Tagline Trauma

You have heard the expression, “It’s what’s inside that counts.” While I don’t disagree with the sentiment, allow me to add my own corollary: No one will see what’s on the inside if they can’t get past the outside.

Yes, you want the inside of the book to be captivating. The inside of the book is the actual book, after all. That’s where the writing part of being a writer mostly comes in.

Once you have typed “the end,” you are ready to get started. This is where it seems to become more difficult. Now that you’ve finnished writing, editing and polishing the actual book, you must now move on to packaging and marketing.

Taglines are a component of the packaging/marketing phase of book development. Other elements include the cover art and lettering, book description, and preview—especially the opening lines.

A well-designed cover will be the first thing to catch a browsing eye. The tagline’s job is to supplement the title and to keep the momentum going, drawing the prospective buyer to read the book description, and finally from there to the preview. If you haven’t closed the deal by then, you won’t.

The majority of books on the current bestseller lists do not seem to have taglines. For those that do, I can only conclude the book succeeded despite the tagline rather than because of it. A struggling indie needs every advantage. A clever and memorable tagline just might turn a “maybe” into a “Gotta have this.” The operative phrases being clever and memorable.

This can be harder than it seems. A lot of authors struggle with the task of writing a coherent book description:

Randy, Josh, Brett, Kyle, Logan, and Bailey are ready to blow off some steam during spring break in Acapulco after their college finals. Heading south, they encounter troubles of all kinds including running out of gas in a town full of cannibals, getting caught up in a border-town drug war, and being stalked by an escaped circus bear with a grudge.

One crazy night in an Acapulco bar, they meet Sal, whom they think is a friendly bartender, but who in reality is an alien from the planet Testarosa, and who acts as a “recruiter,” capturing Earth men and bringing them back to his home planet to mate with their females because the solar radiation there has rendered all the native males infertile.

But then, the unexpected happens…

Lord help me. There are about eleven reasons that book description doesn’t work, but this post is not about book descriptions. (You can find information on book descriptions HERE.)

It can be difficult to distill an “elegant” plot line down to a couple of paragraphs. Coming up with a tagline presents an even greater challenge, because the best ones are only a few words.

The key is to find a few words that convey the essence of your book rather than the particulars. So, for the book above, an effective tagline might be:

Cannibals, gunfire, bears, aliens—just your typical road trip.

Let’s say your book is about a woman with a troubled past who has murdered her husband. The hook is that he has now become a zombie and is stalking her. Tagline?

Her past wouldn’t stay buried—neither would the man she murdered.

Maybe you can do better. Give it a try. Alternatively, you can try warming up by coming up with taglines for classic books. When you get to work on your own, don’t settle for the first one that pops into your head. Come up with four or five and test them out on a few folks. Once you get into it, you may find it’s kind of fun. Or not. What do I know?

Does your book have a great tagline? Have you read one that had a great tagline? Show me what you’ve got.

Author: Stephen Hise

Stephen Hise is the Evil Mastermind and founder of Indies Unlimited. Hise is an independent author and an avid supporter of the indie author movement. Learn more about Stephen at his website or his Amazon author page.

38 thoughts on “Tagline Trauma”

  1. I think one of the best taglines for my genre (horror) was written, of course, by S.King. For his book, Pet Sematary the line was: “Sometimes…Dead is better.” I also thought that the tagline I came up with for my latest novel, Primordia,” wasn’t that bad. “The heart always finds its way home … Lock the door!” But I guess the reading public will judge that.

  2. Memo to Hell, funnier than a lawyer-walks-into-a-bar joke

    Go ‘head, Stephen. I can take it.

    and serious question: are you suggesting taglines as subtitles on the cover? and taglines are distinct from synopsis/logline, correct?

    1. Good question, Timothy. I see a subtitle as a continuation of the title, especially in branded series. The tagline is more like a slogan. Anyone else want to weigh in here?

  3. I spend more time worrying about taglines than the plot. I wish I could find an evil mastermind who could write all my taglines. Last one for Surfing in Stilettos took three months for me to come up with “A bouilabaisse of wit and comedy” I’m still squirming with embarrassment.

