Friday, November 03, 2006

High concept or hype concept?

A few days ago, a fellow RWA chapter member posted a movie producer's take on "high concept." It was pretty much what we've heard before: A one-sentence (or better yet, three-word) rendition of the movie/book/story/whatever. But s/he added on attributes like catchy title, gripping premise, etc.

When I asked on the chapter Yahoo! group whether high concept actually applied to us as writers, two responses came back. Both were essentially about selling -- boil the idea down to the bare bones, make sure those bones are catchy, and viola! you've got something that our soundbite obsessed society can grasp. One response, from a published author, mentioned the fact that her high concept novels were more easily "sold" internally at her publishing company (e.g., editor to marketing, marketing to sales) and enabled those novels to be released in international markets.

And yet....

I'm of two minds about anything deemed "high concept." I've heard the term mentioned in reverent tones, as if an idea's being high concept will almost guarantee bestsellerdom and gigantic advances. I've also read a couple of high concept books that left me cold.

As Leslie Wainger, venerable editing goddess at Harlequin, used to say: It's all in the execution.

Can anyone recommend a high concept book that was also a great read?

8 comments:

Kathy Holmes said...

I think high concept is overrated. I love books and movies with great characterization. For example, "Before Sunrise" and "Before Sunset."

JoAnn Ross said...

Okay, admitting here that since I don't do synopses and usually pitch my stories on the phone, I've developed sort of a high concept mindset just to describe a story in a way an editor can quickly grasp and sell to marketing, sales, art, promotion, etc.

A recent example was Blaze, which I pitched as "Backdraft meets Silence of the Lambs. With lots of hot sex."

No Safe Place I pitched as, I seem to recall, The Big Easy meets LA Confidential.

That doesn't necessarily mean the books follow through exactly like the concept, in a connect-the- dots fashion, but anything to help an editor champion the story helps me in the long run.

JoAnn Ross said...

Forgot to mention that Before Sunrise was one of my all time fave movies. Before Sunset a bit less so, but it was still great and better than most out there. But I don't believe either one would've been all that successful as a book. Especially popular fiction, which depends so much on conflict. Both internal and external.

JoAnn Ross said...

I don't want to hog this topic, but one more thing. . . I would NEVER argue with the incomparable and fabulous Leslie Wainger!! :)

Sandra K. Moore said...

Hey Kathy and Joann, thanks for dropping by! (I was beginning to think I'd killed the blog.)

I agree: Leslie Wainger rocks.

I'll definitely check out Before Sunrise and Before Sunset.

I suppose I'd have less trouble with all the brouhaha around "high concept" if it were put in context -- it's a sales tool, not a secret to bestsellerdom in and of itself.

Kalen Hughes said...

I just don't grok the "high concept" concept. Just cause I can boil it down to "X meets Y" doesn't mean that it's not going to suck. Or that my vision of what X and Y are, and what happens when they collide, will translate to anyone else.

Does my book become “high concept” if I pitch it as “Georgette Heyer meets The Storey of O” or “Dangerous Liaisons meets Sleeping with the Enemy”?

Maybe I should start pitching my books this way . . .

JoAnn Ross said...

Sandra, I've always looked at it as a sales too. And Kalen, I'm not sure what I described is truly high concept, especially if you break high concept down into a scriptwriting logline like the McKee does in his brilliant book, Story.

I do, however, know firsthand that editors like having something to pitch to all those other way important people in-house. Which is why I started using movie or popular cultural examples for my stories about 30-40 books ago.

Because editorial can love a book to pieces, but unfortunately, as a rule, the folks in sales (who I've spent a LOT of time with over the years) don't tend to read them. So these examples are like flash cards (or shortened cliff notes) for them to take out into the field to the booksellers.

Kalen Hughes said...

I like the idea of "flash cards for sales". LOL! I'll have to remember that.