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Top Ten Tuesday – Reading Resolutions

Hello and a very happy New Year from all of us at Hot Key!

And yes, it is January, so yes, you are getting the inevitable blog post about New Year’s Resolutions. I’m the type that sets grand, hugely-idealistic resolutions and breaks them all by the 3rd January, but this year the clean slate that January offers is really appealing to me – especially when it comes to my reading habits because they are a MESS. I’ve always thought of myself as a systematic reader – knowing what I want to read, giving equal weight to children and adult fiction, only having one book on the go at a time etc… But over the Christmas break I realised I had been LYING TO MYSELF. Yes, I used to be like that as a reader but in the past year-and-a-half or so I’ve fallen to pieces. I’m useless. Now don’t get me wrong – I’m not saying everyone has to be systematic or organised in their reading habits, but for me loosing that habit has meant that I’ve read LESS books, discovered LESS authors, basically branched out LESS. And I want to change that.

bookcase 1 the main one


So here are my 4 New Year’s Reading Resolutions

1. To read more non-fiction. The lovely Sanne gave me a copy of Selena Hasting’s biography of Nancy Mitford for Secret Santa ( and I have loved diving back into non-fiction. I’m also a relentless Google-r – when something interests me I’ll automatically go to Google to find out more, but next time something peaks my interest I’m going to buoy a book about it. Hopefully this will also help with resolution no. 2 …

2. To spend more of my free time reading. At the moment I mainly read on my commute, or on train journeys I’m taking for work. It was only over the Christmas break when I sat down with a book for a good three hours that I realised it had been months since I’d done that – though only a few days since I had binge-watched a series on Netflix. And as a result I’m reading much less. So bye-bye internet (especially before bed!) and words on a (paper) page.

3.. To read one book at a time. I was never a multi-books-on-the-go girl but working at a publishing company means a submission might come in that we need to read quickly, or that the final manuscript of a book I’ve been desperately waiting for is finally ready for me to read. This has completely messed up my monogamous book relationship, and I’m done playing the field. (Of course I’ll still read the submissions though!)

4.. To keep track of what I have read. Simple enough really – I’ve never done it and I think it will spur me on to stick to the three above.

And what about the rest of HKB? Well …

5. To read more hardback books. Got one over Xmas and am reading THE NARROW ROAD TO THE DEEP NORTH and they feel so wonderful to hold, and also smell so pleasant. They are worth the extra price – BRENDA

6. For the first ever Christmas in living memory I did not get given a SINGLE book! So I found something on my shelf that had been hidden, half-read-  Daphne du Maurier’s biography, by Margaret Forster. A fascinating biography of a fascinating woman, beautifully and compellingly written. Now I need more biographies. Recommendations, anybody? – EMMA

7. I want to read at least 5 Dutch books that have also been translated into English. I don’t read nearly enough in my native language and I’m also really interested in translation, so this should be an opportunity to learn more about both. – SANNE

8. I’m going to read more physical books – hopefully some of the stack of dust-gathering hardbacks by my bed that’s getting ridiculous – when I’m at home, and save the ebooks for the commute. I’ve just had the realisation that my children don’t ever really see me “read” as a leisure activity – when it’s all on a screen it could be work, it could be browsing the internet, it all looks the same to them when it’s hidden on a screen. So more actual books of my own choosing in my hands, not just bedtime stories! – DEBBIE

9. My reading resolution is to read more and to choose reading over wasting my life away scrolling through Instagram and Twitter. I’m also going to try to keep track of the books I read as I’m so terrible at forgetting! – JEN

10. I’m going to go through the rather large pile of unread books on my shelves that’s getting a little out of hand. I’ve even banned myself from getting new books (yes that’s how serious I am – let’s see how long this last…) till I’ve read at least half of those. I also really want to re-read some of my favourite books and maybe get into e-books and get some use out of my Kindle. – ASMAA

And what about you lot? What are your reading resolutions? Let us know in the comments of on Twitter!


