Tuesday, January 12, 2010

Do You Know Why We Use...THE HIGH CONCEPT

Feared as much as the synopsis is, the High Concept of a story instills more fear in writers than receiving a rejection letter. (Wow, that was a good start). Still the high concept is something that must be learned and must be understood by all writers.

Now, for many writers, they have sat in sessions learning how to craft the well written "high concept" sentence or paragraph. 25-50 words that set your story out as being something new and unique. In the end, though, as an agent, I often see queries come across my desk that look just like that. A darned fill in the blank worksheet. It really happens after larger national conference. But the question today is WHY?

We use a high concept to identify to editors, agents and book buyers (and hopefully you as a writer) what it is that makes this story unique. Deb Werksman from Source Books describes it as a single sentence she can use to book buyers to describe everything your book is about. In the case of Michele Ann Young's debut novel with Source Books NO REGRETS it was about a girl who was loved for who she was not what she looked like. The heroine was heavy set, wore glasses and was not a bombshell, and yet he still loved her.

When I look at story submissions, as an agent, I want to see that you have come up with a story that has that great new twist to it. Something we haven't seen before. Sure there may be common themes such as Beauty and the Beast, Lost love and so forth, but the direction you took it to was different. This helps us because instead of having to think of your story as a full plot, we can see it as a nice packaged idea and concept. Certainly easier to sell.

Now here is the twist. As a writer, you need to think of that high concept BEFORE you write the story. I think I told you this once before, but I was at a writer's group once doing a session on marketing your novel and we hit the high concept section. We worked together understanding the components of a great high concept and then we had time to write that perfect 1-2 sentence pitch. It was then that many writers realized it was impossible. Not that writing a high concept is tough, but the fact that their story was not different. It was just like everything else out there.

For example: A romantic suspense with a serial killer. He is chasing the heroine because she happens to look like his ex-cheating girlfriend. Detective in charge is now falling for her.

Ho Hum....

Remember that as submissions come in, you want to stand out amid the tons of other writers out there. Think LEGALLY BLONDE. Although I am not supporting the idea of scented pink resumes, the concept is there. She wanted to make sure her resume was seen.

That is what the high concept is used for.

TOMORROW... Why we start with Action!


  1. Great series so far, Scott! Thank you!

    If a writer has what they think is a "high concept" but doesn't write it well in the query, will you as an agent pick up on it and help the writer polish it?