A few months ago, I fleshed out the following three tips for writing non-fiction in hopes of helping anyone who might be pondering whether or not to pen a heartfelt memoir, an empowering how-to, a travelogue, a textbook, or whatever else might be percolating in their creative hearts:
- Ask Yourself, “What’s My Topic, and Why Would Anyone Care About It?”
- Assess Your Content
- Outline (Though It’s Tempting, Don’t Skip This Step!)
If, after having honestly answered and explored those questions, you’ve decided that indeed there is a book inside you, yearning to break free (and that it isn’t just a bad bout of indigestion…), it’s time to grab a cup of coffee, fire up the laptop, and get to work.
But where to start?
That’s what I’m going to cover today, because I know all too well how overwhelming it can be to sit down with an incredible idea and an overwhelming desire to bring it to life, only to feel like a deflated balloon five seconds later because you have no clue where to begin. In the words of Julie Andrews, “let’s start at the very beginning.” For me, that’s always with a tagline.
By the way, you may be surprised to learn that nonfiction and fiction have quite a bit in common, so even if you’re wanting to write the next Twilight and not the next How to Win Friends and Influence People, I think you’ll find this series helpful. Moving on…
Both fiction and nonfiction books, for example, have a hook, that is, a super-short summary (sometimes just a few words!) that’s punchy, attention-grabbing, and gives readers (or moviegoers) a hint of what to expect. They’re what you often see near the titles on book covers and movie posters. For screenplays and other works of fiction, hooks are also known as “taglines.”
The Lord of the Rings tagline is “One ring to rule them all.” This gives readers a clue that the book will bear an epic, fantasy feel. The tagline for Divergent is “One choice can transform you,” which is equally as alluring. My fantasy novel Moonbow‘s tagline is “What will one teen do with a god-like power?” The tagline for the novel I’m currently in the process of publishing is, “Life is full of battles. Don’t fight naked.”
Taglines don’t give anything away. In fact, they’re a bit cryptic. Their job is to draw the audience in with efficient language that sets a tone – be it comedic, dramatic, absurd, etc. – and sticks in people’s minds.
Even blogs and brands have taglines. The tagline for this here blog is “Curiouser and curiouser about the world of writing.” The tagline for my fitness blog is “Strong is a state of mind.” These give new visitors to my sites an immediate sense of what my content is all about. With just a few words, hooks allow us to quickly express an idea, build anticipation, and stir the imagination.
Hooks for non-fiction books are simply their subtitles. Here are a few examples from a few of my favorites:
Why NOW is the Time to Cash in on Your Passion (from CRUSH IT! by Gary Vaynerchuk)
You Are One Decision Away from a Totally Different Life (from All In by Mark Batterson)
A Memoir of the Craft (from On Writing by Stephen King)
Some Instructions on Writing and Life (from Bird by Bird by Anne Lamott)
Break Through the Blocks and Win Your Inner Creative Battles (from The War of Art by Steven Pressfield)
As you can see, the subtitles go a long way in expounding upon the book’s premise. CRUSH IT! could be about virtually anything. But its subtitle is clarifying. It tells me it’s about how to make a living doing what you’re truly passionate about. Likewise, All In might very well be a book about poker, but its subtitle indicates that it’s about committing to something completely life changing.
You get the idea – subtitles (hooks) are small yet powerful pieces of the writing puzzle. But before they ever help readers grasp what your book is about, they will help you find and maintain a laser focus on the heartbeat of your story.
Before you take your outline and start writing, devote a few minutes to brainstorming subtitles that articulately and succinctly encapsulate the message you’re wanting to share. Speak them aloud to yourself a few times. Ask friends for their opinion. Compare them to others in your genre.
Your mission for this week (should you choose to accept it) is to decide on your tagline and type it at the top of your manuscript so you’re reminded of it every time you sit down to work. Irrelevant rabbit trails abound when we write; having your hook handy will keep you on track, safe from those darned distractions!
Share your subtitle ideas with me in the comments section below, or tweet me @dandersontyler!
 I don’t yet have an author brand tagline because I have no idea how to succinctly describe my passions for writing faith-based fitness books as well as fantasy and coming-of-age novels, so if you have any ideas, let me know!