Thursday, January 21, 2016

The Single Biggest Mistake Self-Published Authors Make

By Marcy Kennedy, @MarcyKennedy
Part of the Indie Author Series

You might have come here thinking I was going to make a statement about hurting our platform by responding to negative reviews. Maybe you thought I was going to talk about not copyrighting our work or about giving things away for free.

I’m not talking about any of those things.

The single biggest mistake an indie author can make is failing to properly back-up their work.

Don’t laugh. Don’t brush it off. Please don’t stop reading.

We’ve all heard this advice, but how many of us actually do it. I had to learn the hard way. I once had my computer crash, and in order to recover a week’s worth of work, I had to pay a computer guru to salvage it. It wasn’t cheap. And I was one of the lucky ones. Work can’t always be saved after a computer disaster, especially if that disaster includes something more tragic like a robbery or house fire.

Backing up our work is even more important for indie authors than for traditionally published authors because we’re the main repository for everything relating to our book.

We’re the ones responsible for keeping a copy of our covers (both print and ebook versions). Our cover designer might. They might not. It’s not their responsibility.

We’re the ones responsible for keeping an up-to-date document of our manuscript. That’s not our editor’s responsibility.

We’re the ones responsible for keeping a copy of the versions of our book that we upload to all retailers. That’s not our formatter’s responsibility.

In fact, if we’ve done any of that ourselves, we might be the only one with copies of these elements of our books.

And if something happens to the computer where we’ve stored those elements, we might lose them forever (forcing us to do all that work over again) or lose hours or days of our time recovering bits and pieces.

When you’re an indie, time lost is money lost.

So how do you protect your work?

The key to peace of mind and safety is redundancy. Yes, I know we avoid it in our writing, but in backing up our writing, it’s the best practice.

External Hard Drive

My last laptop was a complete lemon. I had it for fewer months out of the year than it was away for repairs and replacement parts. That meant that not only was I constantly afraid of the hard drive frying itself without warning (which it often did), but I also had to be prepared to hop between multiple computers while it was away and I was at the mercy of family members.

I bought myself an external hard drive, and I now work with it plugged into my computer. I configured it for Instant Back-Up, which means that while I’m working, it’s creating an up-to-date duplicate of everything I’m doing.

An external hard drive isn’t enough on its own though. Corrupted files, viruses, or house fires can all make an external hard drive useless.

Remote Back-Up

A remote back-up is your main offsite back-up solution. Basically, you sign-up, choose your settings, and the remote back-up will save your files two (or more) times a day.

I’d suggest looking at Carbonite (which is about $60/year) or Mozy (which is around $9.99/month). They offer slightly different features, so poke around their pages before making your final choice.

Saving to the Cloud

With Cloud storage, you have a couple of options.

The first is that you can set up a program like iCloud (for Apple users) or Dropbox (for PC users), and have your files saved there instead of on your hard drive. In other words, all your files are stored remotely, not on your computer.

I’ll be completely honest here—and I mean no offense to people who’ve been doing this—that isn’t smart. Glitches happen. I’ve heard of more than one person who had a program like this reset to an earlier version, erasing their current versions. Plus, this means you’re dependent on constant internet access. That makes this impractical for authors who turn off the internet or seek internet-free places to write without distraction.

We should never depend entirely on an offsite system for maintaining our files. They should be saved on our computers as well as saved somewhere else.

The second option, which is what I recommend, is that you keep your files saved on your hard drive and use Cloud storage as an additional back-up method. Dropbox is even free up to a point, so if you don’t want to pay for two back-up systems, you could save only your essential files there.

Do you back up your work regularly? What method do you use and recommend?

Marcy Kennedy is a suspense and speculative fiction writer who believes fantasy is more real than you think. Alongside her own writing, Marcy works as a freelance fiction editor and teaches classes on craft and social media. She’s also the author of the Busy Writer’s Guides series of books. You can find her blogging about writing and about the place where real life meets science fiction, fantasy, and myth at

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About Point of View: A Busy Writer’s Guide

Point of view isn’t merely another writing craft technique. Point of view is the foundation upon which all other elements of the writing craft stand—or fall.

