Tips for Designing Your NaNoWriMo Book Cover

October 24, 2014

Most of you probably aren't looking to buy a cover for something you haven't written yet. For the sake of creativity and inspiration for those forthcoming 50K+ words, why not create one yourself? Here are a few tips I'd like to share about creating a book cover to use on the NaNoWriMo website.

1. Images. I know this cover is just for fun, but I'd strongly suggest that you not use images you found somewhere on the internet. Even though you're not using the book cover for commercial purposes, you're putting an unauthorized, edited version of the image online—and the original artist or photographer might not take kindly to what you've done with their work. Consider using a plain background, a photo you took, a photo from a copyright-free site (which is still not without risk), or a photo that you do have permission to modify for personal use. I know this is going to limit your options, but copyright infringement is a can of worms you don't want to open.

2. Text. In this case, it's acceptable to download and use free fonts listed either as "personal use only" (and of course "OK for Commercial Use") because you will not profit from their usage in any way and you're not modifying the fonts themselves. Choose fonts and colors that are easy to read at thumbnail size for both your title and name. (I'd avoid using red on black in particular—I see that too often and it's aggravating as hell to read. High contrast is where it's at, yo!) Don't cover up the focal point of your cover art; similarly, don't hide your text at the very top or bottom edge of the cover or place it in an area with a complicated/"busy" background. Avoid stretching words to fill empty space as well.

3. Theme. When choosing an image for your cover, you need to know what the novel is, at its core, really about. You don't necessarily need to find an image that reflects a specific scene or object; instead, think about any major themes present in your story. Is there a color or symbol that's culturally associated with that theme? For example, the color white suggests innocence and purity—so if your main character is young/fragile/coming of age, using the image of a white object or animal will likely bring these associations to mind. (Some other examples include red as a symbol of power and authority, a chessboard pawn as a symbol of man versus larger power, and sunglasses to suggest that the main character is secretive and/or 'puts on a face'.)

4. Simplicity. For the love of pizza, don't use drop shadow and gradients and textures and beveling, don't put your images through a marathon of photo processors, and don't try to blend multiple images together with insufficient software. Less is more. I know this is cover is just for fun and everything, but think about it—will you find looking at the cover to be particularly fun if it looks like a Monday morning? If you decide to self-publish and do your own cover, showing restraint here will help build some good habits for when you're making the real thing. (Or you could, ehem, hire me.)

Ex: Simplicity is good, mmkay?

I've created a couple of image files to help you design your NaNoWriMo book cover. The first is a gray  230x300px JPG file, as those are the dimensions specified for book covers on the NaNoWriMo website. To use this, simply save it to your desktop and build your design over it your editing program of choice. If the required cover's odd width irks you, skip this: I have a workaround of sorts that will allow you to display your cover at a more 'typical' size.

If you want to design and use a narrow cover on the NaNoWriMo website, use this 5x8" JPG instead as the base of your design. (You'll need to continue on to the next step once you're done.)

This is a partially transparent PNG file. To use this file, save it to your computer and load it into your editing program of choice. It's important that you can export the file as a PNG file—if you export it as anything else (such as a JPG), it will lose its transparency. (I recommend using Fotoflexer for this.)

Import your book cover and stretch it over the gray area of the PNG, leaving the transparent area clear. Once you've done this, save the file and upload it to the NaNoWriMo website.

If you want your book cover to be centered rather than offset to the left, use this PNG file instead.

If everything went as planned, your book cover will look something like this:

It looks wonky, but it shouldn't be a problem—this module will only show up on your personal dashboard.

Please share your covers with me—I'd love to see them!

Five Necessities for the #50K5DAYS Challenge

October 23, 2014

As if NaNoWriMo wasn't hard enough already, a group of us decided to up the 'cray' factor—instead of the usual thirty day goal, we decided to do it in five.  (Yes, that's right—the #50K5DAYS challenge requires writing 10,000 words per day for five days straight. Egads!)

So, should you do it? Let's find out! Here are my top five necessities for completing #50K5DAYS.

1. Speed. I'm talking dexterity, not drugs (heh)—to successfully complete #50K5DAYS, you need to be able to type quickly. There's no getting around that. If you can't commit your thoughts to digital paper at break-neck speeds, the odds of hitting 10K a day aren't great. There's nothing wrong with having a slower typing speed; I just want to warn you ahead of time that it's essential to have a mastery of it for this challenge. Similarly, the ability to make shit up on the fly real fast is also critical. Even if you're a fast typist, that skill won't save you if production at ye old Novel-Writer's Bullshit Emporium can't keep a similar pace.

2. Overachieve. The excitement of  NaNoWriMo is in full force on November 1st, so use those first-day jitters to your advantage and blow past 10K. You'll need that cushion for the days ahead when you're fatigued and questioning why you committed to this asinine challenge in the first place. (I wrote 16K on November 1st last year and I swear that made all the difference. )

3. Commit. Declare your intentions everywhere and to anyone who will listen. The more people you tell, the more obligated you'll feel to follow through with the challenge. Even though you don't need to prove anything to anyone, prove it anyway. Prove that you're a badass who thinks with their fingers and gets shit done and sticks to their word. (Above all, prove this to yourself!)

