Finding and defining your sales-worthy “high concept”


Selling the Concept

A reader’s time and attention is earned, not granted. Every second of their time, every minute of their attention must be paid for. This transaction is the essence of your work as a writer. When you make a good deal and give the reader a lot for his time and attention, he will give you more in return and spread the word about your story. He will write a good review, he will recommend your book to other people. And that’s when you earn a real pay-check. This process starts at the concept, the first thing you must sell in order for your story to be picked up by those who can get it published.

Make them want to read your stuff.

What is a concept?

A concept is a conventional claim with a spin on it. A frame of reference that’s bigger than the product itself. It’s the context that makes the audience view the product in a new (more interesting) light. It’s the way the issue is framed.

How to find your concept through theme

The thing you’re selling in story-telling, is the pay-off that happens at the climax of the story, in act 3. The anticipation of the experience is the thing that pulls the audience in. Concept is external. It’s the frame in which the story takes place. Theme is internal, it is the message that is left when you strip away plot, dialogue and character. How do you find your concept? By pointing out what the story is about at its core, by answering “What’s the theme?”.

Example: breaking bad

What’s it about? The protagonist sums it up nicely while teaching his class, when he tells them what chemistry is all about.

Change. Chemistry is the study of change. Elements combine and change into compounds. That’s all of life, right? Solution, dissolution. Growth. Decay. Transformation.”

What’s this show about? Transformation.

Example, “The Sopranos”

Concept: Send a gangster to a shrink and show he feels guilty after killing someone.  (You find the same concept in “Analyse This”)

Theme: Gangsters aren’t mindless killers, they are people. We all have such crazy sides, we all have inner turmoil and troubles with family and career.

How to tell a mediocre from a high concept

1 You must be able to communicate the narrative in 10 seconds or less.

Why? Because this allows mouth-to-mouth recommendations. This allows people to easily identify and discuss your product.

2 When you’ve communicated those 10 seconds, your audience should understand the entire story and plot.

Streamline your message into it’s simplest clearest easiest to understand form. That’s your pitch.

3 The idea should already make people imagine cool scenes they’ll find in the work

These are scenes people will look forward to seeing, which means they’ll have faith in your work. They’ll have patience and tolerance to obtain the pay-off, seeing that epic moment happen.

4 Weigh the potential of the concept

If the concept is strong, it can generate a lot of spin-offs. So, to see how strong your concept is, you consider how many different ways you could use it. A great concept gives every word and every scene of the story an interesting angle.

Pressfield, S. (2016) Nobody Wants to Read Your Shit