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.
Publish date:

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.”

WDC19 Pitch Slam

Write better. Get published. Build your network.

Writer's Digest Annual Conference | August 22-25 | New York City


Plot Twist Story Prompts: Without a Trace

Every good story needs a nice (or not so nice) turn or two to keep it interesting. This week, have a character leave without a trace.


Vintage WD: The Truth about True Crime

In this article from July 2000, true crime novelist and former New York Times correspondent Lisa Beth Pulitzer shares with us some key insights for breaking into the true crime genre.


New Agent Alert: Barb Roose of Books & Such Literary Management

New literary agent alerts (with this spotlight featuring Barb Roose of Books & Such Literary Management) are golden opportunities for new writers because each one is a literary agent who is likely building his or her client list.


Evoking Emotion in Fiction: Seven Pragmatic Ways to Make Readers Give a Damn

Evoking emotion on the page begins with the man or woman at the keyboard. Dustin Grinnell serves up seven straightforward tactics for writing tear-jerking stories that make your readers empathize with your characters.

Poetry Prompt

Wednesday Poetry Prompts: 546

Every Wednesday, Robert Lee Brewer shares a prompt and an example poem to get things started on the Poetic Asides blog. This week, write a spooky poem.


Learn Better World-Building Strategies Through World of Warcraft and the New Shadowlands Expansion

WD editor and fantasy writer Moriah Richard shares five unique ways in which writers can use World of Warcraft to better build their worlds—without playing the game.


Seven Tips for Intuitive Writing: The Heart-Hand Connection

Award-winning author Jill G. Hall shares her top tips for how to dive into your latest project head-first.


Bearing vs. Baring vs. Barring (Grammar Rules)

Learn when to use bearing vs. baring vs. barring on with Grammar Rules from the Writer's Digest editors, including a few examples of correct usages.