Here are a couple of good taglines I've seen recently, ones strong enough to make me pick up the book:
The city is alive tonight . . . and it's her job to keep it that way.
The Better Part of Darkness by Kelly Gay
In the fight to save humanity, she's the weapon of choice.
Bitter Night by Diana Pharoah Francis
As for ones I've seen that didn't work, how about these:
Can the hidden colony of Marseguro survive rediscovery?
Marseguro by Edward Willett
Beneath Boston's historic streets, and ancient power stirs...
Spiral Hunt by Margaret Ronald
The two that work both end with clever twists, something that the tag for Spiral Hunt tries to do as well. But "an ancient power stirs" seems tepid, needlessly vague, not particularly ... well ... stirring.
To be fair, the tags that didn't work for me are hardly the worst I've seen. For some truly dreadful ones, let's go to the movies:
When all else fails, they don't.
G.I. Joe: The Rise of the Cobra
The only thing more terrifying than the last 12 minutes of this film are the first 92.
He was dead, but he got better.
Crank: High Voltage
Of course, in all fairness, I'm sure that the Crank tag is supposed to be goofy.
Coming up with one of these little verbal trailers is far from easy, something I found out when I decided to try my hand at coming up with one for Veins. I started by looking at models, hanging out in Barnes & Nobel, pulling books off the shelf, making lists of tags that grabbed me. Then, using those as models, I set about making lists of my own tags.
Since Veins is set in an abandoned surface mine, I tried coming up with phrases that dealt with scars, wounds, blood (always a good word to use when tagging a horror novel), and coal. The worst one on my list? I suppose that would have to be this one:
In coal blood.
The list was long. Two pages. More than fifty tries, but gradually something started to emerge. Near the end of the list, I came up with these:
If you abandon a wound, it will never heal.
Abandoned wounds never heal.
Some wounds never heal.
That last one made it to the cover, and I'm pleased with it. Those four words represent the essence of the book: setting, theme, and conflict. After writing them, I knew that the book would hold together. Better yet, I knew that it was marketable.
For me, that kind of confirmation is why I think coming up with your own tags is worth the effort. Doing so enables you to better understand the book by capturing the essence of your project in a kind of verbal snapshot.
I don't have a formula for writing tags. Only a process: study models, make lists.
And since the first part of the process involves looking at book covers, please let me know what you find -- the best as well as the worst.
We'll round out the week tomorrow with one more question. Until then, remember this: the only thing better than tomorrow's question are the ones I've already answered.