In this episode we have a special treat for you. This is a re-run of one of the most influential episodes we have ever aired. Influential because of how much it influenced Thomas & I.
Also we almost got arrested recording it.
In this episode, we talk with Brandilyn Collins about author taglines.
James L. Rubart: And today, we have a guest that I’m very excited about. Thomas, you’re excited about this guest too.
Thomas Umstattd Jr.: I am super pumped.
James: This is a great friend of mine, Brandilyn Collins. And Brandilyn, if you don’t know who she is, she is the award-winning best-selling author of 28 novels. And the problem with having Brandilyn as a guest frankly is we could talk about myriad topics.
Thomas: Almost anything.
James: We really could. We really could. And so, we’re going to have to have Brandilyn. We’d love to have you back at some point. But today, we would love to talk to you about your branding and how you came up with your tagline. We just love to hear the story of that.
Brandilyn Collins: Sure. So thanks for having me. My tagline is Seatbelt Suspense. I have had that tagline since about 2006 perhaps. I came up with it when I decided to write suspense full time instead of writing both suspense and contemporary. And I wanted – marketing is in my background, so I understood that it needed to be alliterative, it needed to be catchy. But how do you put into words what I do as an author?
So what I did is I had kept all of the emails that people – all my readers send me. And I went through them and I started underlining words that came up again and again. And many of them talked about a roller coaster. And strapping themselves in the edge of their seat, OK? Because I realized that my tagline isn’t just about I view myself. It’s how my readers view me and what they expect from me, which may not be quite how I view myself.
Thomas: And one thing I want to point out here is different that process was from what most authors go through. So most authors, they go – they sit on a writer’s; conference panel and it’s like, “Before you leave, you all need to have a tagline.” They haven’t read the book. They have no idea what their style is. They have no idea what about their style resonates with readers.
And so, they come up with some phrase and it’s almost always encouragement in nature and butterflies. And we see a lot of taglines in my business. And the problem with those taglines is that there are no prompts. What I love about Seatbelt Suspense is that there’s a built-in promise to the reader. And I know that that means a lot more than just Seatbelt Suspense too.
So, unpack that first. What is that promise mean regarding your brand?
Brandilyn: Well again, I went back to what people were saying in their emails, and I realized what they were seeing from what I was writing. It came into four different points. And these are the four points that have become the brand promise that goes with Seatbelt Suspense. And those brand promises are fast-paced, character-driven suspense with myriad twists, and interwoven thread of faith.
All four of those points, readers spoke to in my – that they see in my writing. So I saw that, but the point is how do you get that all together in a catchy phrase? And I just messed with it and messed with it until I came up with Seatbelt Suspense that says the basis of that which is, fast-paced, we’re going to go for a ride.
James: I don’t want to belabor the point, but I want to go back to how you came up with this. So in other words, you didn’t say, “This is what I want to be, so I’m going to say I’m this.” The readers branded you. You didn’t brand yourself.
Brandilyn: The readers branded me and also obviously, this means you don’t do this right away before you publish. You need some books that you’ve written to establish what kind of writing you do.
See, here’s the thing. When you come up with a brand, it is a promise. So here’s my problem literally from now, I’ve written myself into this brand. I have told my readers, and they expect from me fast-paced stories. I may have a lot of what if’s that come into my brain but unless they [0:03:58] [Indiscernible] four of my points of my brand promise particularly that first one, fast-paced, it may be a great suspenseful story, but it would have to unload sort of easily. That’s not Seatbelt Suspense. That’s not what I write, and it’s not what my readers expect.
James: Do you ever get three-quarters of the way through a book or even finish your first draft and go, “Oh man, they might not need the seatbelt for this one.” and have to go back and revise or …?
Brandilyn: Not do that so much because if I felt that way, I wouldn’t write the book in the first place.
Brandilyn: I have written some books that were even more character-driven than my other books. All my books even though they’re suspense which you think of suspense is being plot-driven, I still think characters need to drive the book.
