A tag line is a sentence or phrase describing a book or short story. Tag lines are used to sell potential readers on the idea of reading the book or story in question. So, yes, they are about book marketing. However, when you write your tag line before writing/finishing your story, it may help you stay on track.
Particularly on older paperback books, a tag line was often printed on a book cover. Here are some random samples of books with tag lines from my personal book collection, harvested from whatever books I could find while keeping my kitten Jon-with-Rice out of mischief.
Night of the Saucers – Eando Binder – 1971
“The saucers landed on Earth. The Vexxians infiltrated. Now they planned to blow up everything.”
Starship – Brian Aldiss – 1958
“The magnificent novel of a weird and terrifying journey— generations in length— that knew neither sun, nor moon, nor stars.”
Doomsday Morning – C. L. Moore – 1957
“Comus had brought peace and plenty to a war-devastated America— but could it survive the new revolution?”
Darwin’s Radio – Greg Bear – 1999
“In the next stage of evolution, humans are history…”
Star Trek: Death Count – L. A. Graf – 1992
“A saboteur is loose on the USS Enterprise.”
Star Trek: The Trellisane Confrontation – David Dvorkin – 1984
“An attack on a small planet triggers a deadly interstellar war!”
OK, what have you learned about tag lines from reading these commercially published examples? [Feel free to have any insights you like at this point.] What I learned is that the tag line is an attempt to hint at the content of the book, and to convey the excitement that the book (we hope) will provide to a reader.
Non-fiction books use tag lines as well. In fact, in the world of non-fiction books, the tag line is a part of the title. Such as “Gone With the Wind: Protecting Your Homestead from Wind Damage.” The tag line part of the title distinguishes it from any other books that might coincidentally be named ‘Gone With the Wind.’
The example tag lines I’ve given here are a bit on the abstract/general side— no specific character is mentioned, by name or otherwise. Nothing like “Gregor Samsa woke one morning to find he’d been transformed into an insect.” Which is not to say you can’t do a more specific tag line. The examples I’ve shown are just random examples. Go to your own book horde, pull out some paperbacks, and look for other examples of tag lines used on covers.
And in the modern publishing world where so many indie-publish in varying ways and have to do their own book marketing, a tag line is an important tool whether it is on your book cover or not. You can Tweet it when you Tweet a link to the book, or share it in other ways on other social media.
What I did recently when I published my short story ‘The Skin Shirt’ to Wattpad, I used my tag line, ‘In the City, they changed their skin color as easily as changing a shirt’ as the first sentence in my story summary. I left a line of blank space and then added the story summary I’d come up with: ‘Mardetto Abrono was only a merchant. It was his late twin Marcello who was the artist. Mardetto only sold the works that his brother created. But when Mardetto was faced with the task of buying a new skin shirt, which would change the now-much-faded color of his skin, he found himself thinking of making other changes.’
The tag line is more abstract— it doesn’t mention Mardetto or his late twin at all— but it gives a hint of what is different and unique about the story.
How do you or have you used tag lines for your writing? Do you think tag lines are important, or just some other damned chore writers are told to do? In the comments, you may share a tag line you have written for a work of your own, along with one link to that work (Amazon, Wattpad, wherever it’s available.)
If you are morbidly curious about my story ‘The Skin Shirt’ on Wattpad, here is the link: https://www.wattpad.com/807299575-the-skin-shirt-part-1