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High Concept/Commercial

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Please excuse my ignorance, but what does high concept/commercial mean?  I have been to several literary agency sites and some are asking for picture books that have these qualifications.  Are they looking for series type picture books, such as "Fancy Nancy?"

#1 - December 27, 2013, 12:18 PM

Oh yes, this is a confusing subject. I come from a film background, but it's my understanding that the meaning is the same in publishing. It's basically an idea that can be sold on a concise pitch: an interesting concept that can be summed up in a sentence or two.

Some examples:
On his eleventh birthday, a lonely orphan discovers he's a wizard and enrolls in wizarding school.
A boy plays with his new neighbor, but his reluctance to share his toys puts a hiccup in their budding friendship.
A child is afraid of the dark, until the night it comes to his bedroom and takes him on an journey to its domain deep in the basement.

Strangely, while I can usually find plenty of articles on the subject, I can rarely find examples. But here's a blog post that might help!
#2 - December 27, 2013, 01:12 PM

I describe high concept as: it can be concisely pitched to your intended audience in a way that makes them greatly desire to know more.

Even "quiet" stories can be high-concept if the summary is intriguing. Think of Anne of Green Gables: "When an elderly brother and sister decide to adopt a boy to help around the farm, everything is turned upside down when the orphanage sends a girl instead." Just hearing a pitch like that makes people start wondering "What happens next? How will they handle this mix-up?"

And "commercial" basically means they hope to move a lot of copies. "Literary" picture books may win critical acclaim, win awards and be bought and celebrated primarily by libraries/schools. Commercial picture books could end up being sold in Target and Wal-Mart, become go-to gift items, inspire spinoff merchandise, etc. These often do center around iconic characters like Skippyjon Jones or Fancy Nancy or the Bear in Karma Wilson's series. 
#3 - December 28, 2013, 07:30 AM
« Last Edit: December 28, 2013, 07:33 AM by Amanda Coppedge »
Youth Services librarian and YA writer. Wisconsin SW (Madison area) Rep.
@amandacoppedge on Twitter

Thank you both.  Nilaffle, I will check out the link you attached.
#4 - December 28, 2013, 01:26 PM

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High Concept is definitely a "I know it when I see it" kind of thing. It' s a hard thing to define specifically. That said, my very clunky way of describing it is: What is the HOOK of the book? Does a short description promise potential images, characters, stories, etc...?

Think of it more from the reader's (or rather the buyer's perspective) Can someone "see" your book from a title? In just a few words? In a sentence? By "see" I mean do they get the idea quickly and completely. If you described it to someone would they be nodding their head while visualizing potential images or storylines? Then you're on the right track. If it requires more explanation and it's hard to know what the book is about without reading the manuscript and getting to know the characters then it's probably not as high concept.

Here are some examples.  Just by title: THE MONSTORE by Tara Lazar and THE THREE NINJA PIGS by Corey Rosen Schwartz. You can make a pretty good guess what the book is about just by the title. It doesn't give away all the delightful surprises or the story arc, but you kind of get the tone and concept.  BATTLE BUNNY by Mac Barnett and Jon Scieska is an example of high concept that can be summed up in a few words. A boy "rewrites" an existing sickly sweet book to make it more to his liking.  Again, that description doesn't give away all the surprises and details but you "get" the idea behind it.

The Hunger Games is a non-PB example.  Teens are forced to fight to the death in a televised competition.  You don't really need to know about Katniss or the Dystopian history or the specific plot to "get" the concept.  All those details come from the potential promised by the concept.

Anyway, that's my very inelegant two cents about it. Anyone else have more examples?
#5 - January 01, 2014, 01:06 PM
BOB AND JOSS GET LOST! (HarperCollins Feb. 2017)
BOB AND JOSS TAKE A HIKE! (HArperCollins 2018)

Thank you pmccleery.  By accident, I was searching for something else, I came upon this article.  Thought I would share it:
#6 - January 02, 2014, 07:46 AM


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