Thursday, March 24, 2016

Creating Promotional Copy That Works: Tag Lines

By Marcy Kennedy, @MarcyKennedy 

Part of the Indie Author Series

As is the case with many elements of being an indie author, the complete control we have over writing our promotional material is a double-edged sword. We’re not saddled with promotional copy written by someone who might have read only our synopsis, if that. We’re also on our own, without experienced copy writers to make sure we’re creating the best possible selling descriptions for our books.

Today I’m kicking off a new series looking at those uncomfortable promotional materials we need to create ourselves—from the back cover copy to swag—starting with taglines.

Taglines are often also called soundbites or shoutlines. (Don’t confuse them with a logline. They’re not the same thing.)

A tag line is a teaser or a catch phrase. It’s that sentence or two you see on movie posters. We’ll use them on our book covers, as the start of our back cover copy/Amazon description, and on our swag.

A tag line is meant to capture the emotional tone of the book, hint at the genre, and hook the reader. They don’t tell the story. They don’t name the main character. They are bait. Period.

Because of this, the shorter you can write your tag line, the better. Less than 15 words is the ideal length. At that length, they’re easy for people to remember, they carry a punch, and they fit nicely on everything from covers to book marks.

The reason many authors shy away from using a tag line is they’re tricky to create. But what that means is that if we’re willing to put in the effort, we can stand out from the crowd.

Look at the tag lines for books in your genre.

How do they compare to the content of the book? Why do they work?

Just don’t be deceived. Not every bolded line at the start of an Amazon description is a tag line.

Be prepared to write more than one.

We’re going to have to create a few, let them sit, tweak them, and so on. The first tag line we come up with probably won’t be the best one.

But how, exactly, do we do that?

It’s sometimes easier if we have examples to show us how to dissect the tag lines we find and tools to help us start creating our own.

Try a pithy line from your book.
May the odds be ever in your favor – The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins (8 words)

This one works not only because it’s a memorable line from the book, but also because it’s ironic. The odds are never in the tributes’ favor.

If you want to try this one, you need to be extremely careful that the line you choose still makes sense out of context. (If you’re not sure, test it on a few people who know nothing about your story.)

Use puns or word plays.
To unearth a killer, you have to get your fingernails dirty – Digging Up Death by Gina Conroy (11 words)

In LA, practicing law can be hell. Especially if you’re dead. – Pay Me in Flesh by James Scott Bell, writing as K. Bennett (11 words)

Both of these examples start out with a mundane statement, and then they twist it.

Unearthing a killer usually means revealing their identity, but Gina Conroy played off of the other way to take “unearth” in order to add some humor. It lets you know the tone of the book, and it works especially well since her main character sleuth is a female archaeologist.

James Scott Bell riffs off of the idea of “hell” in the first sentence. This tag line is a perfect fit for his legal thriller about a lawyer who is also secretly a zombie (and is trying to figure out who is murdering zombies before they behead her—sending her to hell).

Hint at the challenge the character is going to face.
One choice can transform you – Divergent by Veronica Roth (5 words)

In Divergent, the main character’s choice of what faction to join changes her whole identity and eventually disrupts her world. Had she chosen differently, that never would have happened.
When everyone reads minds, a secret is a dangerous thing to keep – Open Minds by Susan Kaye Quinn (12 words)

Open Minds takes place in a society of telepaths, but the main character is different. She can control minds. That makes her a threat if anyone finds out and gives her a secret to keep in a world where secrets are unusual.

Both of these tag lines work because they suggest the character won’t face an easy path, but they say it in a fresh way that fits the book.

Play off the heart of the plot, the unique selling point, or the high-concept idea.
What’s your life worth on the open market? – Delirium (Debt Collector 1) by Susan Kaye Quinn (8 words)

The Debt Collector serials are about a world where if your debts outstrip your earning potential, they collect your life force instead.
Sometimes it’s about living life one letter at a time – P.S. I Love You by Cecelia Ahern (10 words)

In P.S. I Love You, Holly receives letters from her dead husband that help her not only work through her grief but also step towards a fuller life than she had before. At the start, she really lives for each letter, just trying to get through the time in between.
Behind every great love is a great story – The Notebook by Nicholas Sparks (8 words)

Allie has Alzheimer’s, and her husband reads her their love story each day to help her remember. It’s a story within a story.

None of these tag lines really tell you much about what’s going to happen. Instead, each of them plays off something unique and special about the plot.

Any other tips you’d like to share about writing a tag line? Feel free to share a favorite tag line or the tag line for your book in the comments below!

Marcy Kennedy is a suspense and speculative fiction writer who believes fantasy is more real than you think. Alongside her own writing, Marcy works as a freelance fiction editor and teaches classes on craft and social media. She’s also the author of the Busy Writer’s Guides series of books. You can find her blogging about writing and about the place where real life meets science fiction, fantasy, and myth at

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  1. Marcy, to me, you are a master at writing tag lines and you also make it sound so easy (though not easy) to understand. I'll go now and share on Google+. Thanks, Janice, for having Marcy drop in. Oh, and congrats on publishing Deep POV. :-)

  2. Janice,
    Thanks for sharing this information about tag lines.

  3. This comment has been removed by the author.

  4. Great post, Marcy!
    Just bought your book too. :)
    In gratitude,

  5. I enjoyed your post, Marcy, and am now rethinking my tag lines.