Writing a High Concept Novel

I don’t know about you, but the very notion of a High Concept baffles me. It seems to be the key that many agents and publishers are seeking, yet none of them can confirm what that means for them.

However, it’s the same stumbling block I’ve come up against on my submission journey. My most frequent feedback is that the agent has not connected with my concept as much as they’d hoped. While this fills me with hope that I will find the right agent to fall in love with my story, it also got me thinking about what I can do to improve my chances with my next novel.

Love writing, notebook, pencil, tea

I like to forward plan, learn from my mistakes and take advantage of every situation, I’m sure most of my fellow writers do too. So let’s take a deeper look at what a story concept is. In basic terms it’s the idea of your whole story, before plot, before characters, simply the idea behind it. The bare skeleton of the story.

Now this is not the same as the premise, which is the heart and soul of your book. This is where we flesh-out the skeleton by adding characters with goals, motives and fears. Then you add plot which adds conflict and stakes. Now the richness adds to the bare concept and builds a premise.

So while they are similar, they are ultimately very different. By understanding this I can already see why my concept is familiar, if not a little boring. But add premise and my story grows wings and takes flight.

Inspiration butterflys Pexel-image

There isn’t one magic ingredient that takes an ordinary concept and raises it to new heights. In fact, it’s a mixture of several. So what makes a story – High Concept?

It meshes high levels of entertainment with originality.

It’s unique.

Born from; what if, putting a spin on an original concept.

The idea is visual making for a great movie adaptation.

It has clear emotional focus: fear, love, rage etc.

And or, it has mass audience appeal.

And as with all things in the writing world it boils down to subjectivity.

With that information in mind, I hope all my blossoming writers are a little clearer on the illusive High Concept novel. As with all things in the writing world it boils down to subjectivity.To be honest, I’m not sure I am. After all, isn’t that what we already thought we were doing???

Perhaps some of my fellow writers have a clearer understanding, if so, please share your knowledge with me. And thank you all for reading.

Until next time, Much Love Xxx

Author Lorraine Ambers YA fantasy romance

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© Author Lorraine Ambers and http://www.lorraineambers.com, 2018.

33 thoughts on “Writing a High Concept Novel

  1. I remember reading stuff about ‘High Concept’ earlier. I honestly think ‘High Concept’ is a buzzword that can be applied to “I don’t have a good reason not to like this book, nor do I have a reason not to accept it.” Am I right? I’m not sure. I think you’re a few steps ahead of me on the publishing process!

    Sometimes I wonder if I give up too easily. I submitted my book to PitchWars, got no requests, and have basically binned it at this point. I’m writing a new one, but I feel like it’s not quite as good as the one I just binned – so it’s getting harder. At the same time, this new book definitely ticks more of the boxes on ‘High Concept,’ partially because it’s just so out there.

    Good luck on your new book!

    Liked by 3 people

  2. Two of the things you mentioned rise to the top for me: Emotional focus – Mass Audience appeal.

    At one time or another we have all experienced love, fear and rage and with that it attracts mass audience appeal. People are drawn to things they can understand. When it comes to the emotional side of things that is one element we can all agree with.

    It annoys me when an agent gives a writer a tiny piece of whats missing and nothing more. It makes me wonder if they are clueless as well.

    Stay focused and work hard. It’ll happen.

    Liked by 5 people

  3. This is the first time I think I’ve heard the term “High Concept”. I found this interesting article which talks about it: https://rachellegardner.com/what-is-high-concept/

    My other two cents are that classifications like these are used to define books and what they’re about, and for some they can mean different things to different people, reader and author alike. So in my case with Mystical Greenwood, perhaps the high concept is that my protagonist Dermot joins in a fight against evil, and after spending quality time in forests and encounters with wildlife, comes to see there is something special there and finds what he has been searching for: his true calling in life.

    Liked by 1 person

  4. When I hear “high concept,” I think of the lessons or motive behind the manuscript. What idea is the author trying to convey or teach the audience? Why is the concept chosen?

    Good luck! I’m struggling in the process as well. The competitive world we live in favors money and results over creativity, sadly. 😦

    Liked by 1 person

      1. If you self-publish, you still need the means to spread the word about your book. If you already host a website, channel, or other media platform that reaches tens of thousands of people each day, you’re already set. Most of us aren’t that fortunate. 😦

        Liked by 1 person

      2. Being an indie author has many perks, but building that kind of following is one of the downsides. I’m not very good at sales, I think that’s why I want to be traditionally published, so I have the experience of a team behind me.

        Liked by 1 person

  5. Brent Stypczynski

    “High Concept” seems to be used by agents to mean “a hook”, something to get the reader’s attention and draw them in. At least, that looks like that way Gardner (linked by Andrew above) is using the term. As such, yep, it appears to be a business side buzzword that’ll be replaced in a couple years, though the underlying idea is sound and part of every piece of public writing.

    The planning side varies widely from writer to writer. For example: Robert Heinlein noted that for all of his (many) novels he had a beginning and he knew where they ended. The middle “took care of itself” (e.g. he pantsed the plot and majority of the novel). On the other hand, others spend months outlining and planning from the ground up.

    Frankly, in the publishing world, hard work, and even persistence, will only get you so far. Research helps (to find the most likely agents and publishers). More often than not, though, luck and timing are the biggest factors.


  6. Maybe I am just skeptical, but… if they don’t tell what that means, I’d say they use it as a dodge to state the true reason or because the only reason is that they don’t have faith in being able to sell the story even though it might be good. I don’t really know myself. I find the labyrinth of traditional publishing hard to understand, let alone navigate – and that is one of the main reasons I’m strongly leaning towards self-publishing my story when it’s done.
    Anyway, good luck with your writing!

    Liked by 1 person

  7. When I went to a conference, one thing they suggested was looking for comps to show your high concept – like “Alice in Wonderland” meets “Finding Nemo” or Pirates in Space. It’s something that boils down the essence to an easy to reference idea that people will embrace.

    For the book I’m querying, I’ve said it’s BBC’s Merlin meets “Game of Thrones”. I don’t know how I feel about it, though and think I need to work on it.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. With the book I’m submitting I’ve compared authors with similar work. But I think your on to something.
      My current WIP is Romeo and Juliet meets Robin hood. That builds an easy picture, as does Merlin meets GOT.
      Best of luck with your queries. 💙

      Liked by 2 people

  8. Fire Starter

    I am just as confused by high concept as you. But as far as your story is concerned, there are no new stories or plots. What makes yours with reading is how you tell it

    Liked by 2 people

  9. You’re totally right—it’s so subjective. I think that’s a really important thing to keep in mind at all parts of the writing process. Stories talk to different people for different reasons. I have noticed that a lot of agents are asking for high concept YA contemporaries. I like the challenge of trying to come up with a high concept YA contemporary, even if I don’t write it, but I haven’t yet! Great post. 🙂

    Liked by 2 people

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