Monday, August 8, 2016

The Importance of a Strong Concept

We are in the midst of Pitch Wars season.

And I must make a confession: I'd never heard of Pitch Wars, or any other online pitching, before I got my first book deal and became more active on social media.

And I'm also not going to lie: since I heard about Pitch Wars, I've been equal parts terrified and enthralled by the idea.

Why you might ask?

Simple: Being able to pitch your idea means you have such a clear concept that you are actually able to deliver it in less than 140 characters (well, perhaps over two or three tweets).

And I salute you.


Because as a writer, refining my idea into something clear, fresh, AND engaging is one of my biggest challenges.

And being able to pitch an idea that jumps out of a tweet and gets people excited?


Oh, I get lots of ideas.

But often they are only flashes of something, and I seem unable to build on them in such a way that it makes my agent sit up and shout "Write THAT!"

Or sometimes I'll get a great idea only to realize my idea has been done a thousand times before and by better writers than me.


I attended a break-out session with a literary agent at the Winter SCWBI conference this past February. The agent spoke at length about the benefit of having a high concept when it comes to pitching your work to an agent, an editor, the public.

What's high concept?

An idea that no only you can explain easily, but which immediately creates buzz in whoever hears it. It's as if when they hear your concept they think "Wow! What a fantastically original twist on an idea!"


Think of Romeo and Juliet. Had Will Shakespeare said "Hey-I've got this fantastic idea about a boy and girl who fall in love in Italy" his agent would have said "Um, no thanks Will. Seen it a thousand times before."

But no, Will's got something better:

"Hey-I've got this fantastic idea - the children of sworn enemies fall in love, secretly marry, and thanks to a series of violent and tragic events, must separate, only to be later reunited and die in each other's arms thanks to a terrible mix-up."

His agent's response? "Nice play, Shakespeare!" And the rest is history!

Obviously, not every idea can be high concept nor should it be. The book I have coming out in February, It's a Mystery, Pig Face! was definitely NOT high concept.

Sure there's a mystery surrounding a bag of money discovered in a baseball dugout, but mostly, it's about how the impact of trying to solve the mystery affects the relationships between a sister, her best friend, and her annoying little brother.

But let's be honest. If you have a killer idea AND your idea is high concept, it is going to WAY easier to get people to want to read your book and represent you.

So how can you take your idea and make it high concept?
  • Push your idea farther. Ask yourself the same kinds of questions Shakespeare must have asked himself when writing his plays "What if..."
  • Ask yourself - is this unique? Has it ever been done like I want to do it before?

How will you know if your idea is high concept?
  • When you describe your idea to other people do they get REALLY excited and already start imagining what your book will be like? (this happened to be with the recent book I sold and believe me, it is a fabulous feeling!)
  • You can easily imagine the movie
  • You can imagine lots of different kinds of kids wanting to read the book and you can imagine parents, teachers and librarians recommending it.

One of the best pieces about concept that I've read online is by literary agent Jill Corcoran, who has killer instincts.  Read her piece here - it will forever change your perspective!

The one thing I know for sure: developing a strong concept can come to you like a bolt out of the blue, but usually, it takes time and a lot of finessing to take your idea and make it something compelling so that an agent will want to sign you, a publisher will want to publish you and best of all, a kid will want to read your book.

But it-is-oh-so-worth-it!

And for all of you participating in this year's Pitch Wars: GOOD LUCK!


cleemckenzie said...

I don't have the personality to endure Pitch Wars! I can write up a one heck of a query, but to even contemplate a glib pitch puts my shorts in a bunch. I love your book title--high concept or not!

WendyMcLeodMacKnight said...

I am completely with you! It makes my stomach hurt to think about it! But I know many of the mentors and they are wonderful! Thanks for the title love!

WendyMcLeodMacKnight said...
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