High concept

Successful authors know how to use this important tool. Part of its value is that its utility extends beyond the editorial process:

• It’s useful for marketers, because they can create a catchy campaign from it.
• It’s useful for sales people, because they know right off the bat how to place a product in their catalogue or store.
• In some cases, it’s useful for the consumer, because they get an idea from a tag line or logo what to expect from the product.

And this is all good, because we write commercial fiction which is, y’know, meant for commerce. The good and the bad of it is that almost nobody along the supply chain actually has to read any of our books because they’ve been given high concept pitches that bypass all that page-turning stuff. Efficient but—kinda weird.

(Which reminds me of a peculiar movie I saw and loved called How to Get Ahead in Advertising. I won’t even try to explain it, just rent it. Trust me.)

High concept must be used cautiously during the pitch phase of a book. All too often the author is stuck trying to live up to what seemed like an excellent idea in the thrill of the sales moment.

“Yeah,” says Author, “the story is kind of like Edgar Allan Poe meets Shrek. With flying monkeys.”
“Great,” says Editor. “Just make sure it has lots and lots of sex.”

So there sits Author, despondently wondering how to get Edgar and Donkey into bed. Author remembers college daydreams of the Booker Prize, and wonders where it all went wrong.

For me, high concept is a tool, not a method. When my world is nearer the “perfect” end of the happyometer, I get to hold off on addressing marketing concepts (high or low) until I actually know what the book is about. For me, that means writing at least a good chunk of it. Then I can figure out how to explain it to other people and adjust accordingly. If I do it the other way around, I end up with Edgar and Donkey in the back seat hoping the flying monkeys don’t have cameras.

(x posted in part from www.SilkandShadows.com)

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