In preparation for the upcoming ACFW writers' conference, I labored over the tag line for my latest manuscript. It was not cooperating. Instead, it was stubborn and elusive, which frustrated the fire out of me. Normally, I can pin down a tag line in 5 minutes. Especially for someone else.
I did what any self-respecting writer would do. I whined to my critique partners. We began a brainstorm session that finally resulted in my tag line. And it's a good one. It reflects the tone of the story.
So what goes into a tag line?
First and foremost, it should hook the agent or editor. It needs be a king-salmon-sized hook, strong enough so the agent/editor can't slip the away. After all, they're a wiggly breed.
A tag line should be short, the shorter, the better. Try to keep it under 20 words. Okay, no one will shoot you if it's 21. But aim for short. One of my favorites is one I helped do for a brainstorm buddy. "Will her escape become her prison?" Six words that open a world of possibility.
For the first book in the current series I'm writing, the tag line is (thanks to brainstorming pal Barbara Davidson): "With a friend like Claire, you need a gurney, a mop, and a guardian angel." Fifteen words that tell a story.
The tag line doesn't have to reveal the plot. It's a hook. It needs to make the agent/editor want to know more. Don't give into detail. State the backbone of the story. If possible, add a one-word describer to the character's job: a crazed physicist, a driven attorney, a dyslexic librarian, a superhero wannbe, an anorexic chef. Okay maybe not that last one.
Don't worry about names. This is the one-liner you give when someone says, "What's your book about?"
One of mine is: "Her dream job has a Catch 22 and time is running out." Twelve words. The story is about a lobbyist who has to lobby for an issue that will stop her from reaching her her heart's desire. Can you say conflict?
Here's a few from published novels:
Is there really a fountain of youth in Paradise? Blame it on the Mistletoe, Joyce Magnin
Past promises will be tested as new ones are given..., A Texan's Promise, Shelly Gray
How can she love a man she's never seen face-to-face? Playing by Heart, Deborah Raney
There's a fine line between ambitious and crazy. Swinging on a Star, Janice Thompson
Behind every broken heart lies a broken promise. Dry as Rain, Gina Holmes
Savannah expected to receive a new heart...but she didn't expect to lose her faith. The Heart of Memory, Alison Strobel
Oh, the one I struggled with? Well, I laid out the main conflict points and it sprang from there. Only mine took 12 people and 24 hours. But I'm happy with it. You sure you want to see it? Okay ...
An invasion of tourists, a scalawag mayor, and her son's mail order bride propel Claire onto a merry-go-round of trouble.
Thank goodness hyphenated words count as one.