These days, it’s all about The Big Idea. That’s what publishers are looking for. Think Hollywood, with more words. As an agent, I hear this every day from editors: I really like this story, but….

…but it’s too quiet.

…but it’s too old-fashioned.

…but it’s too small in scope.

…but the stakes aren’t high enough.

…but the pay-off isn’t strong enough.

…but the story doesn’t grab me enough.

Translation: It’s just not BIG enough.

Go Big Idea or Go Home

So many writers these days are convinced that they are losing out to younger writers or hipper writers or writers from the East Coast or the Deep South or Across the Pond, writers with more publishing contacts or more twitter followers or more politically correct views or…the list goes on and on.

Here’s what I tell writers: High-concept trumps everything. If your idea is big enough, you can sell your work. Whatever liabilities you think you bring to the table won’t matter if you have that magic combination of Big Idea + Execution = Sale.

Focus on The Big Idea. Come up with a big idea, execute it well, and agents will scramble to sign you and publishers will scramble to publish you.

Go Bigger Beat by Beat

An editor once told me, upon reviewing the outline for my WIP, that I should “go bigger” with the beats throughout the story. The bigger the better, she said—and this was decades ago. That’s good advice, even more now than then.

Fake It Till You Make It Big

We’re not all Michael Crichton, able to generate high-concept ideas at the drop of dinosaur DNA.  But we can figure out how to frame our storylines to boost their Big Idea Quotient.

Try these tricks:

X Meets Y

Castaway meets Mars: That’s Andy Weir’s The Martian.

J.R.R. Tolkien’s The Lord of the Rings meets the Wars of the Roses: That’s George R.R. Martin’s A Game of Thrones.

Only Trouble Is

Teen girl writes love letters to all the boys she’s ever crushed on, secreting them away in a box. Only trouble is, her little sister finds the letters, and sends them to the boys. That’s Jenny Han’s To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before.

Freshly minted lawyer lands his dream job. Only trouble is, the firm is a front for the mob. That’s John Grisham’s The Firm.

A Modern Retelling Of….

Jane Austen’s Emma is Amy Heckerling’s Clueless.

Shakespeare’s Hamlet is Latifah Salom’s The Cake House.

Get It? Got It. Good.

You get the idea.

Now go forth and make it a Big Idea.


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