Are Trends Really a Novelist’s Friends?

Will hashtags help or hurt Too Much Information?

When I first decided to focus on submitting novels, I assumed that trends were my friends. With all the #MSWL listings asking for them, I tried to write using strong female voices; because they dominated Young Adult fiction, I tried to create paranormal characters. By the time I had written revision after revision, though, I found that agents were already looking for LGBQ voices instead, and that the teenage obsession with friendly monsters had given way to the Dystopias that had probably always lived inside them. In other words, writing to trends was as often harmful to my chances as it might have been helpful.

KatnissVsBella

Katniss made us forget Bella, but neither are trending now.

How do we judge, then, whether something trendy will serve to enhance an agency query or just give it a shelf life? By the time my editor, Matthew Bird, gave me the tools I needed to craft my sixth revision of Too Much Information, the novel already had plenty of trends in it. It features a teenage girl, after all, who awakens from a coma able to see that everyone around her is a ‘Bully’ or a ‘Misogynist’ or a ‘Murderer,’ just by looking in their eyes. The novel is a murder mystery, but about a super-power that Jessica feels is a curse. It has girl-power. It has wacky sidekicks. It has threats from the darkest corners of our real-life fears, and teenage protagonists learning to face them.

It was about to get a whole lot trendier, though: some say too trendy.

This came about when Sandra and Justine Fluck, editors of The Write Launch and bookscover2cover, were amused or intrigued or possibly just kind enough to feature Chapter 3 in their February issue. Features mean readers, and readers mean more ideas, so when one of my most frequent supporters read the chapter, she asked a question that was as simple and powerful as the idea behind it. ‘

HashtagSand

How long before the tide of trending washes away hashtags?

Angela Mackintosh asked me, “Why don’t you use hashtags instead?”

Suddenly, Jessica isn’t seeing a ‘Misogynist,’ she’s seeing a #Misogynist. She doesn’t need to catch a murderer, she needs to catch a #Murderer. Suddenly, the very same novel has become book one of the #Tagged series. With very little revision, Angela’s suggestion gelled the concept’s clarity all at once, thrusting the characters into a world that is just as disorienting, but also one that is much more familiar. A publisher at Women on Writing, Angela channelled her passion for supporting writers to give my ideas the tiny shift that would ensure they can’t lose.

NancyDrew.jpg

Anyone remember when Nancy Drew was trending? One of my characters does.

Or can they? Some would disagree. What I didn’t know about novels, when I started out, is that they are always a collaboration. The list of people involved in developing TMI goes on and on: my friend Danica suggested the title, my friend Alison proofread twice, and every revision I made was at least partly inspired by other people’s suggestions. The thing is, those people don’t all like the hashtags. Some of these stakeholders worry that hashtags are already going out of fashion, and will soon be so passé to teenagers that my target audience may not want to pick up my book.

So, what do we do, fellow novelists? I’d love to see your comments. Do we write timeless classics that can never be dated, or do we move as quickly as we can to incorporate trends for a purpose? How can we tell which trends are our friends?

How can we tell which trend will spell our novel’s end?

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6 thoughts on “Are Trends Really a Novelist’s Friends?

  1. I’m so thrilled to hear of your novel and all of the positive feedback you have been getting. As this is not a genre I read much, my two cents may have much merit. Having said that, I do know that writing for your audience is one of the recommendations you here from the experts a lot. You see in the movies all the time. Something happens, and before you know it, a movie is in theatres. Right now, superheroes are all the rage and not just with young people. I think if you can capitalize on what’s trending and get a book to market, it stands a good chance of doing very well. As far as the hashtags? It’s my opinion, based on the synopsis you’ve given, they aren’t necessary. The questions I’d ask are – what does the # offer to the story (beyond a trending social habit) And, can the story work without using the #? For me, if she’s a superhero that can see into people’s soul (so to speak) what does the # add? Unless seeing the person’s Twitter feed reveals the “Who and “what” of the character – I just see it as extraneous. Just my two cents.
    @sheilamgood at Cow Pasture Chronicles

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    • Great advice, Sheila, that probably gets to the essence of the dilemma better than my post did. Basically, writing to a trend should probably be done for the same reason as writing to any topic: only if it adds value to a story. Do the hashtags add value in this case? That’s still open for debate. The premise is much clearer than it was, and identifiable in a way that is more familiar (probably even after the trend is over). On the other hand, there is little connection to “real-world” hashtags until the denouement, when the themes come across more expressively and without so much of the blah-blah. Still, that may not be enough. Still thinking…

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  2. I agree with Sheila’s comment, and I think that holds true for every element in a story–everything should serve a purpose. I don’t advise writing to book trends/genres (like vampires or zombies etc.) unless it’s something you really want to write about because trends come and go so fast. I don’t think hashtags are a trend–at least I haven’t seen a genre forming except for Netflix teen movies–I see them as more of a tool to hopefully add to the story, and a cultural reference. Hashtags are a way of organizing information, and in your novel, Too Much Information, I was hoping it would add to the storyline that way and be a tool to help solve the murder mystery. An argument could be that your character sees labels, and the word “labels” isn’t very specific on its own–I automatically think of clothing or products–so why not use “hashtags” as cultural reference and tool to add layers to the story? Although hashtags can be seen as a gimmick, they have an amazing benefit for your book series: it will be super fun to package and promote easily with the use of hashtags already built in. The key is to use them as a secret weapon to unlock the mystery.

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    • Thanks, Ang, for the interesting distinction between trends and cultural references. We could even think of ‘icons,’ I suppose, that identify the time and place of a story without actually defining the story.

      Another level is using those icons as symbolism, which is where I think your idea for hashtags has worked very well to enhance my story.

      On the next level again is making those icons part of the plot. That’s where my efforts may be falling short; the hashtags don’t really connect any more with the mystery’s solution than the labels originally did.

      Thinking of any story element on those three levels is going to be a great aid to craftsmanship.

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