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December 31, 2013

Branding 101: Do You Have a Tagline?

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Even though I’m not a big fan of Facebook, I’ve been spending more time there lately. A major reason for that is I’ve discovered some fantastically helpful FB groups. One of the best is Facebook the WANA Way, started by Facebook guru Lisa Hall-Wilson.

Lisa’s been a guest here before, comparing Facebook’s Profiles and Pages, and she knows her stuff. Her FB group is all about how we can use Facebook in smart and non-spammy ways. As her group’s description states:

“This is a group for those who consider themselves WANAs and want to build a writing platform the WANA way on Facebook.
All are welcome. Ask to join. The skill-testing question: What does WANA stand for?”

(*psst* If you don’t know what WANA stands for, take a minute and learn from Kristen Lamb why we’re stronger together than we are apart.)

On her group, Lisa shares tips for best practices (“What should I post on my page?”), news about FB changes, advice for getting the most out of FB ads or “boosted” posts, etc. She also polls members on various issues (“What’s the most annoying/worst FB etiquette behavior you’ve seen?”).

If you’re on Facebook (and especially if you’ve struggled with how to use it in non-spammy ways), be sure to check out Lisa’s group. Then scroll through the questions and answers we’ve already gathered.

What Is a Tagline?

Yesterday, she asked people in her FB group whether they had a tagline, and the conversation reminded me that I’d intended to do a post about them. In branding, a tagline is a catchphrase or slogan.

Taglines are like the phrases you’d find on a movie poster: short, intriguing, punchy, attention-getting (“One ring to rule them all”). They’re different from loglines, which summarize a story. For more about the difference, Marcy Kennedy compared book taglines and loglines at Writers Helping Writers: The Bookshelf Muse.

Things can get complicated though. As authors, we might have several kinds of taglines:

  • Book Tagline: Think of those intriguing phrases like “Secrets can’t stay buried” sometimes included on book covers. These can be different for each book. They don’t have to explain anything about the plot. Instead, they’re designed to grab attention, create an emotional response, and set the tone for the story.
  • Series Tagline: The name of a series often acts as a tagline, with powerful words like “Such-and-such Legacy” or allusions to what ties the books together—location, theme, etc.—like “The Place Name Adventures” or “The Adjective-Emotion Chronicles.” In addition, book series can have an overall tagline as well, like “Where Darkness Lies…”
  • Fiction vs. Non-Fiction Taglines: If we write both fiction and non-fiction, we might have different taglines for each. The fiction tagline might lean more toward entertainment and the non-fiction tagline might be more professional or promise educational information. Many authors making the rounds as workshop speakers use their non-fiction tagline with their presentations, like “So-and-So, The Plotting Perfectionist.”
  • Blog Tagline: If we blog, we might have a tagline hinting at our blog’s emphasis, like “Growing as a Writer, One Rejection at a Time.” The problem with these types of taglines is that our blog’s style and emphasis might change over time. After all, the writer in the example might get an acceptance. If we have to start over with a new tagline, we can lose all our earlier branding momentum.
  • Author Tagline: I’d recommend using an author tagline on our websites or blogs. Then we’re branding ourselves, and we’re less likely to change ourselves than our blogging focus. In addition, author taglines can be used everywhere to build name recognition.

Why Do We Need an Author Tagline?

Author taglines can be the hardest to come up with because it feels the most nebulous. We often feel like we know our stories better than we know ourselves. Because of that, many put off coming up with anything that fits.

However, just as we want an author website with our name, and not just a website with our book or series title, we want a tagline that applies in all situations. Our author tagline is for our name recognition.

Author taglines help make us more memorable and tell potential readers who we are and why we write what we write:

  • The Who: What overall image do we want our audience to have of us and our work? What makes us, us? How do we want to relate to our audience?
  • The Why: Why should our audience care? What benefits will they get out of paying attention to us? What will they feel or learn?

Brainstorming an Author Tagline

If you struggle to come up with an author tagline, take heart. Author taglines might be easier after we’ve been writing for a while because then we can pick out trends in our work:

  • Maybe we write with common themes or settings or characters (love, small towns, kick*ss heroines).
  • Maybe our stories involve similar obstacles or antagonists (last stand against evil).
  • Maybe our work shares certain moods or tones (funny, dark).

Try to come up with 5 to 10 words to describe you and your work and then play around with them. Keep your tagline short, 3 to 7 words or so.