Top Ten Things You Never Knew About Publishing (Probably…) But Were Afraid To Ask

Hello! So I’m Naomi, the Editorial Assistant here, and I’m going to tell you some of the top ten things that you probably don’t know about publishing, but might be afraid to ask. As this blog will hopefully illustrate there isn’t a single person in publishing that didn’t know the answers to some of the ‘basics’ when they started out, so don’t be ashamed! And please tweet or comment with any further questions you might have! No question is too ‘obvious’, we promise.


1) “What is the difference between copy-editing and proofreading?”

OK – a manuscript usually goes through three stages of editing. The first stage is quite sweeping – general points about the story that might need a bit of work, such as: ‘Hey, that character is great, we should see a bit more of them!’ or: ‘We’re not sure this scene really works… maybe if you re-work it like this (insert X, Y, Z) it might help the narrative flow a bit better.’ The second stage is a copy-edit – this is a more nitty gritty edit, where a copy-editor looks out for things like clarification issues, like: ‘Hmm on page 34 it says that Bob’s favourite colour is blue, but on page 76 he says it’s red… which one is it?’ or: ‘This sentence structure is a bit confusing, can we rephrase it so it reads…’ and so on. Editorial fact-checking, if you will. Stage three is proofreading – and really a proofreader should only be looking out for the last few tiny mistakes – mainly typos, and last final checks that all the names all spelled the right way etc. – but they can also add in comments that a copy-editor might (like sentence restructuring etc.) which is where the confusion between the two can begin! However, a proofreader usually wouldn’t suggest how things could/should be spelled (e.g. all right vs. alright) as those things would have been decided by the author and the editor. However, they SHOULD be checking that the spellings are consistent!

Didn’t know that? Don’t be ashamed! Neither did Editor-at-Large Emma Matthewson as a beginner: “I didn’t have a clue what copyediting really was…”

And (personal confession coming up) for most of the time I was applying for internships/jobs, I had no solid idea what even ‘copy’ was. I mean I had an idea but if you’d quizzed me… (Friends: it is the text. That is all. Text = copy. Why can’t we just call it text?!)


2) “How do books actually get into bookshops?”

Not my area of expertise so much, but Kate Manning  (Sales & Marketing Director) had this to say on the matter:

  • So the raison d’etre behind a sales department is to get the right book into the right hands, that’s how things sell – no point in piling them high somewhere if they’re all going to be returned.
  • Each sales channel has its own type of books it will sell, and it’s own way of buying. From the supermarkets  who are centralised – one buyer choosing for the entire estate, and concentrating on bestsellers – through to Indies [BLOGGER’S NOTE: ‘Indies’ = Independent Booksellers!]  where the bookseller chooses what will fit their individual shop and looks more at range.
  • Each buyer sees hundreds of books a month, so you need to make sure yours stand out – finished jackets, metadata (very important! You need an ISBN to buy!) and certain titles need proofs to get people behind them.

So it’s pretty complicated. Proving this, here are some ‘confessions’ from professionals:

“I didn’t know that some bookshop promotions were paid for – I always thought the chart in WHSmiths and Tesco was genuinely ranked by bestsellers. Unfortunately, it isn’t…” (Sarah Benton,  Head of Marketing, Print & Digital)

“One from a child’s point of view: I didn’t know that more books existed than the ones on offer in my local bookshop. (Would that that lovely local bookshop still existed…)” (Jenny Jacoby, Editor)


3) “Erm I’ve heard a lot about ‘Advances’ – what are they, and are they anything to do with royalties?”

An advance is a sum of money, paid to an author when they get a book contract. You get one agreed sum of money, which is then usually split into three separate advances – one is paid on signature of the contract, one is signed when the manuscript has been ‘delivered’ (i.e. all the edits have been made) and then the final one is paid when the book is published. However, (and this is the bit not many people know) an author will not earn ANY royalties, until we (the publisher) have earned back in book sales what we paid them as an advance – hence the term; ‘Royalty Advance’. Unfortunately, lots of authors might never earn any royalties, which Mariana Podmore (Sales Assistant at Red Lemon Press) only realised when she started dealing with advances herself:

“I didn’t know that authors can go YEARS without getting any money from sales, and then when they finally do earn the advance out (if they’re so lucky) they only get paid every six or even twelve months. How weird would it be to get paid only every six months?”


