How To Do Stuff: Writing Taglines For Authors

How to do stuff is a concept I've thought a lot about. I've found that in writing, a lot of "how to" advice is really just "how to make it better" and not actually "how to start with nothing and then end up with something." So I am starting my "How To Do Stuff" series, with this post: Writing Taglines for Authors. If you have questions or would like me to write about how to do something (writing related) when you are starting at absolute 0, send me a message, and I'll see what I can do!

Writing Taglines For Authors

jurassic park tagline

There is a LOT of advice on what taglines should look like: short, reflective of your personality, catchy, informative, etc. And it seems like, since we are writers and, you know, write, for a living, writing a tagline should be easy! Well, it's not. We know that it needs to be short, catchy, and all that nonsense, but where do we get the perfect idea for the perfect tagline? Where do we start?

The trick with a tagline is the short part. As authors, we're great at writing lengthy and beautiful prose that is engaging, descriptive, and exciting all at once. But writing something that is less than six words long? It's difficult. Especially when you're starting at zero, and especially when you're talking about yourself. You have to take everything you know about the one thing you know more about than anything else (you) and distill it into six words or less.

It's rough. 

So, I won't bore you with examples of taglines. You can Google those. Mine is "In Love With The Universe," for those of you that hadn't noticed it sitting right there at the top of the blog. Instead, I am going to give you six strategies for starting at zero and coming up with the right tagline for you.

1. THE LIST.

Make a list. I'm a genius! No, I'm serious though. Make a list--but not of potential taglines. Make a list of things about you (one to two words per item). List out things you like about you, things about your books, your favourite words, things you like to think about, things you like to do, anything that helps define you as a person or as an author. If the tagline is for your blog, make a list of everything that defines your blog as an entity. If it's about your dog--well, you get the picture. Here is an example of what my list might look like: 

universe stars space space travel astronaut books science fiction science trees bare feet planets parallel worlds humor dirt petrichor rain weather leaves seasons hiking cats fur writer sun green screwdriver reading books books books unicorn sheep oliphant sky clouds flying 

Then, you can do something with the words. Maybe put them on post-it notes on a wall somewhere, so you can move them around. Maybe draw them. Maybe put them on a white or chalk board.

word cloud

Interact with the words, and start to cancel out the ones that maybe you don't like, or add ones you didn't think of. Eventually, you should narrow it down into just a few words, use all of the other strategies (keep it short! use action words! describe what you are!) until you've got a tagline that works.

2. THE ASK.

Ask someone. Seems pretty obvious, but I don't mean go ask your mom or your spouse (unless they have the ability to really think critically about the question). Post one of those Facebook posts that says "write one word about how we met" or "write one word that you think best describes me!" and see what people say. Ask people how they would define your work or your identity from a distance--ask copy editors, other authors and professionals that you interact with who know of you but don't know you that well. Ask them what they think you provide that is unique--everyone has different ideas, and you never know what ideas about you someone will have that will trigger the perfect tagline.

3. THE ART.

Sometimes the words just get in the way. Instead of trying to write a tagline, try drawing a tagline. Painting. Scribbling. Making a sculpture tagline. Dancing a tagline. Focus your creative energies elsewhere, and it can help guide you towards whatever you are looking for. When I was working on my tagline, I went on this ink painting kick. I painted probably 25 pictures of rain and grass and planets and stars and alien creatures. It was fun. If I did it now, I absolutely would have painted a planet or tried to construct a weird-looking nebula out of wire and pom-poms.

It's about letting your ideas flow without forcing them into a structure, and allowing your subconscious mind guide you towards the right ideas.

4. THE TRIGGER.

Sometimes the thing you are looking for (in this case, the tagline) is already in your head--you just need a way to dig it out. "The Trigger" is a strategy I use frequently for all different types of brainstorming. Basically I look at things I have written or made and use those to remind me of past experiences or ideas with the goal of triggering the thought that has been eluding me. Sometimes I flip through old sketchbooks, read old short stories, or read through my own published work. My journal often provides me with something to focus on that is raw and personal.

The key to this one is to NOT go looking at other people's work. It's not their ideas that matter--it's yours! So if you're trying to think of a tagline, don't go reading other author's taglines, because then all you'll be able to do is think of how awesome theirs is and how much yours sucks. Instead, go read your own work until something triggers the awesome tagline you've been searching for.

5. THE FREEWRITE

The freewrite is very similar to the THE TRIGGER, except that instead of reading you're writing. Set an alarm and then write whatever comes into your head until the alarm goes off. This one is hard for me, because in 15 minutes I can write 800 words of gibberish with no problem and it can take a while to sort through, but often, somewhere in that gibberish, is the thing that I've been looking for. This strategy essentially allows your subconscious to direct the words, and if you've already told it you're looking for a tagline, hopefully it will take you in that direction. And hey, who knows, maybe you'll solve a major plot hole while you're at it!

6. THE QS.

I don't recommend starting with this strategy--this one typically would come after you've already got at least a vague idea of the direction you want to go with your tagline. Maybe you've decided you want it to focus on the universe (as I did) or on romance or on humor or uniqueness or on your soul. Whatever your direction, this tactic will help you refine your tagline into tangible possibilities, and not just a concept.

Ask yourself the big questions first: 

  • Why? Why this concept? Why this direction? Why is it important?
  • How? How does this relate to me? To my books? How is it important?
  • What? What does this mean to me? What role does this concept play in my life and in my work?
  • Who? Who is this concept about? Is it about me? Is it my characters? Is it a past me? A future me?
  • Where? Where is this concept coming from? Where will it take me? 
  • When? When will I use this? On my website, marketing materials, a tattoo? 

Then break the questions out into littler questions: Why this word in particular? Why this action? How can I change this idea? What's missing? What can I get rid of? Does it describe me? Does it describe my work? Does it clarify my brand? And yadda yadda whatever all of the experts are telling you needs to define your tagline.

Using Your Tagline

Once you've got your tagline, USE IT! Test it. Wear it. Try it on for size. Remember that, just like anything else, a tagline does not have to be permanent. Maybe you end up with two taglines you like--ask your fans and friends which one they like better and why. Maybe you end up using two--one for your books, one for your blog! Maybe you try one on for size--make some teasers, make some print materials, put it on your website--and then sleep on it. When you wake up the next day, you might realize it needs to be slightly different, or that you hate it and want to start over, or that it's the most perfect thing you've ever seen. 

There are over a million words in the English language. Your tagline is in there somewhere.

Give it time, give it thought, and give it love, and I have no doubt that you can create a tagline that is the ultimate tagline for you.

If taglines gave effective descriptions...

If taglines gave effective descriptions...