Certain of my books like Gone to Ground is a very character-driven and I thought, “Will my readers like this? It’s not as scary, but it’s still as tense. It still fits my brand. And so actually, readers love that book because they so got into the characters, and characters make the book.
Thomas: That’s great. There’s this Einstein quote that I find myself quoting a lot and that Einstein valued the simplicity on the far side of complexity. So to get to that simple statement, you had to go through dozens or maybe hundreds of emails and parse through and figure out what do these have in common?
Thomas: Because probably none of them use the word “seatbelt” or maybe only a handful. And a lot of them are using other phrases that were similar. So, you had to kind of keep working and keep working it. And the easy approach is to go for that simple on this side of complexity like, “Oh, I’m just going to grab some words that sound good and I’ll just throw it together into the work.”
And so, my question for you though is, what would you say to that beginning author? They’re working on their first book, and everyone is telling them they need a tagline. Do you say they should just kind of wait until they’re ready or pick a kind of training wheels tagline?
Brandilyn: In the famous words of Nancy Reagan, “Just say no.” You’re not ready. They are not ready. They don’t know who they’re going to be as an author and what – this is marketing. You don’t want to start this and then have to unravel it. Take it apart. If this is truly your brand and Seatbelt Suspense is not only my brand, I trademarked it. I paid lawyers to trademark the thing.
Thomas: Right. Not just a little bit of money.
Brandilyn: And this time, it just got re-trademarked. After five years, you have to re-up on because goodness knows, we have to keep paying the government and the lawyers. But that becomes your brand and it goes on your website, and it goes on Facebook and Twitter and whatever else. It was on the back of my books and my bios. I don’t want to unravel that. It’s who I am.
And even now that I’ve started writing contemporaries again, still, my brand is almost working even better for me now because if I’m not writing contemporaries, I’m saying to my readers, “This is a contemporary.” Then I say, “Hey, my next Seatbelt Suspense is coming up.” They know what to expect from that.
Thomas: So you do writing that’s outside of Seatbelt Suspense.
Brandilyn: I’ve just started. I’ve gone back to writing contemporaries. I started writing in both genres, and I like to continue now, and that’s what I’m doing.
James: I love that approach because what a lot of authors do when they want to pivot to a new genre is they pick a new name and them kind of start over from scratch. And they have this pen name for this other genre, and it’s like they’re brand new author, and they give up all of their brand equity whereas, with this different tagline, you’re able to keep your Brandilyn Collins’ name but yet have a different tagline. It’s kind of like it’s still a Toyota, but this is the Toyota Truck. It’s different than that Toyota camera you’re used to driving.
Brandilyn: Yes. I wanted to build my brand and my name. And a lot of my readers, my suspense readers will go over to the contemporaries with them. I mean readers read different things too. And besides, frankly, the thought of setting up a second website, a second Facebook and dealing with the whole second persona, oh man, I cannot imagine it.
Thomas: Just close yourself then there would be two of you to fulfill those two roles.
Brandilyn: It’s enough to do one.
James: Well, the beginning author, maybe their first book has just come out, or they’re not even published yet, and they’re trying to do a tagline. We talked about that. But what about the author that has three or four books out but they don’t have a brand name and marketing background? And I’ve seen this happen time and time again where they come up with this tagline and they have five books out, but it’s a horrible tagline. What do you say to those people?
Brandilyn: Yeah. Get help when you need help.
Brandilyn: If you’re not a marketing person – I had marketing in my background, so I knew how to write back cover copy and marketing and all that stuff. I knew how if you got two seconds, you got to grab someone’s attention, right? And some of these taglines are so long. They take longer than two seconds to read. So get help when you need it. Go to someone who has done marketing.
James: Yeah. It is so worth it to do that. And this sounds self-serving since I’m a branding guy and Thomas is a branding guy, and we do this for authors, but don’t even go to us but go to somebody that knows what they’re doing. It is going to be worth it because as Brandilyn said, this tagline could be lasting for 20 years.
