These are the days of our lives…

We had such a great response to our Day in the Life series last week, we wanted to collect all our video posts and a sampling of the questions we got in a single post. We’re giving you another opportunity to ask our lovely assistants questions about their work. But we also want to hear from you — who should be next in front of the video camera? Is there someone on staff you’d like us to follow around for a day? Let us know in the comments, and thanks for reading!


Naomi Colthurst, Editorial Assistant

QUESTION: When you’re writing those blurbs for the books, do you ever just use the blurb that comes from the author or agent when the manuscript comes in? If not, does that mean you actually read every book?

Naomi’s Response: Blurbs are really tricky – we almost always write our own, because usually when an agent provides a blurb (often included in their original email to you, which will pitch the book) it will be quite long and more like a synopsis, which isn’t what back cover copy should be. Back cover copy should be really short and punchy – giving you a good hint of the book (and a bit of the set up) without giving away any of the plot – so it’s no surprise it usually takes me several attempts! AI (Advanced Information sheet) copy can be a little bit easier to do as it’s allowed to be longer and more descriptive. I am always inclined to ‘over-explain’ in my copy, so it’s something I’m working on!

If an author specifically wants to write their own blurb, then obviously we take what they write into serious consideration – but it can take an author a few attempts too, as it really is a very tricky thing to get right! Lots of the big publishing houses have separate departments dedicated just to writing back cover copy, so that should give you an idea of how important it is AND how difficult it is!

But the main thing is, yes, I read every book I am responsible for. I think it’s really important to know what you’re working with, and luckily for me we have a manageable list which means I can read everything and really get to know it. I try to read as much as possible outside my specific list too, just for the same reasons.

Becca Langton, Editorial Assistant

QUESTION: If you could choose any famous author, living or dead, to do the next story adventure, who would you choose?

Becca’s Response: What a good question!! And one that is totally impossible to answer…the first name that springs to mind is Lemony Snickett because I think he would have a brilliant time incorporating all the different ideas and making something really individual. But actually I think my answer would be Roald Dahl because he obviously took such joy in how weird and original kids are and I think a collaborative effort would be insane. In many ways you can see hints of Dahl’s books coming through with this project, especially with the weird pets and crazy confectionery! What about you? I feel like there are so many potential candidates it’s impossible to choose!

Mariana Podmore, Sales Assistant

QUESTION: How do you retain the tone or author’s voice between languages? Is that something you deal with, or is that up to the person who translates it?

Mariana’s Response: Yes, that is an interesting issue. To be honest, it does fall to the translator and the foreign publisher and you have to trust that they love the book as much as you do, and want it to be just as great in their language as it is in yours! I think that is the great challenge for translators – going beyond just having the rights words on the page.

Livs Mead, Sales, PR and Marketing Assistant

QUESTION: I was wondering, though, from a sales and marketing perspective, how much you rely on authors? Writing can be such a solitary profession, and often appeals to the more introverted crowd. I was just wondering how that played into it. Do you rely on them a lot, or do you allow them to return to the caves to do more writing?

Livs’ Response: As for working with authors it completely depends on what the author is comfortable doing. Whatever that is, be it a bit of social media or doing events or going back to writing we’re here to support them – I don’t really think its relying on them as such. All of us at Hot Key and the author want to do the best by the book because we care about it – the way we do that is relative to the author.

Jan Bielecki, Design Assistant

QUESTION: I have always wondered, though, how much influence an author gets on a cover design. None? Do they get to see some sketches of options? Do you ask what covers they’ve seen that they liked that might work for their books? Or do you just tell the author to get out of your kitchen and go back to writing books?

Jan’s Response: Lovely question! I’m sure it differs. Over here, the book has been read so many times, by so many, that we have quite a good feel of what would be a good cover for it. Maybe sometimes more so than the author, who has been so imersed in this world they have created. I also think by knowing the creative process very well, authors understand our creative process too, and know we will do our best to do their works justice. But of course we always want our authors to be happy so they usually have a sneak peak or two through out the process.


14 responses to “These are the days of our lives…

  1. Hello everyone!
    I’m currently a sales and marketing assistant, looking to break into editorial. What tips could you give me? I have six months+ experience working in publishing, and 6+ years admin experience 🙂 Thanks!

