, and I consider this a work-in-progress, not a finished chapter. For example, I debated suggesting the author set up a TOR Live Boot Disk to work from, and decided not to. I’m sure some people would disagree with this.

Without further ado, here is Chapter 2:


Chapter 2: Protecting Yourself

Be sure to read through this chapter completely before starting anything. It’s impossible for me to put all of the important information at the beginning of this chapter, since all of it is important.

So, how do you protect yourself? The basic idea is to leave as few clues as possible for someone who is interested in finding out who this great (and presumably rich) author is. You can never completely eliminate all traces online, but you can reduce them dramatically.

And keep in mind that there are limits on who you can protect yourself from. Tailor your efforts to those individuals you want to stop the most, and work down the list from there. It is much easier to protect yourself from a casual stalker than from a government agency. Everything I suggest here is aimed at protecting you from the casual stalker, thug, or person out to make a quick buck off of you.

This chapter is going to get technical. Don’t let that scare you, I’ll try to walk you through the technical bits.

Computer Hygiene

Before you do anything, you need to secure your computer system. If you have an older computer that you can use to work on, use that. Get a fresh install of a secure operating system; the most up-to-date version of Windows, MacOS, or Linux (Ubuntu, Mint, Fedora, etc.) are all good choices. Then make sure you have updated security software, mostly virus protection. Windows has Windows Defender, which is good. Malwarebytes AntiMalware (MBAM) is a nice addition to Windows Defender. I recommend scanning your entire hard drive with both tools before continuing.

After installing security software, install the latest version of the Chrome and/or Mozilla browsers. While Safari and Edge are good, Chrome and Mozilla are updated frequently, especially when vulnerabilities are discovered. This also gives you an alternate browser if you find out your browser of choice has a security problem. Just make sure you do your browsing in “Privacy Mode,” so you don’t have to clear your browsing history later. Make sure you only open tabs that are necessary to the task at hand, and then close them as soon as you’re done, since it is possible for malicious scripts to see what is in those other open tabs. Open new private tabs instead of using the same tab to visit a different site so it doesn’t see the last site you were browsing, and close tabs after you log out. This makes it a bit harder for websites to track you.

Oh, and one other thing…never click on links in emails you didn’t expressly request. Let me repeat that:

Never, ever, click on links in emails you were not expecting and didn’t expressly request.

It is functionally impossible these days to tell a legitimate email from one of your service providers, such as PayPal, Ebay, or any other legitimate business, from those of scammers. The scammers have figured out that bad grammar is a give away, and are willing to work at making their emails perfect, with professional images, letterhead, and expert phrasing. They are also experts at making the links in their scam emails look legitimate. Scamming you out of your money is how they make money, and they’re good at it now. If your bank, or any other service provider, emails you about a hack or scam, do not click the link in the email asking you to reset your password, just log into your bank’s website and change it yourself. In fact, even if the email is perfectly legitimate, it’s best to log into their website without clicking any links in their email. You’ll be much safer that way.

Personal Online Security

Security researchers often discuss a concept known as “surface area.” This is just a way of talking about the myriad different ways that someone can get through a barrier. A barrier with a large “surface area” is easier to attack than one with a small “surface area.” Basically, the questions you should be asking yourself are, “how many ways can someone find out who I am? How many clues am I leaving for them?” The fewer, the better.

The first thing you need to do is find out how big a surface area you have. Open up a browser window, visit a major search engine such as Google or Bing, and search for your name. Did anything come up? Your Facebook? Do you have an old MySpace page? Old postings to AOL groups? Wikipedia? Maybe your home address is on one of those pages. Maybe a friend attached a message to your Facebook timeline asking you if you still lived at 123 Main Street. You need to clean up those old social media accounts. They can be major sources of information about you. Log into them and change settings for who can view your profiles on them, delete postings that can reveal your location, and generally clean them up. Use the “I forgot my password” link if you must. And if the service won’t let you get away without having a mailing address, make sure you update your address with a fake one if you can. Don’t feel bad about this, these people are trying to make money by selling your information to people you don’t know, and may not have your interests at heart.

