Thursday, May 19, 2011

High Concept

Ever wondered what sells a book to a publishing company? I mean, yeah... We've all got a story--or, if you're like me, several stories--just dying to be heard. But have you ever wondered what really makes a concept stand out to that elite editor in New York (or maybe not NY, because there are great, professional editors everywhere)? When you send that query, what does it take? What do they want to read? What will make them go, "Omigosh! I've GOTTA have this book, like, NOW!"

Well, that's a difficult feat. You know it; I know it. Because a good query consists of those vital elements: a professional, yet captivating introduction, an eye-catching back-of-the-book-blurb, and of course your credentials, et cetera. Thank you for your time and consideration. I look forward to hearing from you. Sincerely, Madam/Messieurs Author. Not always the easiest thing, when you so desperately want the editor and/or agent to love your novel as much as you do. You want to beg, you want to plead, but you must be professional and courteous.

You must also grab their attention from the get-go.

Why? Because they read so many queries a day, by the time they get to yours, they're thinking, "Dear God. Another one? What have you got for me that the others don't?" By then they're ready for dinner, Starbucks, or--better yet--a glass of wine and some major R&R.

I know. No pressure, right?

Enter the fabulous High Concept. Many, many writers have sold their respective novels and/or screenplays off this very small, yet highly effective tool. What is a high concept, you ask? Also known as The Theme, a high concept is sort of a "what if?" scenario that acts as a catalyst for a series of events. It also covers the who, what, when, where, why, how of the manuscript/screenplay.

Think of the movie The Day After Tomorrow. What if a major climatological devastation wracked the world, covered it in either ice or snow or both, and, therefore, sent millions of desperate survivors running South? The mayhem! The terror! Oh my goodness, where is Jake Gyllenhaal when you need him?!

You get the idea. An entire film produced on a single, high concept. Jurassic Park, Speed, the television show my husband was addicted to for years and years and--big dramatic sigh--yeeeaaaaarrrrs (or so it certainly seemed). Yes, I'm talking about Lost. All high concept projects. All incredibly successful.

OK, so, what if you did this for your current WIP? What would you say? What one to two sentence high concept would describe the book in its entirety? And vibrant and interesting enough to give an editor pause? I'll give you a minute...

Haven't thought of one yet? All right, take another minute. We'll look at a nice picture.

The Majestic Cliffs of Moher, County Clare, Ireland

Anything? Not as easy as it sounds, is it? And if you thought of one immediately, way to go! A nice big shiny gold star for you. However, if you're still rummaging around in that brilliant brain of yours, take some time, give it some deep thought. Focus on the main idea of your book, series, screenplay, etc. Now, imagine how you can put this way-awesome idea (because your idea is way-awesome, right? Of course it is!) into a 1-2 sentence statement that'll really, really grab the reader. And I mean grab 'em and grab 'em hard.

Now, open your query letter and/or synopsis with this concept. Did you do it? Good. Be patient. Wait. Don't bite your nails, it's a terrible habit. Soon Madam Elite Editor will open your email query. And when she does... well, let me be the first to congratulate you for making the heck outta her boring, ho-hum day. In fact, she may be picking up the phone right now, or, in the very least, writing a post-it to call you first thing in the morning. Are you excited yet? Are ya? Yeah, me, too. :)

Here's my still-rough HC for the YA historical/sci-fi:

A headstrong 19th century girl sees her life plummeting straight for the virtual prison of genteel society's strict expectations--find a wealthy husband, start a family, live out the rest of her days in fashionable boredom--until a boy from futuristic North America sweeps her across the globe on a secret journey, beyond the boundaries of space and time, and into a world of unparalleled adventure.

If you've already created a high concept/theme for your current WIP, I'd love to hear it! Post and share!

Peace, Love, and Junior Mints,



Andrew Leon said...

3 kids move to a new house in a state and find that it's more than just a house.
Every kid's dream, right?

Alyssia said...

I'll say! My imagination is running wild with all the spooky things this house can do. Hmmm....

Lela said...

I included mine in my blog this morning! I spent ALL weekend thinking about it, too! But it encouraged some changes in the story, which is a good thing! :)

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