What Do You Do When Your Technology Fails?

by Steve Laube

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You may have noticed that our website has been having some trouble these past few weeks. The entire site was down three times, once for 48 hours. And then at other times it was running very slow.

We think we’ve traced the problem to the fact that the site is now five years old. (My first blog post was June 24, 2009.) Apparently the infrastructure of the site is starting to fray at the edges. In addition, certain plug-ins that were created back then are showing their age as well because they are unable to be upgraded. Feels like a form of forced obsolescence.

I’m so very glad I have the team of AuthorMedia to support our site when these things happen. They are quick on the task and take it as a personal mission to get things fixed.

Maybe your site is feeling its age? Or your phone isn’t a “smart” one. Or your computer is starting to act sluggish? Or you no long trust your back up?

What do you do?

We had a client who lost their entire manuscript the day of their deadline. Poof. It was gone. The thumb drive was wiped clean. And because they had used a borrowed laptop the author didn’t know it was programmed to empty the trash each time it was rebooted. The author had moved the manuscript to the trash after emailing it to the publisher because they needed to return the laptop. Unfortunately the file that went to the publisher was not the final version but was an earlier version containing only 20% of the final manuscript.

The tragedy of this story is that the publisher had to declare the author in breach of contract and cancel the project because this was the last of three extensions given on the deadline. There was no more leeway.

Technology failed. Sure, in this case, there was human error involved. But the human thought their technology had their back.

We all know we are supposed to back things up. I even have clients who email me their manuscript saying “don’t look at it, just archive it so I know of another place where it is stored.” But are you unyielding in your fervor to back up your work? I hope so.

But what about when your other tech doesn’t work. What do you do?

Share in the comments below. Maybe our community of writers can help each other survive and thrive a little bit better.

26 Responses to What Do You Do When Your Technology Fails?

  1. Narelle Atkins May 12, 2014 at 4:04 am #

    Steve, I really feel for the author who lost their complete ms on the deadline day. An awful situation. I use an external back-up server, and email a copy of the file to myself at the end of each day. This means I have a copy on my iphone and an external email server. I also start a fresh file every single day, using the date for version control. If the file corrupts, and I’ve heard horror stories about this happening, I’ll only be losing one day’s work. It’s also helpful if I’ve taken a wrong turn with my story because I can easily back track to a previous version.

  2. Ron Estrada May 12, 2014 at 4:19 am #

    I use the rule of 3. Three separate places to backup my work. My Scrivener files get backed up atuomatically to Dropbox every time I close it out. Once a week I back up to an external thumb drive, and of course the hard drive of my laptop. And for Pete’s sake, make a hard copy of the final drafts.

  3. DIANA HARKNESS May 12, 2014 at 5:37 am #

    I have everything backed up automatically to an external hard drive by Norton 360. I cannot afford to have my business accounting data lost, nor my manuscripts, nor email, nor any other important data. In addition, I keep install files for necessary programs backed up in the same manner. (Quickbooks, Microsoft Office, etc.) I do not use online backups because I do not trust a third party with my data. When traveling I make an extra backup of manuscripts and Quickbooks data on a flash drive. My backup hard drive goes in a safe, my flash drive stays with me, and my computer is locked down. Some call me paranoid, but I know from my clients’ experiences the pain of restoration (especially from an online source). I also have a laptop ready to go in the even of a hardware failure to my main computer.

    • Jeanne Takenaka May 12, 2014 at 6:50 am #

      Diana, how do you back up your email? I’d love to find the secret on that one.

      • DIANA HARKNESS May 12, 2014 at 7:40 am #

        I back it up using Norton 360. It copies my entire PST file even while I am using my email so I never have to worry about it.

      • Jeanne Takenaka May 12, 2014 at 11:47 am #

        Thanks, Diana. I’ll have to learn more about this. My emails have a habit of disappearing, and I can’t figure out why. Sigh.

