Build Your Brand With An Author Tagline

If you thought becoming a bestseller was just about writing excellent material, it’s time to wake up. According to Publishers Weekly, on the print side of the self-publishing market alone, Amazon’s CreateSpace released 1.4 million titles in 2018. To put it plainly, the market is saturated, and nobody’s going to buy your book if you don’t give them a good reason. Fortunately, one of the easiest, cheapest, and most effective ways to place a spotlight on you and your work is with an author tagline.

What Is An Author Tagline?

In the theatrical world, a tagline is the final phrase of a monologue—i.e. the words tacked on at the end of a speech to add emphasis, humor, or resonance. However, for the sake of this exercise, we’re going to conflate “tagline” with “slogan,” which is really what we as authors should try to create for ourselves, since a slogan acts as a mini-mission statement encompassing a company’s overall vision.

Think of an “author tagline” as a catchphrase or covert call to action that promotes your brand. A tagline of this magnitude defines your expertise without having to explain every detail, tells audiences what you have to offer in a manner that’s easily repeated, and highlights an element that may entice readers to purchase your product. Therefore, an author tagline is vastly different from a logline or book blurb—all of which summarize a single work. An author tagline is about defining what YOU offer as a writer. Think of a great author tagline as a motto or a professional objective that flourishes as your bibliography grows.

With our unique definition in mind, let’s determine the components of a great tagline and how to create one even if you’re a freelancer or you’ve yet to pen your novel.

The Ugly, The Bad, & The Good Grief

In order to discover what makes a good tagline, let’s start with what doesn’t:

The Ugly Tagline: Jane Doe, Author

Headlining a website with your name and the word “author” underneath only tells the reader that you’re a writer—and not necessarily a good one or a published one. But assuming you’ve overcome the hurdles of talent and distribution, what do you write? Why should we care?

The Bad Tagline: Jane Doe, Mystery Novelist

Better. At least we know what you write, but what makes your material special? Why should we read your books over seasoned authors like Sue Grafton or Walter Mosley?

The Good Grief Tagline: Jane Doe, NY Times Bestselling Author of the Caffeinated Christmas Chronicles

To put it plainly, the market is saturated, and nobody’s going to buy your book if you don’t give them a good reason.

While the qualifier of being a bestseller provides confidence in quality, we still don’t know if these books will appeal to our tastes. We love Christmas, but do these books chronicle holiday detective stories, or are they merely Christmas coffee cookbooks from an author with an affinity for alliteration? Vagueness of this ilk has the opposite of the desired effect. Instead of drawing readers forward, it pushes them away. You’ve given us just enough information to let us know we have to keep searching for a solid answer. But why should a crime loving audience spend time digging when they can go to Cleo Coyle’s cozy mystery website where “coffee and crime are always brewing”?

Bottom line: None of these examples meet the standard of a powerful tagline because they don’t have staying power. Nothing about them is unique, memorable, or specific enough to stick with us long after we’ve left that author’s promotional material behind. To create an effective tagline, you must know your brand—what you write, what makes your style distinctive, and why we should care about your work over the big names—then exploit that brand to its fullest potential.

Even though some taglines are deceptively simple, the real power behind them comes from getting the message across as quickly, clearly, and specifically as possible. Give buyers a legit reason to choose your products over the competition and, through that feat, build your name recognition.

Three Steps to Creating An Author Tagline

BRAINSTORM. Write a mission statement for your work. Ask yourself: Who am I? What do I write? What’s my purpose for this material? If you’re stuck, talk to your agent, editor, or critique partner about your strengths, weaknesses, style, and voice.

IDENTIFY. Pinpoint your target market and determine what type of experience you hope to share. Consider: Who is my audience? How do I want to relate to them? What will they feel or learn? What benefit do I want readers to gain? What will my audience enjoy most about my work? What image do I want to leave with them?

