What exactly is a High Concept Novel?


Okay, so I’ve never really understood this term. I could vaguley give you a description, but Beth Revis on the YA Reddit group I am involved in spelled it out SO perfectly that I have to share here:

What is High Concept?

First, what high concept is not: it’s not “high.” This is the thing that throws people off the most. Most people think that “high concept” means something that’s very literary, artistic, and not commercial—and the exact opposite is true.

High concept is something that has immediate commercial appeal.

Typically, the way this is explained is that:

  • You can sum up a high concept idea in a sentence or two
  • It has obvious appeal to the masses—it’s a concept that most people can get with just a sentence
  • It’s a story that you can immediately see what it would be like just from a short description

High concept is hugely important because it’s easy to sell. If you’re querying, a high concept pitch is arguably one of the best things you can have to make your query stand out. If you’re published, a high concept pitch is the hook you use to advertise your book, the way you describe it to hand-sell it, the sentence you use on your swag. If you want to commercially sell your work, having a high concept pitch is one of the best things you can use.

Examples of high concept:

  • A boarding school with wizards
  • An arena where children and teens have to fight to the death
  • A vampire that falls in love with a mortal

Obvious, yeah? High concept sells. If you can sum up your book in one simple phrase or sentence, one that has appeal to a lot of people, then you’re gold. People tend to like the familiar, and they like the concepts they can easily grasp, the stories they know will appeal to them.

The examples above are obvious, but here’s some that aren’t as obvious:

  • A murder mystery in space (My own novel, Across the Universe)
  • A teen who can time travel, stuck in the wrong time (Julie Cross’s Tempest)
  • A world where everyone gets a letter 24 hours before they die (Shaun Hutchinson’s The Deathday Letter)

When summing up high concept, you’re looking to *give the familiar, then give the twist. “A vampire”—a familiar concept many people know and like. “Falls in love with a mortal”—a twist to the story. The typical reader can take the familiar they already know, see the twist that will flesh it into a whole story, and that makes them want to read it.

The discussion that follows is incredibly awesome as well. If you are a writer I would definitely check it out, whether you write YA or not. You can find the thread here.



Although I haven’t consistently lived in America in over four years, I will always be American through and through! We are going to a 4th of July picnic today and a huge Independence Day celebration put on by the US Embassy on Saturday.

Wishing everyone a happy, happy Independence Day!

In the truest sense, freedom cannot be bestowed; it must be achieved.

~Franklin D. Roosevelt

One Reply to “What exactly is a High Concept Novel?”

  1. Reblogged this on Plotting Bunnies and commented:
    Simple but well worth a good read! It’s nice to get thinking about the nature of presentation. I have to admit I’ve never made an effort to learn about ‘high concept’ (I didn’t even know there was such a term!). Somehow this really motivates me to get working on an elevator pitch. “I’m writing… a story…” is a can of worms I really need to stop opening.

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