For the past few years, I’ve been fortunate enough to write about one of my passions: the game of hoops. As a contributor for Vantage Sports, a basketball analytics company, I got the opportunity to analyze NBA games and statistics. Near the end of 2013, I was able to expand my coverage to the college game by writing several articles for the basketball apparel brand Hoop Culture.
Around that time, I learned a very valuable lesson about freelancing.
In the offseason, Hoop Culture’s blog was largely put on hold as the company decided to retool the entire website. When I was finally able to access the site again, I started to feel a pit in my stomach, which soon grew to a full-blown panic. I could not find my articles, links to my articles, or any evidence that I ever wrote anything for the brand.
It had never occurred to me that whomever was overhauling the site might find my work disposable to the brand’s vision moving forward. However, once I got over the panic, I turned my attention to how I could protect myself from being in this position in the future.
The good news is that I was eventually able to locate my articles buried deep within the site. But because they were essentially copied and pasted from the former site, all the social shares had been erased. One of my articles, about former Arizona State point guard Jahii Carson, had received almost 400 likes. And knowing I had lost all of these social engagements, which could have helped persuade editors to give me work in the future, was extremely discouraging.
It was an important learning experience that as time goes by, links break, sites get redesigned, and articles have the potential to be lost altogether. While many writers may forget about a story once it goes live and take it for granted that the clip will always be available, taking steps to save and copy your work is extremely important. Here are a few ways to protect yourself.
1. Take a screenshot
Once your article has been live for a week or two, take a screenshot to get the social shares on record. In most cases, likes and retweets should slow down by then, so you’ll have an accurate snapshot of social reach for your piece in case something happens. You probably only have to do this for pieces that rack up a significant amount of shares—anything over 100 is a good benchmark.
Sending a screenshot to an editor might be a little unconventional, but if you can’t use a hyperlink to one of your clips, it’s better to send something than nothing at all.
2. Reach out to editors
If you see a site going through a redesign, you should immediately ask an editor if your work will survive. Most publications will archive your work, but as I know firsthand, that archived copy may be missing some important details.
If your work gets altered, try to set up a separate link that only contains your work. Maybe the company you work for will be nice enough to address your concerns. You’ll never know if you don’t ask, and by being proactive, you may be able to keep your work intact and online.
3. Save everything
Once a piece goes live, our first impulse might be to delete it from our hard drives. Even though the article is not taking up much space, hitting delete can be cathartic. DO NOT do this, because you never know when you might need a backup.
The same rule applies if your clip is in print. The first thing you should do with any print clip is upload the article as a PDF file to your computer and, if permitting, your portfolio. After all, newspapers get thrown out, dogs get hungry, etc. It would be a shame if you couldn’t show someone the best piece you ever had published just because you didn’t take a minute to scan your work.
4. Create a blog
A lot of writers have negative perceptions about blogging because they think it’s an unnecessary investment of time to publish something for no money that may never get read by more than a few people. But even if you don’t write original pieces for your blog, setting one up to archive your work is pretty easy on WordPress, Tumblr, Blogger, or any number of other free platforms. In addition to your portfolio, this is also a great place to store your work. Or if you don’t have a portfolio, your blog can act as a makeshift replacement.
[Editor’s note: Shameless plug, you can also create a free Contently portfolio here.]
Although my experience with Hoop Culture was somewhat unpleasant, I’m glad it happened because it made me conscious of how ephemeral writing can be on the Internet. I was ultimately able to rescue a version of my work, and from then on, I’ve always saved extra copies of my articles just in case. And I strongly recommend you do the same.