Cover Your Ass(ets), Part 4: Make It Permanent

#authors, #manuscripts, #books, #ebooks, #novels

_Cover_Your_Assets1Time for the final step in protecting your assets. This one is not just protection against loss of work but is a permanent record of work completed until it is copyrighted, usually through publication.

If you are under contract with a professional publisher (not “press”), this is likely covered by that firm, but only upon actual publication. And either way, it is best to always have a current Tier 3: Permanent (Read-Only) Backup for legal as well as other protection. Especially so for any project that is incomplete and/or unpublished.

See also “Cover Your Ass(ets)” Part 1, 2, and 3.

Tier 3: Permanent (Read-Only) Backup

So why “read-only”? Because if you are pulled into a legal battle over your rights of ownership to your own work, a read/write backup will likely not defend you or even be acceptable as evidence.

A read-only version that cannot be changed may not always be enough, but it is one-step closer to establishing your right of ownership. If you follow all steps outlined in this advice series, you will also create a “history” of your work (and not just its completion) in multiple backups over time… and over your whole career as an author.

3.1 Check Your Project Setup

As recommended in Part 1, you should have a Projects area for immediate day to day work on your primary writing device. If you use a household network with a file server, this may not be the case. Each step herein still applies to that alternative Tier 0 location.

WARNING: Never make a Tier 3 backup from anywhere other than your Tier 0 Projects source.

Inside each project’s main folder, there should be subfolders for all files related to each “phase” in a project. If not, you are not fully covered in showing the actual history of your work. That as well can be paramount in a legal battle to establish your rights of ownership.

Fix that structure now, if need be, and adhere to the recommended structure in all future work. We are serious about this; it is important for legal protection and not just about being organized in your work.

3.2 Necessary Materials: CD or DVD

Whether you use CD or DVD disks is not critical. Likely CDs will have enough storage for text-based files for a long time, so save yourself a few pennies. Either way, those disks are also a business expense and a deduction if purchased for exclusive use of backing up your commercial projects. So is any container used exclusively to archive these disks.

Keep such purchases separate from those for general and/or personal use. Check your own regional, state/province, and country tax laws, but in most cases this write-off should be available if you make enough money as an author to claim that income in your taxes.

WARNING: Never use rewritable media for your permanent backups. Well, there is one exception, but we will touch on that last. Part of this tier’s purpose is creating a “snap-shot” of files that cannot be altered on the storage media. This is critical for legal purposes.

Some of you may think that using inexpensive USB sticks of small capacity are another option. This is false though some of you may need to do so temporarily. While individual files, folders, and even the whole stick (thumb-drive) can be set to read-only—some optical disk software can also “burn” an image to the same—it is not truly read-only.

Half of the NDAS staff know how to re-enable write access to files, folders, and drives as a whole in under 60 seconds—without copying the those to a standard drive. They can then modify creation, last modified, etc. dates on all of the above as well. So can any electronic forensics personnel supporting your or your opponent’s legal representatives in a rights challenge.

USB storage is never considered “read-only” for legal purposes even when rigged as such to block the common user.

3.3 Necessary Device: Optical Disk Drive (ODD)

These days, fewer and fewer personal computers (let alone other devices) have an optical disk drive (ODD). What can we say but… get one! This is necessary for a true Tier 3 backup.

Such devices will typically require one or two USB ports; we recommend against any ODD that uses any other type of port. You want a unit that can plug into almost any device (or OS) that will give you at least “read” access if needed to your permanent backups.

NOTICE: If you use an Apple computer, you may find that USB ports (if more than one) are on opposite sides of the device. The same might occur for what are now called “netbooks.” This is problematic for an ODD that uses two ports for maximum power and speed. Do not waste money on an Apple branded ODD.

It may not work with other technology you own or purchase or that of someone else who needs to help you locally. You want a unit that will work with as many devices as possible. This may be critical if your main device goes down and you need access to those permanent backups on any available, USB-enabled device. Do not be a brand name slave!