    • beccawearsredwellies

      There is no one direct route in, but I would suggest reading widely, getting to know different authors, styles and genres and really getting under the skin of the area of publishing that you’re interested in. Also maybe you could see if you could get involved in reading and reviewing submissions for your editorial department? An editorial assistant is mostly doing the same admin as any other assistant but at the same time reading, lots and lots of stories, début, unsolicited, agented – everything!

  2. Hi all!

    What tips would you give to someone looking to work in the publishing industry. Is it necessary to have a degree that holds at least a vague relation to the wide range of jobs in this industry or is it possible to get these jobs with a degree in something as unrelated to books, working with people as possible (chemistry). Also do any of you know what is this best way to get related experience? Just email people and hope for the best?

    Thank you.

    • Hi Laura,

      I don’t think it’s necessary to have a degree related to publishing – I certainly don’t have the ‘traditional’ publishing degree of English Lit! – and I think experience and enthusiasm counts for a lot more. And if you can prove that you’re interested in children’s and YA publishing in an ‘extra-curricular’ sense (have a blog, volunteer at a library – see if your uni does reading schemes with a local school, most will) then that kind of drive counts for a lot more than a ‘relevant’ degree.

      And yes, I’m afraid it’s usually just blanket emailing tactics when it comes to asking for work experience – but make sure you know the company you’re emailing well, and target your response accordingly – nothing is more annoying than an email which is clearly just copied and pasted with names changed! Oh, actually one thing is more annoying – typos in your covering letter and/or CV! There is NO EXCUSE EVER – it just looks sloppy, especially if you’re applying for Editorial positions. And if you’ve realised you’ve made a mistake and already sent the email off own up to the mistake! They WILL spot it and they might forgive you for being honest *VERY SECRET STORY COMING UP* I made a mistake in my application for here! I emailed immediately apologising profusely – and it worked out OK for me.

      Hope that helps – and we do offer work experience here, you know!

    • And have a look at Tuesday’s post for more tips!

  3. Liv:
    How much influence do SPAMers, such as you, get over acquisitions? I read once that if publishing was the United Nations Council, marketing and PR would be one of the members with absolute veto power.

    Becca and Naomi:
    1. How solid do you expect submissions to be? Would you reject those manuscripts that might not be ready for press, or do you acquire something that might need a bit of work? How would you define “a bit” of work if that’s something you’re okay with?

    2. Is there something you see too much of (sparkling vampires) or something you wish you’d see more of (twinkling vampires, maybe?)?

    I’m a writer, so to answer your question as to who I would like to see in front of the camera; it would be more of the same with a bit more editorial. It gives us authors a real idea of who we’d be working with and I know you probably prefer to take submissions from agents but it’s so great that at least for now you accept unagented submissions. Those of us writers who like to really research our buns off before we submit appreciate this kind of stuff.

    • beccawearsredwellies

      Hi Marie,

      Good question, I think Naomi and I both look out for submissions with a hint of something brilliant. Sometimes you get something really polished at the same time as something a bit nuts but with an amazing central character, or excellent writing – and we would usually go with the one that was rough around the edges but with huge potential rather than the shiny submission that is a bit hollow inside. Obviously it’s really important to take the time to work on your story to make sure it’s as good as it possibly can be before submitting it – lazy mistakes and poor spelling/grammar will put a potential publisher off faster than anything else, but write with passion and it will shine through!

      There is nothing that is off the cards in terms of popularity. I’ve just read an excellent Vampire story (Andrew Fukada’s THE HUNT and THE PREY) and while I can’t bear Twilight, these books have got so much energy, suspense and excitement that they’re on completely opposite ends of the spectrum for me – even though they’re both very vampire heavy!! I look out for characters that are well-rounded, intriguing, and exciting – it doesn’t matter so much what context they come in. Although I would say that it takes a lot of skill to write length high-fantasy epics and quite a lot to convince me to take them further. (but again, just been proved wrong on that one – so surprise me!)

      I hope that helps…..