  4. Andrea (Wood) Nell May 12, 2014 at 5:53 am #

    Technology can be a blessing and a curse. Last week I accidentally left my laptop on the floor. My husband stepped on it and cracked the screen, rendering it inoperable. Thank heavens for Geek Squad. But it will be three weeks before I get it back. It already feels like an eternity, but at least my data is not in danger. A few years ago I decided to invest in Carbonite automatic back up. It’s saved me from losing work many times.

  5. Connie Stevens May 12, 2014 at 5:59 am #

    After hearing so many horror stories from other authors who lost their manuscripts, I will admit I became a bit over-the-top OCD about backing up my work. All my manuscripts are saved to the hard drive, a flash drive, an external hard drive, our home’s network server, and Carbonite-who backs up not only my computer’s hard drive but also the external hard drive. I think I’m covered.

  6. Jeanne Takenaka May 12, 2014 at 6:53 am #

    When I’m writing, I am good about backing things up to Dropbox as well as my hard drive.I also have a beta reader who reads my work. I can see from your story, and from the comments, that I need to be more diligent in backing things up. I have an external hard drive I use, but I haven’t been as consistent with that. This is changing. As of today.

    I’m sorry for your frustrations with your website. I’m glad Author Media is there to the rescue!

  7. Shulamit May 12, 2014 at 7:03 am #

    More than two decades ago, my husband was nearly finished with his dissertation. He was working on two different computers: the desktop in his office on campus, and a laptop (which was a big deal in the 1990′s!) at home. But he wasn’t backing up between the two computers. This was the age of floppies. No “external hard drives” or “cloud” to make backing up easy.

    His mother had a problem, and we flew the 400 miles to her, rented a car, and went to see her. We put the laptop, along with his backpack full of raw data–about 7 inches of stacked paper–into the trunk, along with our luggage. We drove from the airport, picked up his mother, and took her out to dinner.

    We parked in the alley behind the restaurant, because there was no parking left on the street. After dinner we dropped her off back at her home. Only when we parked for the night, and went to take our stuff in, did we realize that the trunk lock had been popped, and all of our stuff was stolen.

    The laptop was gone, and so was the raw data. We looked at that trunk, empty as only a rental car trunk can be, and cried.

    He was able to get copies of the raw data from the copy he left IN CHINA with the grad student who had assisted him there. And there was about half of the dissertation on the computer at the university.

    Set him back a lot.

    Last time I had a computer crash we were able to recover everything but one year’s worth of email. Seems MS Outlook files get used a lot, and are prone to corruption.

    Backing up everything is so important–and not always easy to figure out how to do it on a regular basis. But worth the effort to get a system in place!

    Nothing is perfect. Recently, when I backed up my computer to my external drive, and the external drive repopulated all the emails. Replaced everything I had deleted between backups, and doubled everything else.

  8. Terry Whalin May 12, 2014 at 7:12 am #

    As an acquisitions editor at three different publishers, I found a telling phrase in your story about technology failing: “the last of three extensions given on the deadline.” My question, why didn’t the author hit their first deadline?

    Yes each of us have our personal problems that interfere with our writing. When I set the deadline in a contract with an author, they control that deadline date. The author failed to take enough time to finish the work. Every writer is different. I’ve stayed at my keyboard all night to complete a book deadline.

    This writer was out of extra chances and extensions. It’s a shame but mostly self-inflicted from my viewpoint. Hopefully the author learns to next time take a realistic deadline they will actually meet the first time–without extensions. In meeting the deadline they will distinguish themselves as a professional who cares about the multiple deadlines within the publishing house (that they can’t see) instead of being focused on their need for an extension.

    • Shulamit May 12, 2014 at 8:07 am #

      Terry, I noticed that too. But I also noticed that the author was working on a borrowed computer. So, I wondered if the author’s personal computer had died previously, possibly taking more of the story with it then, necessitating extensions.

      Honestly, I also wondered if the specific story was just that, a story, to cover for having trouble getting past the first 20%.

