Susan’s Inside Writing: High Concept


One of the things that is frequently talked about in the marketing of your book to publishers and agents is this idea of high concept. Problem is, no one really can define it.

Author Karin Gillespie gave a talk at the RT Convention about it. And suddenly, it all made sense.

One thing I’m always struggling with when it comes to Trevor and the band is the very fact that Trevor’s the bass player of ShapeShifter. How often did I say, “I write about rock bands and the people who orbit them” to the people I met? To agents, editors, readers, writers?

Yet I’m told time and again that books about rock stars don’t sell. And besides, Trevor’s Song isn’t about a rock star. It’s a book about a man with two large problems.

Enter Karin and her seminar. First off, let me tell you that Karin is the greatest. Simply put, she’s amazing. She could give JA Konrath a run for his money when it comes to marketing, and JA is the king. (Not to discount MJ Rose in all this, either.)

All this brings me to the inspiration that struck yesterday. Constructive comments are encouraged, but anything abusive or mean won’t be allowed through moderation.


Trevor’s Song as high concept:

Trevor Wolff’s best friend has gone and done the unthinkable by committing an act of monogamy, and now Trevor himself learns he’s got an even bigger secret to conquer. Will this conspire to bring him down, or will everybody’s favorite bad boy Trevor Effing Wolff triumph yet again?

(Yes, the actual piece of paper I wrote this on spells out that bigger secret. I’m holding back on you guys!)

I’ll tell you, this is one wind of change I hadn’t seen on the horizon. As soon as I’m more caught up on my sleep, I’ll share more with you. (hint: get to know my sidebar real good!)



  1. Julia Smith

    April 21, 2008 9:54 am

    Don’t you love going to sessions and having a little bell go off?BR/BR/As for high concept, I’ve never been very good at that. I’ll let other brilliant people give you their two cents worth.

  2. Wylie Kinson

    April 21, 2008 9:58 am

    I’m glad you had that A-HA moment re high concept. I’m still a bit shaky on that one.BR/As for Trevor, OMG… what?? For the love of God, WHAT?!!!!

  3. Darla

    April 21, 2008 10:20 am

    Oooh. Crossing my fingers that the new approach gets you some good nibbles. BR/BR/Even though I can’t believe you’d hold out on us!! **smooches**


    April 21, 2008 11:42 am

    You’d hold out on your groupies?! :-0

  5. Susan Helene Gottfried

    April 21, 2008 11:50 am

    I’ve got to give you a compelling reason to get the book, you know!

  6. Missy

    April 21, 2008 12:05 pm

    I just love those epiphanies! They make all the doubt and struggle worthwhile. Best of luck!

  7. bunnygirl

    April 21, 2008 12:49 pm

    “High Concept,” then, is the idea that you shouldn’t pitch the “who” of your characters but the “what” of their dilemma. Right?

  8. On a limb with Claudia

    April 21, 2008 5:25 pm

    Nice! Well done Susan! I’m excited that you are leaping forward. I do have to tell you that a lot of big bands are fronted by bass players – Fall out Boy (Pete Wentz writes all the songs and lyrics and does the business end) the Police (Sting)… um there are others! BR/BR/Yea for Susan!

  9. Susan Helene Gottfried

    April 21, 2008 5:27 pm

    Geddy Lee…BR/BR/But Trevor’s not the frontman. Just the resident pain in the ass. Mitchell’s ass. Which is fitting ’cause Mitchell is the frontman.

  10. shaunesay

    April 21, 2008 10:15 pm

    so… high concept means more introspective, or um… not sure how to put this, descriptive of the situation, but not of the labels of a person? I’m failing miserably! LOL! BR/BR/anyway, not so much focus on what Trevor is (a rockstar) but more on what he is (man dealing with problems) so really that he’s a rockstar is more incidental to the deeper story of what he’s dealing with? It’s his frame of reference, but not the scope of who he is?BR/BR/ok, gonna stop trying now! lol!

  11. spyscribbler

    April 22, 2008 12:29 am

    I have a great little workbook on developing high concept. I have no idea what happened to it or who wrote it, but it’s awesome. If I find it, I’ll send it to you.BR/BR/I want Trevor. Why don’t stories about rock musicians sell? It’s not like the market’s overloaded! I think it would be fresh and original!

  12. Winter

    April 22, 2008 4:48 am

    I love how you leave me hanging all the time. LOL I’d say you’ve mastered the art of the cliff hanger for sure.

  13. Bethanie

    April 22, 2008 8:27 am

    Mmmm – the ‘high concept’ concept is one of those things I’ve deliberately avoided learning about, ‘cuz I’m just not ready to deal with it yet (too many of the basics still to master). But it sounds like it’s ‘the description of your book that will appeal to the most readers’… is that even close??BR/BR/And I’m with wylie kinson — OMG – WHAT??!? Gah! I’m all in suspense now!

  14. Thomma Lyn

    April 22, 2008 1:32 pm

    “High concept”, I think, means something like “a grabby hook.” I like the flavor of your hook paragraph, but I’m glad you spelled out the bigger secret for what you actually wrote. BR/BR/Here’s what Agent Query has to say about “high concept”:BR/BR/I”Commercial fiction uses high-concept hooks and compelling plots to give it a wide, mainstream appeal. Commercial fiction often has the “ouuuh” factor: summarize what happens in your novel is a single, succinct sentence, and you invariably get, “ouhhh, that sounds interesting!” Plot (the events) and story (the overall tale) are first and foremost; characters’ choices and actions create heightened drama that propels the reader forward with urgency.”/I

  15. Donica Covey

    April 22, 2008 1:47 pm

    Susan~~I think the change in tact is a GREAT idea! I’m so glad the RT was a good experience for you. Wish I could’ve made it. There’s always next year–I’ve been sayig that for years…BR/BR/Hugz and welcome home sweetie!BR/Donica

  16. Jill

    April 22, 2008 9:59 pm

    This is what is the thing that started the story!??Can I still have my weekly piece of Trevor?

  17. Ann

    April 22, 2008 11:49 pm

    So are you getting caught up on your sleep? I think I am. I managed to download my pics, I even posted a few *insert evil laugh*. Go check them out. 🙂

  18. Bob-kat

    April 23, 2008 5:32 am

    I love that ‘high concept’! I think you’re on to something as it made me want to go out and buy that book and read it. It has hooks! 🙂

  19. Bob-kat

    April 23, 2008 5:36 am

    Oh, BTW, the ‘high concept’ seems to be the same thing as the ‘log line’ in films which is a single pithy phrase to spark immediate interest. Usually during a pitch. 🙂

  20. Shelley Munro

    April 23, 2008 4:59 pm

    Congrats on the light bulb moment. I love it when that happens!

  21. Moondancer

    April 23, 2008 7:27 pm

    What a great hook, glad you learned some healpful stuff there.

  22. Marcia (MeeAugraphie)

    April 23, 2008 10:07 pm

    Where would we be without light bulb moments? I take it the high concept is to cut to the chase, give the reader/editor that connection to life. BR/BR/Nothing will stop you now.

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