Over the past year, I’ve spent a fair amount of time on Twitter, playing writer hashtag games. What’s a hashtag game? you may ask.
We all know what a hashtag is. It’s that # sign, followed by a word or phrase that’s used to identify social media messages on a specific topic – #wedding, for example, or #ihatemondays. People interested in that topic can search for the hashtag and see the latest messages.
A hashtag game takes things a step further, by establishing a central theme and then inviting others to use the hashtag to share their own message on the theme. #5WordsToRuinADate is a popular one (typical response: “I don’t think it’s contagious.”) Twitter is the main social media outlet for hashtag games; I haven’t found many elsewhere on the web.
A writer hashtag game establishes a central theme (often a single-word prompt such as “dream” or “fire”) and invites writers to search their WIP (Work In Progress) for lines containing the theme. Participants then share their lines with the online writing community by using the hashtag. Because tweets are limited to 280 characters, the game forces brevity – a useful asset when writing.
Since I’m writing this blog on a Wednesday, I’ll use today’s #1lineWed theme of “secret” and a selection from my just-released book Ragis as an example. Here is how my game entry appeared:
You may notice I’ve stuck some other hashtags on there. This is so the post can be seen not just by fellow participants in the #1linewed game, but by writers in general, writers who write fantasy, and people who like epic fantasy (which is my series’ genre). What you can also see from this screenshot (taken just a minute or two after I posted it) are the reactions to the post – those who liked it my deathless prose, and one person who retweeted it to her followers (in this case, the retweeter is my editor for Ragis).
Ah ha! you may be thinking. So this is not just a game – it’s a promotional tool.
Ah ha – you would be correct in thinking that. It took me a while playing the various writer hashtag games (and reading, liking and retweeting others’ tweets) to come to that realization. And it wasn’t until September of last year, when Twitter increased its post limit from 140 words to 280 characters, that writers were able to share not just a substantive quote from their work, but increase its visibility outside the game.
Once I had this revelation, any guilt I felt over wasting time playing hashtag games was allayed. Not only was I having fun playing the games, I was actually working! I was DOING PROMOTION! I was NETWORKING WITH OTHER WRITERS! So I played even more of the games: the weekly ones like #musemon, #tuesline #thurds, #fridare #SlapDashSat and #sunwip, and the daily ones like #wiptruthordare and #authorconfession. I found some very specific games like #martialmon (fight lines!) and #salacioussun (smexy lines!), #WhoNeedsAHero (antagonists!) and my current favorite, #TrickyTues, which asks you to find unusual words like “paroxysm” in your WIP (to my surprise, I actually had THREE usages of that word). Some of the games have rules, like “no buy links,” but in general they’re run in a pretty relaxed fashion.
And their promotional impact is fleeting. Your post in the game sinks down the page pretty quickly, especially in the more popular games., so unless a fair number of people like/retweet it, it’s largely gone after an hour or so. Reactions to my example post above, about an hour after posting – yes, it takes me that long to write a blog – seem to have stalled out at eleven likes, three retweets and one comment. That’s about average for my posts. There are writers who get a lot more responses to their game entries and end up on the “top” page for that particular hashtag, so their posts will have a little longer Twitter life.
I don’t really care about the reactions – although they’re nice to get. I don’t spend a lot of time trying to attract followers; if people like my work and want to follow me, that’s dandy, and if they seem interesting I’ll give them a follow back. But I don’t play the game to get followers. I just like sharing my stuff and reading other writers’ work.
There is one extra thing I do, particularly when I’m super-focused on the promotional aspect of the games. I often create a graphic to feature my quote – because 1) a picture is more eye-catching than just text, and 2) I get a kick out of designing them, and 3) I always like to zhush things up.* I can usually put an effective graphic together in about 15 minutes. I use Canva to create my graphics; the site has lots of free content and it’s very user-friendly. I made the “paroxysm” graphic above yesterday, not just because it was Tuesday but also because it was Release Day for Ragis, hence the extra language in the text portion of the tweet. (And well…because paroxysm.) It only got 4 likes and 3 retweets, but that’s okay. Occasionally I’ll post the graphic on my Facebook page, although my FB friends tend to be more focused on my theatrical work. And as I said, I do this more for my own enjoyment than for its promotional benefit.
Here’s something weird, though, and what prompted today’s blog. I don’t share material from first drafts, or even second drafts. I always pull my excerpts from completed but unpublished works. With the publication of Ragis yesterday, I am suddenly without a completed work to draw from. And that realization was kind of a kick in the head.
For the past several years, at any given time, I have had at least one novel completed, and at least one in the works. For example, when I signed with my publisher in July 2016, I had completed Kinglet, was polishing up Fiskur and had started work on StoneKing. That pattern continued until the end of last year, when my output began slowing. At that time I was in NYC understudying the Broadway musical War Paint – a stressful and demanding job that sapped much of my writing energy. What little I had left was going into blogs, interviews and other promotional material for Kinglet and Fiskur (which came out in August 2017 and November 2017, respectively). When StoneKing released in February 2018, I was back home and Ragis was waiting in the wings, and but I was only just starting the first draft of the fifth and final book in the series.
I confess I’m having a bit of a timeline issue with Book 5. The action of the Gemeta Stone story has been largely continuous from Kinglet all the way through Ragis, but the fifth book’s plot begins after a considerable passage of time. Events that occur in that timeframe, while not important to the plot per se, have effects that impact the existing characters, so those effects have to be factored in. I’ve also recently re-thought two of the major characters who will be introduced in the fifth book, and those new characterizations also impact the plot. And of course, the time-suck of promoting the existing books, plus some other factors I won’t go into just yet, are contributing to my slowdown.
But never fear. The fifth book IS coming. It’s just coming slower. And there’s another little project sitting on the back burner: a prequel that I wrote a couple of years back. I never intended for it to be published; I wrote it because, prior to starting the StoneKing/Ragis portion of the storyline, I needed to sort out exactly what happened the first time my protagonist (Kristan Gemeta) and my antagonist (Daazna, the Wichelord) actually met. I also wanted to explore how certain events in their youths shaped their personalities. What I wrote ended up being pretty interesting, I think – especially as an insight into how Daazna got to be the way he is.
So here’s a question for those of you who’ve been keeping up with the series: is this something you’d be interested in reading – maybe between Ragis and the fifth book? You can answer in the comments below, or drop me an email at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Do let me know – I’d love to hear your thoughts.
*And, I must confess, because a graphic lets me circumvent Twitter’s 280-character limit. I can share a longer excerpt and use the text portion of my tweet for additional hashtags and other information.