Pub Rants

Hold The Gimmick

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STATUS: Snowing like crazy today in New York. I actually didn’t have any lunch dates for this Friday as I was running an auction instead and that can be quite time consuming.

What’s playing on the iPod right now? LOVE’S DIVINE by Seal

However, I did have lunch with an editor from the Penguin Children’s group yesterday (I know, my waistline doesn’t much appreciate breakfast immediately followed by lunch but what can you do!)

This editor likes girl stuff (so this is the context.) She wants high concept novels because they only have a few slots open per season and the work would need to stand out as a debut.

Problem is that she’s getting gimmicky novels with very little substance or a plot that’s not big enough. She’s dying to buy that manuscript that achieves the fine balance of a great voice, terrific writing, high concept, and good character development.

In other words, just write a great novel.

Well, duh. That’s all you need to land an agent and a book deal as well.

But I do think I understand. She’s seeing submissions that have a good hook but don’t seem to have much else and that can be a problem. I know this because we see similar patterns in our own submissions.

It can be equally problematic to have great writing and no solid story to drive the plot forward.

So, for what that is worth…

16 Responses

  1. Renee Collins said:

    I’ve seen a few books out there that fall into this category. Great concept, poor execution.
    Trouble is, how can you really know if your own writing is good enough?
    *sigh* I guess that’s the eternal dilema.

  2. Jenn said:

    In a not-immediately-obviously-related vein, what is the protocol/etiquette if you are being published by a company that doesn’t have the readership you would prefer. I am inexpressibly grateful to my publishers for giving me a platform, but is there ever any call for seeing if someone else would like to buy the rights from them?

    I ask because, though it sounds revoltingly arrogant to say so, I’m pretty sure my forthcoming novel fits the criteria you are describing (with, possibly, one small hitch . . . )

  3. Anonymous said:

    Hi di francis,

    I’ll give you an extreme definition. Once upon a time in the 1940’s, an author whose sister ran a card business did up an extremely fancy package for her brother who wrote a book.

    He sent his manuscript to the publisher with several bottles of champagne as it had a “Great Gatsby” flare. They “drank it up”, so to speak, and when the publisher did not contact the author for an insurmountable amount of time, the author hired a private jet plane and flew it around their building in New York (of course the author was expelled from the contract and disbanded).

    I haven’t sumbitted my manuscript for publishing yet as I’m still polishing it up, but gimmicks are sort of like live-wired infommercials for the product you’re selling.

    But I get what you’re saying, Kristen, when you get past the Magic Bullet guy, ‘is the Juicer still worth it’s salt?’

    Turning a red pen from afar,

    -Rachel Glass

  4. Anonymous said:

    When a story is high concept it means its plot can be conveyed in one sentence and entice a buyer.

    One can usually ascertain what the story will be about in one or two lines, which is usually called a logline.

    Christopher Lockhart gives this example at Screenwriter’s Monthly of a concise logline.

    “After a cyclone transports a lonely Kansas farm girl to a magical land, she sets out on a dangerous journey to find a wizard with the power to send her home.”

    One might suggest this is a high concept.

    Wikepedia gives other examples.


  5. Anonymous said:

    Gimmick can sometimes coincide with high concept novels, because the logline will usually contain a hook, or gimmick to sell the book.

    An example (in my opinion) of a gimmick would be the series out where the main character is a returning soldier from Iraq that is infected as a vampire. I don’t recall the name of the series. It is also loaded with sex, some mystery, and would appeal to teenage boys, soldiers, etc. But it’s a gimmick nonetheless.

    Barnes and Nobles has a feature display of the books. Can’t miss it. What’s inside the cover is for each person to decide. Is it rich dialogue, characterization, or a gimmick supported by commas and other misc. punctuation?


  6. Twill said:

    The term “high concept” comes from screen writing. It is actually distinct from “log line” in that a log line is usually a single short sentence, whereas the shorter the high concept, the better. Best if it actually fits into the title, so just hearing what the title is, you know what the movie is.

    A two-word high concept you might recognize is “Legally Blond”. A slightly longer one is “Stop, or My Mother Will Shoot!”.

    All the Ethan Allen disaster movies of the seventies were high concept movies.
    So was “Star Wars”.

  7. WitLiz Today said:

    AH so vely sorry to correct, ms twill but i believe you mean irwin allen. ethan allen is the furniture guy. Actually, i like both allens, except the second one is not doggy or cat proof. I’m pretty sure the first one was.

    High concept means a blockbuster novel that has the potential to sweep hollywood right off it’s jaded feet, and turn your book into the next da vinci code. These books typically sell for seven figure advances. (Of course, rarely do they earn these out. Or the movie bombs and nobody touches your book ever again).

    If, however, the movie doesn’t bomb because it has a huge mega star like Tom Hanks, (who brought new life to the memoir, “I was a Middle-aged Zombie”), then your book becomes the golden egg for publishers.

    That’s what they’re looking for. Frankly, if I were in the business, you bet your bippy I’d be scouring the world for that novel.

    So the formula for high concept in fiction is, HC = Hollywood Squared = best seller of all time.

    Things aren’t much different in non-fiction. The formula for high concept is, HC = tortured soul + magic potion or mystical secret = bestseller, (and a sure fire invitation to the Oprah show)

    The point is, as a writer you can do what you damn well please, dictated by circumstances only you know about and have to live with, and not feel one iota of shame for what you decide to write. And if you hit the lottery, like the author who lives in a leaky rowboat out in hawaii,(damn her soul while i freeze my butt off in Pa due to weather related power outages like ICE), then more POWER to you.

  8. booklady said:

    And yet I still see so many YA novels in that exact position–and so many young adults reading them. I suppose it works for them, but I end up always wanting something with a little depth to go with the pretty concept.

  9. Maya said:

    As I understand it, high-concept basically means the story has a gimmick (or hook). So if the editor is looking for high-concept but complaining about lack of substance, the answer is not to “hold the gimmick.” Keep the gimmick, but make sure you have enough substance to support it. The gimmick is necessary, but not sufficient.