How to Hone Your High Concept Pitch

Literary agent Danielle Burby of Nelson Literary Agency offers her best tips on how to hone your pitch for your high concept book.
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Do you have a high concept book in the works? Literary agent Danielle Burby gives her best tips on how to improve your high concept pitch so it connects with an agent or editor.

A high concept idea is based on a simple “what-if” premise that can be pitched in one to three sentences. It tends to be an original twist, adaptation, or blend of ideas that have been successful in the past. Nearly every idea has been had before, but playing with variations on what has already been done gives you a better chance of being unlike anything else out there.

The goal of a high concept pitch is to make the person you’re pitching wonder why no one has thought of your idea before.

Literary agent Danielle Burby of Nelson Literary Agency is an aficionado for high concept books. Here, she offers her best tips for whetting a pitch for a high concept book to a razor-sharp edge.

“The best way to hone your pitch is to practice it on friends and family. What are the elements that spark genuine interest rather than polite nodding? What concise description captures both character and stakes?

Keep it simple. You don't need to pack in a lot of information. You just need to pack in the right information. Jordyn Taylor, a client of mine, is working on a historical YA called The Paper Girl of Paris (forthcoming summer 2020) and when I was putting together the announcement of the sale, I was trying my hardest to squeeze the most information possible into the smallest amount of space (character names, conflict, stakes, how people were connected etc.).

It was dense and overwhelming and it wasn't working. Then the editor and I realized all we needed to convey was that the story is about: A girl in the present who inherits a secret apartment in Paris that has been locked since WWII and a girl in Nazi-occupied Paris who joins the French Resistance.

You get the unique setting (Paris). You get the “what if” (i.e. what if I inherited a secret apartment?). You get a sense of high stakes (WWII and French Resistance). It accomplishes everything it needs to accomplish, and by not packing in too much information, you allow the important pieces of information to breathe rather than smothering them in too much detail.”

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