This infographic about Man Booker 2011 prize plots got me thinking. There are only x number of plots in fiction. Some have argued 7, some have argued 36, some have argued over 100.
So how do you continue to keep it fresh?
High concept: big plot ideas (THE LEFTOVERS, THE AGE OF MIRACLES) with traditional human experiences (coming of age, falling in love, family breakdown)
Trends: you don’t want to be following them, but you can see what’s working and think about how to bring a new angle to it. And you can also see what isn’t working right now (i.e. publishers aren’t really buying westerns)
Genre blending: i.e. women’s fiction meets mystery
New UK agent Rebecca Carter was recently quoted in Publishing Perspectives saying: ‘she will “have to get good at making great deals for authors. Advances are going down — the mid-list doesn’t really exist anymore, there’s not much middle ground.”’
This is something that is echoing across the industry. Midlist books are not something that agents are looking for because they are increasingly difficult to sell and while they help develop authors’ careers, agents don’t have the time to wait for midlist authors to become hits. The authors we take on have strong books out of the gate and while no agent sells every book they take on we do it with the hopes that the writer’s quality writing will hold up year after year, book after book, and in fact get better year on year. Continue reading →
As an aspiring writer your goal should never be just to get your work out there, but how to get interesting media coverage, stand out in a bookstore, turn heads and have ears perk up. Each genre has tropes that are expected, but to break into mainstream publishing you also need to have your own spin.
Zone One‘s Colson Whitehead said: “If you’re writing a detective novel or horror or sci-fi, you want to expand or reinvigorate the genre in your own little way.” And I think this rings true for all genres. What are you trying to do that’s different? How are you contributing to your genre? How are you helping to move your genre in a new direction?
Great examples of this are Zone One, The Tipping Point, The Sisters Brothers, Emperor of All Maladies: A Biography of Cancer, Wolf Hall, The Prague Cemetery, and The Stepford Wives.
The Lovely Bones by Alice Sebold, a high concept example.
High concept is something I repeated say I, and other people in the industry, am looking for. But what is it?
My succinct definition is highly unique concept with mass-market appeal. This also relates back to my post last week on agents and editors not knowing what they want until they see it. I, as an agent, do not do the creative portion of the job. The high concept book is one that revels in creativity and that ‘specialness’ that will bring the mass-market together in a way that we as readers didn’t know before. I don’t know I want it because you, the writer, haven’t written it yet. [If you have, send it over ; )]
What are the high concept key ingredients?
The premise is often bigger than the characters.
You can easily explain it in an exciting two line pitch.
The short pitch will raise eyebrows and immediately attract attention.
High concept isn’t just a ‘big book’, it’s a big book that is based on premise.
It can be controversial.
It can have a big twist.
It is something that seems so obvious and straightforward, but no one has thought of it before.
High concept is usually commercial-literary, while ‘big books’ are commercial.
The idea and themes are universal.
The trajectory of a high concept book looks like this: an agent sees it and must have it, knowing it is something special; the agent is easily able to write a great pitch letter to editors based on a short, succinct and very intriguing hook; once the book has an editor the editor is able to garner in-house attention through early excitement; sales staff are then able to impress booksellers with a book that will stand out and sell copies; the book is then stocked with front of store placement; and finally customers do the rest! The marketing and publicity opportunities for high concept are plentiful. And, simple and very intriguing hooks are what attract Hollywood attention. Continue reading →