What Is High-Concept Fiction?

Unless you read Publisher’s Weekly on a regular basis or you’re in the publishing and literary world, you know that there are new phrases and terms that evolve as the industry evolves. These new concepts help agents, publishers, and authors speak distinctively about voices and projects, and it helps narrow the market so ultimately, readers connect with the right book.

One of the newer phrases in the industry is “High-Concept Fiction” and trust me, it’s a little nebulous to the neophyte. The first time I ran across it, I was gobsmacked. After all, doesn’t every book have high concepts within? Evidently, I was way off. 

High-Concept Fiction refers to a book concept that has wide appeal, will attract a range of readers, and holds its own space in a bookstore. It’s unique in that it brings a different twist that directly effects the plot, answering the ‘what if?’ questions that proceeds something a reader hasn’t experienced before. Remember, it can’t just be something unique in the characters, it must directly impact the plot, thus making the premise something entirely novel (pun intended). High-concept infuses the ‘what if?’ premise into the classic themes of romance, mystery, historical, or whatever genre you write in. 

You may also discover that agents and publishers prefer high-concept fiction over others.

That’s where it can be a little intimidating, especially if your book is a great book but doesn’t necessary meet the qualities for high-concept fiction. Don’t be discouraged. Yes, everyone is looking for something new that hasn’t been done before, but that doesn’t mean that readers aren’t eagerly awaiting your book. They are. And believe it or not, you may have already written a high-concept book but didn’t know it.

Now that you do, grab the agent’s attention by including the phrase in your query or crafting a ‘what if?’ pitch.


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