What is a High Concept Novel?

I ran across a blog on query letters yesterday when I ran across a term I was unfamiliar with in lit.  (No, I am not an expert.  Just a little wannabe here.  If you expect to find tips on writing, I’d hit one of my friends’ blogs.)  The post I read said only “high concept” novels are published.  And I need to get across the idea that the novel is high concept in the query letter.

Hum, this is interesting information; especially since it came from an agent’s blog that was publicized on Writer’s Digest’s Twitter feed.

Needless to say, I began to question if my novels are high concept.  That’s when I realized I wasn’t sure what high concept meant.  The agent said nothing about what the term meant.  You can guess how stupid a newbee like me felt about this.  I was obviously an idiot since I had no clue if my novel was high concept.  The agent said that only high concept novels are published, so mine must be high concept.

I went to Google to find out what a high concept novel meant.  That’s when I discovered the true meaning behind the words.  It means it is one of those bestsellers that has that “It” Factor.  Um, of course, care to explain that?

I would, but every blog I hit – agents, publishers, writing magazines, writers – all had a different idea of what a high concept novel is.  You can guess how useful that was to my research.  If agents don’t know what a high concept novel is, how am I supposed to write one?

I did love how one agency admitted they don’t know what a high concept novel is.  The Waxman Literary Agency’s post (http://waxmanagency.wordpress.com/2009/02/06/recipe-for-success-high-concept/) was a great “Yeah, we don’t know what high concept is until we see it, except it’ll be a best-seller.”

Wow!  Actual honesty about a high concept novel!  But, to be helpful the Waxman Literary Agency went on to discuss that as long as you have drawn your readers in to the novel that is all that really matters.  Draw the agent in, draw the editor in, draw the publisher in, draw an audience in.  Some writers will hit that commercial mark and others won’t.

“High Concept” means “It’ll sell millions.”  It means that lots and lots of people will go out and tweet about your book.  It means that people understand the plot of your book because it is something that relates to them.  Okay, I got that.  All I need is to write a structurally sound book that has an “It” Factor and resonates with millions of people.

Can I claim epic fail without trying?  I’m kidding.  I have a really good feeling my little family saga about a teen looking for a Forever Home who winds up with a Forever Home on a neo-Nazi militia compound is not a high concept novel.  I highly doubt that being poisoned or targeted by members of the neo-Nazi organization while trying to figure out what it means to be part of a family is what everyone considers high concept.  Or being manipulated by a corrupt ATF agent.

Heck, the more I think about it, SWEET SIXTEEN is about your average teen girl going stuck somewhere between a girl and a woman.  But I still think you’ll wanna read it.



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