4) “How long does it take for a book to be published – from acquisition to publication date?”

A long time, usually. It really depends as we can acquire something that for whatever reason has to be rushed through to production, but I would say the minimum amount of time we can manage to produce a book in is six or seven months. Alternatively something might get bought that we know will need quite a bit of editorial input, so we schedule it for a later date. Or we schedule it quite far in advance in order to give it the best chance of standing out on our list.

Mostly the Editorial team work around a year ahead of ourselves, but it’s often more. Ideally, we present titles to Sales & Marketing nine months ahead of publication (this means we have a manuscript, which may or may not have been copy-edited at this stage, and at least a rough idea of what the cover is) and Sales & Marketing usually work on books six months ahead of when they publish – by which point we should have a finished jacket and hopefully a complete manuscript. Of course, it doesn’t always work out that way!)


5) “Good grief! What’s with all the acronyms?”

Ah, acronyms! Every industry has their own, completely-incomprehensible-to-the-outsider set of acronyms, perfect for throwing at unsuspecting interns and visitors. Publishing is no different, as Cait Davies and Sarah Benton found out:

“ALL the acronyms… GBS, TBS, DDI, FOB, DDU (I still don’t really know what DDU stands for. Something production-y…). Thank god for Google!!” (Cait Davies, Sales & Marketing Executive)

“I remember in my first job being asked to make some “generic POS” for an author – spent a while trying to figure out what the hell that meant…” (Sarah Benton, Head of Marketing, Print & Digital)

So what do they mean? Here are some of the acronyms you are most likely to come across if you are doing an internship:

AI/TI – Advanced Information Sheet/Title Information Sheet: A one page document that Editorial and Sales & Marketing put together that tells booksellers/the world everything they need to know about a book.

GBS – Grantham Book Services: A book distributor that takes a  publisher’s (not all – other good distributors are available!) books from the warehouse where we keep ‘em, to the bookstores that order ‘em.

TBC/TBS – To Be Confirmed/To Be Specified: “Err… We haven’t quite worked out what’s going on there yet… to be confirmed!”

POS – Point of Sale: A really fun pack of stuff that Sales & Marketing put together, with lots of goodies related to the book – e.g. stickers, bookmarks, postcards etc. for booksellers to have and distribute.

P&L – Profit & Loss evaluation form: This is a fairly complicated but very important process that all books we are interested in acquiring go through. Basically, we put in our costs at one end (jacket finishes, typesetting costs [BLOGGER’S NOTE: typesetting = the process of getting a novel from a Word or basic PDF document into the thing that you recognise as a book], external proofreading costs etc.) and then Sales & Marketing put in the amount they think the book can sell in at the other (your ‘profits’) and what comes out at the end influences the number we can offer an author as an advance.

WTF – A true Hot Key Books staple, and as we all know, it stands for: ‘Where’s The Fudge?’


6) “Illustrated Books – The Author and the Illustrator work together… right?”

Nope. Usually not, as Red Lemon Editor Tori Kosara discovered:

“I was pretty sure that authors and illustrators worked together in the same office (like they were work colleagues) and knew each other really well.”

Or as Meg, our Publicist puts it:

“People don’t realise that normally for picture books, the text comes first and the publisher finds the illustrator – they often never even meet each other…”

Weird eh?! But true. I had also imagined that all picture books were made by friends, but apparently not…

7) “Authors have agents?!”

Sigh! This is my personal confession. I had NO IDEA that authors had agents until I did an internship and was like ‘waaaahh?’ Yes, authors have agents, in much the same way that film and sports stars do. And publishing agents do a very similar job to agents working for film stars – they submit your work, they tell everyone what a fabulous writer you are, and they will work as hard as they can to get the best deal for you and your book. Agents will also make sure that a contract is good for an author, and they’ll also negotiate the terms of that contract – including things like realistic delivery dates for the manuscripts. Agents do take a cut of any earnings an author might make (including royalties) but the amount will vary, and I would certainly say it’s worth it.


