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Pitching Your High-Concept Book

What is a high-concept idea? Writers often confuse the meaning of this term. Simply put, it starts with a highly original “what-if” premise that you can use to pitch using a one-liner or two. A high-concept is often a fusion of plots or themes inspired by successful commercial or critically acclaimed books. Do you say it doesn’t sound original? Guess what, practically everything nowadays has been done to death. Creating a fusion of what has worked in the past will give your manuscript a better fighting chance. In a way, your high-concept idea is still original.

Marketing is the key. You have to convince the person you’re pitching that your idea has never been done before and that your work is worth giving a chance. If you are diligent enough to search, you’ll find a considerable number of literary agents looking for high-concept books. Should you find one, here are some useful reminders to sharpen your pitch.

Practice before the mirror, then pitch-practice to family and friends. Ask them to give you honest feedback. They may not be experts on the nature of the business, but given that everyone has a fascination for a good story, they can offer a critique about what works for them and what doesn’t.

Keep it short. Do not bore your audience. Keep it concise like a haiku with no unnecessary syllable. To do this, study carefully what pertinent information you need to include. Again, you need to pitch with at least one to three sentences. For example, if you are pitching a high-concept apocalyptic series of sci-fi novels inspired by Giovanni Bocaccio’s The Decameron, you can say, “The Decameron after a nuclear fallout.” Then talk about essential elements like plot, characters, etc.

Of course, when you talk about the important elements, it also requires you to go straight to the point. No need to explain the subplots. The main plot will often do the trick: A group of seven young women and three young men flee from mutant-infested Florence to a deserted villa in the countryside of Fiesole for two weeks, and they swap stories to kill time.

This statement covers the essential elements. We get the setting of Florence and Fiesole. We get a glimpse of how many characters are involved. We get an idea of why they had to flee (mutants). Finally, we get a sense of the “what if” (Italy becomes infested with dangerous mutants). The sentence packs enough information without drowning the audience with details.

Remember: When pitching, telling what your story is about is different from an actual telling of the story. Do not begin your pitch with, “My story is set in the town of Fiesole, Italy in the year 2040. Nuclear fallout has caused mutations among remaining human survivors. This mutation caused them to suffer from disfigurement, abnormal strength, and appetite for human flesh.” Do this, and you will either bore your audience, or they will kindly admonish you to get straight to the point--not a healthy way to pitch a high-concept idea.


Written by Readers’ Favorite Reviewer Vincent Dublado