There’s another potential source of information about your location that you may not even know about: The pictures you take. Did you know that many cameras, and most cell phones, include the location where a picture was taken in the metadata of the picture itself? The metadata is a part of most picture files, including the common jpeg format, that includes such things as the camera settings. But many cameras and almost all phones include GPS coordinates of the location where the picture was taken and include that information in the metadata. That’s one way (but hardly the only way) Facebook knows where you are. Most cameras and cellphones have ways to turn this feature off. Just enter “how to remove gps coordinates from the pictures on my [cellphone model/iOS/Android phone]” or “clear exif data from pictures on [cellphone model/iOS/Android phone]” in your favorite search engine, and you will find instructions online pretty quickly. “EXIF” is the name for the metadata format on jpeg images.

Also there are programs that you can find that allow you to strip out EXIF metadata from your pictures before you post them, but they can be quite technical. If you decide to go this route, I recommend looking for reviews of metadata stripping software online, and finding several reviews from different sources for software you may be comfortable using, and then trying out several to see what you enjoy. Many are free. The ones I use are not suitable for beginners, so I recommend searching for them yourself, or consulting with someone who knows you and your level of computer expertise. Then make sure you aren’t posting your location willy-nilly online for everyone to see.

While doing a quick search on a major search engine will give you an idea about the beginning of your surface area, that’s just the beginning though. You need to do much more to help reduce your surface area. There are specific search engines that are designed just for finding people, and it’s not a bad idea to check them out and remove yourself from them as well.

The first place you need to look is Spokeo (https://www.spokeo.com.) Spokeo uses a lot of different sources of information to build up a profile of you, including public records (births, home purchases, etc.), social networking pages (Facebook, LinkedIn, MySpace, etc.), phone book listings, and other sources. They can build up a significant amount of information about you, and a search on the site is free. A quick search for my wife brought up her name, birth date, names of family members and links to their profiles, relationship status, phone number, email addresses, current and past full home addresses, photos, household income, court records, and a whole lot of other things. Basically, everything someone would need to order a new Social Security Card and create a false ID, and then a whole lot more. The nice thing is that you can opt-out of being listed on Spokeo, but it is not automatic. You must let them know you want to opt-out by filling out a form. You can do this by going to https://www.spokeo.com/opt_out/new and answering their questions. All this does, by the way, is remove you from Spokeo, it doesn’t scrub your information from their sources. But since this is a first stop for many people looking for someone, every little bit helps.

Congratulations, you’ve just reduced your surface area a bit. Feels good, doesn’t it?

Whitepages (https://www.whitepages.com) is another service similar to Spokeo. The best way at this time of changing how Whitepages shares your information is by emailing the Whitepages Privacy Manager at support@Whitepages.com.

10digits.us (https://10digits.us) is another information source, and you can request to have them take you out of their database by searching for yourself on their site, and then requesting the page referring to you be removed by filling out their form at https://10digits.us/remove and then uploading a picture of your photo ID, which may have the picture and ID number obscured to protect you.

Pipl (https://pipl.com) is another place you need to search for yourself. You can’t have yourself removed from their search engine directly, but you can use them to find out their sources of information  and have your information removed from those sources. Once that is done, they claim they will not be able to use that source of information anymore.

There are quite a few more sites like these. Reddit has a great list of similar sites, as well as how to get yourself removed from them. You can find this information at https://www.reddit.com/r/technology/comments/j1mit/how_to_remove_yourself_from_all_background_checkI strongly suggest you follow this guide to remove yourself from at least the sites that allow you to do so through an online form. Several require you to fax or mail in a form. You should do that as well.