8) “How is a book actually made?”

We’ve already covered that fairly extensively in our blog about the Clays factory visit HERE – but it’s really not an obvious process, which lots of people in the office didn’t know:

“ I didn’t know how a book was printed – i.e. in large sheets with the pages then cut up and bound together – which is actually good to know as it corresponds to how books are thought through editorially –  i.e. picture books are normally 32 pages, and the extent [BLOGGER’S NOTE: ‘Extent’ means final number of pages, folks!] can massively affect where a book is placed age-category wise.” (Meg Farr, Publicist)

“My favourite thing I first learned when I started working was what the number line on the copyright page meant. Especially because in the old days (when I started) the printer would physically scratch off the lowest number from the number line on the printing film each time it reprinted.” (Jenny Jacoby, Editor)

That little number there!

“Six years in and I’m still not entirely sure what ‘repro’ means, but I probably should! They make our proofs and generally make sure that our files are print-ready and that all the colours are right etc. Its short for reprographics house, but for years it was just a prefix to  ‘deadline’! I.e.: ‘We need to get these files to repro immediately!’ or: ‘Christ, there’s no way we’re going to meet our repro deadline! Let’s go plead with Dom for an extension…’” (Katie Knutton, Designer at Red Lemon Press)

“I remember once asking a rather revered senior editor who terrified me at the best of times what a ‘Signature’ section was in a book. I thought it was where the author signed their name not that it was one ‘part’ a book. I went the colour of beetroot at the look she gave me…” (Emily Thomas, Publisher)

[BLOGGER’S NOTE: Me again – a book is divided into sections of pages, between either 8 pages or 16 pages depending on the final extent of the book, and one of those sections is known as a ‘signature’. Also – it was EXTREMELY mean of Emily’s boss to do this to her – no one should ever make you feel stupid for asking questions when you’re an intern or in an entry level job (or ever, really)]

9) “Trade publishing versus… what exactly?”

You might hear the word ‘Trade Publishing’ being bandied about from time to time. But what does it actually mean? Surely all publishing is for trade… right? WRONG as Red Lemon Editor Alex Koken will tell you:

“For YEARS I didn’t know what trade publishing meant! I sort of assumed there was one type of publishing, the one where the books are made…  It’s OUR type of publishing, i.e. where we sell to bookshops. Non-trade is academic, scientific, technical and medical (STM), B2B (business to business), and clubs (I think)…”


10) “I’m applying for jobs, but I don’t really know what the chain of command is…”

This is actually quite a common problem, as how can you know what’s an appropriate level to apply for before you work somewhere and you can figure it out for yourself? I will stick to Editorial here, but if anyone has a department they are specifically interested in just tweet us/comment below and we’ll fill you in!

Secretary – Lots of Editors start out as Secretaries, where you prove your admin capability so you can move up to:

Editorial Assistant – Also an entry level job for some people (me included) but it will depend on where you apply. Lots more admin still, but also a bit of author care and you provide more specifically editorial-based support. See my previous blog about it HERE if you’d like to know more!

Assistant Editor – You should be getting to do a lot more editorial tasks now, such as low-level copy-editing and proof-reading, and also helping to manage the manuscripts into production more carefully. You’ll also probably be writing a lot more copy (that word again! Remember it just means ‘text’) for things like covers and the AIs. However, you will still be doing quite a lot of admin.

Junior Editor – More editing, less admin! Although you will never, ever be completely rid of admin.

Editor – Hurray, you’re now editing books! This will mean lots of copy-editing, and also more extensive editing too, like what we talked about in point one.

Commissioning Editor – Yikes. Not only are you editing your own books now, you are also buying them! Agents will send you manuscripts, which you will discuss with your team and see if it’s right for your publishing house to acquire them.

Senior Editor – You are probably responsible for team-members now, including the more junior staff.