It’s the opinions and judgments that color everything the reader believes about the world and the story. It’s the voice of the character that becomes as familiar to the reader as their own. It’s what makes the story real, believable, and honest.

Yet, despite its importance, point-of-view errors are the most common problem for fiction writers.

In Point of View in Fiction: A Busy Writer’s Guide, you’ll learn
  •  the strengths and weaknesses of the four different points of view you can choose for your story (first person, second person, limited third person, and omniscient),
  • how to select the right point of view for your story,
  • how to maintain a consistent point of view throughout your story,
  • practical techniques for identifying and fixing head-hopping and other point-of-view errors,
  • the criteria to consider when choosing the viewpoint character for each individual scene or chapter,
  • and much more!


  1. I have had the issue you mentioned with my Dropbox account. I once lost an entire day's worth of work. However, you can still access the file when the internet is turned off, and then the updated version is uploaded once you reconnect to the internet. I do a combination of techniques. I have a Dropbox account that I work out of, as well as saving everything to a thumb drive on my keychain every other day or so. Then, every week I also make a backup of everything to my Google Drive and a full External Hard Drive.

    I have lost too much hard work in the past to not be extra cautious.

    1. I'm going to have to figure out what I'm doing wrong with my Dropbox then. I haven't been able to access my files when I don't have internet access. So that's user error on my part!

    2. Just install Dropbox on your computer. Then it acts like just a regular folder. I save my documents in there and open them in whatever program runs them. The only thing to be careful about is editing something when offline on one device, then doing something else to it on a different, online device. This will create a duplicate as Dropbox does not know how to reconcile the two, so you will need to combine them on your own.

  2. Hi Marcy,
    You do get around.
    I didn't guess your "single biggest mistake" because backups are automatic in my writing life. My previous day-job was in scientific R&D, so backup is second nature for me. I use two external HDs and occasionally a stick if a novel has a lot of associated online research. I also store my website backups to those drives. There aren't many graphics files; when your dealing with mostly text as I do, there's plenty of space.
    I don't recommend a cloud. I tried one (recommended by a responsible person, so it must have worked for her). I couldn't get the backup service to work properly and ended up losing files (fortunately I still had them on the HDs).
    Backups also increase security if (1) you disconnect those drives when not using them for backup, and (2) you access those drives with a password different than all your others.
    PS. My single biggest mistake was not choosing a pen name. Do you realize how many Steve Moores are out there? Or even Steven M. Moores? Too late to change now...sigh....

    1. I'm an online traveler :)

      Thanks for the tip about adding extra security. We can't be too careful with our files.

      As far as pen names are concerned, I've often thought I might have been better off with a pen name too. I've lost count of how many times I've had to spell my first name for people when telling them my website address. There are at least four different ways to spell my first name. That's actually one of the reasons I didn't change my name when I got married as well. No one ever, ever spells my husband's last name correctly :)

    2. I'd think Kennedy would be more of a problem. We both have common Irish names. I don't know which is more prevalent. Your husband's name would be another problem because many people are spelling-challenged. Many recommend that an author should use her/his full name, but long names present another problem in URLs. Texting acronyms (LOL, OMG, and the like) and Twitter are exacerbating all of this. The day will come, I suppose, when we see stories written with a large percentage of acronyms.

    3. It's funny you said that, Steve. I'm a new wanna-be writer & my last name is very uncommon. After spending a lifetime of spelling or pronouncing it, I figured using is as a pen name would be no problem. WRONG. After seeing your comment, I thought I'd look my surname up. Totally surprised with how many other Macklin's there are.

  3. Dropbox actually has a system to recover your files. You are able to recover your files, even things you have deleted (up to a month).

    1. Because product names are being experience, let me say my experience was with Carbonite (sp?). I still emails from them warning that my subscription will be canceled months after I did so. I don't need to make a mistake twice or three times to know that my old way of doing things is more secure. My external HDs are NEVER connected to the internet.