Social Media Security

Doing everything I just suggested makes you less susceptible to identity theft, as well as stalking. That’s not at all bad. But the next thing you need to do is change your passwords on everything. And I mean everything. Computer accounts, bank accounts, email accounts, social media, everything. Are you aware of what the most popular passwords are? Most of the top five are variations of “12345678.” The next ones are “qwerty” and “password”. To paraphrase a very funny movie, those all “sound like the combination an idiot would have on their luggage.” If you want someone to break into your email, Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram and either hold those accounts hostage by changing the password and recovery email accounts (it happens), find embarrassing information about you (that happens too), or post embarrassing things in your name (jerks live for that), change your passwords to something a whole lot harder to figure out. Use at least 9 characters, upper and lowercase, with numbers, and symbols such as $%&#. Don’t use names of pets, children, friends, birth dates, or anniversary dates that people can find in your social networking profiles. Random sequences are best, even if they are hard to remember. If you have to, use a password manager program to generate and/or store the information for you. They are available, some free. Just remember, that celebrity nude picture scandal from a few years ago was made possible partly due to bad password hygiene.

Time for a New Name

Now that you’ve cleaned up your personal online information, your passwords, and cleaned up your computer, it’s time to prepare your new persona as an author.

Having a new persona adds a layer of insulation between your life, and your works. It makes it possible to have a private life. Everything you’ve done so far is designed to help protect you if someone pierces that layer of insulation. From this point, you need to build a nice, thick layer of protection between your pen-name, and your legal name.

The first thing you need to do for that is to download TOR. TOR is an anonymizing web-browser. It’s not perfect in covering your browsing habits, but it is much better than nothing. Use the TOR browser to obtain an email address. There are a few online sources for short-term email addresses that are difficult to trace back to you and don’t require you to have a phone or existing email address, but they change regularly. Do a web search for them to find one.

Once you have your email address, use it to get a Virtual Private Networking (VPN) service. A Virtual Private Network is a service that encrypts all of your web access and makes it look like it is coming from somewhere else. The upside is that it looks like you are accessing the Internet from a different computer in a different location. The downside is that it slows down your Internet access. This is an acceptable trade-off if you want to keep safe.

Take your time in finding a VPN. You want one that doesn’t log your activities, doesn’t ask who you are, and accepts payments that can’t be easily tracked back to you. As of this writing, Private Internet Access accepts gift cards as a payment (at a premium,) and doesn’t log your activities. I use them, but keep in mind, the promises of any provider are only as good as the current owner. Search online for current reviews of VPNs, and pay attention to those that are trusted by users who download “Torrents.” Those people are often “pirates,” downloading software, movies, and TV shows illegally, and they value their privacy, and Internet speed, a lot. If a VPN passes their stringent requirements, then it’s probably good enough for you. Maybe. Again, don’t take any one person’s word for it, search for several opinions.

Unfortunately, just buying a VPN service isn’t enough; you have to set up your computer to use it. Different VPN providers have different setups for different computers. You’ll need to follow their instructions, so make sure you find a VPN that has set up instructions you understand. Once you do, always use it for browsing the Internet. It does no good to have if you don’t use it.

Next, get a “burner phone.” What is a “burner phone?” It’s a pre-paid cell phone that isn’t linked to you. You can often find these very cheaply at supermarkets and convenience stores, often for less than $20. No joke. You purchase cards to increase your call time and text messages every few months. You’ll need this later. Common brand names for these services are NetZero and Trackphone, but there are others.

The first, and most basic rule of actually publishing is: Never publish anything under your legal name, or any previous legal name. That means the name on your driver’s license, your maiden name, your birth name, or any others. If at all possible, don’t even use any name that can be linked to you: Your mom’s first name combined with Aunt Tilly’s middle name, your first dog’s name and your middle name, your street name and your favorite teacher’s name, and so on. Just don’t. Find a pen name that is unique, but easy to remember and type.