Author Taglines Aren’t about Genre

Notice those examples above don’t focus on a single genre. Our author tagline isn’t about our work directly. Rather, they’re indirectly about our work and us.

Think about why we like to write what we write. Do we like finding hope in dark situations? Do we like stories of redemption? Those reasons aren’t likely to change, even if we switch genres.

For example, even though I’ve written stories in the paranormal romance, urban fantasy, and post-apocalyptic genres, my stories all have things in common. They include dark, edgy elements, touching on substantial issues, and characters who explore the gray area between good and bad. But in essence, I write for entertainment with stories that focus on themes of love, hope, and redemption.

Is my tagline, “Beach Reads with Bite,” the best ever? Absolutely not. And if I were writing one for the first time today—after knowing more about myself as an author—I’d probably come up with something different. But it alludes to the entertainment-with-an-edge approach I take with every story, no matter the genre, so it works well enough that it hasn’t been worth it for me to change.

Once we have a tagline, we can use it on our website and blog, on our business cards, and in our social media profiles. The more we use it, the more triggers we’re adding for name recognition.

Author taglines give our audience the context they need to remember us. And having a reader remember that we and our books exist is the first step to them making a purchase. *smile*

Do you have an author tagline? Do you need help brainstorming one? If so, post in the comments a bit about you and your writing: What’s your “who” and “why”? What commonalities form the core of your work? (And don’t forget to check out Lisa’s Facebook group!)

P.S. Happy New Year! And may all your 2014 dreams come true!

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Davonne Burns

I’ll admit. I’ve been trying to do this for a while and everything I come up with is awful. I really appreciate this post since I see now where I was going wrong. I write such disparate genres (YA and gay romance/erotica) that I was afraid of trying to gel it all down to a single sentence. And that was my problem, I was focusing on genre. *headdesk and repeat*

So my goal for today: new tagline.

Thanks for a wonderful, helpful post. Now for an ice pack.

Virginia Jennings

Huzzah! I see where I have been having my troubles now! I have been trying to combine my genre into my tagline. I’ve also been trying to combine my blog tagline into my website tagline.

I need to step back and think about a tagline for ME and leave out the genre if necessary.

I do know that most of my writing tends to revolve around themes of people doing what others thought couldn’t be done… characters who reach for bigger things. Plus I am always trying to inspire people to reach for the stars (to borrow a cliche’). I enjoy the challenge of trying to come up with solutions to problems.

I have started a word web for myself but it doesn’t seem to be helping me much *facepalm*.

So I’ve answered the who… now the why… why will people care or what will they learn. Um I’m hoping people will be entertained while learning something about this universe we live in or perhaps even something about themselves.

Jordan McCollum

I have a tagline, but it’s long and I don’t love it. I came up with in in like 20 minutes right before my first writers conference. An editor I talked to there liked it, so I’ve never bothered changing, LOL. But I’d actually have to look it up to see what it was. (I did: mysteries to fall in love with, romance to keep you in suspense.)

Depending on how you use your tagline, changing it doesn’t have to be a huge deal. I’ve got it on my site, and I think on my FB page, and that’s about it. I don’t think many people, even my good friends/readers, would notice if I changed it. So I should. But . . . I haven’t 😉 .

Jordan McCollum

Oh, you know, it IS on my business cards, and I have a bunch of those left. Man, it’s good thing I’m so lazy 😉

Lisa Hall-Wilson

Thanks for the fab shout-out! I can’t take credit for how great that group’s become — WANAs are generous people all round and there’s quite a few published Indie authors in there who are very generous with their expertise as well — and a great community willing to not only offer expertise, but take the risk to ask questions too.
Just giving back.
Great post! Thanks for being an AWESOME WANA!! ((hugs))

Sharon Hughson

Jami-
Thanks for this post. My website is rather new and the tagline I used for my WordPress Blog (which is officially closed after today) doesn’t really encapsulate all you mention here. It is “Success awards the pursuit of dreams.”

I am writing YA fantasy. I want it to be entertaining and allegorical. I lived in Narnia when I was twelve and 13 (parents were divorcing) and I know kids have it even rougher these days. I want them to have a place to escape that will nourish their souls.

I also have a fictionalization about Mary the mother of Jesus (a journal style book) on my project list as well as a non-fiction book about the importance of retreats and how to plan one. So, I’m not just going to write fiction.

Is there such a thing as a catch-all author tagline for all of this? I don’t know. It’s an important branding tool, though, and I hope I can find something that works for me.

