The High-Concept Pitch: The Ten Items or Less Line to Success

“It’s Survivor meets The Newlywed Game with handcuffs.”

That was my high concept pitch for my first romantic comedy, The Bonds of Matri-money. I still use it to describe the storyline when a prospective buyer steps up to me at a booksigning and asks what the story’s about.

I sincerely believe I lucked out when I came up with that one. I’d guess that, short of an isolated tribe on a remote desert island, almost everyone can instantly connect with my plot–based on those few words. Unfortunately, the high concept pitch doesn’t always come so easily.

With conference season in full swing, you’ll want to hone your own high concept (aka elevator) pitch. Do you know how? Have you figured yours out yet? Not sure you’ve got a winner? Sharpen your #2 pencils. We’ve got work to do!

Let’s start with the definition of “high concept.” Basically, a high concept is the premise of your story told in a way that instantly connects with your target and creates the opportunity for mass appeal. The catch? It must be brief and intriguing. Pride & Prejudice and Zombies isn’t just a great title; it’s a great high concept, too. Unfortunately, the title isn’t always enough to convey a high concept. Which means, despite whatever witty or self-explanatory title we’ve assigned to our masterpiece, most of us still struggle to dream up a clever tag line to go with it. Here are a few tips I hope will get you that perfect line to hook your ideal agent or editor.

Be concise. Draft a short blurb. And then shorten it. Then shorten it again. Keep honing the story down to the most basic plot point. Can you describe your story in ten words or less? Keep honing until you can.

Consider your viewing preferences. The old saying, “There’s nothing new under the sun” is a cliché because it’s true. Chances are very good if you take the time to compare your story to your own likes and dislikes among television shows, movies, or even songs, you’ll discover your plotline resembles some other media product that resonated with you. Use that similarity!

Remember your particular audience. Your high concept pitch should capture the tone of your work. If your story is a romantic suspense, your high concept would be darker than that of an author pitching a paranormal comedy or inspirational romance. A YA novel shouldn’t be pitched with the line, “A sexy Silence of the Lambs.” Nor would an erotic work fit the blurb, “Cocoonmeets The Ten Commandments.” (But if you can turn that into a story, I’d love to read it!)

Practice, practice, practice. Share your high concept pitch with family, friends, your butcher, your mail carrier. See what kind of reaction your description receives. If you don’t get the arched brows and widened eyes reflecting some semblance of interest, go back to the drawing board. Revisit the first three steps until you see that look of intrigue in the faces of those around you. Once you’ve got the ideal line, say it in front of a mirror, while you’re stuck in traffic, in the shower, before you go to bed at night. Keep practicing your pitch until it flows off your tongue as naturally as the names of your children.

Don’t forget the passion. Be proud of your one-liner. And be excited about your work. The more enthusiasm you show, the more infectious that enthusiasm will be.

Stay the course. Let’s say your pitch is so successful, your target immediately wants to hear more. Congratulations! Now’s not the time to sweat and stammer. Be ready to continue drawing the comparison between your work and the high concept, but also highlight what makes your story unique.

Best of luck to you. I hope you’ll find the perfect pitch for the perfect target at the perfect time. Just remember: a perfect high concept pitch might gain you the interest of an editor or agent, but you’ve still got to deliver a quality product to win the publishing game!