Writing a novel is like running a marathon. You train and train, conditioning your body through smaller “fun” runs as you gradually build up some confidence and stamina. Then it is the day of the event, the thing you have been training toward for the last several weeks if not months. A crowd surrounds you. Their excitement is contagious. “See you on the other side!” and “Let’s do this!” You are anxious, but anything is possible. You take off.
Then, six miles later or so, you see that the course contains a hill (not to mention another ~twenty miles) and you start questioning why in the world you ever thought this was a novel idea (pun intended). You start contemplating veering off with the half marathoners, but that still means you have to somehow find it in you to run another ~seven miles. Ugh.
At this point, you realize you are thoroughly outta luck, so you might as well keep putting one foot in front of the other.
You adjust your pace and trick your mind into ignoring things like mile markers while instead focusing on smaller, more achievable goals. I just have to make it to that street sign or the next water station without walking. You look around and see spectator signs like “If this were easy, it would be called your mom,” or “remember you paid for this.” You’d laugh if it didn’t make you wheeze (or puke), but it is exactly the reminder you needed.
You may not get a spot on the podium, but you know that as long as you finish, even if you wind up crawling across the line, you are still getting a medal for your effort. It hurts to go forward, but you also know it just might kill you at this point to go back empty-handed.
I am at the base of that hill with my current work in process. Day job, illness, and life in general, knocked me off schedule. Even worse, as much as I want to push my characters forward, they seem equally determined to catch their breath. I am tempted to write in some zombies or talking animals from another dimension just to mix it up, except I’m pretty sure I would ultimately have to cut the scene out. I can feel my will to continue begin to be tested (oh, why didn’t I set out to write a short story, or at most, a novella?) But as starting another project (with zombies… no…, dragon zombies… from space!) or taking an indefinite hiatus (don’t even think it) are equally unacceptable options, I’ve come to the realization that it is time to start utilizing the tricks that kept me motivated two times before. It is time to pull out the signs.
In my case, that usually means mocking up a cover or two as I have an easier time visualizing my goal if I have an idea of what it might look like when I cross the finish line. Which brings me to cover design.
I am always on the lookout for ways to improve any aspect of my authorprenuerism and recently watched a special on the topic of something called the golden ratio, 1.618, or phi. Supposedly this near mystic ratio can be found among plants and shells almost as if the natural world was actually planned by mathematics. It is repeated in architecture such as the Parthenon and its proportions found in art like the Mona Lisa.
To create it, you draw a rectangle (one size is 1x, the other side is 0.618x). Then while keeping the rectangle’s proportions the same, rotate and resize the rectangle so that its longest side now fits within its shortest side (or… you can simply find a ready-made golden ratio template on the internet).
Its use is also suggested to be a form of mind manipulation. There are those in the marketing world who believe that design based on this ratio is also more appealing to consumers that designs that do not. Intrigued, I decided to first test out how well my existing covers conformed to this ratio.
According to the theory, a consumer’s eyes are expected to naturally follow a line of curvature within the golden rectangle. The rectangles should then act as a guide for the placement of design elements.
I was somewhat shocked but overall pleased to see that both of my covers roughly fit within the design rules I hadn’t previously known existed. For example, if the theory is true, a would-be reader’s eye is drawn to the chasm beneath the woman in An Uncertain Faith suggesting my main character’s trying situation while on The Fair & Foul, a reader’s eyes are drawn to my name which will help achieve brand recognition.
Of course there are others who believe that the golden ratio is purely a myth or that there are other more appealing rectangle sizes, but considering how important cover design can be to the success of a book, it is definitely something I will be keeping in mind moving forward.
And move forward I will.