CLASSIFY. Decide what makes you unique. This is the heart of any good tagline, so be sincere in answering these questions: How are my books different from my competition? Why should my audience care?

As you go through each step, don’t let genre limit you. Instead, focus on your goals as an artist. Use the tagline to help the audience understand why you like to write the material you do. Are you a scrappy optimist? Do you like stories that focus on redemption? Hone in on those things about you and your writing that will sustain over time. Look for common elements or things that you can thread together in an interesting pattern.

Use every element in your writer’s toolbox—alliteration, allegory, puns, punctuation, rhyme, and repetition—to make your tagline as memorable as possible, but don’t overdo the word fun. An author tagline must be short, ideally less than ten words, and pack a huge punch.

Also, be warned, you’re better off creating a tagline that accurately reflects your writing and your vision than a cute phrase that has no heart or value. As much as the “I’m Lovin’ It” tagline works for the iconic McDonald’s restaurants, you can’t afford to be that clever or vague. As a newcomer, you will need to be microscopically specific so that the audience leaves with a distinct image or emotion that exemplifies who you are and what you do along with a clear benefit that differentiates your brand.

However, a powerful author tagline should borrow some of the persuasive techniques from a hard core advertising slogan. Each of the following real-life examples work because they are specific, focused, and direct. In some cases, there’s a subconscious prompt to take action or an implied benefit such as saving time or escapism.

Ad Slogan: “Fifteen minutes could save you 15 percent or more on car insurance.” (Geico)
Author Tagline: “Fifteen minutes long, because you’re in a hurry, and we’re not that smart.” (Writing Excuses Podcast)

Ad Slogan: “All the news that’s fit to print.” (New York Times)
Author Tagline: “Writing that is not afraid of the dark.” (Mary Maddox, Mystery Author)

Ad Slogan: “There are some things money can’t buy. For everything else, there’s MasterCard.”
Author Tagline: “Tween and teen novels with twisty plots—because life is complicated.” (Cynthia T. Toney, YA Author)

Tagline Takeaways

An effective tagline should embody your passion, purpose, and perspective, so use the following do’s and don’ts to tweak your final product.

• Do craft something short, memorable, and catchy.
• Do outline a benefit whether that be an emotion, mood, tone, value, or image.
• Do reinforce why you’re the best brand for the job.
• Do show creativity—nothing is worse than creating a tagline so generic that it could be confused with a competitor.
• Do use the tagline everywhere—hashtags, social media, websites, business cards, book jackets, podcasts, blogs, memes, swag, et cetera.
• Don’t copy others because a tagline should be unique to your soul.
• Don’t pull out the big words—keep it simple.
• Don’t use clichés.
• Don’t be vague.
• Don’t undermine the work of your tagline by having the colors, images, or logos on your marketing materials contradict the message conveyed.

Remember, book marketing is an ongoing endeavor, so your author tagline will evolve as your body of work grows—although the essence should remain the same since the ideas behind your tagline stem from your values as a writer. At every update, embrace this three-step tagline technique: Brainstorm who you are and what you do. Identify how you do it and how you want the audience to feel. Determine the benefit the reader will gain from investing in your product.

These tips should help you form a compelling tagline in a matter of minutes—after all, most of your time should be spent on building a quality product that will warrant repeat business. Even still, be mindful that branding builds name recognition and helps readers understand the value of your product prior to purchase. So make a lasting impression by putting your best effort into the creation of your author tagline. Seriously. Just do it.

Andrea J. Johnson

Column by Andrea J. Johnson

Andrea J. Johnson is a writer and editor who specializes in romance and mystery. She holds an M.F.A. in Writing Popular Fiction from Seton Hill University and a copyediting certification from UC San Diego. She’s best known for her in-depth book reviews and TV recaps for the women’s lifestyle website Popsugar, and she has also penned several essays on the writing craft for websites such as DIYMFA, Funds for Writers, and Submittable. To learn more about Andrea’s work, follow @ajthenovelist on Twitter.

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