Wednesday, March 9, 2011

Protecting Your Data

Last year the mother board in my computer went kaput. Dead. Done. The attractive forest-photo background dotted with icons of folders, files, and various programs displayed on my desktop, had become a black, blank screen. I immediately panicked. Was the article I had recently written gone? Had I lost all of my manuscript files forever? Had my address book vanished into oblivion? Had all of my photos gone to another world? Of course, when I called my husband in a flurry, he asked the inevitable question I didn't wnat to hear: "When was the last time you backed it up?"


When WAS the last time I backed up my information? Six months ago? Eight months ago? Last year?

Luckily...very luckily...the computer gurus were able to retrieve my information via some magic technological technique. Since that time I have purchased an external hard drive and have put a note on my calender that pops up each month reminding me to do a backup. Sometimes I actually do it.

When did you last backup your computer data?

Here’s some useful information from author Randy Ingermanson about how writers can protect their manuscripts and other writing-related work stored on their computers. Randy is the coauthor of, Writing Fiction for Dummies, published in 2009.

There are a lot of ways to have your novel rejected. An agent can tell you he doesn't think he can sell your work. An editor can tell you that your book's no good. The market can fail to recognize your genius.

Getting those kinds of rejection is just part of the great publishing game. Every writer has to face them, and face them down. They're scars of honor that all writers wear with a perverse kind of pride.

But there's one kind of rejection that no writer will ever take any pride in -- accidental loss of your novel.

There are any number of ways this can happen:

* You turn on your computer one day and hear a nasty, scraping noise. Your hard drive has just crashed.

* You're at Starbucks working on your laptop. You go to the bathroom for a quick bio-break, and when you come back, your laptop has walked out the door with a new friend.

* You turn into your driveway and see that your house is fully engulfed in flames. By the time the firefighters put out the fire, your computer is a melted mess of metal.

If the only copy of your novel was on your computer, then your work is gone. Fate has rejected that novel and now you'll never ever sell it.

That's harsh. That's cruel. That doesn't need to happen.

If you've got any important data on your computer, you need to protect it. The simple rule is to have at least two current copies of everything you write, in addition to your original.

One copy should be on a backup hard drive on your desk. The other copy should be out there on the web somewhere, securely stored far from your home.

Why have two copies?

Because you can't be too careful with your important data.

You want one copy on your desk on an external hard drive to protect you if your computer's internal hard drive dies or if your computer gets stolen. In either case, you can restore your data very quickly from the copy on your desk.

You want one copy out on the web because your house could burn down or be destroyed by an earthquake, tornado, hurricane, flood, or ogre. In this case, restoring your data will take a bit more time, but disasters are rare events, so it's not that big of a deal.

Backing up your computer is not hard. If your data isn't safe, you can make it safe quickly and at little cost.

To backup your computer to an external hard drive, you'll first need to buy one if you don't have one. These are cheap and getting cheaper all the time. Today, you can buy a hard drive that holds a terabyte of data for under $100. A terabyte holds roughly a million novel-length manuscripts. That should be plenty, no?

Now connect that external hard drive to your computer and back up your data using the software of your choice. On a Mac, you can use "Time Machine," which comes free with every Mac. On Windows, you can use the system backup utility. Or you can buy an inexpensive backup program if you prefer.

It should take about two minutes to set up backups and less than an hour for your computer to save all your data to the external hard drive. After that, the software will periodically save any changes you've made to your work. This should happen without you even noticing.

To backup your computer to the web, you need to choose an online backup service provider. There are plenty of these -- Mozy, Carbonite, and CrashPlan are three of the more popular ones.

I use CrashPlan, for the simple reason that MacWorld gave it the highest ranking in a recent review of seven different service providers.

A good backup service should encrypt your data, store it in a secure location on the web, and make it easy for you to get your data back if and when you need it. For a typical home user, backup service shouldn't cost more than a few dollars per month.

Sign up for the service of your choice. Log in and select which data you want to back up over the internet. Then let the service do its magic.

Be aware that it can take days or weeks to back up ALL the data on your computer over the internet. That's because even high-speed internet service isn't all that fast compared to the boatloads of data on a typical computer.

Backing up your computer over the internet is like siphoning out your swimming pool with a garden hose. It works just fine, but it takes a good long time. Once you start it going, it should continue on by itself until it's done.

Select your most important data to back up first. That would probably be your financial information and your novel. These tend to be small files, so backing them up should take only a few minutes.

Your photos and music and the comical movies of your kitten will take a lot longer to back up. Select these to be backed up only after your important stuff is safe.

Once you've set up your backup systems, you really don't need to do anything else. Your backup software should be constantly updating your external hard drive on your desk. Your online backup service should be doing the same over the internet.

This doesn't take long, and once it's done, think what peace of mind you'll enjoy. You'll know that accident or theft of disaster won't prevent you from getting published.

Only those infuriating agents and editors can do that.

Award-winning novelist Randy Ingermanson, "the Snowflake Guy," publishes the Advanced Fiction Writing E-zine, with more than 24,000 readers, every month. If you want to learn the craft and marketing of fiction, AND make your writing more valuable to editors, AND have FUN doing it, visit

Download your free Special Report on Tiger Marketing and get a free 5-Day Course in How To Publish a Novel.


Jennifer Rova said...

Nancy, excellent, informative posts as usual. I save all the scraps of paper I use for research and date everything to protect against plagiarism but backing up my computer files has to be automatic. I am thinking of buying one of those scanners that keeps an electronic, readable copy of all things paper. I have a doohickee that plugs into my computer and automatically backs it up as directed, at least once a day. The saying is that “Only Jesus saves” is apt for most of us. Good ideas you have to help us.

Norm de Ploom said...

Great ideas! One things I learned was to back up my passwords but on a disc and stored off sight at a bank deposit box or a good friend who is computer illiterate. I have my passwords here in the house too but as you pointed out, a fire, flood, stealing, etc. happens.

Thought your post on the future of books was thorough and informative. Since I am about to look for an agent for my book, it was timely information to think about. Times, they are a changin’.

Lisa Moore said...

Oh my gosh! It's a good thing that you were able to get your files back. I agree that it's important to back up your files. It's part of protecting your computer. One way of doing that is by using a good, updated anti-virus software.

Mac Pherson said...

Yes, I agree. Save multiple copies of your important files on different drives. Create partitions that are solely for backup, storage, and programs.

Kathy Cooney Dobbs said...

Informative and helpful, not only for writers, but for anyone storing data on their pc.. Thank you for another great blog !

Vincent Mesecher said...

Losing data can be incredibly problematic. The loss can drag down and halt work for businesses and writers if one is not careful.