Okay, before I get started, I’m going to mention this website quite a bit: Page Fight! I have no affiliation for this site, though my book is listed on it. I simply find it a valuable and under-utilized resource. It basically sets up matches between (in ascending order of what you can access by how many matches you’ve completed) two to four: Titles, Taglines, Blurbs, or Covers within a selected genre, where you then pick your favorite. These are recorded, and if you like a title/ tagline/ blurb/ cover, you can then check them out on Amazon. You’ll have some classics in there ranging from Lord of the Rings to Rosemary’s Baby, but if you’ve stayed at it long enough, you can load your own book into the system and track how it performs. Personally, I’ve put The Woven Ring in with four different taglines to see which one people like best.
And that’s what makes this site so useful in my mind: It’s (un)natural selection in its finest form where only the strongest tagline/ blurb/ etc. survives. Which is why/ how, after seeing hundreds of titles/ taglines/ blurbs/ covers, I came to my conclusions as to what aspects I like best for each.
But I digress, and we should probably get back to taglines and blurbs.
So, like loglines, which we dealt with last time, taglines and blurbs are exceedingly difficult to write for an author. And I believe that’s because 1) Like loglines/ cover letters, it’s hard to take yourself seriously when writing them, 2) It’s nigh impossible to distill your masterwork down to <300 words, let alone a sentence, 3) What makes a good tagline/ blurb is exceedingly subjective.
The last point is why I’m going to recommend doing research before you sit down to write either, and a lot of that research should involve the aforementioned site. But before we get there, some definitions:
A tagline differs from a logline in that it’s basically a short, pithy statement that is intriguing enough to make someone want to check out the book. What exactly makes a good tagline has been handled by better bloggers than I, but the post I found the most useful for writing mine was by the exceptional Nicola Alter.
The tagline somehow sums up all your work in a sentence, and while it can quickly summarize your novel or movie, it’s designed to instigate interest by any means necessary. That could mean bad grammar and incomplete sentences. Or perhaps a question that makes the reader dying to know the answer.
Personally, I found I really hate taglines that ask a question. But I like taglines that have a counting conceit. Like: Three Women. Two conspiracies. One Crown. Or Six dangerous outcasts. One impossible heist.
Glomming onto those, I also realized I like short, 1-3 word sentences, eg.: Judge. Jury. Executioner. Wizard. Or: Stand. Fight. Or Burn.
I also like ones that use a single term that I find intriguing: Deep in the Chalk, something is stirring.
Incongruous statements are also pretty awesome: Not all witches fly on brooms. Some have wings. Also, To survive in one world, he cannot let himself believe in the other.
I should mention that after clicking to the links of those books, I realized I would never read them. But they did get me to click on the book to read the blurb, which makes them damn good taglines in my opinion. And since all that matters here is my personal opinion, I will share with you what I believe to be the best tagline of all times.
In space, no one can hear you scream.
It’s not a question, rather a statement of fact, which is (quite possibly) true yet feels incongruous. But more than that, it connotes two things. First, that this story will take place in space, which sets the genre as sci-fi. Second, that screaming will be involved, which evokes the horror genre; which sums up the story perfectly. Especially when anchored by the wonderful movie poster.
I bring up the poster because I don’t believe the tagline can quite exist in a vacuum. As Nicola points out in her article, one of the best (possibly unofficial) taglines of all times comes from Game of Thrones in Winter is coming.
There's a lot of fun you can have with this one.
The thing is, I only believe that it works because we all know enough about the story that we inherently understand what those words mean and why they’re important. It has a current cultural cache that the publishers can now cash in on. Same with One ring to rule them all. We all know enough about Lord of the Rings to know that phrase has significance. Or same with the Bible in “In the beginning…”
For unknown authors, I would suggest staying away from a line taken from your novel that will have no significance for people who have no knowledge of your novel. May the odds be ever in your favor just sounds like a fortune cookie unless you’re aware of the conceit behind The Hunger Games.
This is the quick, 100-300 word summary of your story that potential readers will see when they click on your book to decide if they want to read it. And it is a pain in the ass to write for the same reasons that the logline/ taglines are.