  4. Long-time Mac user here. I have a two-pronged backup solution. I run CrashPlan in the background at all times, which does versioned backups of the most important files like system files, preferences, and all documents and images (I exclude application files, because I can download those again from the vendors) to their servers. Versioned backups only change the files that are different from the previous backup. CrashPlan runs seamlessly without any interference into my use of the OS. They have different pricing tiers, but the one I use is $49.99/year and I can't live without it. They've saved my bacon more than once.

    I also back up to external hard drives. I make a full clone of the entire disk once a week. I can boot from this clone, so I can restore the entire system if I have to do so. On the same external drive, I do versioned backups every day (unless I get lazy and do it every other day). I have two external drives; I move the most recent full clone to my husband's office for safety, because it doesn't do any good to back up the disk for emergencies if you keep the emergency copy right next to you. I bring back the older one with me and alternate them once a week.

    I've got the most important things backed up remotely, offsite, 24/7. I also have the latest versions accessible locally, and I have a full copy of my disk available too.

    Hope that helps someone.

  5. I've been using SugarSync for years. It's great because I don't have to save to a program specific folder (like Dropbox, unless that has changed). I can tell it which of my user created folders I want it to back up to the cloud. Then I can have that same folder replicated down to any number of computers. I currently have my writing folder replicating to my desktop PC, my laptop, and my tablet. It allows me to be very flexible with my workspace. I also have Crashplan set up to backup my files to an external harddrive.

  6. I keep my files backed up in an external hard drive. I also keep the important writing backed up in iCloud, which is copied to my external hard drive.
    It is very important to have some sort of backup. I had a hard drive crash a few years ago and time machine saved my hide. It's VERY important to use things like this. My computer gave me no warning whatsoever before it crashed, but I lost no work because of my backup. Just because your computer is working like it should doesn't mean it won't fail suddenly.

  7. I guess the more backups the better but isn't it cheaper and just as effective, to simply email it to yourself? That way gmail or whatever service you use, can save it and you can access it from any computer.

  8. I just left a long message and my phone ate it. I'm backing up today. Thanks

  9. Amen! I learned the hard way when I lost over 5,000 words by losing my flash drive that I need to back up every single time I sit down to write to the flash drive, to the computer and to the cloud. The lesson was brought home for me one day when I literally hurled a laptop computer jumping up after a scare. I broke it well beyond reasonable repair cost. I was writing to the flash at the time but what if I had been writing to the hard drive.

    Always, always back up your work!

  10. I email the projects to myself as attachments.
    Also, right now, my husband and I are working on a project together using google docs, which has been reliable so far!

  11. Hi Marcy! My last computer was a PC and every two years the mother board died. Fortunately, Jenny Hansen's sweet husband took the computer apart and backed up the hard-drive for me. Whew! After that I created a Dropbox account and that's been successful for me. I am always saving my copies on both my newer computer and Dropbox. But I appreciate your suggestion to also save on an external HD. Thanks. :)

  12. I use two external harddrives for backup, and I have an online email account I use as off-site storage. I also keep printed copies of my stories as back ups.

    A writer friend of mine often says, "It isn't truly backed up until it's off site."

    If my house blows up while I'm out, I can access the important stuff through that storage email. One could also have two harddrives and leave one at someone else's house. I don't recommend safety deposit boxes because 1) they are expensive and 2) you want to be able to back up the off site one regularly.

    I began regularly backing up my files when I read a headline in the newspaper: I lost everything, including the book I was working on.

    This was from a news report on the forest fire that claimed several houses not far from where I live.

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  14. I've had computers where the mother board was corrupt, a factory error on an Alien ware of all things! This was before I started writing. I drew in paint a Gesha under a cherry tree with blossms that floated down. That took me thee months. Then one morning, gone. I was hearbroken.

    After that I now save everything on an external drive, and on (online file storage.) And I save everything that's important on free web hostings. As for my wip it's on Wattpad, the word document of the manuscript to my self by email and my mother has a copy on her computer. I really should print it out too. Sorry sbout deleteing the postings, I keep making embarrassing typos on this phone.