Protecting Your Work Before And After Printing

The business of publishing is all about intellectual property. When new authors and publishers talk about protecting their work, they are usually referring to copyright protection or trademarks, but there's another type of protection that often gets forgotten. In the software trade, it's called version or configuration control, and it's a combination of back-up regimen and carefully identifying what you've saved. It's just as important for publishers to maintain version control, which I'll illustrate with a couple examples.

Even the largest trade publishers make plenty of mistakes, so they often ask the author to carefully read a published book from the first print run so they can fix any typos that got past all the pre-press checks for later printings. I found a number of such typos in the last edition of a book I author for McGraw-Hill, and sent them in. The errors were fixed in the second printing, but reappeared in a later printing. Since that book went through a dozen printings, I didn't check them all, but it was clear that either somebody at McGraw-Hill lost track of which file was which, or they were using a couple different printers who had different versions of the files.

The next two examples are from my self publishing experiences. I used a contract designer for my first couple self published books because I lacked the confidence to do it myself. With the second book he designed for me, he took it upon himself to do a little proofreading as he did the layout, right in Quark. The result is that I don't have a Word file with the exact text of my published book! I don't know if he found some genuine typos or was tweaking my writing style in tiny ways to suit his fancy, but it's darn annoying not having the exact text should I want to do a new edition.

Another example is this three foot square poster I generated three years ago from flowcharts in another book of mine. About a year after I published it, I saw some bits I wanted to update, but I couldn't find the original vector drawing. I went through all of my back-up CDs, searched the hard drives of the computers I was using at that time, to no avail. Apparently, when I was cleaning up not long after publishing the poster, I deleted the original drawing! Here I'm writing CD's on a regular basis to protect my work, and I managed to lose the original, so it can't be updated without a great deal of work.

Besides recording CD's several times a year with all of my working files, I'm very careful about saving works in progress every day I write. My favorite method is to e-mail the working file as an attachment to my Yahoo! account, and letting several days worth build up there before I start deleting the oldest. That way, you don't just get an offsite copy of the work that you can access from any Internet connected computer, you also get several clearly dated versions so you can revert to an older copy if you make some horrendous formatting error that's too labor intensive to correct. I also use my own website to publish draft versions of my writing as I go along. It's a great way to get feedback before you publish and to start building traffic that will help promote the published book.

In summary, copyright is important, but you generally don't register a copyright until you arrive at your best version of a work, so protecting that work during the creative process is also key. I may even do the e-mail attachment thing twice in a day if I'm working hard. Keeping copies on your hard drive for version control is OK, but it's not protecting you from fire, theft or hardware failure, so you're just asking to have to start writing the whole book again from the beginning.

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