Monthly Archives: January 2012

We love our tech too

With all this swooning over beautiful books, I feel compelled to point out that we love our gadgets too. Behold, the Hot Key machines…

This loot is actually with FIVE people out of the office. (We miss you, Emily!) So, this is us at half-capacity.

We’ve got something like: 15 smart phones, 1 not-smart phone, 3 iPads, 5 Kindles, and 1 titchy Samsung N210 Plus (mine) that get lugged around with us everywhere we go. We’ve got bejewelled phone covers, custom printed sitcker wraps for Kindle, gorgeous little monster cases… We love our tech too.

There is some rivalry in the office with EVERYONE else being on an iPhone. There are a couple of business Blackberries, but it’s just little old lonely me holding strong on the Android front with my HTC Desire.

I’m so lonely (so lonely), I’m Mrs. Lonely (Mrs. Lonely)…

Thanks, Akon.

Read and tell Mondays

And so another week begins – and it’s time again for our weekly Read and Tell Monday. I have been thoroughly glued to this all weekend:

With Dickens fever sweeping the nation, and our new Hot Key home Clerkenwell being an old haunt of the revered author, I rediscovered this complete gem of a book on my shelves at home. It’s utterly gripping: a completely brilliant biography/social history/detective story all rolled into one. Turns out that Dickens, as well as turning out the odd good novel, was also a dab hand at acting, and had a whole other career on the stage, writing for the stage, and supporting and befriending those on the stage. One of whom was the enigmatic Nelly Ternan, who was eighteen to Dickens’ forty-five when they met – and who completely captured his heart. Out of virtually nothing – not a single letter between Nelly and Dickens survives – Claire Tomalin somehow manages to paint the most astonishing portrait of a young woman almost entirely written out of history.

It’s a book that asks us to dig under the surface to be reminded that things are not always as they seem; a book that brings nineteenth-century London so vividly to life that you can almost smell the gaslights flickering on the stage.

Ooh, and what’s more, I have just seen that this wonderful book is to be made into a film directed by Ralph Fiennes, scripted by Abi Morgan – a treat to come in late 2012.

So, what have you been glued to this weekend – let’s hear …

A note on your notes, from Dawn

After the fantastic response to this post a few weeks ago, we have a note on your notes from Dawn Porter herself…So thank you all for taking part, and enjoy:

Oh my goodness me these made me laugh so much. The ‘THIS IS A BOMB’ one really got me. I can just imagine you guys standing there thinking ‘what? What did we do??’ Priceless!

Also the ‘I am Gay’ one had me cringing. Your poor mum probably didn’t know what to do with herself. That is the thing about notes, to anyone else the humour doesn’t translate and unless you are the one sending or receiving, trying to work out the truth can be seriously tricky. Notes are like diaries, other people SHOULD NEVER read them, but they don’t hold that same level of privacy that people respect about diaries. And because they get passed around so freely it is a dangerous game!!

And as for the dropping-of-the-notebook-to-pass-a-note scenario. We used to do that. It involved a really elaborate drop, followed by a really conspicuous pick up. We got caught loads. Why is it that when you are trying to be subtle you are SO conspicuous?

Thanks for all these. I loved them and may well include some in the book. If I do you will be sure to get a mention in the acknowledgments and a free copy.

Will keep you posted

Dawn x 

(You can follow Dawn on Twitter @hotpatooties)

A beautiful thing

(From our lovely editor Georgia Murray)

We think we have established that here at Hot Key we love books – and that we’re rather fond of beautiful ones too. So, inspired by swoonworthy sites like, here is the first in an occasional series in praise of beautiful books.

None of us is questioning the marvel that is a Kindle. No more lugging around a million pages of manuscripts to and from work any more. No more trying to squeeze ten battered paperbacks into a suitcase for beach reading (though to be honest, sand and Kindles are not entirely compatible). No more debating over whether to risk squeezing that rather beautiful hardback in a bag amongst the lippy and a squashed banana.

