Friday, July 07, 2006

Question of the Month

Each month BookEnds agents will answer one of the questions we get from writers. This month's question is actually two questions, both of them revolving around the concept of the hook.

Here's a question, or actually, more of a request. I'd love to have you ladies discuss high concept—what it is, how necessary it is, how on earth to find one!

I've often used the word "hook," and ultimately high concept is no different than having a hook. It's an idea that is so good, so fresh, and so different that you can describe it in one quick sentence. And in that sentence you can convince someone they too want to read the book, without ever describing anything about the actual story.

While the genre is what initially attracts the reader, the concept is what gets her to buy the book. The higher the concept, the more intriguing the book is to agents, publishers, and readers.

How necessary is high concept? Very. Unfortunately, writing a really good romance or mystery just isn't enough anymore. You also have to have that extra something that makes it jump from the shelves. Charlaine Harris meets Mary Janice Davidson in Karen MacInerney's recently sold werewolf mystery series—that's high concept. Karen had two other mystery proposals before her werewolf series. Both were submitted and rejected everywhere. Had her writing changed that much? No, her writing was the same, it was her concept that had changed.

I often tell my writers that finding a concept can be more difficult than writing the book. To find your own, take a look at what is successful or working in your genre, figure out why it seems to be working, and try to guess and predict what the next big thing will be. That's high concept.


I have a few real-world passions of my own to build my stories on, but is there any "hook" in particular you'd love to see used right now?

One that sells for big money and one that I've never seen before.


If there was, we'd have someone working away on it! Sometimes publishers do call us and tell us in great detail what they are looking for. And in blue sky meetings at publishing houses and blue sky meetings at BookEnds, we sit around and brainstorm new hooks all the time, hoping to fall upon that terrific idea that makes us all pant and shake. Just keep brainstorming! In the cozy mystery market, a great hook will provide a subcategory that allows us all to attack a targeted market share: for example, The Dolls to Die For Mystery Series coming soon from Deb Baker. Deb has been contacting doll shows, doll stores, etc., to expand her audience beyond the typical mystery book reader. Same with Maggie Sefton's knitting mysteries, Kathy Brandt's Underwater Investigation Series, and most of our cozies (see to check out some of the great hooks our authors have come up with). Kathy targeted dive shop distributors to get her books in the hands of those who might have a special interest in Hannah, her police diver protagonist.

In literary fiction, the idea can be the hook if you have an irresistible idea that just screams READ ME! Who could turn down The Life of Pi when you heard it featured a boy stuck on a lifeboat in the Pacific Ocean with a wounded zebra, a spotted hyena, a seasick orangutan, and a 450-pound Bengal tiger named Richard Parker? But, of course, the writing has to also be terrific, and we believe our authors deliver both a great hook and great writing.



Cole Reising said...

I love this posting! What a great way of looking at things. Getting an R doesn't have to mean your not a great writer but maybe that you've just not hit upon the right 'hook'!



Anonymous said...

Very useful answer about hooks. It leads me in some interesting directions. Thanks!

Anonymous said...

Writing to a special market really makes promotion easy. I'm sending announcements and a bundle of postcards with cover and description to over 600 doll clubs and doll shops. Once the book is out in October, I'll attend doll shows and send promo material to those I can't make. My biggest readership will probably come from those sources.

Karen MacInerney said...

And one thing Jessica didn't say (but is true, and she deserves the credit for it) is that if it weren't for her, Sophie Garou the reluctant werewolf would never have come to pass. We were talking mysteries, trying to come up with another proposal. I was thinking along paranormal lines, but wasn't coming up with anything really fresh. Then one day Jessica said, "What about werewolves?"

I said, "Werewolves?" Thinking, you've got to be kidding me.

But then, about a week later, I thought to myself... "What if she was a werewolf who didn't WANT to be a werewolf, and just wanted a normal life (which of course would be incredibly difficult, seeing as the whole monthly visitor issue requires a bit more than Midol)... that could be so much fun!"

So I wrote a proposal featuring 20-something career woman Sophie Garou, who's got a terrific job, a terrific boyfriend... and a big, fat, hairy secret. Of course, Jessica kicked my first chapters back to me twice before we got it right (took about a month). But she sold it four weeks later in a really fabulous deal to Ballantine. I'm still on cloud nine -- and absolutely LOVING writing the book. It's more fun than anything else I've done.

And that, ladies and gentlemen, is what an agent can do for you.

Thanks again, Jessica!

Bernita said...

Think I have one - but I ain't telling.

Bella Andre said...

A very interesting post. I appreciate Jessica and Jacky being so honest about the realities of selling books. And also that they'll spend the time brainstorming with their authors (add me to the mix, along with with karen m.) to come up with a hook/concept that could be a great fit with the author's writing style AND will hopefully sell based on their knowledge of the market/what editors & pubs are looking for.

;-) Bella Andre