What is High Concept?
Recently I asked my followers on Facebook what question I should answer in my next “vlog,” and the overwhelming response was “What is High Concept?” Here’s my three-minute response,with a written recap below.
High concept is primarily a term used in pitching movies but these days, we find it a helpful shorthand to describe a certain kind of book.
When an agent says they want high concept, they’re looking for an idea that can be captured in just a title and a brief, pithy tagline—and from that brief description, will immediately attract interest.
A high-concept pitch has inherent appeal – just from the one line description. The idea itself has immediate sizzle when someone hears it.
Some genres almost have to be high concept to sell –such as thrillers, suspense and sci-fi novels.
Some genres don’t – for example, women’s contemporary fiction or historical romance – but remember that your story will be easier to sell to agents, editors and consumers if it’s a higher concept idea.
High concept is MUCH more than simply a “great idea.” It doesn’t necessarily mean it’s just fresh and totally unique. It’s an idea that – when you say it – it immediately paints a picture in the listener’s mind of what that book is about.
High concept means the PREMISE of your book will get attention, before anyone sees even one word of your writing.
Not all books are high concept – nor should they be! But sometimes agents and editors are looking for a high concept novel in a certain genre. For example, the only YA novels I’m interested in looking at are high concept, because that’s what I want to read, that’s what my kids want to read, and that’s what I think I can sell.
That means I’m not looking for a quiet story of a high school girl coming of age in a small town high school – even though that may be a great book. It means I’m looking for something in the basic premise of your book that intrinsically garners interest, such as the Ally Carter books my daughters just finished reading—The Gallagher girls series. The title of book 1 is I’d Tell You I Love You But Then I’d Have to Kill You. That alone is high concept. The series is about a top secret boarding school for girls who are training to be spies. So the series premise is high concept.
A pitch for book 1 might be: Cammie Morgan can hack a computer, tap a phone, and kill a man in seven different ways—but when she meets an ordinary boy who thinks she’s an ordinary girl, it may be her most dangerous mission yet.
And that’s a high concept premise.
You can find a lot more information online about what high concept means to various people. Just realize that high concept means you can hook someone with just a title or a single sentence.