Bugout Tips for Authors

Bugout tips for authorsAre you ready for disaster to hit your family? Most people aren’t. I live in California, a place blessed with world-class beaches and a climate that lets us enjoy them almost year-round. Plus we have rugged mountains and huge tracks of still wild landscape. It’s been the home state of renowned writers and the setting of spectacular literary classics and memorable films.

Current fire map
Week of September 14, 2015: Current Fire Map

It’s also known for intense wildfire. Almost every year, major fires will consuming hundreds of thousands of acres of the state’s beauty, and homes right along with it.

I live in a mountain community. I accept the fact that I live in fire danger. Each year I sit down with my husband to revise and update our evacuation plan, or bugout plan. My bugout plan is a list of the steps and items I need to take if firefighters ordered my family to leave our home. Fleeing under an evacuation order is never easy, and few people are ready for a catastrophic event. Many end up lingering in their homes too long. Or going back in to save possessions. Both are dangerous mistakes!

As writers we often think if we have our laptops we’re good to go. But what happens if fire or flood takes out your home while you’re at work? Or at the movies? Or picking your kids up from school? Will you still be fine? And would your laptop truly hold enough of your important data to save your career from taking a huge beating? Chances are: No!

I’ve put together a list of the four things every writer needs to have ready in case of emergency. This list will not replace getting out your pets, photos and family heirlooms, but if you follow my tips you will be in better shape when a big old pile of nasty weather decides to knock down your front door.

  1. Copies of all writing projects:

    Have you backed up everything? If not, get on it. Backing up is not only a great practice for emergency contingencies, it’s critical for computer failure. Last year Callie Armstrong wrote about her laptop crash, and you can read her pain here! Don’t let this happen to you. There are many ways to safeguard your data, but for disaster preparedness you will want a set of files in a remote location. I use, among other things, Dropbox. There is also Google Docs, and a host of other cloud based systems. Redundancy is the best way to prevent losing your work. Update regularly! If you can’t remember to do this, then buy a service that does it for you, like Carbonite.

  2. Traditionally published writers need:

    All publishing and/or agent contracts stored in hard copy form. You should have a primary set in your safe deposit box or home fire safe, and a second set at a remote location. Sure, your agents and publishers has copies of these documents too, but in the event of a dispute between the two of you, how fast do you think they’ll delivery a copy to your lawyer’s office? Not to mention that small presses change hands and agents change jobs. What if your contract gets lost in the shuffle and no one notices until you need a copy? Having a copy of your publishing contract might be the only way you’ll know how to buy back your copyright in the event your publisher folds and/or sells their assets (your book) to another publisher.

  3. Indie authors will also need:
    These important papers stored in two safe locations.

    ISBN paperwork
    Copyright documentation
    Agreements for royalty sharing with co-writers, and/or audio book producers
    Ghostwriting agreements
    Book marketing and/distribution contracts
    Confidentially agreements
    Release paperwork from models and/or artists for all cover photos and artwork
    High quality digital copies of your logos or branding artwork
    Copies of your author head shots, or publicity stills
    Contracts with independent book sellers
    Documents related to unpaid or disputed royalties
    Any rights or options held by media companies
    Copies of important book reviews and endorsements
    Don’t forget your blog data files
    E-pub and print version style sheets for each book and/or series

    Being a self published writer means you can’t rely on anyone else to keep your publishing empire running. Some of these items are difficult to replace, while others will cost you dearly if you need to replace them.


  4. Passwords:
    After a disaster hits, life goes on and data access is still going to be king. If you’re paying attention to your online safety, you’ve created a host of user names and passwords that are strange hybrids of letters and numbers. They’re so tricky a hacker would never guess them. And you can’t remember more than a handful of them without the printed list you have taped to the underside of a file drawer. Passwords are notoriously hard to back up, you don’t want to carry a list of them around. Nor do you want to store them on your laptop, the target of every smash and grab thief. And you shouldn’t trust them to cloud storage. I recommend giving a copy of your password file to a trusted relative. Depending on how trustworthy that person is you can always give them the file on an encrypted thumb drive. Just make sure that password to the thumb drive is something you will never forget, or things could get ugly.