      For the purposes of this blog, I don’t think it matters if the author’s story is true or an excuse, if the author was at fault, or not. What matters is the message: back everything up, don’t get caught without a copy, keep it in multiple places.

      My brother had a fire in his house, lost paper files and computer files. Back up your work, and don’t keep it all in the same place.

  9. Cecelia Dowdy May 12, 2014 at 8:09 am #

    Email. Whenever I’m working on a project, I email that day’s version to myself when I’m done working on it that day. Each time I update I email it to myself as well as saving it on my computer. It’s probably an archaic way of doing things, but, it works for me. I also rename each day’s version with the date. WIP-5-12-14, so there’s no confusion about which version is which. Again, that’s probably archaic but, it’s worked for me.

  10. Jennifer Sienes May 12, 2014 at 8:20 am #

    A few years ago, I lost over 12,000 words of my ms, and I was completely at fault. I’ve since backed up at the end of each day on my desktop computer and backup the backup on my laptop. However, when my desktop began acting funny a couple weeks ago, I remembered the advice I received from my agent (thank you, Karen Ball) and invested in on off-site backup program. Yes, I have an external hard drive, and yes, I have Time Machine–but technology fails all the time and I don’t want to lose all the work I’ve done over the last five years because I was too cheap to follow through on this advice. I took my computer in to be checked and it had to be wiped clean in order to fix the issue. It’s not just my manuscript that was on that computer, but 30 gigabytes of other files that I might have lost. It pays to purchase an off-site backup program.

  11. Lisa Finn May 12, 2014 at 9:16 am #

    Had a meeting on Skype the other day and I could not get the sound to work. I quickly downloaded the app to my iphone and held it in one hand while trying to take notes in the other. Super stressful — but it worked.

  12. J.D Maloy May 12, 2014 at 9:22 am #

    Fantastic suggestions here!

    That head in your hands like in the picture…yeah, that’s been my life for the past 12 months. I’m getting close to wrapping up a project so the timing of many technology failures sounds about right.

    What I’ve learned is no matter how hard I try to be responsible, good steward of my work, I cannot control any of it. But how I react to the lost data, well, that’s a choice.

    So saving my work weekly (to internal an external sources) has lessened the pain and allowed me to trust in the Lord.

    On Monday the 5th, I lost 30 pages of awesome revisions. I was bummed because I gave myself a June deadline and on July 1st I’m handing the MS over to a freelance editor, who has me penciled in. No contract and not set in stone yet. Can the date be pushed back? Absolutely! But I don’t want it to and neither does he. We’ll see…

    What has taken my faith to a more solid level is, that the Lord was still here, and I was still going to follow His lead. You know what happened? The new ideas He gave in the days following, have blown my imagination out of the water! The stuff is way better than what I had and I’m pumped up like Muscle Max to develop it more.

    Will I make my deadline? God knows. Am I trippin? Nah. I’ve experienced the Lord’s perfect timing over and over to know that it’s going to happen when it’s supposed to happen. But I am showing up and working hard until June 5th rolls around.

  13. Carolyn Curtis May 12, 2014 at 1:25 pm #

    I have a question for the group, because my technology issue is the learning curve. I recently upgraded from Windows XP to Windows 8 and the latest version of Word in Microsoft Office 2013. So my question is this: Does anyone know of a tech help service I can call to help me navigate my documents in the newest version of Word and even navigate my emails in Outlook for Windows 8? I expect to pay for this help, of course. I’ll even leave my email address in this reply, in case you prefer to contact me directly (although I have a feeling I’m not the only author/editor who needs such help). carolyn@carolyncurtis.net

  14. Carol Moncado May 12, 2014 at 2:52 pm #

    When your tech doesn’t work? You get paranoid ;).I use CrashPlan to back up EVERYTHING on my hard drive [as well as, using the family plan, my sister's hard drive and her TERABYTES [like 3 TB] of video files from iTunes, etc.].