Editorial Director – You pretty much run the whole Editorial department, but you’re still acquiring and editing too. You answer to…

The Publisher – This person is basically a kind of Creative Director. They run the business side of things as well as solely the Editorial stuff, and they are ultimately responsible for deciding what kind of list the publishing house will have (i.e. what kind of books are we buying?) as well as managing a large team.

Managing Director – The Boss. Basically. Our MD Sarah also does a lot of editing and acquiring, but I am told this is unusual for an MD. Luckily, in a publishing house of our size, she’s able to keep on doing what she loves whilst running the show!


And that’s it! Hopefully you’ve found some of this enlightening, and if you have any further questions about anything just ask! Also, we’d love to hear from our fellow publishers about questions you might have been too afraid to ask when you were starting out in the industry.

And, in case, you needed any further encouragement, here is Sara O’Connor (Editorial Director, Print & Digital) with a cautionary note on how you should ALWAYS ask questions if you’re not sure about something:

“Always be certain to ask which is the bulk trash pile of boxes and which is the bulk mail boxes pile. Trust me, you do not want to mix those up.”

Language: Obey the rules!

Recently I wrote a blog post about how language flourishes and – sometimes – becomes beautiful when we adapt the rules we are taught.

On the other hand, there are some language rules that we really, really feel strongly about and that we – not just as editors but as human beings – will always fight the cause of. (Avoiding sentences ending in a preposition is not one of mine, evidently.)


My pet grammar rule is the correct use of ‘that’ and ‘which’ and it’s one I’m often correcting in text because it is so little understood and therefore frequently misused. The rule to remember is:

‘That’ is never preceded by a comma, but ‘which’ always is*.

And that is because of the subtle difference between the two words, which is beautiful and useful. See:

1/ She picked up the envelope that was on the table.

2/ She picked up the envelope, which was on the table.

The first implies that there are several possible envelopes, but only one was on the table: the information following ‘that’ defines that particular envelope compared to others.

The second gives no information about whether there are other envelopes, but purely offers extra description about the envelope in question: it was on the table. Because it is additional information, it follows a comma. (That is another good rule of thumb for helping to decide when to use a comma.)

I surveyed the Hot Key and Red Lemon staff to find out what really fires them up when they see language rules disregarded. (And added some further comment in italics…)


Sara OC, Editorial Director: Exclamation marks MUST be used sparingly. Especially in children’s books; writers do tend to go crazy. Also, dialogue tags should not be illogical:

“I love you,” Jenny smiled.

MUST be:

“I love you.” Jenny smiled.

You cannot ‘smile’ words.

Sarah Odedina, Managing Director: Being the result of a 1970s radical comprehensive education I have little idea what makes for correct, or incorrect use of the English language.  All my ‘editorial’ responses are on what sounds right for the character or the book.   I know you shouldn’t start a new sentence with ‘and’ but sometimes it just sounds right! I suppose I do dislike it when an author uses the same phrases or sayings or terminology over and over again.  It happens.  It is easy to take out and to change.  But I wonder why someone doesn’t notice that they are repeating themselves…

I argued for starting sentences with ‘and’ and ‘but’ here. I think repeating phrases and terms is something all writers fall into at some point, but spotting them is one of the editor’s responsibilities – along with urging changes.

Cait Davies, Sales & Marketing Executive: Their, they’re and there!

Mixing up these spellings is a language crime: they all have different meanings and are not interchangeable.

Georgia Murray, Editor: APOSTROPHES!!!! Particularly when used in a plural. (And also multiple exclamation marks.)

More on this coming up…

Livs Mead, Sales & Marketing Assistant: Your and you’re. And its and it’s. It’s so simple I don’t understand why people can’t remember the difference. (I’m now paranoid my apostrophe usage is wrong).

And yet people do get it wrong, frequently – and possibly out of a paranoid panic about getting it wrong. But don’t panic!

‘its’ = possessive; ‘it’s’ = ‘it is’

‘your’ = possessive; ‘you’re’ = ‘you are’.

