Wednesday, July 17, 2013

High Concept

Sorry for the recent spottiness of posting, y'all! Summer's been a time of extremes for me this year--extreme play mixed with extreme work--so I expect the break will continue for at least a little while longer. Meanwhile, I've been doing a lot of posting in other mediums--including the YA Writers subreddit I've mentioned several times here. The community is growing pretty constantly, and so I thought I'd pillage one of the posts I did there for here, so my regular readers can get a glimpse of what we're talking about. 

Recently, we had a discussion on what "high concept" is. To see the full discussion, just click here. But my definition of what "high concept" is, and why it's important, is below. Hope it helps!

What is High Concept?

First, what high concept is not: it’s not “high.” This is the thing that throws people off the most. Most people think that “high concept” means something that’s very literary, artistic, and not commercial—and the exact opposite is true.

High concept is something that has immediate commercial appeal.

Typically, the way this is explained is that:

  • You can sum up a high concept idea in a sentence or two
  • It has obvious appeal to the masses—it’s a concept that most people can get with just a sentence
  • It’s a story that you can immediately see what it would be like just from a short description

High concept is hugely important because it’s easy to sell. If you’re querying, a high concept pitch is arguably one of the best things you can have to make your query stand out. If you’re published, a high concept pitch is the hook you use to advertise your book, the way you describe it to hand-sell it, the sentence you use on your swag. If you want to commercially sell your work, having a high concept pitch is one of the best things you can use.

Examples of high concept:

  • A boarding school with wizards
  • An arena where children and teens have to fight to the death
  • A vampire that falls in love with a mortal

Obvious, yeah? High concept sells. If you can sum up your book in one simple phrase or sentence, one that has appeal to a lot of people, then you’re gold. People tend to like the familiar, and they like the concepts they can easily grasp, the stories they know will appeal to them.

The examples above are obvious, but here’s some that aren’t as obvious:

  • A murder mystery in space (My own novel, Across the Universe)
  • A teen who can time travel, stuck in the wrong time (Julie Cross’s Tempest)
  • A world where everyone gets a letter 24 hours before they die (Shaun Hutchinson’s The Deathday Letter)

When summing up high concept, you’re looking to *give the familiar, then give the twist. “A vampire”—a familiar concept many people know and like. “Falls in love with a mortal”—a twist to the story. The typical reader can take the familiar they already know, see the twist that will flesh it into a whole story, and that makes them want to read it.

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