Self-Publishing: Protecting Your Work

The re-edit of Translight is complete (138,000 words in 3 weeks). Now, I can concentrate on reformatting for Kindle and then reformatting the interior of the printed version. Cover re-dos are also planned. I hope to re-publish Translight next weekend.

I attended a meeting at a different writer's group last week. This one, Water's Edge, tends to be more focused on open discussion and networking although there was one person who brought a piece to be critiqued. The group had some very good suggestions and the author accepted them with open arms. They meet monthly in the Kirtland Public Library at 6:00 pm on the 4th Wednesday of every month. You can find them on MeetUp. The time does not work well for me, but I might return for another visit. If you live in the area and the time works for you, consider joining.

Protecting Your Work
You're hammering along on your keyboard, chapter 15 is nearing a climactic end, and suddenly -- the power goes out. After peeling the paint off the walls with your blistering curses, you realize that you are using a modern word processor that saves your work as you type. A frustrating hour later, the power returns and you hit the power switch on your computer. You are presented with a blue screen saying the operating system cannot be found. Now what?

I am the geek in my extended family and I've seen dead hard drives on at least 2 computers in the past few years. One was caused by a dog running by and catching the power cord to a laptop. It hit the floor and crashed the hard drive. Another simply quit for no apparent reason and would not respond to my recovery program. Hard drives do fail and when they do, everything on them is gone -- everything!

"But my computer has a solid-state drive--it can't crash," you argue. Oh, but they can. They are immune to G-forces and head crashes, but electronics can fail. Sorry, try again. "Okay, I backup to a memory stick at the end of every editing session." Much better, but still not good enough. If you forget to back up and you start editing on another computer, now you have two different versions of your book. Fixing that can be a problem. Losing your memory stick and having it found by an unscrupulous person is an even bigger problem, especially if you keep important financial documents on it.

The safest thing to do is to store your manuscript and other critical files in a cloud-based storage location such as DropBox. Using a cloud-based word processor is also a good choice. But what if the company holding your data suddenly goes out of business? This happened not too long ago. A cloud-based backup service went under and everything they had stored for thousands of users was suddenly unavailable. At least with DropBox, you have a copy on your hard drive as well as in the cloud. I use DropBox. It works very well with Scrivener and Microsoft Word. But I don't stop there.

Backing up your data to another cloud-based backup site is strongly recommended. I use CrashPlan for this. Why am I pushing a cloud-based backup solution when the fastest backup possible is to backup to a removable disc? Unless your removable is fire-proof, water-proof, and theft-proof, you're still vulnerable. Insurance will not recover your data if your house burns down and your primary, secondary, and emergency backups are all melted. You've spent years working on your masterpiece -- why take any chances at all?

The hard drive in your 2-year old computer has died. "No problem!" you proudly declare. I read Doug's blog and I have everything backed up. Do you? Did you make a set of system recovery discs for your computer when you bought it? Most computers these days come with a backup partition loaded with the operating system. It's there in case you want to reset your computer to factory specs. But -- here's the key -- it's on the same physical hard drive as your data. If it crashes, you're out of luck. Let's say you did make those discs. how long will you be down?

After installing a new hard drive (about an hour if you take your time), it will take you about 2 to 3 hours to reinstall the operating system. The first thing you're going to have to do is to reload all the updates. I have a very fast internet connection and bringing a 2-year old PC I was given to fix back up-to-date took an entire day. Then, you're going to have to reload all your programs and restore your backup. You could be down for 3 or 4 days at least.

So what's the best solution? Let's start with a brand new PC. The very first thing you want to do when you turn it on is to burn a set of recovery discs. There should be a menu item to do this. You can skip this step if you have a set of discs from the manufacturer. Next, uninstall all the junk that comes with your computer. For the next step, you will need to know something about partitioning a drive. If you don't, find a geek who knows. What you're going to want to do is to split your hard disk into 2 separate partitions. If you have a second hard disc then you can most likely skip this as well.

In the past, partitioning a drive erased everything on it. This is no longer true. There are a number of free hard disk partitioning programs available. Use it to split your main hard drive into at least 2 drives. One is for the operating system and programs only. The other is strictly reserved for your data. Make sure the operating system partition is big enough. Next, download a good system backup program and burn a new set of recovery discs. Better yet, use an inexpensive portable drive to store your system backup. Put this in a fire box, safe deposit box, or your desk at work. Set up your cloud-storage and your cloud-based backup to backup everything on your data partition. The system partition is backed up separately. Now you're safe.

You should periodically refresh your system backup. This will minimize the time it takes to reinstall your entire operating system and bring it back up to date. Your backup software should run in the background, automatically saving your precious data to the cloud. If you want, you can also make a second backup to a local drive to make recovery hum along at a fast pace instead of having to download it from the cloud. Having your data backed up in more than one place is never a bad idea.

Almost done. Now that your electronic data is secure, you need to protect your actual writing. When your novel is done, copyright it! This is not necessary for a short story you intend to submit to a magazine. The magazine will usually take care of that. Copyright law does say that the moment you say something is copyrighted, it is. But, if someone steals your work you will have a difficult time getting any compensation if you do not file with the copyright office.

Here's another, even scarier scenario: You write a novel; you spend $300.00 having it edited; you pay an artist $350.00 to create a knock-out cover; you upload your book to Amazon; some nut pulls your book, converts it into a Word document, and sends it to the copyright office as if they wrote it. A few months later, you get hit with a $50,000 lawsuit for copyright infringement. The plaintiff has a copyright paper in his name and you do not. The court battle is going to be expensive and take a very long time.

For an additional $35.00 (just over 5% more than you've already invested in the book), you could have saved all this trouble by copyrighting your work before you uploaded it to Amazon. The process is very simple. The government has a very easy to understand PDF file that explains the entire process. You can see it by clicking here. The copyright office homepage can be accessed by clicking here. I encourage you to take the time to read it.

One more thing before I close. I've had people tell me they're afraid to use DropBox or other cloud-based storage systems because they're afraid someone will steal their work. These services take security seriously, otherwise they would not be around. The data is typically stored using bank-level encryption and even they cannot get to your data if you lose your password. Cloud-based storage is safe. Just make sure you have your data stored in multiple locations.

Be safe and write often.

In case you're wondering, here is my backup strategy:

  • DropBox is my primary storage location for all writing-related documents. This includes my novels, business log, financial files (Quicken), cover photos, etc. Everything related to my writing business is stored in a single DropBox account. This is free.
  • I use CrashPlan to back up all my data to the cloud including my DropBox folder. I use the $150.00 a year option so I have unlimited storage for up to 10 computers.
  • I use AOMEI Backupper Standard to periodically back up my system disk. The backup is stored on a USB hard drive which in turn is backed up by CrashPlan.
  • I have multiple copies of my emergency recovery disc. One is in a firebox and I keep one at work.
  • I monitor the health of my hard drives once a month using a hard drive monitor program. One is CrystalDisk and the other is by Acronis (two different computers). If a drive begins to show signs of failure (usually too many sector reallocation errors) I buy a new one, move the data, and replace it. Hard drives are not that expensive.
  • All of my desktops are protected by UPS units (Uninterruptable Power Supply). They provide power and protection from brown-outs and surges.