When in doubt, keep apostrophes for contractions. I know, it’s confusing because you add apostrophes to make other nouns possessive, but think of ‘its’ and ‘yours’ already holding a sense of possession. They don’t need apostrophes too.

Megan Farr, PR Manager: One pet hate is apostrophes in dates – like 1920’s.

This is like a secret grammar rule that very few people know. Unless you’re talking about something belonging to the 1920s, you don’t need an apostrophe. Remember: if in doubt, keep apostrophes for contractions.

Tori Kosara, Editor, Red Lemon Press: Less/fewer! If I cared a bit less about this common mistake, I would have fewer headaches when editing.

‘Less’ should only be used when talking about unquantifiable amounts (‘less confusion, ‘less anxiety’) and ‘fewer’ when the amount IS quantifiable (‘fewer grammatical errors’, ‘fewer editorial headaches’).

Alexandra Koken, Editor, Red Lemon Press: Excessive use of exclamation marks is a pet peeve, especially in younger fiction and speech. They almost makes me want to mark up ‘Calm down’ in a side note! Plus, too many commas are a bore. 

This is a popular pet peeve!!!!!!! (See: it is quite annoying.)


Now, I know that grammar comes more easily to some people than others, but an aversion to grammar rules needn’t hold you back. Last word from our lovely Editorial Assistant Becca, who sadly leaves us today:

Becca Langton, Editorial Assistant: I’m useless at grammar and punctuation and have been told off SO many times for it. I am particularly bad at differentiating between you’re and your. Not great but I blame the dyslexia. BUT! I am really persnickety about of and off. I think it’s because it’s the one rule that I can actually remember!

And that’s why putting together a book requires input from people with so many different expertise: a writer with a brilliant voice and an excellent story to tell can do all the spelling mistakes and grammar crimes they want, because there should always be a diligent copy-editor and proofreader to mop them up and give the text a polish before sending it out into the world.

A key aspect of working closely with fiction is finding the delicate balance between these rules and the writer’s own adapted rules.

* There are exceptions to this rule, but not when used in this context.

** See, here you don’t need a comma before ‘which’. It’s an entirely different context.


What’s Hot at London Book Fair

(hint… us!)

London Book Fair kicked off today and is as always a hectic, non-stop rush of meetings, catch-ups and more meetings. We did manage to take a couple of moments to photo-diary what was happening at the Hot Key Books stand – only a glimpse of the goings on of course!

Cait and Naomi are on the stand today helping out! And everyone is hard at work with meetings, talks and presentations.


Naomi and Cait ready for a long day!

The HKB team working hard

The HKB team working hard

Sarah and Amy gave an amazing presentation about Fleur Hitchcock’s Story Adventure…



The Hot Key Books are looking excellent….



photo 2


photo 4



We also made a VERY exciting announcement….We will be publishing Benjamin Zephaniah’s first book in seven years.

Lots of exciting things for us at HKB – but some other great covers  also caught our eye! ( we can never resist cute and cuddly…or chocolatey..)

Stupid Baby

Stupid Baby

photo 2




photo 3


Come and say hello on Stand A555 – or let us know below if you have seen anything exciting at LBF.

A quick trip around the (publishing) world

Question: Where can I go to visit Lebanon, New Zealand, United States, Brasil, France, Ireland and Finland, in that order, all in one day?

Answer: A book fair.


Well, OK, strictly speaking, I don’t actually ‘visit’ the countries, but I get as near as possible by visiting their publishers, whose books represent and carry the values of the cultures.  The Bologna Book Fair is 50 years old this year.  In 1963, its inaugural year, there were 44 exhibitors from 11 countries.  This year, on its grand birthday, there will be around 1,500 exhibitors from about 80 countries.

And it is now, in this week before Bologna, that I anticipate those meetings with ever-growing excitement.  Partly because I am going to be getting back in touch with friends with whom we do business.  People whose opinions I value and whose recommendations I follow when thinking about which titles to consider for publication on the Hot Key list.

