start here

Hooks and Taglines – What Are They?

by Tom Ashford

The literary market is flooded, but don’t stress – it always has been. Luckily, there are potentially billions of people who might want to read your book. You just have to make sure they choose to read yours and not somebody else’s.

In the marketing world, a hook or tagline is something quick and snappy that catches your reader/ prospective customer and reels them in (yes, it’s a fishing metaphor). They are technically different from one another, so here are their definitions:

A tagline is snappy copy that sells a product or idea. Think Nike’s “Just do it” or KFC’s “finger-lickin’ good”. When applied to books and movies, the tagline is usually something a little less abstract and more related to the plot of the actual story. The 2017 film “Life” had “Be Careful What You Search For” (sci-fi horror).

A hook is usually something which compels the customer/ reader/ listener to choose your product. A tagline might do the job, but a hook can do it more clearly. Think more along the lines of: “Get this exhilerating space opera saga for only 99p today.” It’s also a term we use within the writing itself. The first sentence in your novel or essay should itself be a hook – something that tells the reader what to expect and compels them to read on. The title of this very article is a hook, in a way. I could have also called “Five Hooks and Taglines That Will Blow Your Socks Off.”

In the blurb you stick up on your Amazon book page, you’ll probably use both – your tagline right at the beginning and your hook towards the end with your call to action. And don’t worry if it all seems a little confusing or muddled. They’re both designed with the same aim in mind – convincing people to give your book a go.

I would argue that, for titles and catchy copy alike, hooks are better suited for non-fiction and taglines are better for fiction.

For writing a good hook (for non-fiction books, articles, or the “this is why you should buy my book” bit at the end of your blurb), there are numerous techniques you can deploy to maximise their effectiveness.

Numbers grab people’s attention for some reason. Asking a question that conjures an image in the reader’s mind is another good trick (and asking a question can make for a good tagline as well). Superlatives such as “best”, “biggest” or “quickest” are sure to stand out due to their extreme nature. The same goes for anything mentioning “new” – people don’t want to miss out.

Taglines work for non-fiction too. The Podcast Host compiled a list of podcast taglines, including “Welcome to the Smart Passive Income podcast, where it’s all about working hard now so you can sit back and reap the benefits later” and “Podcraft brings the pieces together, so you don’t have to.” And of course, don’t forget the most famous one: “There’s never been a better time to be a writer!”

As mentioned before, fiction taglines tend to be a little snappier, a little more “imaginative” – it’s not about solving a problem, but enticing somebody to try something they might otherwise not. You want to create intrigue and/or excitement.

Here’s a famous one from Lord of the Rings: “One ring to rule them all.”

Or Percy Jackson and the Olympians: The Lightning Thief: “Half boy. Half god. All hero.”

How about “May the odds be ever in your favour” from The Hunger Games?

And I quite like this one: “A pet isn’t just for life” for Stephen King’s Pet Sematary.

And this: “Death comes to us all. When he came to Mort, he offered him a job.” (Mort, Terry Pratchett)

I’m sure you get the idea by now. Just take a look at your own bookshelf and you’ll find dozens of examples, some more successful (or witty, or imaginative) than others.

So how do you come up with your own tagline? What you don’t want to do is try and describe your entire story in one sentence – you won’t manage it. Don’t even try to describe one of your characters – if they’re written well, you probably won’t do them justice.

Try to focus on the core theme or character arc instead. Or simply give a clear sense of genre and tone. Most thriller taglines are fairly generic, but that’s the point. They reassure readers that their story will contain action and mystery – the specifics of the book’s unique story can come later.

Take the James Bond movie Skyfall, for example. “Think on your sins” doesn’t really tell us anything… but it gets our attention.

Write down a lot of them. Not just one or two – dozens, if you can. Try subtle variants of each one until you have something that seems catchy. If you can come up with something that carries a double meaning, even better (providing it’s not too wacky if your book is deadly serious). Try them out with friends, family and fellow writers.

Then choose the best one. Make sure to put it at the top of your blurb and, if it’s snappy enough and fits the genre, on your front cover as well.

And if you’re struggling to find examples (plenty of traditionally published books don’t have taglines on their covers, and their blurbs can leave something to be desired), check out movie posters (or the book posters on billboards/ the London Underground). Hollywood’s great at it.

A case in point – and this one is absolutely fantastic, once you know the plot of the movie (and the book it’s based on) – is David Fincher’s Zodiac: “There’s more than one way to lose your life to a killer.”

Tom Ashford

Tom Ashford

Tom Ashford is a professional copywriter, author of numerous dark fantasy and sci-fi novels, and the Head of Content at the Self Publishing Formula Blog. His books include the Blackwater trilogy and the Checking Out series.

He lives in London with his wife, in an apartment that doesn’t allow pets. Find out more about Tom here.