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.
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. ‘
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.
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?