Protecting Yourself Online

Writers depend on our computers a lot. You just can’t be a writer these days without a computer and internet access. You don’t the latest or greatest, but you do need a computer with proper internet connection.

Which means you also need your freaking computer to not die. Honestly, if you want to strike fear in the hearts of a writer, kill their computer while they’re working on a project.

And, since most writers are low on cash, you need to maintain your computer so that you don’t need to replace it.

Here are some lessons that I’ve learned over the years when it comes to computer care. I’m also including some basic online safety information for writers in general, to help you avoid scams.

Note: I am a regular person. I don’t have any sort of degree in computers. These are just things that I have learned from experience, and I’m not in any way saying that doing these things will always protect you from computer viruses all the time. Sometimes hackers get in. Please take these suggestions with that in mind.

Clear your cache and cookies.

If you’re unsure how to do this for your browser of choice, you can google step by step instructions. You want to do this once a month, or really any time your browser’s being slow. Be warned, though, you’re going to lose all of your saved password information on any site where you’ve selected ‘Keep Me Signed In’. Do it anyway, just make sure you have your passwords first.

Have multiple browsers on your computer.

While we’re discussing your browser, I’d suggest having at least two on your computer. Sometimes websites aren’t on speaking terms with some browsers for whatever reason. Sometimes you find out that Firefox freezes up every time you try to copy a link to a WordPress post so you have to use Edge.

Have two browsers, is what I’m saying.

Back it up twice.

Here’s something else you should have two of. Backups for your important documents. Like, for instance, your manuscripts. I use Dropbox, but I also save all of my manuscripts on a flash drive. Why do we do this? Because nothing is 100% and flash drives are next to nothing to buy. Dropbox is free for limited space and sometimes flash drives break. So do yourself a favor and save your stuff twice.

If you have a launch day or any other event where you need to have an internet connection, be prepared with an Ethernet connection. Don’t depend on wireless unless you have to.

Wireless is wonderful, but it can be spotty. All sorts of things can mess with it like the location of your router, other people around you on the same wireless channel or weird signals coming off of your microwave. (No, I’m not joking.)

So if you have a day when you know it’s going to be catastrophic if you lose the internet, directly connect to your modem.

Run a virus scan at least once a month. No, the auto scan your anti-virus performed is not good enough.

Yes, if you have an anti-virus it does do an auto scan. No, it’s not the same as running a scan yourself. I’d advise doing it once a month, the same as clearing out your cache. This is something that I do on the first day of every month, right along with backing up my manuscripts on DropBox and on a flash drive.

An anti-virus and a firewall are not the same things.

I hear this all the time, so let me break it down for you.

An anti-virus’s job is to keep viruses from getting onto your computer from bad sites or other bugs. A firewall is intended to keep other people (hackers) from accessing your network and devices. If you’re wondering, yes you need both.

Don’t call phone numbers that appear on popups, or click on them.

If a pop-up appears on your screen, don’t click on it. If it asks you to call a number, don’t do it. Popups are never your friends; they are almost always scammers attempting to get information from you. Just don’t do it.

Always check Predators and Editors.

I think this one goes without saying, but just in case no one’s told you, I will. If you’re submitting writing, before you send anything to anyone, check out their name through Predators and Editors. I can’t tell you how many bad situations this site has saved me from. Just check it, trust me.

And the Better Business Bureau.

This one is for just about everything. If you get a weird email that doesn’t seem kosher, run the company through the BBB. If you’re considering doing business with someone, check the BBB. If someone claims that you owe them money, check the BBB. There are scams out there that claim to be from old landlords or utilities. Just make sure you double check before you send someone money.

Any agent or publishing company that asks you for money up front is not legitimate.

Again, I feel like somewhere along the lines we’re all told this. But I might be the first person to tell you this. No legitimate agent or publisher will ask a writer for any money up front. Flat out, if they ask you for money, they’re not legit. Agents and publishers make money from your writing, end of story. They make money from your work, not from you.

If your computer doesn’t automatically update, update it often.

This is something else I used to do on the first day of the month, but I have Windows 10 now and it updates for me. Whenever it wants to, even if I’m in the middle of something. This is frustrating as hell, but at least I don’t have to update Adobe Flash Player every other week. I swear you’ve got to update that the way you buy milk.

Computers need to be taken care of, just like anything else. So if you don’t want to quite suddenly lose a year’s worth of work in a heartbeat, or have your computer crash hours before a deadline, you’ve got to take care of it.

By the way, I want to let you guys know that as of April 27th, you’ll be able to get both Station 86 books in one volume. It’s going to be available in e-book form, of course, but it’s also available in paperback. (Yay!) Both options will be available on Amazon, or if you see me at a live event.

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