Building A Publisher – Behind The Scenes At Hot Key Books

I am so excited to be able to post this post – one of the reasons I started the Behind The Books category here was to showcase not only writers but also the lovely people that work behind the books in publishing and to find out what makes publishing tick.

So today we have a post from the lovely Sarah at Hot Key Books (a new but amazing UK publisher which specialises in books for 9 – 19 year olds – you can check out their launch list in yesterdays post) to tell us a bit about how they went about building a publisher.

Over to Sarah…

Building a Publisher

Behind the scenes at Hot Key Books – a brand new children’s publisher

When I saw last summer that Bonnier, an extremely prestigious and well-established Swedish-owned publisher were looking to set up a brand new children’s fiction publisher I couldn’t believe my eyes. I’d followed the rapid progress of Nosy Crow online over the last few years with much interest and was envious of those within its midst. I could only imagine how exciting it must be to work at a start-up, and suddenly here was a rare opportunity to be in somewhere from the very beginning.

I think my colleagues at HarperCollins Children’s (where I was previous to this) thought I was half-crazy. Wouldn’t I miss the safety of big name authors, big teams and big budgets?

I admit we were all a little apprehensive on day one in January. When you start a job you normally have someone there to show you how it was done before, where things get filed, what the strategy is for this, what books you’ll be working on. It was hugely daunting to start with a blank file server, no meetings in our diary and no emails in our inboxes. But we also felt a huge shared sense of excitement, opportunity and privilege. We were being entrusted with launching a company, a list and most importantly the careers of authors that we would publish. Our amazing MD Sarah Odedina (who came from Bloomsbury), made it clear that she wants us to publish authors, not just books, so they were and always will be at the heart of our vision.

What followed next? Well, first and foremost we had to make sure people knew we existed. There were agents who we had to convince to send us submissions so we could start to build the list. There were retailers, bookshops, bloggers, reviewers and librarians who we needed to arrange meetings with, write newsletters to, and generally buy a lot of cake for. There were our authors that we had already acquired, (thanks again to Sarah Odedina who had been busy acquiring since she started in September), who we also had to meet, read their books, and again, buy cake (or wine) for. I tell you, I have sent so many – Who Are Hot Key Books? emails in the last few months, and they show no sign of stopping! But the one thing I will say on that note is how wonderfully receptive people have been to us – we have been overwhelmed with the support, in the form of tweets, emails, blog comments, cups of tea and boxes of cookies that you lovely people out there have given us since we started. So thank you for those – I can honestly say our office is a much warmer place because of all your kind words.

Obviously, the biggest focus of all has been acquiring those fantastic authors that we will be working with, and building the list around. This year we will publish nine books from August to November, which I think in itself is an huge achievement when the company won’t even be a year old when the first book (the epic Insignia by SJ Kincaid) hits the shelves. But next year we will publish up to 50 books, so there has been a lot of reading! Another of Sarah’s plans with the company structure is that editorial and sales and marketing are on equal footing. We have to all believe in, and love a book before we acquire it, and we must have a shared vision of how we will publish and promote that book. I think this is invaluable. We want to be talking directly with our potential readers about our books and authors, and it helps if we all agree internally when we buy a book how we will do that. What hooks are there in the story that we can tell to other people? Is the author online? Do they do events? Who is the main reader of this book? This is all discussed before we even buy a book now, and this means it’s a lot easier when we come to publication!

We are so proud of how the list is shaping up. We have around 35 books contracted so far for the next few years and our launch list can be read about and looked over here. We feel like there’s something for everyone on there, and some things that are different from the norm. It’s like my mum used to say, ‘It’s okay to not be like everybody else. Life would be boring if that was the case’.

So, I have rambled for way too long (sorry Jesse!) and I don’t even feel halfway towards telling you our story. Our blog, which has become the heart of conversation with readers, tells it better than me, so I urge you all, when you have time to check it out. We post every weekday about what we are doing, so it really is the place to stay up to date.

We’re only 4 months into our publishing adventure, and halfway to publishing our first book. I come to work everyday excited to be working with such a talented bunch of people, and happy that we all share a creative, and flexible way of working. We are determined to succeed, but we’re also allowed to fail sometimes, and that for me, is the most important thing.

We hope you enjoy being part of the journey.

Sarah Benton
Sales & Marketing Manager

Further Information

Once again a huge thank you to Sarah for writing this insightful post and opening up the doors to Hot Key Books! If you haven’t already don’t forget to check out the Hot Key Books blog and follow them on Twiter and ‘like’ them on Facebook.

  1. Very cool post! Sounds like exciting times at Hot Key Books! I’m looking forward to reading what books they’ll be bringing our way in the years to come! :)

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