Tuesday, April 20, 2010

The Business of Writing

Writers, like other people in business for themselves, often struggle with how to implement the best business practices to support their operations. Sometimes it's finances that preclude setting things up in a way that provides full protection. But often, it's that we just don't think about certain things until it's too late. After one of your vulnerabilities catches you short, there's often nothing left to do, other than tear out your hair and lament "how in the world did I let that happen?"

Recently, I've been a witness to two, not altogether uncommon situations, that illustrate my point. These should be cautionary tales for writers everywhere.

A multi-published author who'd acquired her rights back to her earlier books wanted to find new homes for them. She wanted to take advantage of one of the many new electronic opportunities available for these kinds of reprints. It turned out not to be as easy as she thought. Her books were published in the days of old before there were electronic galleys so she had no e-copy of the final book. And then, when she went to look for the copy of her final manuscript that she had done on her computer, she realized it had been written on an earlier computer she no longer owns and was stored in a format no longer compatible with available software. Ooops!

The other author, still working on her debut, met an editor at a conference and pitched her latest book. The editor was enthusiastic and asked to see the material. But the author returned home to discover that her computer had crashed, corrupting all the files in an unrecoverable way, and she had no other complete copies of her manuscript, either in print or stored electronically. [Sadly, I think this is more common than any of us would like to think about. The more we become dependent upon our computers and no other equipment for composing, copying, sending, and storing, the more likely this is a problem.]

As you might imagine, both authors are typing away madly right now trying to recreate their lost work. [I admire greatly their dedication and determination.]

But these and other similar problems might have been avoided had a couple of simple business practices been in place. I'm no "techie" and I admit it took me a number of years to wake up to this, but having an off-site backup of all your work isn't that expensive and is really a good idea. Mozy.com is great, but there are others as well. Even having a separate, plug-in hard drive for backup purposes can do the trick. One of the nice things about a back-up service is that it happens automatically every day (or whatever schedule you set) and you don't have to worry. Everything gets backed-up. If it's a manual system, then I would strongly recommend implementing a practice by which all completed work, at a minimum, is immediately backed-up.

When you purchase a new computer or transition to new software, I realize that a business practice which requires opening and re-saving all past works could be time-consuming, but aren't you going to have to do that with all works in progress? A business plan that calls for such protection for at least all published works would seem like a good idea. Those novels are your "products." They are what you as an author have to offer for sale, and I would think you'd want to make sure you always have them in a format that accessible.

If you have other ideas about similar technical practices to put in place, I hope you'll share.


Author Leanne Dyck said...

Thank you for this eye opener. It was a shocking wake up call. I had no trouble picturing myself in these scenerios. What I do is once I'm finished working on a manuscript print two copies one goes to the publishing house and one is filed in my metal filing cabinet. I've heard that some authors email their manuscripts to themselves and wonder at the wisedom of this decision.

ChristaCarol Jones said...

This is definitely one of those tasks I put on the back burner. I once had an online server that would automatically back up certain files, and I'm starting to think after hearing these stories, maybe it isn't such a bad idea to implement that practice again.

Maynely, I do that as well (e-mail the ms to myself). I have a pretty stable host with the ability to search back since the birth of the account (years and years ago). I still like the idea of a tangible back up as well.

Off I go to back up my work! Thanks for the reminder.

Elaine English said...

Thanks for your comment. In this day and age where digital versions are growing in importance, I think every author should also maintain a full electronic version of all final manuscripts and published works. How and where you maintain those becomes the issue, but it should remain accessible and secure. Maybe email accomplishes that?

Robin Lanier said...

Backing things up doesn't have to be difficult or expensive. If you don't have the money to buy a USB drive that connects to your computer, a thumb drive is really all you need, so long as you have the discipline to use it every time you finish editing that WIP. I'm pretty disciplined, but I don't rely on that, alone.

I have a USB drive (it cost about $100)that attaches to my computer and I have set up windows to do a backup of all my writing files every day at precisely 2:30 pm. Windows comes with a backup utility and all you need is an external drive and you're set. For information about how to use Microsoft's backup utility, you can read these articles:

For Windows XP -- http://support.microsoft.com/kb/320820

For windows 7 -- http://www.microsoft.com/windows/windows-7/features/backup-and-restore.aspx

Deb Salisbury, Magic Seeker and Mantua-Maker said...

After reading your post, I did a full backup today. It's something I often forget to do. Thanks for the reminder!

AnneB said...

Better yet, save to an external hard drive plus an online backup service...because external hard drives sometimes fail, too! At the very least, email a copy of your ms. to an online email such as gmail!

ChristaCarol Jones said...

I have to come back and say, Yes to Anne! I also use a USB drive (in fact, I don't even think my current ms is on my internal HD), but even that might get lost/washed/fried. Better safe to back up in several ways, because I know I don't want to be on the worst case scenario end of things.