Sunday, September 20, 2009

Definitions for the Perplexed: High Concept

What exactly does an editor mean when he/she says they are looking for "high concept" picture books?
Basically, it means she wants a hook. She wants to be able to describe what will appeal to consumers about the book in just a sentence or two.

I, like many editors, wish more writers had a better grasp of what makes a hook and what doesn't. If writers were only sending us picture book manuscripts with hooks, we'd get a hell of a lot fewer pointless vignettes, heavy-handed lessons, nostalgic meanderings, and stories of any kind that no child will be interested in.

At the same time, some of us recognize that you can't tell writers that all you want are high concept submissions, because some of the great picture books out there are not high concept.

Skippyjon Jones
, for instance. What's awesome about that book is its read-aloud quality and humor, and for clarity's sake I need to bring across that those are not high concept. Read aloud quality and humor are, indeed, hooks, but they are the kind of thing that no editor is going to accept from an author in a query letter. Because they're among the most subjective things there are.

If you can think of a snappy way to describe what's cool and fun about your manuscript, that's query letter gold. Just as long as your description doesn't include subjective descriptors like lovely, charming, funny, lyrical, wonderful, etc, etc, etc. EVERY writer thinks their writing is good, so we don't automatically believe claims of that sort. Tell us your book is about dinosaurs AND bedtime, and we'll believe you may have a hook.


ae said...

I love Skippyjon Jones. Not only is the writing and humor great, but it has the most fantastic, organic plot and bittersweetnessivity.

I keep a copy by my drawing table for reference and inspiration.

This text is LONG. Yet I look at my "short and acceptable, advisable" word counts for today's standards, and I want to go further like she...but I guess I will leave that up to the powers that be.

Chris Eldin said...

This is a really hard concept to grasp.

Very, very hard.

And sometimes it can take years of hard work to finally 'get' it. Often, we may never get it.

But wait! Folks, there's a faster way!

A contest on EA's! I know Miss Snark had the Happy Hooker contest. Can't we have something similar here? (For kids, and without the words fuck or shit.)

If you're interested, please beg here in the comments.

danceluvr said...

If you can think of a snappy way to describe what's cool and fun about your manuscript, that's query letter gold.

But what if your book is more serious?

ae said...

I am certainly not an expert but often the high concept is right in the title. Not always though.

Serious books can have hooks too. Something that really appeals to children and done in a special way. Write it. :)

david elzey said...

Skippyjon is only an awesome book until you see a Hispanic child bring it to their mother to read aloud and she has to stop midway through and ask the bookseller why they carry such blatantly offensive, racist books.

In the years I spent as a children's bookseller, only white people ever bought Skippyjon.


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Unknown said...

I'm white and hispanic and I bought Skippyjon Jones. I loved it!

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Unknown said...

Can you name some books with a high concept and the concept- as yes, this is a question I have asked and would love more clarity on!

Coco Love said...

It seems I'm on the right track, I hope I can do well. The result was something I did and was doing to implement it.

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