Virginia Jennings

Sharon maybe… Worlds you won’t want to leave?

Virginia Jennings

Or perhaps, The dreamer of fantastical worlds?

Lisa Hall-Wilson

I would also back up what you said about limiting yourself to one genre. A successful traditionally published author was told a few years ago she had to choose one genre to write in and built her brand around the tagline: Seatbelt Suspense. Now, she’s gone Indie and wants to publish women’s fiction as well as suspense — she can rebrand her website, but she put her tagline in the title of her FB page which she can’t change now. Food for thought.

Virginia Jennings

Never put things in your urls that you may want to change later 😛 lolol Yeah I learned that the hard way too! I ‘once’ thought I would write under an abbreviated first name. I later had to petition facebook to let me change it *facepalm*

Amanda

Ah, the tag line. I just started thinking about these recently, and I looked at a couple of authors that I read regularly. Unfortunately, most of them weren’t that helpful (because they can just say “New York Times Bestselling Author”) or they’re Chuck Wendig, who IS his own tag line. My favorite is probably Karina Cooper’s: Award winning author. Gleefully Badass. Another is Sabrina York: she goes by Her Royal Hotness (she writes erotic romance).

So the who: my blog title is Byrne After Reading. I review books AND I write them (mostly contemporary romance these days, although I write urban fantasy, too). My female characters are all strong and snarky, and I have a weakness for caretaker alpha heroes.

The why: um, because I’m a ninja? 😀 Honestly, I have no idea. If you like strong, occasionally foul-mouthed heroines who aren’t afraid to make mistakes, you’ll probably like my books.

Note to self: come up with a cheeky tag line.

CL Mannarino

I’m still working on this, but these are excellent tips!

DM Kilgore

I’ve been happy with my tagline, but was like so many others, not aware of the differences between each. Now, I am wondering, is the one I ended up with more genre-based (too much so, since I write in multiple genres), or will it be okay for me to use this as my author one… no matter my genre. My tag line is: Brace For Impact. Why? Because my intention in every story is to make an impact on the reader. For my blog/website I follow “Brace For Impact” with “A collision of heart-stopping thrills and unexpected romance”. This works fine for my romantic-suspense/thrillers, right? But what about my Young Adult stories that are more paranormal fantasy. can this tag line still work for fallen angel tales? Maybe, since a fallen angel would need to brace for impact… in more ways than one, right? But then the rest doesn’t work as well does it? Or does it? A lot to think about!

Leanne Dyck
Leanne Dyck

I love my tagline. It’s on my author website and my blog. But it is longer than your 7 word max.
‘I write about strong people and the challenges they face.’

Kay Kauffman

When I started blogging, I really didn’t have a focus – I was everywhere. But I knew exactly what to call my blog: Suddenly they all died. The end. (This was the ending from the first collaborative story I ever finished.) The tagline was something I struggled with, though. At first, I had two blogs, one for personal stuff and one for short stories and poems. It only took me a couple of weeks to just combine the two. The resulting subtitle/tagline was, “Or, mostly romantic nonsense.” I love classic literature, and those sorts of subtitles always appealed to me.

The thing was, I wasn’t wild about it. That’s when my geeky side came out to play, and I came up with, “Write or write not – there is no try.” I like it, but I’m not sure I like it enough.

Diana Beebe

Hi, Jami!
I’ve been thinking about taglines since I read the FB thread that Lisa started. My blog is “Mermaids Don’t Do Window” (thanks to Kristen Lamb for that), but I don’t have an author tagline yet.

I write science fiction and fantasy for adults, middle grade, and soon YA (not all at the same time). Yes, I’m catering to the three age groups in my home. 😀

One other thing Kristen wrote for me was similar to “My stories aren’t for boring pod people.” (I tweaked it to seven words.) *shrug* I’m not sure it works, but I kinda like it.

Happy New Year!

Haley Whitehall

Another great post, Jami. I’ve been trying to come up with an author tagline for a while now…or rather a new one that’s broader. My publisher just sent me an email requiring one. Yikes!

I’ve read several articles/posts and attended workshops discussing author taglines. I find it interesting how some people think you should include your genre and others not. CJ Lions’ tagline “Thrillers with Heart” has always caught my attention.

Anyway, with your post fresh in my mind, I will keep writing author taglines and hope I like one of them!

