Challenge,  publishing

Quick Note On Author Tag Lines…

This Is 2023…

As I have been saying in my series of posts about decisions young authors have to make, we are in a transition time between Traditional paperback distribution and Indie electronic distribution. And the two different ways of doing business.

One of the major changes is the author tag line. You know, that line you put above your name on a cover that no one can read, but it needs to be there for cover design.

For a decade, I have put above my name USA Today Bestselling Writer. Not one reader of my books knows what that really means, and that list is gone now. I am also a New York Times Bestselling Writer, but I seldom use that.

No one actually knows what a “bestseller” is these days, and trust me, you don’t even know in any real numbers of readers buying a “bestsellers” books.

Most writers don’t even know that the “bestseller” lists in B&N are bought positions. Yup, lying to the customer to sell them books. Oh, shocking for traditional publishing… NOT!

So I am going to be slowly moving over to using other things on those tag lines, away from the old crap still dripping out from traditional publishing. I want to more into  active tags that might actually help in sales.

“Author of the Acclaimed Cold Poker Gang Series” might be a much better tag line over my name. Might help sell the book to someone who can read the line and also might help sell my Cold Poker Gang series.

I might put the phrase somewhere on my books, “Over 23 Millions Books In Print.” Maybe over my name, maybe somewhere on the cover.

See how both examples are far, far more concrete than saying “bestseller” in a tag line?

No one has a clue what “bestseller” really means, and I got a hunch in 15 years it will be a term in the publishing trash heap right along with terms like “front list” and “launch.”


  • T Thorn Coyle

    Interesting, Dean.

    I just always put “author of The Witches of Portland” or whatever other series is related to the book in question. Urban Fantasy for Urban Fantasy or Cozy Mystery for Cozy Mystery. It’s a bit of front-cover advertising, frankly.

    I guess I could put “bestselling author” because I’ve hit various Amazon lists at various times, but that’s felt weird to me. I know plenty of authors do it, though, so have lately wondered if I should.

    • dwsmith

      Ahh, the pressure of “others” instead of continuing to use that space for great advertising of other series.

      Choice… Advertise another of your series or books or put a worthless term that means nothing up there. Hmmmm…

  • Harvey Stanbrouigh

    Dean. Totally your decision, of course, but I say if you have it, use it. You could add a new tag line but still retain the “bestseller” tags somewhere on the cover, or at least in the sales copy.

    IMHO, it isn’t about what prospective readers “know” about the bestseller tag, it’s what they perceive. And what they perceive is that you were on a bestseller list (two of them, no less) because a lot of readers bought your books.

    • dwsmith

      Harvey, you missed my point. Bestseller means nothing to anyone these days. Maybe other older writers, but to the new readers and new world, bestseller is a worthless term. Better to advertise your other series.

  • Philip

    This is an excellent post and pairs well with Kris’s recent post about big name authors.

    I regularly check book sales numbers on Publishers Weekly and frequently see books that sell 3500 copies on the list. Even big sellers that have been on for many weeks may see 45,000 copies sold, although I don’t know whether returns from retailers is netted from that.

    To put that in perspective, there are approximately 258 million adults in the US alone. Very interesting to use these numbers in fighting critical voice and myths. For example, your indie first novel selling 3-5 units a month is clearly NOT a failure by reasonable comparison.

  • Kate Pavelle

    This is probably a terrible idea…but this DYI environment opens all kinds of doors, some serious and some tongue-in-cheek.
    “Heron Creek, NY’s Favorite Writer!” (The place doesn’t exit, I made it up for a series.)
    For Michael W. Lucas, “Prohibiton’s Favorite Orc Writer!”

    And so on… 😉

    • dwsmith

      Yup, only limit is the imagination of the author. Just don’t lie. Save that for the fiction inside the book.

      • C.E. Petit

        <sarcasm> I’d say “save the lies for the royalty reports,” but that’s commercial publishing… although the nonauditability of many vendor reports could prove promising… </sarcams>

        • dwsmith

          Yup, the indie side of things hasn’t matured enough yet to tackle that problem that is coming. But it will.

  • Filip Wiltgren

    Hey Dean,

    what do you think a new(-ish) writer could use a a tag line, assuming one only has a few books out and no impressive sales? I.e. what could sway a potential reader?