QueryTracker Blog

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Thursday, February 19, 2009

Writing the High Concept Hook

There's been some hype recently about the high concept hook. Do you need one? Will it hurt you more than help you? Should you include one in your query letter?

Recently, Publisher's Weekly had an article called Chasing Mr. Big. If you haven't read it, you should. It basically discusses what a high-c0ncept novel is.
"It's hard to describe what exactly makes an idea high concept—it's almost the opposite of what it sounds. But simply put, it's an idea that is easily explainable and can be sold in one sentence."
And original. Here's one from a fellow QT'er who landed an agent.

Cole Gibsen:
"The high concept line I used for KATANA was Buffy the Vampire Slayer meets Memoirs of a Geisha.

The reason this is funny is because my high concept line almost ended for me - but it saved me at the same time.

Chris said when he read it he immediately tossed my query aside for rejection because, in his own words, "it sounded so stupid." But then he said it gnawed at him. He kept thinking about it and eventually pulled my query back out because he wondered if I could "actually pull it off."

Which she obviously did. Ms. Gibsen is currently on submission. Congrats Cole!

The Knight Agency blogged about the high concept hook way back in 2005. There is some excellent advice here for how to put together your high-concept hook without going off the deep end and combining things that make no sense. I thought this was some very sound advice when thinking about a high concept hook:
"A high concept story has the following qualities: easily understood from a few words, and promising tremendous public appeal. When you describe a high-concept story, you can see the whole story – its premise, promise and execution – in a few words. A high concept story also “has legs” – in other words, it doesn’t need a name to sell it."
There are also some great examples on their blog, so be sure to check out the post.

And last, but not least, Agent Holly Root blogged about the high concept novel earlier in the month. She has a lot to say about how to intristically know when something is "big" and when it isn't. I liked this advice:
"But I would encourage you to think about three things:

1. it is all in the execution but no one will ever see your execution if your premise doesn’t catch their attention;

2. it’s hard to be attentive to things we don’t recognize on at least some level;

and 3. who do you write for? If it’s for readers, think about it not as selling out, but about seducing people into your world, giving them a point of entry that lets them feel comfortable. High concept is all about the touch of recognition that makes readers ready to go along on your ride."
So sit back and look at your novel. Can you craft a high-concept hook for it? Can you give me (well, a Literary Agent) the big picture in just a few words? I encourage you to take this challenge, and see where it leads you.


Annie Louden said...

I read the article from PW and the post on the Knight Agency, and I thought, "Isn't this just selling out?"
But I really liked how Holly Root described high concept. She's right, it's about the prose, and I can make that as literary as I want it to, but likely no one will read it if I don't have a mass-appeal hook.
Something to ponder for all my novel drafts.

cleemckenzie said...

I can see this takes a little practice. Over the top. So so. Just right. I appreciated the links and post.