  4. Stephen, you bring up a good topic. This is the one area where I could improve. It is so hard to come up with it in just a few “wow” value words. I think we have the cover, the title and font, and Sandy made a movie that says it all. But how in the world do you condense it all into one with a unique capture line? The book is “The Wolf’s Moon” and you can find all of the supporting tools Sandy has incorporated into the site. I like “Love, Loyalty and Redemption…and a big-ass beast that is killing and eating the population of Maple Hills”. It is missing the grab that brands all of it together. Just for grins, if anyone has any ideas, I would appreciate it. 🙂 The website is http://www.thelindenchronicles.com. Maybe a free autographed paperback to the one we use! Thanks for supporting us!!

        1. I have also been paying attention to some tweets and the response insofar as shares…when it catches someone’s eye…maybe that is how to practice…within 140 character guidelines!

  5. I got lucky with my new romantic comedy. When the cover artist sent me the first draft of the cover, she included her own tagline. I loved it and decided to keep it. My book is The Tech Guy, and the tagline is “There’s a new guy in the office…” Doesn’t sound as commanding without the graphic, but it definitely works.

  6. I tend to use taglines as a sort of headline for the blurb. I should probably work harder at making them a standalone statement about the book, though. My favorite so far is for my last book, in which two of the main characters go on “vacation” in early March to South Dakota to track down the father of one of them. My blurb headline: “Ah, winter in South Dakota…”

  7. I think the worst thing about a tagline is when you come up with one, you know it’s the best you can do, but you can also feel it’s not very good. As an example, one of my favourites was for the 1981 film Alien: “In space, no one can hear you scream” which shows at once the film is sci-fi AND horror. It’s brilliant and it uses the second person PoV “you”.

    So, for one of my sci-fi novels, the best I could come up with was: “If you don’t have an imagination, stop reading now” but I’ve since ditched it because, er, too many potential readers were doing just that *sigh*

      1. “Alien” is an often-cited classic of movie tags.

        Here are some more you see mentioned in screenwriter circles.

        The 40 Year Old Virgin
        “The longer you wait, the harder it gets.”

        “The bitch is back.”

        “Earth. It was fun while it lasted.”

        Army of Darkness
        “Trapped in time. Surrounded by evil. Low on gas.”

        The Big Lebowski
        “Her life was in their hands. Now her toe is in the mail.”

        Buffalo Soldiers
        “War is hell … but peace is f*#!%!! boring.”

        Catch Me If You Can
        “The true story of a real fake.”

        And one of my all-time favorites…
        Chicken Run
        “Escape or die frying.”

        As in any kind of writing, the classics give us all something to shoot for.

    1. Chris, I agree completely about your sci fi tagline that didn’t work. Mine didn’t work either: “Hey sh*thead, buy this book or I’ll shoot you.” Guess it didn’t advance the plot.

  8. I have been in tag line and book blurb purgatory for weeks, and the fact that I came up with a line but don’t want to share it probably means that I need to come up with a new one. So far, it hasn’t become fun. Not at all.

  9. Great tagline. So I’d suggest you make it bigger and easier to read. It’s your cover’s best feature and being kind of wasted.

    I’m toying with
    Buy this book or I will freakin’ kill you

    Think it’ll catch on?

  10. The tag line, or elevator pitch are the hardest parts of writing, unless it’s the back cover summary. I think for some genres it’s even more difficult. I know I’m not happy with mine but I don’t know how to improve them.

    1. The logline for screenplays is another head-twister.
      Another set of tags that are worth studying are company ad slogans.
      Got Milk?
      Bet You Can’t Eat Just One
      Be All You Can Be
      You Deserve A Break Today
      All The News That’s Fit To Print
      The Good Hands People

  11. Great discussion on this thread,

    I tend to agree with Chris, you struggle with it and in the end, you just are not 100% into it.

    For the Card, my tagline is:

    “One Kid … One Card … One Chance to Discover the Truth”

    I know, cheesy, but hey, it was my first one.

  12. While most taglines come from a burst of creative genius, mine for “Why Are People So Stupid?” was built brick by brick. My editor and I decided that the title, while catchy, is misleading, because the book contains far more serious material than humour. So we looked for a tag line that would reset the balance. “On Bureaucracy, the Stock Market, and Self-Licking Ice Cream Cones.”

  13. I must admit, Stephen, I haven’t given a lot of thought to tag lines (totally missing their importance), but that has just changed.

    Thanks for the post, Stephen, thought provoking as always.

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