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  • Writer's pictureGreg Moriarty

Have fun with taglines – they pull the reader in

Updated: Dec 20, 2023

At the recent BAD Sydney Crime Writers Festival, I heard 4 writers talking about sequels and how supportive the crime writing community is. It's time for me to get back to my book 3 manuscript, and to share what I've learnt along the way.

I'm kicking off with tips for independent authors. Some will apply to crime fiction; others to various genres.

Today's topic: taglines.

Tagline from Scot Free by Greg Moriarty reads "Four murders. Three weeks. Two jackpots. One killer goes ..."

Let's start with one of my favourites – from the movie Alien – and see what makes a tagline great.

'In space no one can hear you scream.'

First the mechanics, It's only 8 words and all are simple. Every word is only 1 syllable. It's short and forecful. And the poster used sentence case, not all caps. An extra point.

As for the main idea, it works on 2 levels: you can't make a sound and no one's around anyway. Every word earns its keep.

If we turn to Australian crime fiction, most commercial fiction uses a tagline, has a quote or mentions winning a prize. I'll focus on taglines and 5 main sub-groups.


Questions are common. Christian White likes these. Each tagline from his 3 novels poses a question. My favourite is for Wild Place:

'Why do good people do bad things?'

Only 7 words, almost all of them 1 syllable. The unanswered question draws you in. And pairing 'good' and 'bad' nails it. I take off a point for block capitals (haha). I've got it in for all caps.


Contrast is also popular. Look at this from Jane Harper:

'Even the deepest secrets rise to the surface.'

My, that's wonderful. 8 words, 12 syllables. The 'deepst' and 'rise to the surface' jar beautifully, don't they?

Mini-story or theme

Then there's the mini-story or theme. I'm just finished The Girl She Was Before by Jess Kitching, with its gut-punch twists.

'You can't outrun the past'

This tagline conveys a major theme in the novel. Again, short and snappy. Only 5 words, 6 syllables. It's simple, direct. It works. Bonus point for sentence case.


Repetition is a strong rhetorical device. This example's from Brit Daniel Scanlan:

'No way back. No way out. No way home.'

The pattern has oomph and rhythm. 9 words, 9 syllables. Sweet! In all caps. Less sweet.


Finally, lists. These feature heavily. Usually starting with a number and counting up or down. This one's from my novel about a state-endorsed murder reality show:

'Four murders. Three weeks. Two jackpots. One killer goes ... Scot Free'.

9 words, 12 syllables. A bit on the long side. But I think it works because the hooky countdown takes over. And there's a contrast with 'murders' and 'jackpots'. The reader realises that something's not quite right with the TV promo.

There you have it. Whichever format you choose, make sure your tagline draws readers in. It's worth experimenting with a few and choosing the standout. Keep it fresh, punchy and original.

I'll do another post soon. Feel free to suggest a topic.


Greg Moriarty is an up-and-coming writer specialising in crime fiction. He's the author of 2 gripping thrillers, The Swap and Scot Free. He's also an expert in plain language for business and government writing.


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