The “easy to remember and type” part is important. It’s not just you who has to remember it and type it; your fans will want to be able to search for you too. Yes, I know, I just spent a whole lot of time explaining why you don’t want people searching for you, but that’s just for your legal identity. You want fans to be able to find your works, so in order to do that, you’ll want a good pen-name. Gars Méchant is actually a fairly poor pen name, unless you know French. Remembering it, and more importantly in this online world, typing it, is difficult. People have trouble searching it. But once I had it established, I decided to stick with it. Live and learn.

Once you have come up with a pen-name, and searched online to make sure it isn’t taken, or leads to some schmuck in another city who won’t know what happened when people start calling them at 3:00 AM about that hanging thread for some obscure minor character, it’s time to log into your computer, connect to your VPN, open a private browser window, and get to work.

You need to claim your new pen name. Everywhere. You need to open a Gmail and Google+, a Yahoo Mail, an Outlook account, Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Tumblr, WordPress, Wattpad, you name it. You don’t need to use all of those social media accounts, but you really don’t want someone else to claim a social media site under your name and start posting their own outrageous opinions as if they were yours. And you don’t want to have to go to those sites and go through the tedious process of reclaiming “your” account that you could have claimed now. Just go through it.

Start with Gmail. Remember that burner phone and temporary email account from earlier? You’ll need those to create a Gmail account. You may also need to give them a fake address, and birthdate. Go ahead, it’s Google. They’re only going to sell that information to advertisers anyway.

Use the Gmail account to get the other accounts. Make sure you’re using unique and difficult to guess passwords for each account.

You’ll also need to claim your own web address. You could go to a regular web hosting company, but there can be issues with that. Most web hosts post your real name and contact information online for the whole world to see using a simple “whois” search, which completely nullifies everything you’ve done so far. Some allow you to have your domain listed under their contact information, but charge extra for that, and they may not even let you know that it is an option. Also, most require credit cards to charge you for hosting. That can be problematic if your web host’s database is compromised. You don’t want some hacker to crack your web host’s database, get your contact information and credit card, and post your information online for everyone to see after going to the expense to keep it secret. That would be money wasted. Personally, I use Orangewebsite.com. They don’t have my legal name, or real-life contact information, and I pay them in Bitcoin. Even if someone cracks them wide open, dumping everything to the web and making it public, there isn’t anything there that they could connect to me. Security is the rule!

That leads me to the last part. You’ve gone to a whole lot of work to reduce your personal surface area online, and to create this new persona as an author, to protect yourself and your family financially and physically. You need to keep it that way. It’s going to be work. You can’t post about your new persona on your own social media. You can certainly tell people about it, and encourage them to look your books up, but remember, all you need is for your friend from kindergarten to publicly post on your personal Facebook timeline: “Hey, are you still writing porn under the name Xxxandraq (with three X’s and a silent Q)?” to suddenly have all of that work undone, especially if your friend refuses to remove the post. “Hey, it’s funny, and what’s the harm?” Well, you know what the harm can be, even if they don’t. Explain to them that they just made it possible for harm to come to you or your family. Let them know what your hate mail is like. And if they still refuse to remove the post in a reasonable amount of time, unfriend them. It’s not their life they are messing with, it’s not acceptable for them to unmask you, and if they don’t respect you enough to follow your wishes, they aren’t your friend.

Remember, you have to protect yourself.


The next chapter is likely to be about the writing tools available to authors that I have tried and used, but it may be a few weeks, or even a month, before I get a chance to work on that chapter. I expect to cover:

  • Microsoft Word (PC)
  • Microsoft Office Online (Free)
  • LibreOffice
  • Calibre
  • Scrivener
  • Wattpad

Let me know if there are other tools you want covered that are not on this list. I may not have heard of them and they could be usefull.

After that, I expect Chapter 4 to be about generating a following and publicizing yourself.

I’d like to take a detour here and send a special shout-out to whoever it was that bought nearly my entire library this week. Thanks!

If you have any suggestions or requests, please let me know by commenting, or through email.

Thanks for reading, and wish us all luck!

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