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Manuscripts: What to do When Your Backups Fail

on September 9, 2011 in Indie Publishing Basics
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I ought to be declared the queen of the tech gremlins given how much time they like to spend around me. If you didn't catch my Twitter rants, I recently had my server hacked (this site was fine). As soon as that was settled, my laptop hard drive died. The data was not recoverable. Of course, things weren't backed up as recently as they should have been.

I had two indie publishing projects in the works saved to that machine.

  1. A full nonfiction manuscript.
  2. The first chapter of a novel, both an original and edited version.

The novel edits were lost. Fortunately it was only one chapter, based on beta reader feedback. I can handle new edits on one chapter. And that beta reader still had a copy of the original, so that was preserved.

I was far more concerned about the nonfiction book manuscript. I did have a backup of this file on a flash drive. That drive worked very recently. But when I went to restore that backup in another computer system, the drive failed. Yes. My backup -- the copy that's supposed to save my ass when (not if) the main system crashes -- failed. The drive somehow became corrupted.

There was one copy of this manuscript left -- the print copy where I'm making edits. The thought of retyping hundreds of pages of content had me wanting to scream, cry, and let loose some maniacal laugher all at once. But okay. At least all wasn't lost. And my sister agreed to help me re-type the manuscript if I needed her to (I'd hire her of course).

I decided to make one last ditch effort to restore the flash drive files. I was extremely fortunate. While the file system was f*d, the files themselves still existed on the drive. There are two free tools I sometimes use for situations like this.

  1. Recuva
  2. Photorec

These darling little applications can help you find and resurrect lost and deleted files. Hell. I recently deleted files from an SD card from a trip and stored them on my now-dead laptop. Recuva helped me find and restore those files from the card, even though they were intentionally deleted. I'm in love with these tools.

So the next time you accidentally delete the latest version of a manuscript or something happens to your drive, don't give up hope too quickly. Try these tools and see if they can help you recover your data. I'd give you the same old spiel: backup, backup, backup! (Boy do I hate hearing that.) But then what happens when your backups crap out on you? Now you know.

Thanks for sharing!
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8 Comments

  1. Tracey September 9, 2011 Reply

    Yikes! Did you get the files off the stick? There are also programs that will scan printed copies of text that could help perhaps. At least it would save all that typing again!

    Tracey.

    • Jennifer Mattern September 9, 2011 Reply

      Yes. I was able to save the full nonfiction manuscript from the corrupted flash drive. :)

      Honestly I’d probably be able to type it again faster than scanning each page and dealing with possible errors from the OCR software (have a scanner and such to do that if I really need to for shorter documents). My manuscript is also being edited, so much of it contains scratches, handwritten notes, changes, and other marks that might have made the OCR option a bit tougher in this case.

  2. Cathy Miller September 14, 2011 Reply

    Wow-what a great find. I had no idea there were these kind of tools. Thanks for sharing them, Jenn.

    And may your gremlins find some other haunting ground – as long as it’s not mine :-D

    • Jennifer Mattern September 14, 2011 Reply

      I tend to forget about tools like these until I desperately need them.

      As for my gremlins, I wouldn’t wish them on you. So no worries Cathy! :)

  3. Lori September 22, 2011 Reply

    You’re not the first writer I’ve heard of who’s lost hard drives and backups at the same time. It’s freaked me out enough that I back up to an online source, too. Problem is, am I backing up enough?

    Maybe send copies around to family, or maybe pay for more online backup. But these two tools are also great for when we forget. Because hey, we all forget until it’s too late. :)

    • Jennifer Mattern September 22, 2011 Reply

      That’s the problem with any kind of backup. They can fail just like your original drive can. And if it’s been around just as long, you need to be extra careful. Those portable flash drives and such can get knocked around and corrupted and you’re SOL if you’re counting on them. I have one on my keychain now, another on my desk, 4 hard drives, and the option of emailing important files so a backup stays on my server because I leave email there for now. I’m not comfortable using third party backups. I prefer the added privacy of my own servers (although if someone doesn’t want to do that, there’s certainly nothing wrong with backup services). I just need to get better about disc backups. I haven’t used them in a while. But having to setup the new system and restore the resurrected office one, boy was I lucky to have those old ones. Plenty of older business files and programs were backed up that way in years past. I was lucky the media even worked anymore w/ all the scratches on those babies. I’ll need to backup my backups soon I guess.

  4. Bryce January 24, 2012 Reply

    Two Words: Sugar Sync. It’s a great backup solution that will automatically backup your stuff to their online servers. Very safe and secure, and you get 5gb of free storage. Or, if you use Linux, try Dropbox. Also great.

    • Jennifer Mattern January 25, 2012 Reply

      Thanks for the suggestions Bryce. Personally I prefer local backups to online ones (given past experience with several of those companies). But those could be great options for other authors. :)

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