Write Your Tagline and Logline

October 21, 2010

A tagline is a memorable phrase that sums up your book and makes people want to read it. A logline is a one- or two-sentence summary of your plot that does the same job.  Both have their uses.

Writing your own tagline and logline is valuable because

  1. You have an instant answer to the irritating question ‘What is your book about?’  And you can answer it whilst adhering to the fundamental rule Never talk about your book!  When a friend or stranger asks you what you are working on, you can tell them succinctly, and with confidence.
  2. They build excitement about your book in yourself and in others. A good tagline or logline will elicit the response “I want to read that!”  This gives you, the not-yet-established writer, the sense of an audience waiting eagerly for the result of your efforts.
  3. You can use them to keep you focused. A good tagline or logline will keep you on track without stunting your book’s growth.

Coming up with your tagline

Since you need it to be brief, you’ll need reference points that others understand. The following are clichés, but useful.

The ‘meets’ formula
It’s an unusual (and possibly not saleable) work of fiction that doesn’t have some similarity to something already in existence. Brainstorm a few books that yours has some connection to in style, content, theme or feel. Then combine them in interesting ways until you find a combination that feels right, or will at least pique interest.

Example: Harry Potter meets Wolf Hall.

Success with a twist
The last decade or so has seen the rise and rise of what is often referred to as ‘clone publishing’. Publishers openly admit they are looking for the next success that is not all that different from a previous success e.g. The Next [fill in the blank]. We, as authors, are of course writing something highly original. Nevertheless, we can make publishers, and potential readers, feel safe enough to try our wares by relating our book to something already successful, with an indication of how it’s different.

Trainspotting for girls (that’s Kate’s new novel)
James Bond in a codpiece (that’s mine)

What Happens Next?
Better, though, is the kind of tagline illustrated above (this one from the new film The Social Network). Ideally you want something very specific to your story, that has some kind of emotional kick. Note how this one is written in the second person (“You”). Anyone exposed to this tagline is likely to put themselves in the position of the protagonist, and that’s immediately intriguing. It kicks off questions. What kind of enemies? What do they do to him? And what’s it like having 500 million “friends”? Ideally you want a tagline that creates the inner responses: “What would it be like to be the subject of this story?” and “What happens next?”

(And if your friends as you this, don’t tell them! You want them to buy it, don’t you? See Never Talk About Your Book.)

Coming up with your logline

When a tagline isn’t enough to keep the curious at bay, you’ll need a logline. A logline (a film industry term) is your book in miniature; a dynamic one- or two-sentence statement which conveys both genre and story arc, summarises the plot, and leaves us wanting more.  It should hint at the climax without giving it away. For example:

Just before the outbreak of World War II, an adventuring archaeologist named Indiana Jones races around the globe to single-handedly prevent the Nazis from turning the greatest archaeological relic of all time into a weapon of world conquest.                                                                                                                                (Raiders of the Lost Ark)

To devise a logline for your book, make note of the following.

  • who is your main character?
  • what do they want? what is their goal?
  • why do they want this?
  • what are the obstacles (inner/outer) in their way?
  • what makes this story unique?

Combine elements of your answers above into one or two sentences. Remove any unnecessary words. Strengthen the language.  Test it out on friends and get feedback. Revise it until you are happy.

If you write somewhat ‘organically’ – that is, winding up the characters, then letting them go to see what happens – you may not be able to write a logline until the novel is nearing completion.  Until then, use your tagline. However, as soon as a plot is apparent, a logline is a very useful tool. Not only does it prevent you giving too much away while you garner the interest of your future audience, it is the perfect opening for your submission to agents and publishers.  Why not post yours below for comments and feedback?

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3 Responses to Write Your Tagline and Logline

  1. Pingback: Tweets that mention Write Your Tagline and Logline | Be the Writer You Dream of Being -- Topsy.com
  2. Jayelle Cochran
    May 11, 2013 at 6:49 pm

    Hi. I was looking up information on taglines and found your article. Because I generally don’t know what’s going to happen in my stories when I first sit down to write them, I wait until the end to write a tagline. I have a love/hate relationship with them.

    Love…they help me to tell someone what my novel is about without boring them. If someone needs a bit more then I can expand on the tagline a bit. It’s easy to remember too, so that’s a bonus when I’m talking face to face with someone.

    Hate…it’s not easy to take a 100k word novel and summarize it in one sentence. The questions you gave for the logline are similar to what I use. They’re a great way to get all of the details out of the way and focus on key points.

    Here is a tagline that I’m working on for my indie novel Sadie’s War. What do you think?

    A blind traumatized teen learns of love, and inadvertently becomes the catalyst for a large scale revolt.



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