High-Concepting Your Nano Novel with Agent Sally Apokedak

Sunday, September 28, 2014
If you’re taking the NaNo plunge this year—that’s the National Novel Writing Month challenge where writers pen an entire novel of at least 50,000 words in the month of November—you’ll want to take literary agent, Sally Apokedak’s upcoming WOW! class. It’s called NaNo Prep: Planning the High Concept Novel and it’s the class that’s going to take your little gem of a premise and make it sparkle like a blockbuster.

Oh, I know what you’re thinking: But I already have a great idea, Cathy. Bring it on!

And good for you! But chances are, your great idea is…well, not so great. I know that sounds harsh, but here’s what Sally, associate agent of the Leslie H. Stobbe Literary Agency, shared: “The rejection I get most often from editors is, ‘Great work, but it just doesn’t seem fresh enough.’”


Listen up, you wonderful would-be published novelists! If you’re going to go to all the time and trouble to pound out 50,000 words, don’t you think those words should be worth it? Says Sally, “a high concept novel will give you the best chance of catching and keeping readers.”

So how do you take your idea and writing from stale rehash of a tired plot to a fresh and exciting high concept novel? Let’s go straight to your instructor for answers.

What exactly do agents and publishers mean when they talk about “high concept novels”?

Ask five publishing professionals what the definition is of high concept and you'll get eight different answers (because, undoubtedly, a few will hem and haw and give you more than one answer).

My answer goes like this: A high-concept novel is a novel with a premise that has three necessary components. 1) It needs to be familiar enough to make it appealing, 2) it needs to be fresh enough to make it exciting, and 3) it needs to be universally appealing (to its intended audience).

In other words Amish Vampires in Space is not a high-concept novel because while it's certainly fresh, it's not familiar enough to make it appealing to the vampire lovers, the sci-fi lovers, or the Amish fiction lovers. It's not clear who the intended audience is.

What will students be doing in the class that will get them from boring to blockbuster?

They will listen to lectures and practice their pitches.

They will get my lectures on plot and character, which will tell them the kind of action and conflict I want to see in proposals people send me. I get a lot of proposals each week and the writing is very good on many of them. But if there is not enough action or conflict, I'm going to get bored pretty quickly. They will also get my lecture on high concept. And then they will send me their synopses—a two-sentence pitch, a three-paragraph pitch, and a three-page synopsis—and I will critique these once, let them revise and critique them again.

Gosh! That’s a short class—and a short turn-around! What’s the big rush?

Well, NaNo starts November 1st so I thought it would be great to give students some good direction before it starts. But not to worry . . . if anyone wants more time with me they can have it in January. After their novels have sat for a month, and they've enjoyed Christmas, we'll have a NaNo Polish course that will go for another two weeks. So they will have the option of taking a whole month from me, with Christmas in between.

Okay, then, writers. You know what you need to do. There’s a limit of twenty students for this class, so please don’t wait! Sign up for NaNo Prep: Planning the High Concept Novel today.

What? You’re still reading? GO!

~Cathy C. Hall


Margo Dill said...

I love your definition and example of high concept. I might have to steal that idea, with credit of course, to explain to my novel writing students. Great idea and timing for a class, Sally!

Marcia Peterson said...

This class is such a great resource for anyone wanting to do NaNoWriMo. Thanks to Cathy for the interview!

Lynn said...

Thanks for sharing this... I'm going to be skipping NaNo this year, however, I may have to consider the "after NaNo class" as January seems a little less hectic for me.

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