But, there is no denying that there is, and should always be, a place for that beautiful hardback on the shelf. That very real, tangible, solid and impeccably crafted thing. Perhaps like this one:

FOUR TALES by Philip Pullman is a book that invites you to stroke, feel, treasure. The light debossing on the cover that you can run your finger over, the irresistible silver lettering against the midnight-blue. The intricacy of the illustrated endpapers. The rush of the thick, creamy pages. The intense black lines of Peter Bailey’s perfect drawings. Mmmm.

Right, we’ll stop now, but feel free to share to your beautiful book stories.

(ed note: in our previous bookshelves blog, Georgia’s bookcase is the one on the bottom right, and below is a bonus front-on pic and some explanation. She said in her original note: “Please allow me to point out my very small but much loved collection of first editions on the second shelf up, towards the left: Graham Greene, Virginia Woolf, Paul Auster, Origin of Species (well, sixth edition), and not forgetting my very own grandma’s novel ‘Sweet and Plenty’, written in the 1950s. Early chick lit!” I’m definitely impressed, and will definitely be asking more about SWEET AND PLENTY! – SOC)

Dear Auntie Hot Key

Dear Auntie Naomi –

I’m a young person who really wants to write fiction for Young Adults. I’ve written a book but I’m finding it really difficult to find anywhere that takes on unsolicited manuscripts. What’s worse, half the time I send things in and no one ever gets back to me.

What do you think I should do? I love writing, but I’m getting really disheartened with all this rejection!

Sad in Sandringham

Don’t get frustrated!

Dear Sad in Sandringham –

I really feel for you! It is so difficult to get published, and I know it can feel like the industry is impossible. First of all, well done for having finished the book! That’s really impressive, and you should keep that in mind – lots of people TALK about writing books without ever actually doing it, so you’ve kind of won half the battle!

You say you’re finding it hard to find somewhere taking unsolicited manuscripts – well, have you tried sending your book to agents? As you’ve clearly already discovered, most publishing houses will not accept manuscripts from an author without an agent, and there are numerous reasons for this, one of the most important being that YOU the author are in a much more stable position if you have an agent. You are more protected legally, you are more likely to get a better deal, and it is the agent who will do all of the hard work sending out the manuscript and persuading publishers you’re the next big thing!

The other big reason why many publishers won’t take un-agented manuscripts is simply a matter of quality. If a book has come from an agent, it has already been ‘vetted’ and is therefore likely to be pretty good.

This unfortunately brings me to my next piece of advice – if you have found that your book has been widely rejected by both agents and publishers it might be time to start afresh on another book. I know that is probably really horrible to hear, but try to take it as a positive – keep going, maybe write something a bit different and read lots and lots of children’s and young adult fiction so you get a feel for what’s popular at the moment. That said, DON’T write something just because you think it has commercial potential – that’s one of the worst reasons to write a book! I know that if you love your characters and the story you’ve written it can be hard to let them go, but think of all the new stories and characters just waiting to be discovered by you – I’m sure you’ll find you’ve got lots of fresh ideas once you start putting pen to paper on a new book.

I’m sorry to hear you haven’t been getting any communication with publishers. I always try to write a nice rejection note as I think it’s polite, but do bear in mind that big publishing houses can get hundreds of submissions a day so it would be impossible to get back to everyone. Also, if you get a personal rejection note, take it as a positive (hard as that might be!) as it means you stood out enough for someone to take the time to do one.

As a final bit of advice, you might want to try joining a writing group for a bit of extra practice, or going on a writing course. There are also writing consultancies, but please do check their credentials before you part with your money. You could look to the Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators (SCWBI) group ( ) who run meet ups, evening events and online critiques. The Writers and Artists Yearbook ( ) has brilliant advice for aspiring writers, where you can also match your project to an agent that is looking for your type of work. A great blog for aspiring authors is Notes From The Slush Pile ( which was started several years ago by the now very published (and Carnegie long-listed) Candy Gourlay.

And whatever you do… don’t give up!

10 things you don’t realise you’ll need when setting up a publishing house (or stuff you’ve taken for granted before)…

1              It’s weird not having an ISBN prefix and having to get one raised.  Happily we have one now – 978-1-4714.  We did think we HKB few could get a tattoo, Lord of the Rings crew style, but then we realised that was taking it a bit far.

