Welcome to the Bookshelf Detective, a site packed with tricks and tips for readers and writers of children's literature. Thank you for visiting!
Kim Tomsic

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

What's a HIGH CONCEPT hook?

Agents love them, editors want them, so what are  "high concept" books? To know a high concept book, you must first meet the high concept hook.

Elana Roth of Caren Johnson Literary Agency describes a high concept hook as one where the premise is bigger than the characters and the pitch can be said in one line.

Liesa Abrams is an executive editor at Aladdin, an imprint of Simon and Schuster Children's Books (she acquires and edits tween and middle grade fiction). She describes high concept as something that is easy to say and easy to memorize. Her example is an upcoming title byTodd Hasak-Lowy called 33 Minutes: A countdown to recess when a boy's former bestfriend promises to kick his butt.

Liesa Abrams says high concept is "something easy to say and easy to memorize."
Elana Roth describes high concept, "when the premise is bigger than the characters and when the pitch is something you can say in one line."  

Today, in Publishers Marketplace, there are two great examples of HIGH CONCEPT pitches and high concept books to come:
(the logline is separate from the high concept pitch)

NO SAFETY IN NUMBERS is great example of High Concept YA: pitched as Life As We Knew It meets Lord of the Flies to Dial by Faye Bender Lit
Art sketch by David Deen
The logline: young adult trilogy, told from the perspective of four teens as the discovery of a biological bomb in the air ducts of a busy suburban mall unfolds, the entire complex is quarantined, people start getting sick, supplies start running low, and there's no way out

David Lipsky and Darin Strauss's THE UNACCOUNTED. The  high concept pitch: teenage Jason Bourne meets The Prisoner of Zenda,
logline: a love story and an epic adventure set in both a modern-day American high school and in a glamorous Europe, to Virginia Duncan at Greenwillow, in a three-book deal, for publication in Winter 2013, by ICM/UTA (World English).

Update: these aren't perfect examples, but they are recent deals reported in Publisher's Marketplace, and now books I want to read simply based on the logline.

Kate O'Sullivan of Houghton Mifflin Harcourt won a six-publisher auction for Andrea Tsurumi's debut picture book, Accident!, in which Lola the armadillo kicks off a crescendo of calamities in her Richard-Scarry-ish world. Publication is slated for fall 2017; Stephen Barr at Writers House negotiated the two-book deal for world rights.

Neal Porter of Roaring Brook's Neal Porter Books has acquired world rights to husband-and-wife team Aaron Bagley and Jessixa Bagley's Vincent Comes Home, which they are co-authoring and co-illustrating. The book is about a cat who has lived his entire life at sea and wonders what it would be like to go “home.”

Heather Howland at Entangled Teen has bought Never Apart by Romily Bernard, about a girl and boy who die repeatedly, falling between parallel worlds, but always being found by the same killer until the fall that unravels everything. Publication is slated for summer 2017; Sarah Davies of Greenhouse Literary did the deal for world rights.

Liza Kaplan of Philomel has acquired Emily Barr's YA debut from Camilla Borthwick at Penguin Random House U.K. in a six-figure, two-book deal. The One Memory of Flora Banks is a psychological thriller as well as a coming-of-age novel, starring a protagonist with no short-term memory who must navigate the Arctic landscape of Norway. The book will publish simultaneously in the U.S. and U.K. in January 2017.

Friday, September 16, 2011

The Body Expresses What the Voice Won't Utter: STITCHES

One look at author/illustrator David Small and you know he is a man who has overcome powerful circumstances. You know this not by something that smacks you in the face, but by his energy. It speaks a combination of grief, survival, relief, humor and freedom.  

STITCHES, a National Book Award nominee, is Small's autobiography presented as a graphic novel.  

Small takes you on an emotional journey in STITCHES. He grew up in an abusive home. At age fourteen another layer of tragedy was added to his strained existence when a tumor was discovered growing in his neck. Small, who had no real voice in his home, now had a tumor that left him literally speechless for more than a year.