Like a novice blacksmith, I pretty much beat out my blurb by trial, error, and a fair amount of cursing. Since then, through Page Fight!, I have now looked at hundreds of taglines and blurbs, and from this have come to a few rules of thumbs as to the basic structure of blurbs:
1. Generic – As the name connotes, this one looks like it was spit out by a marketing intern over lunch in that it says a lot without actually saying anything. Something like “A rip-roaring adventure through an immense, immersive world beyond your imagination.” Sure, that sentence has a lot of alliteration, but it doesn’t tell me anything about this story/ world/ plot. So yeah, swipe left.
2. Awards opener – Basically you list all the awards that that book has won to establish its awesomeness. Personally, I don’t like this option because I haven’t won any awards, and when I’m looking for a book on my kindle and if all the info before the cut is simply saying how great it is without telling me anything about it, I quickly move on. Because it’s sort of like a game show in which they say you can have what’s behind the curtain and assure you that it’s really, REALLY awesome. But if you don’t see it, it’s still a gamble. And I’d rather have some semblance of certainty in knowing an inkling of what the plot’s about than being told what to think about it.
3. World opener – A quick breakdown about how amazing and immersive the world is (usually for fantasy/ sci-fi books by the by). Gardens of the Moon has this opening in spades in that it just lists off how many nations/ wars are going on, while also listing some of the main power players. I find this one unsatisfying as well since I still don’t know what the book’s actually about. Except, you know, maybe war. Maybe.
4. Plot/ Protagonist opener – I initially had this one as two separate entries, but I couldn’t think of an example of two “pure” versions; each plot needs a protagonist to go through it, and a protagonist as simply a character study is boring since it’s the plot that reveals the protagonist. So they’re irrevocably intertwined, with this blurb explaining why the protagonist is compelling, then how harrowing and interesting their journey is going to be because the protagonist is either uniquely or ill-suited to be on this journey. So, in many ways, it’s an extended version of the logline we discussed last time in that it needs all those core components.
5. Hybrid – Yeah, I’m all about mixing and matching, which means I would suggest taking what works from each of these categories and stitching them together into something unholy that serves your purpose. I’ll also note that Game of Thrones has all of these but generic in that it wears its awards openly, starts its blurb off with a bit about the world before delving into the characters and explaining in broad strokes the basic plot of the first book and why it will be compelling when contrasted against these characters.
So let's look at my own blurb real quick:
"A fantasy reimagining of the American Civil War, The Woven Ring pits muskets against magic, massive war machines against mind readers, and glass sabers against soldiers in psychic exoskeletons. In exile since the civil war that tore the nation of Newfield apart, former spy and turncoat Marta Childress wants nothing more than to quietly live out her remaining days in the West. But then her manipulative brother arrives with one final mission: Transport the daughter of a hated inventor deep into the East. Forced to decide between safely delivering the girl and assassinating the inventor, Marta is torn between ensuring the fragile peace and sparking a second civil war. Aided by an untrustworthy Dobra and his mysterious mute companion, Marta soon discovers that dark forces, human and perhaps the devil herself, seek to end her quest into the East."
The first sentence is definitely a world opener, and even has notes of the generic in it where I all but say it's going to be a rip-roaring ride in this fantasy world. Then we delve directly into the protagonist while mentioning the situation she finds herself in, outline her mission/ journey, establish the stakes in the second civil war, then finally the vast array of harrowing forces that will stand in her way to give the conflict.
So here comes the part where it looks like I’m arguing for a hybrid, because it’s obviously the best choice. But, while I do believe that is the case, I only think so since that’s what I personally prefer. And that’s where it gets tricky in that the author should write a tagline/ blurb that appeals to him/her. Because the author is trying to reach an audience with similar tastes. So it would be safe to assume that your intended audience will read the same sort of blurbs/ taglines you like and feel the same way about them. They’re sort of flags you can put up that your intended audience will salute while others, not from your state of similar thought, will move on past.
Which means, if you’re a generic junkie, write that type of tagline/ blurb. An awards whore? Then list ‘em all off with aplomb. Think the world is the core to your conceit, then don’t bother to state a word about your characters or plot.
So yeah, that’s my great wisdom for writing taglines and blurbs (and loglines): Write what you like. And know what you like by researching it by reading loads of taglines and blurbs. And if you’re looking for a good place to learn about them, might I suggest Page Fight!