    ALL of my writing stuff goes into my Dropbox. Right now, my Dropbox is full [my sister doesn't have a card reader so I uploaded several hundred work pictures to my Dropbox for her - as soon as she downloads them, I'll move the file]. It’s making me itch since there’s apparently not enough room to back up even the extra 3 pages I wrote Friday.

    I also email backups to myself/crit partners fairly regularly and use gmail – so even if I didn’t send it to myself, I can usually find the “sent” email. I also have all of the “backup” and “recover” options available on Word set up. I’ve found a file more than once that way.

    There’s nothing more heart stopping than a suddenly black screen [btdt] or the Windows blue screen of death suddenly appearing [got the t-shirt]. Oy!

    More tears than I care to admit over the years before I got really good about backing up stuff.

  15. M. Rochellino May 12, 2014 at 7:39 pm #

    WOW! Am I the only troglodyte left that still actually writes (not type or speak into modern equipment of some sort). I am finishing a novel now and every word of it was written in longhand with a graphite pencil on yellow legal pad. I find that writing (aka making translatable marks on substrate)the way that has been done since time immemorial is my true style. I find comfort and freedom utilizing only the very sparse items of a simple pencil, paper and God given mind with divine inspiration.

    This may seem very primitive but it has many advantages. I automatically have “backup” at all times (the written pages on paper). I can start writing and stop anywhere at a moments notice, I do not need electricity. I can write by candlelight or outside in remote areas if I desire. I TRIED THE MODERN TECHNIQUES FIRST BUT FOUND THAT CARRYING ON THE CENTURIES OLD LONG STANDING TRADITION IS THE BEST WAY FOR ME. ALL CREATIVE GOALS OF THE WORK ARE ACCOMPLISHED IN THIS MANNER.

    Eventually my completed hand written work IS typed into a manuscript and brought into the 21st century but only as a post creative finishing step.

    • J.D Maloy May 12, 2014 at 8:59 pm #

      M. Rochellino, you’re not alone! Yellow legal pads rock! I don’t write everything on them, but one is always near and when I’m outlining, mapping, whatever, I use them. I also use index cards for the emotional plus and minus of a scene and the motivation. Did you know that J.K. Rowling wrote Harry Potter longhand? Pretty sweet :)

      • Shulamit May 12, 2014 at 9:50 pm #

        Lovely, writing by hand. But a single copy on paper is NOT backed up. Fire, flood, theft (experienced them all!) happen.

        Back before computers, grad students were always anxious about their dissertation drafts. Kept them in the fridge to guard from disasters when they went out. Used a ton of carbon paper, to make everything duplicate, and then kept a copy at their friend’s house.

        Writing longhand is great, but a cheap scanner could let you run those pages through, and save them backed up as digital copies, so as to not have to make stacks of paper copies.

      • m.rochellino May 13, 2014 at 1:19 pm #

        Whew! Thanks J.D.! I was beginning to wonder if I was the last one standing from the “old school” antediluvian tradition of writing. I imagine St. Paul sitting in his prison cell writing with the simplest of materials yet divinely inspired. Maybe Anne Frank transcribing her thoughts in the attic. I think we all can agree that history illustrates that it matters not by what means we translate thought into physicality. The finished work is all that matters, IT IS EVERYTHING.
        Thank you for the interesting info on J.K. Rowling, I did not know.

  16. Rebecca Barlow Jordan May 12, 2014 at 8:08 pm #

    Am I wasting money still using carbonite services? I pay a yearly fee (around $59 or so) that backs up everything for me. The storage is huge. Since I have several full length books on my desktop, years of files, and zillions of pictures, it seems to be worth it to me. Anyone else ever use it?

    • Steve Laube May 13, 2014 at 10:21 am #

      I use Carbonite. It has been my backup for the office for a number of years. Worth every penny.

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  1. When You Hit A Bad Day by W. Terry Whalin - July 10, 2014

    […] my agent friend Steve Laube wrote an article What to do when technology fails? I did feel bad for the author who lost the entire manuscript on a computer the day it was due at […]

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