So, let's say you pitch your book to an agent. You tell her it is a historical romance about a couple who pretend to be engaged because each want to avoid marriages arranged by their families. Only they never expect to fall in love. Certainly it's easy to understand the premise - a little too easy because it's been done to death. The agent peers at you and asks, "What makes your book different?" Suddenly you've got sweaty palms.
To avoid sweaty palm syndrome, you need a high concept premise. A high concept premise is unique, original, and easy to envision. Agents and editors not only immediately get it, they realize it is fresh. The high concept premise is short, averaging about 2 to 3 sentences. The point isn't the length, but rather to describe your original premise in a succinct manner.
Of course it helps if you come up with the high concept premise before you write the book, but you can always revise. Here are easy steps to turn a humdrum plot into a high concept plot.
- First, identify the basic plot of your book. The following are some standard romance plots: Secret Baby, Reunion, Two Different Worlds, Marriage of Convenience, The Guardian, Beauty and the Beast, Reforming the Bad Boy, Secret Identity, Captivity, and The Matchmaker. Some books may have a combination of two basic plots.
- Next, ask yourself how you can turn a tired old plot into something so original, so different that editors and agents will notice. What makes a plot so high concept, it grabs interest immediately? An unexpected or novel change in a standard plot.
- Here is an example of an unexpected change in a standard romance plot. Consider the Secret Baby plot, the one many writers claim to hate. How many of those haters read and loved Susan Elizabeth Phillips' Nobody's Baby But Mine? SEP made this book unique. Here's my version of a high concept pitch for the book. A brainy physicist wants an ordinary baby. All she needs is a stupid guy to counteract her genious genes. But when the dopey jock she seduces and abandons demands his rights as a father, she soon realizes he's far smarter and more loveable than she ever dreamed. Note that SEP incorporates a marriage of convenience into the plot as well. Isn't that brilliant?
- Now let's make up a high concept plot for a subgenre that's relatively saturated right now. Vampire novels are usually about a couple from two different worlds. The conflict is inherent in the plot. Often there is a beauty and the beast element as well. Generally the hero vampire despises his undead status. He is tortured, knowing he will spend eternity as a monster. His attraction to the human heroine reminds him of all the human experiences he will never have again. But what if we take this standard plot and flip it. Let's have a whirl at the high concept pitch. A reform-minded female chemist slips her elixar of life potion into a two hundred year-old viscount vampire's Bloody Harry. Horrified to find himself human, the hunky ex-vampire is determined to get bitten again so he can live undead forever. But his maker is equally determined to teach him that human life holds far greater rewards, and the chemistry is just too hard for him to resist.
Wasn't that easy? And fun?
Whistling like the Snow White Dwarfs. Hi-ho, hi-ho, it's off to High Concept Work we go.