Encrypted flash drive for web

Of course there will always be people who don’t worry about the future. They assume the best is sure to come and they live their life accordingly. For those writers I recommend you put together one of the alternative bugout bags created by the good folks at Writer’s Digest. This is the bag for horror writers – enjoy! Horror

Contained fires from Summer 2015
Summer 2015: The statewide fire activity to date.

Remember my four tips are specific to authors and they shouldn’t replace a full bugout plan. Once you have these items together, take or send them as far away from your home location as you can while still keeping them secure. Mine, along with backups copies of my photos and home movies of my kids growing up, are with a family member who lives 800 miles away. If a disaster strikes in my area it’s improbable, if not impossible (see map) that their area would also be affected.

I sleep better at night knowing I can give my full attention to providing for the safety of my family in an emergency, without sacrificing every word I’ve ever written in the process.

What about you? Have you ever faced a disaster? What did you grab first?

Author: Robin Rivera

Robin trained as a professional historian and worked as a museum curator, an educator and historical consultant. She writes dark young adult fiction, with diverse characters. She's currently querying a novel, and working on two new manuscripts that started off as NaNoWriMo projects. You can follow her on Facebook(https://www.facebook.com/robin.rivera.90813) or on Twitter @robinrwrites. However, Pinterest (https://www.pinterest.com/RRWrites/) is where her inner magpie is happiest of all.

9 thoughts on “Bugout Tips for Authors”

    1. Thanks, Diane.
      True! You just never know what will happen, and it takes time to pull things together in an emergency. Time you might not have. Or time that could be used in a better way, like by helping your neighbors. It feels good knowing I’m prepared.

    1. Hi Faith,
      You pretty much can’t find a place in California that was untouched by fire this summer. The two largest fires as of today, are the Butte and the Valley. The Valley is burning in Lake County. It’s already burned some 70,000 acres, and a few towns to the ground. They say it’s one of the most destructive fires in California history.

      The Butte Fire is burning in Amador & Calaveras Counties and is about 40% contained. But it’s already managed to spread over 65,000 acres, so it’s a big one.

      There is another big fire in the Shasta – Trinity wilderness, and a few smaller ones in the Six Rivers area, pretty close to Mad River from what I gather. The Yosemite fire is mostly out and stayed small, only about 500 acres. I’m not sure how well you know the State geography so this might not help you at all.

      If you want to stay updated, one of the best sources of information at this point is most likely: Cal Fire http://www.fire.ca.gov/
      They’ve been amazing about updating the feeds on Facebook and Twitter.

      The fire near my home is thankful a small one, just 900 acres and is already 40% contained. Still it’s been a pretty scary summer for us. I know I speak for everyone when I say we’re thrill with the rain (and dusting of high elevation snow) we’re getting today. It should help the fire fighters make some much needed headway on putting these fire put down. : )

  1. this is really great advice. I need to make my projects a whole lot more redundant. My books and works-in-progress are all on an external hard drive, but if the hard drive went — YIKES!!. Thanks for the reminder.

    1. Backing up your files is always a good idea. I’m glad my post reminded you to make some copies and get those lovely words protected.

  2. Outstanding article Robin. Having a plan is crucial, especially in an emergency when you don’t have time to stop and think. I love the idea of having copies of everything some other place. If you do not have that luxury, I recommend a good fire safe. I use both Dropbox and Evernote to back up my writing, notes, etc.

    1. Hi Shawn,
      Unfortunately, the fires we’ve been having this summer are fire safe melters. : ( Keeping spare copies of important papers in secondary location just makes good sense. I’m glad you’re already using Dropbox, at least your book projects are safe.

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