Thomas: And you don’t need a tagline to be a successful author.
Thomas: People have been writing books for 2,000 years, and they’ve been coming up with taglines for maybe two decades. And so in many ways, it’s almost a fad.
Thomas: And it worked well for the first few folks who do it. So you were kind of early to the tagline train. You’re on the front train. So now everyone who talks about taglines quotes you, and they’re talking about Seatbelt Suspense. You need a good one. So, it worked for you, but it may not work for everyone. And that’s OK because there are a lot of successful marketing tools and a lot of successful ways to brand yourself.
Scott Sigler is an author that I looked up to in many ways. I’m not a big fan of his writing, but I’m a huge fan of his marketing. And he has got – his branding is a lot in his imagery. He does this dark horror. I mean if you look at a picture of him, you can tell he writes horror. One of the pictures is him holding his giant scissors with this like a white lab coat and was like, “This guy does medical horror. I can tell from the photo.” And he doesn’t need – I don’t know what his tagline is. Maybe he has one.
But people often ask me, “I need a tagline. I need a tagline.” And I go, “Name someone other than Brandilyn Collins that’s your favorite author, and you remember their tagline?” And almost never can they name a single tagline for a single author.
Brandilyn: Basically, I don’t think you need one today. In fact, a lot of authors, I hear a lot of authors talking about how silly it is to have a tagline these days. And I’ve always jumped into the conversations and gone, “You know actually, I agree with that. I don’t think you need one. Your brand becomes your name and readers know who you are through your name.”
However, I came up with this tagline, and it has worked for me, and I trademarked it. I’m not doing away with it. It’s working.
Brandilyn: But that doesn’t mean everybody needs one. I think the simplest answer is just say no. Keep saying no.
James: Yeah. And in some ways, it’s a little bit like a superstition. This worked for someone else, and so surely it will work for me and everyone who is doing it. And what is so important is to measure and experiment. So just because of some guru, just because the great James L. Rubart tells you to you need to do something or Thomas or Brandilyn, someone says you got to do something, that doesn’t mean that it will work for you. So the key is to measure and experiment.
And one of my crusades in this kind of industry is to bring science back to creative writing. Do it for science. So think about it. Think like a scientist. Scientists are very skeptical. You tell a scientist something, and they’re not going to believe you. They are like, “Well, let me test about it.” And they will do their test, and then they’ll know after they conduct the test whether they like the idea or not.
And that is so helpful not just for marketing, but I would also say for the craft. I think there’s some superstition sometimes on the in a craft side too. It’s like, “Why do we do it?” Well, because we’ve always done it. I was like, “Well, that doesn’t necessarily mean that it’s a good idea.”
All right. Anything else on taglines?
Brandilyn: I’m sticking with mine. Don’t make one for yourself. Just be you.
James: There you go.
Brandilyn: How’s that?
Thomas: I like it.
James: But if you have a perfect tagline …
Brandilyn: That’s right. If you have a perfect one.
James: … then feel free to use it. So we’re not saying only Brandilyn can have taglines.
Brandilyn: No, it’s not that. It’s just 99% of them are bad. So it’s worse to have a bad one than just not have one or you can always get one tomorrow, right? So wait. Wait until you have the right one.
James: Very good.
Thomas: And the only other thing, Brandilyn, is at a fascinating point in her career because Brandilyn has been with traditional authors for years and years and years and years. And now, she is stepping into the Indie world. And so, at some point, we would love have you back and talk to you about that.
James: She is going rogue.
Brandilyn: I shall come and wear my rogue Indie hat.
Thomas: All right. Well, thank you for listening to the Novel Marking Podcast. This episode has been brought to you by Author Media. We build websites for authors. But actually, what I like to feature today is our course, which is 7 Secrets of Amazing Author Websites. It’s one of my most requested conference talks, and we have it available for free at AuthorMedia.com. Just sign up for our …
James: Wow! At zero price.
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James: This has been the Novel Marketing Podcast, teaching you how to promote yourself offline, online, and everywhere in between.