Watching the fires in California recently made me think about how it would feel to come home and find my house in ashes. All I could think about was how devastating it would be to lose my electronic files. Not the computer itself, the lifetime of creative work. All the other things—clothes, books, appliances—are replaceable. The insurance check would buy more stuff. But if my files are ever lost, I’ll be lost too.
This is not the first time I’ve had this thought. In fact, I once had a hard drive (in a PC) catch fire, and I lost the e-file of a great novel that I spent years on. I had made a backup disk, but it mysteriously disappeared. (Teenage computer geek son grabbing floppy disks without thinking!) That was a devastating moment, saved only by the reassurance that I had a printed version. Eventually, I paid a transcriptionist to retype the paper copy into a Word file.
So I developed a healthy sense of paranoia and thorough backup system. And as anal as it makes me sound, I’m sharing it so other writers will remember to back up their files and store them in several safe places.
- I have an external hard drive and software (LaCie) that I back up the whole drive with—files, e-mails, bookmarks—once or twice a week. But it’s sitting right next to my computer, so if my house burns, it’s toast too.
- I also carry a flash drive in my purse that contains all my creative files—novels, scripts, promotional material, etc. I carry this with me mostly for convenience and peace of mind.
- Once every couple of months, I burn a CD or two of all files (Word, Excel, InDesign, PDFs, etc.) and take it to my car. (Flash drives are unreliable, and if you tell a techie that’s what you’re using, he will roll his eyes.)
- Every time I complete a new novel, I burn it to a CD and take it to my mother’s. The car could go up in a fire too. Or get stolen. Or wrecked.
I started all this before there were online backup services available, so I’ve never used one. Maybe it’s time. Are you backed up?
In November, while everyone else was cranking out a 50,000 word novel, I had a pathetically low word count. Why? Shit happens. More specifically, I spent a lot of time trying to drum up freelance work, I spent a lot of time babysitting, and I let myself get into the “I’ll make up the time tomorrow” mode. Wrong! It’s always today, and there’s never enough time to do anything extra.
So here’s my plan to get back on track:
First, I unsubscribed to half the e-mails I was receiving. Who has time to read all those newsletters? Sorry to those of you who put them out, but I just don’t have time.
I stopped opening e-mails first thing in the morning. In fact, it’s now a rule. No e-mail until I’ve worked on the novel for a few hours. (Unless the e-mail is from an editor/publisher!)
Another rule: No Twitter or FaceBook or reading blogs during writing time. They all have to wait until I move on to freelance work. (This will be the hardest rule to keep!)
I’m going to give longer deadlines for the freelance work I take on, then stick to working in the afternoons and evenings (if needed). Mornings are for writing!
And my husband is going to take our niece to school on one of the mornings she’s here, so I’ll only have one morning each week interrupted by that adventure.
And for balance, I’m adopting a new motto: Experience joy every day. Get up and dance! I do not have to be productive every second of every day… As long as I get my three or four hours of writing done, first thing every day.
My podcasting venture has begun. I had a conversation last weekend with Ken Lewis, who is the police chief of Rogue River, Oregon; the author of the mystery/suspense novel, Little Blue Whales; and the host of NetDrag, a podcast featuring crime writers. It was a great conversation (although I sound like I have a little marble under my tongue) and those who have listened said they loved it.
We talked about mystery conferences, Oregon writers, THE SEX CLUB, and the difficulties of finding a publisher if your story has young victims or deals with controversial issues. Ken gave my detective an 8 (out of 10) for believability, and that’s high praise coming from a police officer. He also said my story/mystery stumped him and that he felt Detective Jackson’s bafflement and anguish every step of the way.
Check it out here: NetDrag
I was a little nervous about being recorded, but the conversation was so relaxed and enjoyable, I soon forgot about that. For the mechanics of it, we both called in to a service that he’s subscribed to that records the conversations and allows him to make minor edits.
My next step is to do my own podcasting by recording the first chapter of THE SEX CLUB and making it available. I have everything in place but the time.
Most novelists who have been writing for a while have an unpublished story or two that they haven’t given up on. You keep thinking that if you could just find the right twist or revise a character you can make it marketable. But how much do you have to change the manuscript to consider it a new story? Can you send a revised novel with a new name to the same editors and agents as though it were something fresh for them to read?