USB extension cords are widely available and cheap if you must purchase a dual USB ODD. 90+% of the time, an external drive plus extra USB extension cord will cost considerably less than that Apple branded external ODD.

3.4 Necessary Tool: ODD Write/Burn Application

For most of you, there is one already in your OS (if you have an internal ODD). If you purchased an external USB ODD, it may come with necessary drivers and/or software (and hopefully for more than one OS). This includes those of you using any form of Linux; if not preinstalled, multiple ones are available in your software repository.

If none of these apply to you, then third party applications are available. You do not need to pay for one, though many are OS specific because of drivers installed with the application.

NOTE: FOSS = Free Open Source Software, something much more than just “freeware.” See “Resources (for Authors)” in general, and some of these so marked applications will be added later to the “Utilities” section therein.

3.5 Phasing Permanent Backups

By this we mean that you should burn a permanent backup of your entire Projects structure upon completing every phase of a project. For those working with a professional publisher, this typically means you will make 3 to 5 backups throughout work on any one project.

Once you have burned that backup CD/DVD, use a permanent marker to mark it as follows.

  1. Project Name (typically the current work’s title)
  2. Phase (Outline/Planning; Draft; Revision; Rewrite; Proof)
  3. Date (Year/Month/Day)

If you use disk sleeves, mark them with matching information; when filed it is easier to organize and review without pulling out every disk. Jewel or other hard cases for disks are not recommended to avoided needless cost.

Once finished, always place the most recent backup at the front of rack style storage or at the back of flip-case style storage. In other words, keep all Tier 3 backups organized chronologically by date—not alphabetically by project title or phase.

FACT: CD and DVD disks do not last forever. Their life span will depend on storage, use, and quality of disk. In other words, they are not really “permanent.”

Each file/folder “last accessed” date at least is maintained through each burn; any internal file dating, such as is common to many word-processing applications, is certainly maintained. Those dates are part of critical information where legal issues are concerned.  Some of you now see why all of your past projects should remain in the Tier 0 Projects area.

Each time you create a Tier 3 backup at the end of a project phase, you also (re)backup all previous projects with their file / folder date information intact. This protects you from losses due to CD/DVD degradation over time.

If you burn only one completed project to a separate disk, over time you may lose the oldest one to disk degradation. That project’s files—some or all—may be gone forever. A couple of us at NDAS have done so (long ago) before all adhered to this tiered backup process. You do not want to face a day like that!

3.6 Option: Tier 3 with USB Sticks

If you do not have and cannot afford an ODD at this time:

  1. Purchase 3 USB sticks with at least 2gigs of storage.
  2. Upon completing a project phase, copy the entire Tier 0 Projects structure to one stick.
  3. Mark that stick as you would a CD/DVD in step 3.5; use sticky labels as necessary.
  4. When the next (and next) project phase is completed, use stick 2 and then 3.
  5. When all three sticks have been used and marked, rotate through all 3 (remarking / relabeling each time) and reuse them by oldest date first for continued “temporary” Tier 3 backups.
  6. Keep those sticks in a secure and safe location; use them for nothing else!

And along the way, start budgeting and saving to purchase a USB ODD.

This temporary option should never be used as a long term substitute for truly permanent backups. This option may not hold up in a legal dispute if one or more of your works has not been published and copyrighted and then is challenged for ownership and/or creator rights.

In conclusion

This ends our utmost recommendations for a 3-Tier backup strategy for authors… or anyone who maintains work files for creative projects. This is also the basis for backup strategies used by NDAS and authors on its staff, including Barb Hendee and J.C. Hendee.

Thoroughly protecting your work can be daunting. We also know that too many would-be or even professional authors do not do so adequately. Your assets—your files—are the foremost foundation of your current or future vocation as an author. Once again, go ahead and be paranoid, but do something constructive and thorough about it.

Thank you for joining us at NDAS once again.

—J.C. Hendee