      Becca xx

    • Hi Marie,

      Here at Hot Key Books us SPAMers get to read all the pieces the editors are interested in acquiring. Our job is to give a realistic, outside perspective on the book we’re looking at. We don’t have absolute veto power – actually I’ve never needed to see if we do (which is a very good thing). Ultimately, it’s really important for us at Hot Key that everyone (including SPAMers) cares about the book and feels enthusiastic about it so that we can do our best by it when it is published.

  4. Hey Aimee,
    Thanks for your question!
    I guess it makes sense for someone not an assistant to answer this as well. I would say:
    – Read ferociously what’s on the market, so you can bring a depth of knowledge to any job interview/editorial discussion.
    – Keep your ears pricked for opportunities to read manuscripts and always have an opinion ready, even if you don’t get the chance to voice it. In some cases, if you can’t say what you think, provide written feedback, that’s even better for honing editorial skills.
    – Consider author outreach. If you “bring” an author or two to the editorial team after making a personal connection, you’re halfway down the path of an editor. Organisations like SCBWI would love to have more access to sales and marketing people. (Do read the manuscript and have a clear pitch for why an editor should read the submission before sending on! You want to be recommending only great things.)
    – Stick with it! Just keep applying for roles as they come up, do a great job with what you’re already doing and eventually the right opportunity will come your way.

  5. I followed a twitter link here and I am really glad I did.
    For the editor team, do you guys prefer series or stand alone books? I have heard such conflicting reports on that point that I am led to believe it might be more of an individual press’s preference rather than a general rule.

    Also, when you take on an authors book, do you guys take that author on for their career? Or is it always a book by book decision. I’ve always wondered about that.

    • beccawearsredwellies

      Hi Mark

      Hmm…tricky one. I think generally it’s about the book. If it is a series and that works then great, but stand alone books are always welcome too! I think any publisher will always be a bit wary about investing in an epic 7-part story in case it doesn’t work, but we have signed début authors up for trilogies so no problem there! It also depends on the age group and genre. We have a title series that has 12 stories attached to it! (in 6 books)

      Whenever you sign an author up you want to build a good relationship with them, and you hope that it is forever. Sometimes those relationships don’t work out and after a contract ends that author will take their books elsewhere. Usually an author is signed up for 2 or 3 books at a time though. The ideal is that everyone is very happy and you keep buying the books as they come along!

      Hope that helps!

      Becca x

    • Hi Mark,

      Just to basically re-iterate what Becca said – we wouldn’t ever turn a book down because it’s part of or not part of a series! However, if we don’t think a series is necessarily what’s right for a book, we will sometimes ask the author to condense the story into one or two books – and then maybe still sign them up for a two or three book deal.

      As ever, it’s all about the story!

  6. Is it too late to ask a question? Mine would be for for editors and SPAMers, I was reading some of the questions and the replies, and I was just wondering if a lack of social media presence is a detriment to perspective acquisitions? I swear, every “what to do if you want to be published” blog/webinare/sites that I’ve seen has indicated that without a social media presence perspective publishers will think the author doesn’t want to put themselves out there. Is that not the case? It often feels like putting the cart before the horse. Once you have a book forthcoming, sure, there are lots of things to talk about, but before that isn’t time best spent writing? I’m really interested in hearing what you guys think about this. Is a lack of online activity something that you consider when you acquire a manuscript?

  7. Hi Smithers,
    It’s never too late to ask a question here! I really don’t think a lack of social media presence would deter a publishing house from acquiring a book – what matters is that we like the book itself. Likewise, a very active online presence wouldn’t persuade us to sign an author up if we didn’t like there book. It’s fantastic that the blogs/webinares/sites about publishing have picked up on how much publishing houses use social media and try to engage with their readers digitally, but when all’s said and done It’s all about the book.

    There are times when an author will mention their websites/blogs/Twitter accounts, or we might Google them to see what they’re up to – in that case social media is useful in trying to get to know more about a person but it is never vital. From a SPAM perspective, once we’ve signed a book we do encourage our authors to get Twitter or blog, but if its not something they’re comfortable with that’s fine too! All departments are just here to help because we’ve seen something we love in your book.

    Hope that answers your question!

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