The High-Concept Pitch: The Ten Items or Less
Line to Success
"It's Survivor meets The Newlywed Game with handcuffs."
That was my high concept pitch for my first romantic comedy, The Bonds of
Matri-money. I still use it to describe the storyline when a prospective buyer steps
up to me at a booksigning and asks what the story's about.
I sincerely believe I lucked out when I came up with that one. I'd guess that, short
of an isolated tribe on a remote desert island, almost everyone can instantly
connect with my plot--based on those few words. Unfortunately, the high concept
pitch doesn't always come so easily.
With conference season in full swing, you'll want to hone your own high concept
(aka elevator) pitch. Do you know how? Have you figured yours out yet? Not sure
you've got a winner? Sharpen your #2 pencils. We've got work to do!
Let's start with the definition of "high concept." Basically, a high concept is the
premise of your story told in a way that instantly connects with your target and
creates the opportunity for mass appeal. The catch? It must be brief and intriguing.
Pride & Prejudice and Zombies isn't just a great title; it's a great high concept, too.
Unfortunately, the title isn't always enough to convey a high concept. Which
means, despite whatever witty or self-explanatory title we've assigned to our
masterpiece, most of us still struggle to dream up a clever tag line to go with it.
Here are a few tips I hope will get you that perfect line to hook your ideal agent or
Be concise. Draft a short blurb. And then shorten it. Then shorten it again. Keep
honing the story down to the most basic plot point. Can you describe your story in
ten words or less? Keep honing until you can.
Consider your viewing preferences. The old saying, "There's nothing new under the
sun" is a cliché because it's true. Chances are very good if you take the time to
compare your story to your own likes and dislikes among television shows, movies,
or even songs, you'll discover your plotline resembles some other media product
that resonated with you. Use that similarity!
Remember your particular audience. Your high concept pitch should capture the tone
of your work. If your story is a romantic suspense, your high concept would be
darker than that of an author pitching a paranormal comedy or inspirational
romance. A YA novel shouldn't be pitched with the line, "A sexy Silence of the
Lambs." Nor would an erotic work fit the blurb, "Cocoon meets The Ten
Commandments." (But if you can turn that into a story, I'd love to read it!)
Practice, practice, practice. Share your high concept pitch with family, friends, your
butcher, your mail carrier. See what kind of reaction your description receives. If you
don't get the arched brows and widened eyes reflecting some semblance of
interest, go back to the drawing board. Revisit the first three steps until you see
that look of intrigue in the faces of those around you. Once you've got the ideal
line, say it in front of a mirror, while you're stuck in traffic, in the shower, before
you go to bed at night. Keep practicing your pitch until it flows off your tongue as
naturally as the names of your children.
Don't forget the passion. Be proud of your one-liner. And be excited about your
work. The more enthusiasm you show, the more infectious that enthusiasm will be.
Stay the course. Let's say your pitch is so successful, your target immediately
wants to hear more. Congratulations! Now's not the time to sweat and stammer. Be
ready to continue drawing the comparison between your work and the high concept,
but also highlight what makes your story unique.
Best of luck to you. I hope you'll find the perfect pitch for the perfect target at the
perfect time. Just remember: a perfect high concept pitch might gain you the
interest of an editor or agent, but you've still got to deliver a quality product to win
the publishing game!