Tag Lines

February 9th, 2010 • Kate

tagWe talk a lot about query letters here, and (I hope) provide a useful service for people to improve their letters. But as I looked at various queries in my email inbox today, I thought about how important a one-sentence pitch truly is. Call them “hooks” or “tag lines” or what have you, they’re the simplest way you have to describe your novel and interest a reader in picking it up. Weekly, Publishers Marketplace sends out a huge email of all the posted deals from the previous week — each deal has to convey the author, the agent, the editor, the acquiring imprint, and some additional information, but they usually also have the essence of the book in a single handy sentence. For reference, I called up my list of recent deals (link requires a subscription). A sample:

Carrie Harris’s debut NO PAIN, NO BRAIN, in which a science nerd must cure a zombie outbreak in her high school before she and her homecoming date join the ranks of the walking dead…

…Maureen Johnson’s three-book series starting with a thriller about an American high-school student who enrolls at a London boarding school for her junior year, where a series of murders begins to take place across the city, on the exact dates and in the exact style of Jack the Ripper, and soon her ties to the killer bring her in contact with a secret paranormal branch of the British police…

Julia Karr’s XVI, in which a 15-year-old uncovers the mystery surrounding her mother’s death and her missing father, while dreading the coming of her sixteenth birthday and the government-mandated tattoo that references her sexual status…

Stephanie Perkins’s ANNA AND THE BOY MASTERPIECE FRENCH KISS, in which American Anna Oliphant spends a year in a Parisian boarding school and falls for her multi-national classmate, plus a companion novel, LOLA AND THE BOY NEXT DOOR…

Kiki Hamilton’s THE FAERIE RING, an urban fantasy set in Victorian London, in which a streetwise pickpocket steals a ring from Buckingham Palace, then has to try to return it in order to keep a peace treaty between the British and Faerie courts…

Those are just a few examples.

But it’s something to think about, if you haven’t already. You may have expertly distilled the essence of your book into a one-page query letter, but can you get it down to a single sentence?

Feel free to share your tag lines in the comments!

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31 Responses to “Tag Lines”

  1. Lisa Gibson Says:

    That oh so important hook! It is essential, to be sure.

  2. AE Rought Says:

    Cursed with seeing everyone's future deaths, seventeen year old Echo Miller uses her death-o-vision clues to unravel the thread of a sinister plot in her school and stop a massacre before it starts.

  3. Laura Diamond Says:

    Laura Diamond's AILURANTHROPE is the story of a teenage girl who learns how to use her shapeshifting abilities so she save her missing father.

  4. ArkansasCyndi Says:

    In the Demon War Chronicles Series, the walls between parallel worlds are thinning leaving the demon clans of Bajo Mundo thrilled, the supernormal clans of Aluis Mundus concerned and the mortals on Earth clueless.

  5. Stina Says:

    Can I get my book down to a single sentence? Yes, but that's because Elana Johnson at the QT blog helped me. But isn't the ability to summarize your book in one sentence the same thing as a high-concept hook? Oh I'm so confused with that term.

  6. Stina Says:

    Seventeen-year-old Calleigh has a plan for summer vacation, and it totally doesn’t include burying herself under the truth of what happened ten months ago.

  7. Magan Says:

    Sorority princess Libby Gentry has been kicked out of college, and to set her in the right path her parents have sent her to work for her great aunt in rural Louisiana.


  8. AE Rought Says:

    Tweetable tagline:

    Avoiding love, teaming with a Reaper, and using her curse of seeing future death to stop a massacre just might get Echo killed. ^_^

  9. Georgiana Says:

    Gabriel, a recently downsized angel who isn't ready to retire, discovers being a guardian is no cakewalk when Charity, his new charge, is the focus of an obsessive and dangerous creature posing as her former guardian.

  10. Tiffany Neal Says:

    Need. Help. Please!

    I have no problem rambling on for ridiculous amounts of times. Word and sentence restrictions choke me! If anyone has any advice, I would love to hear it. Even if it's…YOU SUCK, START OVER!! I can't figure out what I should include and what I need to leave out…I've been plugging away at this for three days and here are the two that I've come up with:

    Seventeen-year-old Channing Russo must get over the guilt of not being able to prevent the accident that claimed the lives of her brother and sister, so that she can use her unwanted ability to see into the future alongside the encouragement of her only confidant, Reed Thatcher, to track down and stop the serial killer that is terrorizing Princeton, NJ.

    Even though seventeen-year-old Channing Russo has the ability to see into other's futures, she was unable to prevent the accident that claimed the lives of her brother and sister, leading to an insurmountable guilt and depression that she must get over in order to track down and stop the serial killer that is terrorizing Princeton, NJ, putting her life at risk in the process.

  11. phoquess Says:

    MIND GAMES, wherein a telepathic soldier with a penchant for secret-keeping has to face his ghosts—or risk losing the war.

  12. Delilah Dawson Says:

    When Lena Blackstone is bitten by a rat with fangs, she discovers that tiny people called the SCRITCH secretly live all around her family's ancient farmhouse, and there's a reason her basement has always seemed so creepy.