Hot Key Books' catalogue, ready to meet friends from all over the world.

Hot Key Books’ catalogue, ready to meet friends from all over the world.

And partly because, in four days of walking around and looking at stands representing the publishing works of publishers  from all over the world, one gets a sense of the complexity and diversity of our business.  A sense of how incredibly important our production is.  It is thanks to all these publishers from all these countries that stories are read, listened to, shared, given, borrowed from libraries and enjoyed.  We are each part of the wonderful baton-handed business of creating readers.

A book fair is an opportunity to do business, find great authors for the list and find great homes around the world for our authors. It is also a truly affirming experience that reminds us that we are not in this business alone and that the trials and tribulations we each face we also share and that our success as an industry has impact on people all over the world.

Publishing: Theory vs. Practice

Picture for blogA few weeks ago, our intern Jaclyn Swope wrote a bit of a reflection on the difference between what she is learning in the classroom, and what she has seen in practice at Hot Key. Jaclyn (@jaxswo) is currently pursuing her MA in Publishing at Kingston University and trying not to spend all of her tuition money on books. She reads nearly as much young adult fiction now as she did as a teenager and is looking for any opportunities to gain additional experience in children’s publishing.

On my publishing course, we spend a lot of time talking about the future of publishing, and at the core of our studies, the functions of different roles within the industry. Interning at Hot Key was my chance to see this in action at a REAL LIVE PUBLISHING COMPANY, and it definitely changed my perspectve. I came into it with knowledge afforded me by my tutors and from our lectures and projects, but as with anything, there is major difference between doing something theoretical and actually applying it, especially when there is more to think about than just my grade.

A few of my textbooks...

A few of my textbooks…

Last term, in our Product Development module, we had to come up with our own product, physical or digital, and pitch it as if we were working in a publishing company: we had to have the numbers to support it, the how’s, the why’s, the who’s, etc. I learned terms like P&L and TCM and how to use Nielsen Book Scan in my sleep, and then I had to stand in front of my class and present my idea before handing in a formal, written proposal.

It was quite daunting.

There was so much to think about, not least of which was whether my idea was completely terrible or not. It was like how I am with my own writing: I can’t edit myself, but I can edit others. I can’t recognize the validity of my own ideas, but I was sure that when the time came, I’d be able to recognize the potential, or lack thereof, behind a manuscript written by someone else.

Hot Key gave me the opportunity to test my previously theoretical manuscript-reading abilities and to see what happens when an editor proposes publishing a new book. From my first day here, I was reading manuscripts that were being circulated around the office or that had been emailed to the company. Rather than judging my own ideas, I was presented with other people’s, allowing me to test my instincts and my ability to see future greatness in a submitted book. I didn’t have to be the creator—I had to be a reader, which is really my natural state, bookworm that I am. When I liked the manuscripts that were being pushed forward, I got a little thrill from knowing that I would have made the same decision. I’m also good at saying no when I don’t like something – it’s good to know I won’t be inclined to buy everything that comes my way.

I was struck by how collaborative the consideration process was—every department received certain manuscripts, rather than the decision relying on a convincing document filled with facts and figures. The numbers are always important and the business side needs to be considered, but things progressed more like a conversation instead of a presentation. Developing and presenting my own product in class was a useful exercise, but I enjoyed experiencing another side to pitching, with less reliance on formality and more room for enthusiasm.

Having the opportunity to sit in on Hot Key’s publishing meetings really highlighted to me the difference between studying publishing and actually working at a publishing company. In class, we discuss sales, social media, contracts, production, but these meetings really showed me how everything comes together across departments. My lecturers always stress that, even though most of us on the course are English lit graduates and resistant to maths, we need to be aware of how much numbers play a part in publishing—not just the numbers themselves, but how they fluctuate and compare. Interpreting sales, royalties, blog stats and plenty of other figures can define success, and numbers cropped up plenty in the meetings. The discussions were a merger of the creative and the quantitative, with thoughts on cover designs being shortly followed by e-book download numbers, and I am growing more and more used to seeing everything in publishing that way.