Or what about his scenario? You write a great sci-fi story called Death March into Armageddon. Publishers seem to like it, but no one offers you a contract. A few years later, you publish the story with a small press that goes out of business shortly after. Your novel only sells a few dozen copies. Five years later, you get a great idea for how to make the story better. You make those changes, spruce it up with a new name like Heavenly Invasion and submit it to a different publisher.
Can you consider this work to be “previously unpublished”? Is there a legal definition for how much a story has to change to be considered a new work? Do you have a moral or legal obligation to tell the new publisher about the manuscript’s history and the two dozen copies of the previous version that are still out there somewhere?
Has anyone been in this situation? How did you handle it?
So Sarah Palin and Joe the Plumber both have book deals, with Sarah’s rumored to be worth $7 million. These kinds of book contracts are what make hard working, talented, undiscovered, underpaid writers (like me) CRAZY! That’s all I have to say. Except, maybe, WTF!
If you’d like to hear more from me today, check Pop Syndicate where I have a fascinating author Q/A with Angela Wilson.
I had been thinking about unions lately and wondering if they have become counterproductive. Then yesterday I heard that autoworkers at General Motors make around $71 an hour when you include benefits. Holy shit! No wonder the company is going broke. This is clearly not a sustainable business model.
And then there are the teachers’ unions, which many people believe keep bad teachers in their jobs and contribute to the decline in education. Before you get all riled up, I support teachers and think they should be better paid. (I wouldn’t teach middle school for any amount of money.) But I also think teachers should be held accountable for the job they do, and those that don’t cut it should be fired—like anyone else.
So what does this have to do with writers or books? Not much. But independent writers have no market protections and no real benefits (which is the case with most low-wage workers). Of course, there is a Writers’ Guild, but it’s mostly for scriptwriters who are already making good money and can afford the $2500 joining fee. Some writers are represented by agents, but an agent can’t guarantee anything. Health benefits? Hah! Paid holidays? Dream on. Livable hourly wage? If I ever did the math on my novels, it would make me cry.
I don’t begrudge anyone else these benefits just because I currently don’t have them. But as a taxpayer (who pays teachers’ and government workers’ salaries), I expect my money to be invested wisely. So if we the people bail out GM, its employees should have to live in the real world with the rest of us where there are no unions, no guarantees, and no one is fighting for you—but you. That’s life.
Every week I give away a free copy of The Sex Club on my website. I gave away 75 copies of The Sex Club at Bouchercon, and I’ve sent hundreds of copies to bookstores, book clubs, and readers who asked for it.
Meanwhile, I have a collection of new/nearly new paperbacks that have nowhere to go. Our local Book Exchange went out of business, so I’ve decided to give them away. To win one of these titles, simply e-mail me and ask for it. (Click the contact link on the right of this page.) I’ll randomly pick winners at the end of the week. Don’t forget to enter The Sex Club giveaway. (And you might consider ordering a few copies as the perfect stocking stuffer for your siblings and co-workers.)
My next step is to podcast The Sex Club and give it away in audio form. If I only had the time! I’m also thinking of offering a free download of one of my unpublished stories. My only hesitation is that I’m a better writer now than I was then. So does it make sense to offer an earlier story as a first exposure to my writing? Has anyone tried this strategy? I want to know what you think.
I’m celebrating Thanksgiving today (sans turkey) because I have so much to be grateful for that it can’t wait.
- We have a new president! A thoughtful Democrat who will value the things I value and raise our standing in the world.
- I have a new book contract! My recently finished story, Secrets to Die For, will be published for people to buy and read. Oh happy day!
- I have three great sons, who all contacted me yesterday (calling, texting, visiting) to let me know they had voted (and for Barack Obama).
- My husband has a job, and I have some freelance work coming. We will stay solvent!
- My wonderful husband has worked hard to resolve my exercise issues, and, as a result, my chronic knee pain is diminished!
So today (and going forward), I am grateful for these things and more. I posted this list next to my computer where I’ll see it first—and last—thing every day.