This is my number one gripe with queries: pitches that focus on theme and not plot.
It seems writers like to cover everything in a query letter, including how to make us feel.
Here’s why focusing on theme when you pitch is a bad idea:
1. You’re wasting valuable space that should be spent on facts not proposed emotions. Ultimately, the writer doesn’t truly know how the reader will feel after reading their work. So when someone tells me how I’m going to feel, firstly I don’t believe them, and secondly writers that do this waste valuable space that should be spent on facts like plot, not possible emotional threads that may or may not be there.
2. Theme can be vague and makes you sound unsure of what you’re book is about. “The bond between a mother and daughter” is a concept not a story. It’s a theme, not a plot. It’s vague, not specific. I could go on about the benefits of using specific, directive language in a query, but I think you get the idea.
3. Themes aren’t what sells projects to editors or sales staff, so it doesn’t sell it to us either. What sells books is a high concept, or unique story that is well-told, well-paced, with lively characters we care about. At no point does the theme actually participate in the selling of the book. Don’t get me wrong, themes aren’t bad, but they have no place in the query letter.
Take a look at your submission: are you highlighting theme when you should be selling the hook or plot?
Something that can be very confusing is the terminology agents and industry professionals use in the submission and query process. Many agents and editors ask for different things so how do you know what is what?
One or two sentences on how your book is different from other books on the shelf and in your genre.
A detailed description of the plot points and the ending.
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 High Concept: What is it? Do you need it? And how do you know if you have it?