I’m very excited to welcome MANDA COLLINS to her debut post at Romance University!
Hey, y’all! I’m so happy to be here at Romance University today! My name is Manda and I write hybrids.
No, this has nothing to do with gas mileage, and everything to do with blending two romance subgenres into a cohesive whole. In my case, my books are a mash-up of historical romance and romantic suspense. While this might sound like an easy sell to a publisher, it takes a lot of work behind the scenes to get these books up the editorial food chain and into the Publisher’s Marketplace deal report.
One of the most important tools in my box for convincing New York to buy my books is a much misunderstood and maligned thing called High Concept. But first, a definition. According to Wikipedia, high concept “is a type of artistic work that can be easily pitched with a succinctly stated premise.” Most often, you’ll see high-concept described as one artistic work “meets” another artistic work.
For example, I often describe my books as “Nancy Drew meets Jane Austen with sexytimes.”
Does this mean that my books have all the elements of both a Nancy Drew mystery and a Jane Austen novel? Absolutely not. One thing it took me a long time to wrap my head around with regard to high concept is that it’s only a bird’s eye view of your story, not an exact replica. Let me show you what I mean.
- Nancy Drew—means that there will be a mystery element to the stories, but not a teenage sleuth with a lawyer dad and a boyfriend name Ned Nickerson
- Jane Austen—means there will be a regency era historical romance element, but not the same elegant language and period appropriate storytelling as an Austen novel
- Sexytimes—means there will be…well, okay in this element, it’s exactly as advertised
The key thing here, though, is to be succinct. If you’ve ever tried to pitch your book in person, you know how unnerving it can be to encapsulate the essence of your story into a quick, easy to understand description. You want to get in there and get out of there. What you especially don’t want is for the editor/agent’s eyes to glaze over while you trail off with “yeah…” (Been there, done that.)
One of the reasons why you want to be able to sum up your book quickly is because when that special editor who reads your work and falls in love with it and wants to work with you, you want to make her job of selling your book to the editorial board (which has a different makeup at different publishers, but generally is composed of everyone from executives to editors, to sales, to marketing on down) easier. And the editor who loves you only has one meeting to sell your book to the board. Where a lot of other books are also being pitched. Many are the “good” rejection letters that say some variation of “I really tried, but ultimately we didn’t know how to sell it.” Translation: The sales team couldn’t figure out how to sell it and I didn’t have enough time to explain it to them.
And even with a good agent, who crafts a pitch that tells them exactly how they can sell it, there are still going to be some folks on the editorial board who just didn’t get it. So why on earth wouldn’t you want to do all that you can to make sure they do get it.
After my first trilogy, my subsequent sales to my publisher have been on proposal. There are, again, different requirements for different editors, but for mine that means writing a brief overview of the trilogy and how the three books will fit together, and a chapter synopsis of the first book. For all of my proposals, I’ve started out first with a high concept and created the books from that.
For the Wicked Widows Trilogy, for instance, I began with a tagline and built the series around it. I Know What You Did Last Season. Of course this draws from the Lois Duncan book, and 90’s Jennifer Love Hewitt movie, I Know What You Did Last Summer. I let the idea spark and soon I had a group of widows whose husbands were abusive being blackmailed over the death of one of the aforementioned husbands.
There’s also a different sort of high concept, one that’s not quite as easy to explain as “A meets B” and that’s of course the “succinctly stated premise” that doesn’t draw a comparison. Or as I like to call it, the “Quick and Dirty” version. In romance these are most easily constructed using tropes or just common romance themes. The Studies in Scandal quartet is best described as “four bluestockings inherit a manor house and fall in love while solving mysteries at the behest of their dead benefactress.”
And it’s this, more general high concept that I use to describe the individual books within most of my series’. Why Dukes Say I Do, the first book in the Wicked Widows trilogy, could best be described as “a widow with a secret must convince a reclusive duke to take up his rightful position in society.” Or Ready Set Rogue, the first book of Studies in Scandal, could be “a bluestocking heiress must match wits with a handsome marquess while trying to solve the murder of her mysterious benefactress.”
There are plenty of ways to craft a high concept for your story. Start from the premise and build up. Write the book first and summarize from there. And a million ways in between. But, I’d argue that being able to come up with a one sentence summary of your book is a skill every writer needs. Especially if you write hybrid.
Your turn! Give me the high concept pitch of your current WIP, using either the “A meets B” version or the “quick and dirty summary” version. Or, try it on your favorite movie. I’ll go first…
- After meeting the suitor she rejected years ago again, a spinster reconsiders her decision. But is it too late?
Manda Collins is the author of fifteen Regency historical romances from St. Martin’s Press. Her book Duke with Benefits was named one of the Best Romances of the 2017 by Kirkus Reviews. She lives on the Alabama gulf coast with a trio of demanding pets in the house her mother grew up in. Her website is www.mandacollins.com
You can follow her on Facebook at facebook.com/mandacollinsauthor
Instagram at Instagram.com/mandacollinsauthor
Or join her newsletter at http://bit.ly/MandaNewsletter