My MA course has taught me so much about the publishing industry, and now my experience at Hot Key has given me an up-close look at a publishing company, allowing me to see how general responsibilities and information covered in class can morph and adapt depending on the company, or even on the book. My enthusiasm for books and everything that goes into them continues to increase with everything I learn, so I think I’m definitely in the right business. Now if only I could get over the terror I feel when I think about my looming dissertation…

When adults read YA…

My mother’s book group has been going for seventeen years. Every six weeks, six lovely women meet and eat wonderful food and discuss wonderful books: the food is always wonderful; the books aren’t quite so consistent. Last Monday I joined them as they discussed Costa award-winning MAGGOT MOON, the first children’s or YA book they have ever read as a club.

I was really looking forward to an evening spent eating and discussing a book I love, and it certainly didn’t disappoint. But was it what I expected? Not quite.

MAGGOT MOONMaggotMoonAdultCover

When I first read MAGGOT MOON, I was working at a children’s bookshop; my colleagues and I, already huge fans of Sally Gardner, eagerly awaited the proof turning up on the doormat. It was passed around more quickly than cake during the 4 o’clock slump, and we were all completely wowed by it.

The book clubbers were wowed by it as well – everyone thought it was written in a beautiful, understated way and some felt Standish was one of the most unique voices they’d read in a long time. However, what they focused more on was MAGGOT MOON being a children’s book, and what that meant these days.

Between these ladies they have fifteen children ranging from 7 to 30 years old. For some it has been a long time since they read anything that could be classed as a children’s book (with the probable exception of Rowling, Pullman and/or Haddon). For others they haven’t discovered the YA genre that MAGGOT MOON is part of yet. More than this, as my mum assures me, when she was a teenager the idea of a teen or YA genre barely existed, certainly not in the densely populated and incredibly diverse way it does today.

What seemed to strike them was how dark some of the themes and scenes are: certainly if one expected MAGGOT MOON to be written for a nine or ten year old, you might be a bit taken aback by some of the content. However, as a YA novel it is startling, beautiful and totally original.

Unexpectedly for me, it led us to discuss ‘appropriateness’ or ‘suitability’ in books – be it language, characters, or plot.  I’m going to come clean and admit that I’m a firm believer in letting children read what they want. My parents didn’t monitor what I read when I was younger, and though that meant I read things ‘too early’ or seemed unsuitable for my age (reading Melvin Burgess’ JUNK at 10 was weird mainly because I had no idea what was going on), it also means that I’ve carried on reading things ‘too late’ all my life. I am constantly discovering more must-read books, be they for adults or children, all the time.

At school young teens study adult books – ANIMAL FARM at twelve, OF MICE AND MEN and LORD OF THE FLIES as GCSE set texts. I remember studying THE CRUCUBLE at thirteen; we may not have understood the anti-McCarthy message (even after we’d been told all about it), but at my all-girls school we certainly understood mass hysteria, groups of malicious girls and gossip. We took from it what we could understand and what was relevant to us and at the same time had our eyes opened, our minds stretched and our curiosity peaked.

It was comparing MAGGOT MOON and other YA titles to books like this that helped us arrive at something resembling a conclusion. One of them put it really well when she said that the goal posts in children’s fiction have changed. YA literature is, in my opinion, growing and producing some truly remarkable books, which are able to crossover (there I said it) into the adult market.

However, what’s really special about it these type of books for me is that they are being produced and marketed specifically for teenagers – they don’t need an adult to try and fit them to a teenager’s life by explaining them. Instead this type of YA novel tackles difficult themes that are important and relevant to teens as they begin to see the world through more mature eyes.

More than this, they communicate something beyond themselves in language that doesn’t patronise or make assumptions about their reader. It is sophisticated, rich – literary even. It is this element of MAGGOT MOON that the book club ladies found so remarkable. It is this aspect that that lead my mother to say ‘teenagers today are so lucky’. (I wonder what teens would say to that…)

So what do you think? What do you think the YA genre is doing for teen reading?