Ken Hughes

I’ve always enjoyed taglines. Being able to sum something up that way lets you present it in a whole new gear, for all the times you can’t give them anything more– or want to hook them into the next level of detail. Plus the tag itself shows off your writing skill and attitude as well as your content.

My paranormal thriller’s gotten a lot of mileage out of “He can hear a whisper a block away, and can’t remember why.” I don’t want to think about how many conversations, emails, posts, and so on would have been so much harder without knowing I could always start with that.

For tagging myself, I’m not as certain yet. I’m trying to build on the contemporary and supernatural tools I use (yes, maybe more genre-tied than I really want) and the idea that I build up moment-to-moment tension to make reading pull people in. The result is the rather cluttered “On the mean streets of magic, try not to read too fast.”

Gry Ranfelt

My tagline is “the story of people and how they scare me”. I put a lot of emphasis on analyzing people and my own relations with them. To me people (in fiction, characters) are the most important parts of life but also the hardest to understand.

Donna Hole
Donna Hole

Saving this to my favorites so I can browse it later also. Thanks for the writing advice Jami.

Have a happy new year!

…..dhole

Sherry Gloag

Well it looks as if I’m going to have to rethink my tagline – Sherry Gloag writes to The Heart of Romance I chose this because both my blog and my web site are called The Heart of Romance, and I write ‘sweet’ contemporary and Regency romances. It took ages to come up with this 🙂 *sigh*. Back to the drawing board, methinks.
Thanks for a great post and best wishes for 2014.

Sarah Chafin

Thank you for a great article! I’ve been trying to come up with a tagline but my writing and my ideas are rather eclectic. I’ve written two YA fantasy novels that I’m currently revising and I’m working on a third but its more of a fairy tale and the other two are more epic. I don’t want my tagline to focus on YA fantasy because I have some MG and NA ideas (one of them is contemporary). The commanalities I have noticed are that my main characters are always stronger than they think they are and my stories have a lot of focus on atmosphere/setting. Being true to yourself seems to be a common theme of mine as well. I would love any advice!

Serena Yung
Serena Yung

Cool! But if you gave yourself an author tagline, wouldn’t that be a problem too, like with the blog tagline? Because people’s attitudes, philosophies, interests can change over time. At least mine certainly did, lol. Wouldn’t a tagline limit you and force you to not change? I would prefer to give my stories the freedom to be what they are, rather than making myself stick to what I always was. Like you might have liberal views before, but then become more sympathetic towards the conservatives, or vice versa. Also you could be agnostic before, but then converted to Christianity (or any other example of religious conversion.) Wouldn’t the core values of what you most care about and thus write about change? For instance, I know that converting to Christianity made me care TONS more about altruism, helping others, love and compassion. It wasn’t that I didn’t care about these before, but I just cared about these much less (I didn’t put them as my tip top priority). And consequently my stories now feature lots of main characters who are or strive to be kind and steadfastly loyal to their friends. In the past, my main characters tended to be a lot more self-centered–always about me me me and “I’m gonna be the very best like no one ever was!” that kind of thing. Not that stories about protagonists striving to be the best (e.g. in martial arts or sword fighting) are bad, but that my stories are centered around compassionate…  — Read More »

Cynthia Stacey

Wow Great post. I have a tagline on my website/blog Cynthia Stacey – Young Adult Author – Imagination is everything! My business card says Young Adult Paranormal Author – I don’t care if you are dead…stop kissing my boyfriend. (it is a quote from my latest book).but I don’t have a tag line for anything else. My goal for this week is now to get an all encompassing tagline. Any suggestions appreciated.

Robyn LaRue

I’ve been working on this for two weeks now. Argh. 🙂 The common elements are leaving the reader with a sense of hope (even if the ending isn’t happy), Characters discovering themselves and their strengths, and (so far) things are not as they seem. I was thinking about Characters on the Cusp, but it doesn’t fit a series I have planned, and not every story has a supernatural element. Am a bit stumped.

I LOVED reading the tag lines in the comments. So creative!

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[…] know your book needs a tagline, but how about you? Jami Gold discusses how to create an author tagline. Put your tagline on your blog, and then make sure all your posts contain these 11 essential […]

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[…] an author’s work, regardless of genre jumps, etc. And recently Jami Gold talked about finding an author tagline to help with branding—a tagline to let people know what you write […]

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[…] Branding 101: Do you Have a Tagline? by Jami Gold […]

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[…] What kind of author do we want to be? What kind of stories do we want to write? What’s our message? […]

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