10-13-18 – C.J. Cade – Out of This World Romance: What’s The Appeal?

Saturday, March 10, 2012

GUEST: Urban Fantasy Author Erica Hayes - Keeping It Fresh & the Lure of High Concept


Writing as a paranormal romance author is more exciting right now than ever. Opportunities are exploding everywhere, and in spite of the doomsayers (y'know, those people who've spent the last twenty years saying 'vampires are over!' and 'publishing is dead!') the markets for paranormals are still going strong. But paradoxically, it's also harder than ever to sell.

Traditional publishers are forever pushing for something 'fresh'. But indie authors and e-presses are still selling a bundle of vampire and werewolf romances. So if the familiar tropes are still selling to readers – and you only need to glance at publishers' websites or online bookstore bestseller lists to see that they are – why the obsession in New York with 'fresh'?

Well, I don't think they are obsessed with 'fresh'. I think they're looking for high concept – and when you're trying for high concept, too much familiarity is death.

So what's with the high concept? This isn't Hollywood, right? But remember that NY publishers are still trying to sell into bookstores. And since the demise of our bigger bookstore chains, competition for shelf space is fierce. So for a publisher to take your book on, the sales force has to be able to pitch your book to the bookseller in a sentence. And that means that your *idea* has to be catchy.

Not your writing, or your plot twists, or your fabulously drawn characters. Your *idea*.

So if it sounds like the same old, same old, it probably isn't going to cut it for NY. Your "girl falls for mysterious boy who turns out to be a werewolf" book might be the most original, scary, lyrical, gut-wrenchingly emotional and hopelessly romantic story ever. But the booksellers don't get to read your book. All they hear is the sales pitch. And they'd be falling asleep right about the time you said "mysterious boy".

(Not so in the indie/e-press world, so far as I can tell, where books sell directly to readers, and some readers will devour a thousand "mysterious werewolf boy" stories and never get bored. Traditional publishers are waking up to this, slowly. All those new digital-only imprints? Watch that space. But that's a whole 'nother post…)

So what does this mean for paranormal authors seeking that elusive contract? High concept, folks. Log lines. Elevator pitches. One-sentence hooks. Movie posters. Snakes on a Plane. I can hear your collective groaning from here… but it works.


For instance, my upcoming series with Berkley,The Seven Signs, is this: fallen angels in near-future New York must stop a gang of demons from hijacking the seven signs of the Apocalypse and bringing on the end of the world.

Think about it. I sold this series in late 2011, when nothing was 'fresh' about demons or fallen angels. It's a tiny fresh twist on 'post-apocalyptic', I think, because it happens during the apocalypse. But basically, it's high concept. You can tell it in a sentence. It paints a clear picture of genre, and of what the stories will be about. And it sounds cool – or at least I hope it does!

Of course, the book has to be good, too, if you want to sell! But the world's full of good manuscripts that never sold. More than ever these days, we have to know how to pitch our work. For a starting point, I recommend Save the Cat! Strikes Back by the late screenwriting guru, Blake Snyder. He's got an amazing method for formulating your pitch – and for showing where your story concept is lacking. Whenever I get a new story idea, I run it through this method to see if it's going to stand up.

Because, even in paranormal, the story does have to stand up. That's where the 'freshness' lies. Especially now we've already done pretty much every magical creature there is. So keep on with those vampires and werewolves, if that's what you love. There are always more stories to tell!

So do you like reading fresh new ideas and exciting, different creatures in paranormals? Or can't you get enough of vampires and werewolves?

Find Erica on the web at: http://www.ericahayes.net

@ericahayes on Twitter.

Copyright © 2012 by Erica Hayes ALL RIGHTS RESERVED.


Judith Ashley said...

Hi Erica,

First, thanks for joining us at Romancing The Genres today and

Second, thanks for a thought-provoking post.

I'm one of those strange people who don't read paranormals, just too much abnormal stuff in the world already so I'm not drawn to other-wordly stories.

What I find of value in this post is your information on hig concept and what it takes to sell to a publisher. Being able to pitch your book in a sentence has become a vital skill writers need to hone. Thanks for the reference to Blake Snyder's other "Cat" book.

Diana Mcc. said...

Great post! I like to read new concept paranormals. However, I also, like to read vampire romance. So I would have to say I like both.

CT Green said...

A good story is a good story, no matter what creature may be lurking between the pages. I'm all for vampires and werewolves as well as everything eerie in between.
Great post Erica - thank you for the insight into NY.

Mel Teshco said...

Hi Erica *waves*
How're you enjoying chilly England? =))
I just love paranormal writing, of any kind, that is well written, no matter what creature. I did really enjoy a certain snake shifter story...

Anonymous said...

Great blog, Erica. I hadn't read that Blake Snyder book. Will look it up. Thanks for the tip!

Eleni Konstantine said...

Great, thought provoking post, Erica. I agree with you - it's the concept that needs to be fresh or at least sound fresh. I like reading a good written paranormal story no matter what the creature. Funnily enough having other creatures other than vampires and werewolves it the focus of a panel at the Romance Writers of Australia conference in August.

Hope you are keeping warm in England!

Erica Hayes said...

{waves} thank to everyone for visiting! I love all kinds of paranormals... don't think I'll ever get sick of vampires :)

Michelle de Rooy said...

Hi Erica!

Oh, to sum up my mss in a snappy, interesting sentence like that... *vbg* Very interesting post, and yes, the whole e/indie digital only debate is only gaining momentum.

Thanks for the post, and good luck with the new series, it sounds fabulous.


Sarah Raplee said...

Thank you for guesting with us, Erica! Are you on a trip to England, or did you move? I've seen a couple of comments about you being there.

Thanks for the Save the Cat books tip. Your take on the market makes sense to me.

I love new ideas and characters in Paranormal Romances, as well as new twists on vampires and werewolves, as in Gail Carriger's Parasol Protectorate steampunk paranormal series.

Enjoyed your post!

Jess Anastasi said...

Hey Erica!
OMG, I need that Save the Cat book. I was trying to sum up one of my books in one sentence for my publisher the other day and I'm freaking hopeless at it! ...Maybe my concept just wasn't high enough ;)
I think it'll be a long time before people get sick of the paranormal world!

Cathleen Ross said...

Hi Erica
Great article
Publishers want to know how they can sell it, so it pays to have a story with a high concept pitch.
Thanks again
Cathleen Ross

Bec McMaster said...

I love both new creatures and mythology or different takes on the old vampire werewolf story. As long as its well done and the mythology is unique in some way, I'm all over it.
Thanks for the Cat book reference *off to check that out*. I am horrendous at summing up my books in a short sentence that sounds like something people would actually want to read.

Erica Hayes said...

Yep, the Save The Cat! series has excellent methods for how to find and refine the concept in your story.

Screenwriters have to be good at this because they're pitching to Hollywood, but it's a useful skill for the book publishing world, too.

And yeah, I don't think readers will get sick of paranormal any time soon :)

Suzanne Brandyn said...

Hi Erica,

Great informative post.

Suzanne ;)