What I learned about writing copy from reading Dragons Love Tacos

Hey, kid!
Did you know that dragons love tacos?

  1. Know your audience
  2. Be obvious
  3. Toss all the clutter
  4. Create opportunities by doing good work

Adam Rubin ‘accidentally became a New York Times best-selling children’s author.’ Apparently, he’s written 9 books, but there is only one that matters in the Hagan household. My near-three-year-old son got Rubin’s book, Dragons Love Tacos for Christmas. He got it one month ago, and I have read Dragons Love Tacos at least 30 times. My wife Lindsey has 3x’d that number, at least.

The kid loves it. Now, his favorite pajamas have dragons on them and his favorite place to eat is Mojo Burrito on 99 cent taco night.

And it’s an ok book. Daniel Salmieri’s illustrations are good, but not great when compared to other children’s books. The story is choppy, oddly so in one or two spots. But that’s from the perspective of a dad — a 33-year-old dude that enjoys big epics and adventure novels. When I’m winding down for the night I want to be swept up in another world. I can ease in or jump in, but I’m looking to engage for 40–50 pages.

But that’s not what a toddler wants. That’s not what my son wants. The only thing he wants to do as he ends his day is thinking about dragons eating tacos. From his perspective, why the heck not?

There’s no better way to illustrate Rubin’s knowledge of his audience than the title, Dragons Love Tacos. If someone threw up “Things Toddlers Talk About” on Family Feud, ‘tacos’ and ‘dragons’ are making that list. Now pair that mystical reptile, measuring from one foot to skyscraper, that breathes fire, with ground beef or chicken, a pro ball sized dip of cheese, all encased in a soft or crunchy shell, and you have the start of a child’s fantasyland.

And it seems Rubin identified this natural connection by going back to an iconic figurine within his own childhood

When I was a kid my dad had this little statue on his desk that always to me looked like a dragon eating a taco. It was a sort of abstract little sculpture, but it always looked to me like a dragon with a taco. And the idea that dragons love tacos just seemed to make sense. Because, I don’t know why, [but] it’s just something [that] clicked in with my weird internal logic.

Rubin thought like a kid to create something for kids.

Copywriters don’t do this enough. We don’t put ourselves in the position of the customers we’re serving. Instead, we mimic what other marketers and copywriters are doing to find ‘success’, speaking to whatever audience they are selling to, which is often a completely different audience than to whom you are selling. Not to mention a different product, a different need, a different industry, etc.

That's not saying you can’t mimic someone else’s process for generating ideas. Thinking like the person you’re speaking to is an exercise for generating good ideas. The problem occurs when you leap to someone else’s process and you leave your project.

When he initially landed on Dragons Love Tacos, Rubin pitched it to his publisher at the time, the publisher with whom he had an established relationship. They passed. They said it was, “too silly.”

Too silly for kids…

I am guilty of overthinking a project. Like, bigtime guilty or costing myself money guilty or to the annoyance of my collaborators guilty. I can get caught trying to tie a fly rather than just putting it on the water.

Too silly for kids is overthinking Dragons… Love… Tacos.
Kids love dragons.
Kids love tacos.

Rubin didn’t get bogged down worrying if the story “was too obvious.” Instead, he spent all his time making sure that his readers — or listeners — got the most out of the idea. They don’t have to expend any calories following along with the obvious, leaving kids with, of course, dragons love tacos.

Dragons love parties. They like costume parties and pool parties.

Earlier I mentioned that Dragons Love Tacos is choppy. That’s not quite right. Choppy makes it seem like bad writing rather than judicious writing. Rubin cut out any and all unnecessary clutter. The form demands this to some extent — children’s books aren’t meant to be “wordy” — but Rubin stays committed to creating scenes that are necessary to the story, sometimes at the risk of smooth transitions. Once again, he’s taking care of his audience and editing and cutting on their behalf. Smooth transitions that create flow are important to older readers. Kids just need the pieces necessary to connect inside the workshop of their imagination.

As copywriters, we can fall in love with the words we write. We like to write words, read words, hear words, and imagine how others will interact with words. And, just as that last sentence was a pain to read, sometimes our words get in the way.

You can never forget that, as a copywriter, you are a salesperson who writes. Your job is to make a case for X or grab more attention or sell. Writing is how you get your job done.

Words can’t get in the way of that job, it doesn’t matter how nice they sound. You need your customer to take action. Everything you write start and end with that objective.

My son’s edition of Dragons Love Tacos came with a mini stuffed dragon and a taco holder.

People want more of a good thing. If the product or service you represent delivers value to the customer, there will be more opportunities to create more opportunities. Use your copy to stack them up like dominoes and knock them down.

Hey, I’m Ross. I study the creative process of writers and other makers and share how you can apply them to your life and work.

Get the Medium app

A button that says 'Download on the App Store', and if clicked it will lead you to the iOS App store
A button that says 'Get it on, Google Play', and if clicked it will lead you to the Google Play store