I don’t know about all you fellow kidlit writers out there, but I’ve been stumped by at least one publishing term that an agent or editor has attached to my w.i.p.
Here’s an example. At one conference I attended, after pitching my manuscript to an editor, she smiled at me and said, “Hmm. It sounds very high concept.”
High concept? Um, okay. Was this a compliment or a thinly veiled insult? Having no idea, I simply smiled back and said, um, nothing.
After some frenzied, post-pitch googling , I was still stumped.
Luckily, Nathan Bransford posted about this meaning of this very term on his blog a few months ago. For those of you who don’t want to click on the link, here’s the nutmeat of what he wrote:
"High concept means that a novel’s plot can be described very succinctly in appealing fashion.”
Great, I thought. I have an appealing plot. But after reading further, I wasn’t so sure. As Mr. Bransford went on to write:
“High concept is very often misunderstood because what it sounds like it means and what it actually means are basically completely opposite. It doesn't mean sophisticated (opposite), it doesn't mean cerebral (opposite), it doesn't mean difficult to describe (opposite). And it's very important to know what it means because although high concept is often a term used derogatorily, I am hearing from more and more editors that they want high concept novels, even for literary fiction.”
Hmm, maybe not so great. Maybe she thought my plot was unsophisticated, non-cerebral, and facile. Ouch.
But his post ended on a high note.
“And it's very important to know what it means because although high concept is often a term used derogatorily, I am hearing from more and more editors that they want high concept novels, even for literary fiction.”
Okay, so maybe my first instinct—it was great!—was spot-on after all.
Or, maybe not.
I guess I’ll never know. With a term like "high concept,” it could go either way.
Recently, I heard from a writer friend that an agent had called her manuscript too “commercial” to take on. At the time, I didn’t get it. Since when is being “commercial” a bad thing? Isn’t that the point, to sell as many books as possible?
Since I’m already over my word limit, I won't even begin to dive into my current state of genre confusion. To wit, is my fantasy w.i.p.…
a) straight fantasy
b) science fiction
c) urban fantasy
e) high fantasy
f) steampunk (just kidding, I know it’s not that)
…since it contains elements that relate to all of the above (except "f"). Of course, in my query, I could always go with…
g) science fantasy (a nice hybrid term)
...or, as one editor called it…
h) a fantasy/mystery/adventure (a really nice hybrid term)
Frankly, I like “h” best, because it opens up more pitching possibilities. Maybe if I called it “a high urban paranormal science fantasy,” I’d hit the pitching jackpot.
Fellow Paper Waiters, are there any publishing terms or genres in kidlit land that have stumped you? If so, please share them. And it you have the proper definition, by all means, be sure to share that too!