  13. Shannon Says:

    Can it be a run on? (kidding)

    Aubrey is on the back of a Harley wiping bug splatter off her face on a rescue mission to save her family from the very cult leader who is trying to capture her.


    Aubrey is on a rescue to mission to save her family.

    I don't know if it's good or bad, but I can change this sentence a dozen different ways and still keep it one sentence. Hmmmm. I wonder what Dr. Phil would say about that?

  14. Kater Says:

    I love these.

    Dead siblings, missing mother, legal trouble, and djinn who wants payback haunt woman whose mage counterpart switched places. (Alternate Susan)

    Part time job as magic wand salesman fails when Griff realizes owls want him dead. (Mulberry Wands)

    Unnaturally chilly girl proves poor solution to broken air conditioner when her roommates become insane. (The Heat Stealer)

    I have more on my blog. Under "Writing resume" at the bottom.

  15. Kat Says:

    When fifteen-year-old sidekick Connor "The Temper" Thomas assumed the identity of his former hero, Captain Power, he never expected a real villain would come to town and put both his lie and his life in jeopardy.

  16. Wendy Oliver Says:

    Tiffany – how about something like:

    A grieving seventeen-year-old must use her unwanted ability to see into the future to stop a serial killer that is terrorizing Princeton, N.J.

    Protagonist = grieving teen

    Choice = use unwanted ability

    Consequence = stop the killer

    I don’t think you need the character’s name in the tag line.

  17. Raye Carr Says:

    Here are a couple of options for my Young Adult SciFi Thriller – would love to have some feedback 🙂

    * A grieving 17 yr old must use all of her enhanced skills to uncover the dark secrets behing the disappearance of her sister on a remote colony of parahuman ex military.


    * A grieving and traumatised 17 yr old must put her own life in danger to uncover the truth behind her sister's disappearance on a remote planet colonised by the same ex military parahumans who were responsible for their mother's death.

    Thanks in advance, Raye

  18. Stina Says:

    Wow Wendy, that's the best information I've seen yet on how to write a logline. 😀

  19. Tiffany Neal Says:

    Wendy. You are my new hero. And your brilliant. And I could kiss you right now, but I'll refrain.

    Thank you! So, so much!!!!

  20. Delilah Dawson Says:

    Oooh, Wendy! That's so helpful. Let me try again.

    When Lena discovers tiny people secretly living in her family's ancient farmhouse, she must race against the clock to save her baby brother from the sinister king of the Gobblings.

    Is that better? It's so hard to step back from one's work and recognize if condensing makes sense to anyone else.

  21. AE Rought Says:

    Oo! Using Wendy's formula and cutting out the extraneous:

    Using her curse of seeing future death to stop a tragedy will bring seventeen year old Echo face to face with her own mortality.

  22. Tiffany Neal Says:

    And…I spelled your wrong. That should be you're. I am an English/Grammar teacher and I crucify students for this exact mistake… *Bang head on desk*

  23. Mandy Says:

    In Mandy Pietruszewski's Spirit Riddled, a middle grade fantasy novel, a twelve-year-old former street urchin struggling with her abandonment must learn to use her "demon"-given abilities to save the man who took her off the streets and has become her only family.

  24. Mandy Says:

    Oh and I really appreciated your tip Wendy! I really struggle with summarizing; you definitely helped!

  25. Derrick Camardo Says:

    In Derrick Camardo's THE NEW ORC SOCIETY, Shooga and his clan of orcs answer the call of the high council of wizards to spread peace throughout the land, but first, the orcs will have to learn magic and manners—the latter being the most difficult.

  26. Wendy Oliver Says:

    Glad I could help. The formula is QueryShark's. Who is the protagonist? What choice does she face? What are the consequences of that choice?

    For examples of successful taglines, I read the mouse-over descriptions of movies listed on NetFlix.

    Raye – I like your first example better. It's more concise. Maybe exchange "traumatized" for "grieving"?

    Delilah – Your new version is clear and sounds fun! (I still own and watch more videos tapes then DVDs, too.)

  27. Tere Kirkland Says:

    Outcast Romani teen Mara must accept her curse–her ability to see the spirits of the dead–if she wants to find a murderer.

  28. Feliza Says:

    Oh, cool. That formula helps a lot. What about…

    In Feliza David's , "I Dream of Jeannie" meets John Hughes when sixteen-year-old Layla, a snarky half-genie, must grant three wishes to a popular classmate.

    Wow… I think I might have a line for my query, actually. Wendy for Class President!

  29. Feliza Says:

    Hmm… I think my brackets confused the website. Should be: "Feliza David's (insert awesome title here)"

  30. Kristi Says:

    I got my one-sentence pitch down even before I started writing the book. Now that I'm in the final revision stage of the ms, it's helped a ton with my query as well. However, I'll do my first live pitch to an agent at a conference later this year and the thought of doing it verbally instead of in written form TERRIFIES me!

  31. Artist Dates and Tag Lines and NYC, Oh My | Ruthanne Reid, Author {Blog} Says:

    […] now, with no segue, here is an excellent article by agent Kate Testerman about taglines. Taglines, you say? Why, yes – the one sentence summary of your book, the kind that usually […]