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Monday, September 05, 2011

Does Your Tag Line Hook?

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. 


  1. Ane, thank you, thank you, thank you! Your advice just added the kick I needed for my pitch. Yea.

  2. Great advice...don't forget Pentalk!

  3. Actually Dry as Rain is: He'd give anything to forget the one thing she can't remember.

    Funny how some are so easy and others about kill you to come up with. Thank God for brainstorming partners! You're the best of the best of those!

  4. Sorry about that, Gina. I looked at the back not the front. So, I pulled out your book again, and there it was - right on the front.

    Would someone please pass me a napkin so I can wipe the egg off my face?

  5. Ane, I always thought of these lines as "teasers" for our books. Sometimes the book just naturally gives a good teaser and other times it's like pulling hen's teeth.

    I've thought a "tag line" to be what drives your work like Brandilyn's "Don't Forget to Breath" or DiAnn Mills "Expect an Adventure". If not not tag-lines, what do you call these? Mine is "Touching Hearts...Changing Lives" because that's what I want my stories to do.

  6. Martha, what you're referring to of Brandilyn's and DiAnn's are their brands. Some people call a brand a tag line for you email signature because it "tags" onto the end. Mine's is Southern-fried fiction. Pam Meyer's is Take a Sentimental Journey. Angie Hunt's is Expect the Unexpected. It let's readers know what to expect in your book.

    I've always heard a book's hook line referred to as the tag line. :) Who knows if there is a proper name for it. :)

    Maybe we should come up with one!


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