How to Write a High Concept Pitch

June 15, 2016

When you are pitching your book to agents or editors, it’s helpful to have a High Concept pitch. I’ve seen High Concept defined in different ways, but generally a High Concept Pitch has mass commercial appeal and uses references, whether from film or popular books, that most people are familiar with. Not every story is High Concept so this tactic may not work as well for a more literary-leaning book, but if your book has commercial potential, it’s wise to try to think of a High Concept pitch based on the premise of the book. Here are some tips and tricks to help you write a High Concept pitch:

1. KEEP IT PITHY: A High Concept pitch should be one to three sentences long, max. Write anything longer and you risk losing interest. Some of the most memorable pitches are short and because of their conciseness, more impactful. So don’t over-write, keep it simple.

2. MINE POPULAR CULTURE FOR INSPIRATION: This is where paging through your current gossip magazine, paying attention to new movie releases, looking at the classics in film and books, really pays off. I helped my client pitch a contemporary romance with a literary bent a few years ago and she crafted a brilliant High Concept pitch that had the Hollywood scouts calling (the book was pitched as a cross between “When Harry Met Sally meets Portlandia” for the millennial generation). The formula of “X meets Y” is popular for a reason; it works! And don’t be afraid of mixing genres, sometimes the format of film or TV show meets book, rather than book X meets book Y, is more effective. And get your creative juices flowing by trying practice pitches on some books that have already been published, for instance. How would you pitch a book like Code Name Verity? Don’t use references that only a few people will “get,” go for wide mainstream appeal here.

Im going to spontaneously try one right now! I would love to find a YA novel about roommates who perform sketch comedy but who are ultra-competitive with each other, so I might say something like, “send me any pitches that are a cross between BROAD CITY meets SINGLE WHITE FEMALE.” It’s a little weird, but it’s original and uses mainstream pop culture references that most people are familiar with.

3. PUT ON YOUR HOLLYWOOD HAT: Role-playing is often helpful in life, and it can help you when you are crafting your pitch too. Picture yourself sitting in front of a Hollywood executive. You have less than one minute to pitch your book to this very busy man who has to greenlight several projects, one of which might be yours. How will you impress him with your combination of originality and conciseness?

Pitch like Carrie does! WIth confidence!

4. CROWDSOURCE: What better way to field-test your pitches than to ask your friends and family which pitch sticks? There’s wisdom in numbers here and just like having beta readers look at your drafts, enlisting the help of your trusted circle of fellow writers can help you hone your pitch. So go ahead, have at it!

5. STUDY HOW OTHER BOOKS WERE SUCCESSFULLY PITCHED: Having a subscription to Publisher’s Marketplace can really come in handy here because sometimes an agent will include how the book was pitched, in the description of the news deal. This will give you a good sense of what pitches may have worked before in the past and the flavor of the pitches for a particular genre.

I hope these tips were helpful in helping you hone your High Concept pitch! Let me know if you’ve tried any of these tips and how they worked out for you.