2              Who supplies the loo paper?

3              There are no books on our shelves yet.  It feels wrong. We’ve all been bringing in books from home so we have some around.

4              When a Nespresso machine turns up in the entrance to a building, it comes with a man in a suit (who is not George Clooney, or even remotely like him) who shows you how to use it.  We are being taught, in public, how to use a coffee machine by a man in a suit.  I am 36.  I am embarrassed.  (OK, just been to the entrance hall and shown how to use it.  Am impressed.  Have 3 free capsules I may use up within the next couple of hours…)

5              How do you lock up?  In big places you just leave and Security looks after all that.  Here it’s just us, so we all run out of the door at roughly the same time and then desperately try to remember the alarm code.  Or we just leave Jon to do it. He’s good with numbers.

6              The most amazing thing (apart from the whole being here at the beginning of something very special) was the fact we could work out exactly what meetings we needed to have.  More importantly, what meetings we’d sat through in past lives that we didn’t need to have.  We can do everything from scratch.

7              The offices are ours to decorate with stuff.  No-one’s been here before to put up posters / buy small tables.  You become obsessed with interior design and vintage lamps.  It’s all a bit new house-y.

8              Do we have a recycling bin?  Who collects it? Can we put in food containers?

9              There’s a whole new world of coffee shops out there.  Loads of them.  All slightly different.

10           Where do you buy plasters? We think the nearest pharmacy is 10 mins walk away.  Although there are a couple of supermarkets near, but they have massive queues from 12:45 onwards…


Dear Auntie Hot Key

Dear Auntie Becca –

I really want to get into publishing but I’m finding my current work experience really boring! All I do all day is photocopy stuff and make teas and coffees. I feel like no one is appreciating my talents – are they taking advantage of me? I heard on TV lots of big companies just hire interns as slave labour!

Please help!
Bored in Balham

(Thanks to Jemma Stern for the picture! )

Dear Bored in Balham,

 Don’t give up! Life as an intern can be as exhilarating as it can be mind-numbing. One moment you’re face to face with your all time hero author and the next you’re photocopying eight-hundred newspaper clippings and you can’t remember if they’re meant to be in colour or black and white. We’ve all been there. And maybe that’s the point: we’ve all been there. Work experience is a necessary evil. Yes it’s often unpaid, and yes you might feel like you’re too qualified to be posted to the stationary cupboard, but it’s a great opportunity to meet new people, to get your name out there, and to show that you are enthusiastic about the industry.

 Some of my best experiences have been working as interns. A week in a London agency for work experience turned into a month’s paid internship filling in for annual leave. Because I proved my capabilities in those first seven days, I was entrusted with all manner of secret documents, contracts and meetings – and I was still making the coffee. But coffee-making is an art in itself, and I don’t expect to lose those skills until my names on an office door and I have a PA to make that Starbucks run for me.

 Sometimes as an intern it feels as though you are spending your hours grafting as free labour, but don’t forget: hundreds of students and young graduates send off their CVs for these positions. If you’re lucky enough to have your resume plucked from the heaving postbags, it means you’ve got potential, so make sure that your enthusiasm, willingness and energy makes you stand out from the crowd.

 If eventually you think that maybe your tea making duties have been exhausted, don’t be scared to ask if there’s anything else you can help with, show interest, start-up conversations,  show knowledge of the books you are working with and of authors that are hot on the scene. Make friends! The one thing I never expected of the work-experience treadmill was that I would come out the other side with a whole raft of friends that I hope will be around in 10 years’ time when I’ll have that office and the PA with the account at Starbucks….

In the meantime, coffee anyone?

Auntie Becca

 (ed note from Sara OC: if you do feel as though you’re not getting enough out of your experience, try to talk to your supervising manager. Ask specifically for things to do: I’d like to read an agented submission; I’d like to see an editorial letter; can I see what a production schedule looks like?; are there any research projects you’d like done, etc. If that doesn’t help, perhaps talk to an HR person or even write a note of feedback to the manager after the internship is completed. Because it’s free, the departments you help out with have a duty to provide you with learning, a varied amount of activity and a bit of their time for explanation. And if they don’t, remember their name for when that office is yours…)