What Is A Tag Line?

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

Finding an author tagline.

0117160840a‘Author branding.’ Oh, the horror! But we do need to do it. There are a lot of authors out there, from the famous to the not-yet-ready self-published. Author branding means we develop a distinctive ‘brand’ to be more memorable. To show how we are different from other authors, like Coke is different from Pepsi.

One way to do this is to have an author tagline, just the way books might have book taglines. Here are some real author taglines:

Cynthia Herron: Heartfelt, Homespun fiction.
Heather Thurmeier: Heart, Humor, and a Happily Ever After
Pat Ballard (Queen of Rubenesque Romances): Romance novels with big, beautiful heroines
Jami Gold: Where Normal Need Not Apply (paranormal romance author)

So far, the info I’ve found on author taglines has mostly been about romance fiction. But it doesn’t matter your genre or genres, any author can use one. You can use it on your blog and on other social media.

I happen to have a tagline myself, though I didn’t think of it that way when I composed it. It was when I was starting out with my author page. I didn’t want to call it ‘Nissa Annakindt, Author’ or ‘Nissa Annakindt,Writer’. That seemed too common. So I came up with ‘Nissa Annakindt, poet, Aspie and cat person.’

I used ‘poet’ because I’ve been a published poet since 1989, and have been published in a number of literary/little magazines. I have also been attempting novels since about 1990 or 1991, but I have as yet not been successful in becoming a published novelist. The complexities of writing have so far defeated me.

‘Aspie’ is a slang term for someone with Asperger’s Syndrome. Officially Asperger’s Syndrome is now just a part of ‘autism spectrum disorder’ which also includes people with low-functioning autism. Having this in my tagline makes me feel a little uneasy now. Like I’m playing the disability card. I honestly don’t believe in doing that. Having a disability shouldn’t mean you are making that disability your ‘special interest’, or, worse, that you are claiming special treatment as a member of a protected minority group, people with disabilities. I don’t believe in this protected minorities (Black people, gay people) versus despised minorities (traditional Christians, conservatives) way of looking at society that so many in the mainstream have. But— on the other hand being an Aspie explains some things about me, like my intense, obsessive interest in certain topics, my being utterly disorganized, my lack of ‘normal’ social skills, and my eccentricities.

I suppose the least useful part of my tagline is ‘cat person’. Though I have written a few poems about my cats. And it spawned a tagline to my tagline: ‘cat person? Well, when the moon is full….’  I’m not sure that’s a useful addition. But my cats are a big part of my life and my lifestyle. I live on 60 acres in a rural area, and so it is possible for me to have quite a number of barn cats, some of whom get to be house cats.

Before I had that tagline the best I had my ‘crazy cat lady’ bio that I wrote for my first poetry book. “I’m a crazy cat lady from upper Michigan. Want a kitten? No, you can’t have that one. No, not that one either. And don’t even think of that one there— the one that hisses and bites everybody. She’s my favorite.”

You can see therefore that I am not at all sure that my current author tagline is the best it can be. Though I am rather fond of it and I’m not sure I can change my Facebook author page to match a new tagline. But I’m thinking about changing if I can think of something better. (If you have suggestions, please mention them in a comment.)

It can be hard to come up with a good tagline because your writing work can change over the years. You can go from writing romance to writing mysteries or hard science fiction, for example. From genre fiction to literary fiction. From potboiler novels to serious poetry. You need to find things that are going to be always true about you and your work.

What about you? Do you have a tagline? If so, please share it in the comments. Are you working on a tagline? Or do you think the tagline idea isn’t right for you?

Poem of the Day

Today’s featured poem was written by Percy Bysshe Shelley (1792-1822). He was some guy married to the lady who wrote Frankenstein. I like Frankenstein. And his Monster.


I met a traveller from an antique land
Who said: Two vast and trunkless legs of stone
Stand in the desert…Near them, on the sand,
Half sunk, a shattered visage lies, whose frown,
And wrinkled lip, and sneer of cold command,
Tell that its sculptor well those passions read
Which yet survive, stamped on these lifeless things,
The hand that mocked them, and the heart that fed:
And on the pedestal these words appear:
“My name is Ozymandias, king of kings:
Look on my works, ye Mighty, and despair!”
Nothing beside remains. Round the decay
Of that colossal wreck, boundless and bare
The lone and level sands stretch far away.

My cat Umberto is expecting kittens soon, and I may name one Ozymandias. It may or may not be a boy kitty. Update: I now have a cat named Ozymandias. The mail lady found a half-starved three-legged cat on her route and she knew exactly where to deliver THAT package. He’s a friendly cat and has already hopped in my lap. Also tried to help me eat my lunch.

If you write poetry, you might like the Facebook group ‘Red Explosions Poetry Group.’ It welcomes poets from beginners to published poets.