Each month BookEnds agents will answer one of the questions we get from writers. This month’s question is actually two questions, both of them revolving around the concept of the hook.
Here’s a question, or actually, more of a request. I’d love to have you ladies discuss high concept—what it is, how necessary it is, how on earth to find one!
I’ve often used the word “hook,” and ultimately high concept is no different than having a hook. It’s an idea that is so good, so fresh, and so different that you can describe it in one quick sentence. And in that sentence you can convince someone they too want to read the book, without ever describing anything about the actual story.
While the genre is what initially attracts the reader, the concept is what gets her to buy the book. The higher the concept, the more intriguing the book is to agents, publishers, and readers.
How necessary is high concept? Very. Unfortunately, writing a really good romance or mystery just isn’t enough anymore. You also have to have that extra something that makes it jump from the shelves. Charlaine Harris meets Mary Janice Davidson in Karen MacInerney’s recently sold werewolf mystery series—that’s high concept. Karen had two other mystery proposals before her werewolf series. Both were submitted and rejected everywhere. Had her writing changed that much? No, her writing was the same, it was her concept that had changed.
I often tell my writers that finding a concept can be more difficult than writing the book. To find your own, take a look at what is successful or working in your genre, figure out why it seems to be working, and try to guess and predict what the next big thing will be. That’s high concept.
I have a few real-world passions of my own to build my stories on, but is there any “hook” in particular you’d love to see used right now?
One that sells for big money and one that I’ve never seen before.
If there was, we’d have someone working away on it! Sometimes publishers do call us and tell us in great detail what they are looking for. And in blue sky meetings at publishing houses and blue sky meetings at BookEnds, we sit around and brainstorm new hooks all the time, hoping to fall upon that terrific idea that makes us all pant and shake. Just keep brainstorming! In the cozy mystery market, a great hook will provide a subcategory that allows us all to attack a targeted market share: for example, The Dolls to Die For Mystery Series coming soon from Deb Baker. Deb has been contacting doll shows, doll stores, etc., to expand her audience beyond the typical mystery book reader. Same with Maggie Sefton’s knitting mysteries, Kathy Brandt’s Underwater Investigation Series, and most of our cozies (see www.BookEnds-Inc.com to check out some of the great hooks our authors have come up with). Kathy targeted dive shop distributors to get her books in the hands of those who might have a special interest in Hannah, her police diver protagonist.
In literary fiction, the idea can be the hook if you have an irresistible idea that just screams READ ME! Who could turn down The Life of Pi when you heard it featured a boy stuck on a lifeboat in the Pacific Ocean with a wounded zebra, a spotted hyena, a seasick orangutan, and a 450-pound Bengal tiger named Richard Parker? But, of course, the writing has to also be terrific, and we believe our authors deliver both a great hook and great writing.