He eventually gained back his ability to speak, grew up, moved out, got married, and started a career. But the tumor would not be dismissed; it insisted on haunting him again. It was when he was dining with his wife at the Fisher Lake Inn that he discovered the horrible bump in his neck had returned. Psychosomatic or not, he and his wife could visiually see the growth that sprouted over the course of a meal...or a lifetime. It occured to Small that he had dealt with his trauma medically, but he had never dealt with it emotionally...until he wrote STITCHES. He says, "the body expresses what the voice won't utter."

Small says he received healing through writing and illustrating his graphic memoir.
The story is literal and figurative: his voicelessness .As an armchair-psychologist, this tumor, which prevented him from speaking, is why he can dramatically express a wealth of emotions in a single sketch.

"David Small's STITCHES is aptly named. With surgical precision, the author pierces into the past and, with great artistry, seals the wound inflicted on a small child by cruel and unloving parents. STITCHES is as intensely dramatic as a woodcut novel of the silent movie era and as fluid as a contemporary Japanese manga. It breaks new ground for graphic novels. "   
Francoise Mouly — Art Editor, The New Yorker — Editorial Director, TOON Books

Stitches was nominated for the National Book Award under the category of young people's literature in 2009.

  • Hardcover: 336 pages
  • Publisher: W. W. Norton & Company (September 8, 2009)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0393068579
  • ISBN-13: 978-0393068573
  • $15.95 Paperback/ $24.95 Hardcover list price
Tattered Cover
 Powell's Books 
Barnes and Noble

Want to Be a Published Children's Book Author. Contest Announced!

"MeeGenius is searching for the next great children’s book author, and is extending an invitation to aspiring and published authors to submit a manuscript. Winning manuscripts will be beautifully illustrated, professionally edited, and published online at MeeGenius. It’s as simple as writing, submitting, and having MeeGenius’ online community vote" or having a judge choose your project as their favorite.

FIRST PRIZE: Publishing Contract + $1,500 + Meegenius library donated to school of your choice.

THREE RUNNER-UP PRIZES: Publishing Contract with $500 Cash Prize
Your book will be professionally edited, beautifully illustrated, enhanced with all of MeeGenius’ features, and then published to the iPhone, iPad, Android, Google TV and the Web. In addition to the $500 prize, you’ll continue to rake in cash with royalties on each of your books sold.


1.Write a great children's book for readers ages 2-8
2. 10-20 pages max, roughly 75 words per page (450 characters)
3. submit by November 1, 2011 (winner announced by March 7, 2012)
4. Follow all the formatting guidelines (see example here) and do not submit illustrations

Follow this link for guidelines AND please follow formatting instructions to a tee!


  • Make sure to Download the Example Manuscript, which shows how to properly format your entry.
  • Each page should be no more than 450 characters (roughly 75 words per page).
  • Triple-space between pages, and label the page number in the manuscript (please see the example manuscript).
  • No text formatting — all of the type should be the same size and style.
  • Please make sure your entry is free of spelling errors and has been thoroughly edited prior to entry.


More Questions?

Saturday, September 3, 2011

JUNIPER BERRY a book review

The cover art for M.P. Kozlowsky's debut book JUNIPER BERRY  promises "A tale of terror and temptation." Kozlowsky delivers the trepedation in spades.

Imagine you're an only child and your parents are comprised of the best parts of Angelina Jolie and Brad Pitt--loving, kind, famous and beautiful. They are dream parents who adore you until something inexplicable and horrible changes everything. How would you solve what went wrong and what would you trade to get your world back?

JUNIPER BERRY is a middle grade mystery complete with famous parents, a monocular, a barking Kitty, and the very odd boy next door. But more than that, it's a Tim Burtonesque tale that offers up balloons with fright and whispers distant echos that remind readers of books like Neil Gaiman's Coraline.

author M.P. Kozlowsky drawings by Erwin Madrid
Middle Grade Fiction ages 8 and up
Walden Pond Press (an imprint of Harper Collins Publishers) April 26, 2011
ISBN 10 0061998699
ISBN 13 978-0061998690
List Price: $15.99

RATING: 5 out of 5 lollipop rating

Buying links:

Boulder Bookstore
Barnes and Noble
The Strand

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