4. Time. If you don't have a lot of it, this will be about as fun as getting kicked in the shin by a pissed-off little kid fifty thousand times in a row. Writing 10,000 words a day requires substantial chunks of free time, so don't beat yourself up if you're working and raising kids and can't for the life of you make it to 10K by the end of the day. Consider your schedule and day-to-day demands carefully and remind yourself that while you are quite awesome indeed, there may not realistically be enough time in your day to do #50K5DAYS. Real life challenges come first; don't throw arbitrary shit like this in the mix if it's going to make you miserable.

5. Chutzpah. I think this speaks for itself—writing a novel requires dedication. With a timed challenge like NaNoWriMo or #50K5DAYS, that dedication has to get competitive and amped up on steroids, STAT. Yes, I am indeed encouraging you to embrace your competitive edge (no matter how big or small it may be) and use it to your advantage. Aim to beat the daily word counts of friends and strangers, track your time meticulously, and push yourself to write efficiently and not too shabbily with each word sprint. Don't be afraid to brag about your accomplishments via social media either; you're working hard and have every right to celebrate the goals you've met and the things you've created.

The intimate (and seemingly ENDLESS hours) spent with your novel during this challenge is worth it in the long run. For right now,  though, this challenge is for YOU. It's for you to prove to yourself that you are an awesome human being who can push through obstacles and fatigue and get shit done. I don't care if you're writing 50K in a day, a month, or a year—what matters is that you committed to do something incredibly challenging and followed through. YOU DID IT.

You wrote the first draft of a novel and you did it fast. You shattered your comfort zone and accomplished what once seemed impossible. You, my friend, are a writer.

Five days is an arbitrary number; like with any challenge, it's going to be too fast, too slow, or just right depending on the circumstances shaping your life.  Whether or not the #50K5DAYS challenge is right for you, make yourself accountable to whatever challenge you choose and announce your intentions boldly. Push yourself to your limits and enjoy the feeling of accomplishment that follows. It's a high like no other and I promise you'll never forget the feeling for as long as you live.

And hey, you'll even get the first draft of a novel out of it.

Style Your USB Drive for NaNoWriMo (2014 Edition)

October 22, 2014

This is a re-hashed version of my 2013 NaNoWriMo USB drive post (which was, awesomely enough, featured in NaNoWriMo's procrastination station. Whoa!).

Back up your work.

Every year, too many writers lose the one and only copy of their novels due to computer malfunctions, unfortunate accidents, and novel-stealing gnomes. Fortunately, you can avoid losing your manuscript by frequently backing up to multiple locations. (Use two or three from this post for maximum security.) Today, I'm going to show you Mac users how to set up a super cool USB drive for NaNoWriMo. (If you're using a PC, follow this tutorial instead.)

Most of you will have only one Novel folder on your USB drive. I have three because I'm working on three novels next month. (Egads!)

This set-up utilizes custom folder icons and custom folder backgrounds. With the Finder window in question open, press command + J to open the Visual Organization panel (shown above). Select "Picture" under "Background" and drag your desired image file into the square. You can also adjust the size of your icons with the "Icon Size" sliding bar.

Here's what one of the Novel folders looks like on the inside. (This image is from last year's tutorial, BTW. The interior folder layouts haven't changed!)

Because I planned to (and did!) write the first 50K of this book in five days, I went ahead and created back-up folders ahead of time. In an ideal world, you'll back up your novel to at least one location every single day. Overkill? Of course, but you're better off being safe rather than sorry! (And trust me—people who lose their novels are VERY sorry. Like, sobbing while screaming WHY sorry. Don't be that kind of sorry.)

Optional Folders:

  • Outline: Store a copy of your outline here (if applicable).
  • Accomplishments: Received a nice compliment? Have screenshots of your progress bar after a long day of writing? Back those up here.
  • Rewards: Use this tutorial to create a "listing" for any and all rewards you plan to treat yourself to. Going to buy yourself a NaNo t-shirt after hitting 50K? Create an icon that takes you to the t-shirt's listing in the NaNo store. Want to take a long nature walk at 25K? Simply drag and drop a picture of a nature trail!
  • Pre-NaNo Draft (not pictured): If you're a NaNo rebel and are picking up where you left off on an already in-progress manuscript, keep a copy of your pre-November draft in this folder for reference and safekeeping.

You can download all of this (background files, icons, etc) in a .zip file (3.6 MB) via Google Drive by clicking here

Note that if your flash drive is formatted for Windows, you will need to go to Utilities>Disk Utility and "Erase" the content of your USB drive in order for these tricks to work. I recommend doing this only if the USB drive is brand new or if you have made copies of the USB drive's existing content. Be sure to select "Mac OS Extended (Journal) from the drop-down list of options.

To learn how to customize the appearance of any folder on your Mac, watch the following video tutorial. (Excerpted from this post.)

1. Select the folder you would like to change the appearance of and press command + i.
2. Open your desired folder icon image.
3. Press command + a to select the entire image.
4. Press command + c to copy.
5. Select the folder icon in the information panel.
6. Press command + v. Voila!

For more tips (including a snazzy Novel folder and Agent Directory), check out my Visual Organization Series.

Have a smashing NaNoWriMo 2014, you guys!