Ask A Publisher - Q&A with Sara O'Connor, Editorial Director at Hot Key Books

Sara O'Connor

Welcome to our monthly Q&A column where you can put your burning publishing questions to Sara O'Connor, Editorial Director, Print and Digital at Hot Key Books. 

 In this first post, Sara introduces herself and outlines how the Q&A sessions will work.


When I heard that Words & Pictures was starting back up as a coordinated blog, I thought it was a brilliant idea, but seeing Jan Carr's drive and enthusiasm in launching it properly, I am so pleased to be on board for what is sure to prove a fantastic new asset to all SCBWI-BI-ers. (Be sure to thank her and the W&P team next time you see her.)


This feature is all about what YOU want. Please do send any questions you may have. I am happy to ask other people at Hot Key, so they don't need to be just editorial questions. We have a sister company non-fiction imprint, so it doesn't have to just be fiction either. Alas, for picture book questions, you'll be better off asking the Ask an Agent feature... I'll be back in four weeks, I hope with some great answers to your great questions.


Either add your question to the comments or email your questions to by 1st April. We’ll then forward them all to Sara and she’ll answer several of these in her next post which will be published on the 24th April.


I first joined SCBWI in 2001, when I showed up at a Houston, Texas meeting with my résumé/CV trying to get a job in publishing. I eventually landed my dream job as an editorial assistant at Little Brown Books for Young Readers in New York.

Alas, my heart had been left in England during my masters degree in children's literature at the University of Reading and, after two happy years at Little Brown, I moved back to England.

Here, I've worked for Working Partners on series like Rainbow Magic,My Sister the Vampire and The Lady Grace Mysteries.

After six years, I moved to Hodder Children's Books and acquired books like the Witch in Winter trilogy by Ruth Warburton and Pride of Britain winner Jack Henderson's Jack Draws Anything.

One of my proudest accomplishments has been co-founding the SCBWI-BI Undiscovered Voices project with Sara Grant. We had always hoped that one person from our first anthology in 2008 would get published. We never could have imagined that six years later, almost 20 of the writers featured in the three editions would be published with numerous accolades under their belt.

Sara Grant and Sara O'Connor

I am the editorial director, print and digital at Hot Key Books, acquiring books like The Sunday Times Children's Book of the Week Shrunk! by Fleur Hitchcock, Tribute by Ellen Renner, Boonie by Richard Masson and Clockwise to Titan by Elon Dann.

I look for books that are brilliantly written, that stand out and that have lovely authors behind them that I want to work with for years to come, with a slight preference towards the 9-12 age category. I'm also in charge of the digital strategy for Hot Key, working with a brilliant digital team to produce projects like the interactive iBook of Costa-award-winning Maggot Moon which includes dyslexia animations of pages, fact-behind-the-fiction interviews, and more.

We’re also in the middle of an interactive writing project where 1,800 young readers are helping Fleur Hitchcock write her next book - see the Story Adventure website.


If you haven't heard of us already, Hot Key Books is a brand new company, set up in January 2012, publishing fiction for 9 to 19 year olds. Set up by Swedish-owned Bonnier Publishing Ltd, we are on a mission to be a different kind of publisher. Run by Sarah Odedina, who ran Bloomsbury Children's for the Harry Potter years, Hot Key Books truly believes in authors and in readers. We put author care at the top of our priorities - every one of our books has a bespoke marketing and PR plan - and we focus on building meaningful relationships with readers. Everyone in our company is accessible, from Sarah Odedina down to our assistants all of us are on Twitter and our blog sharing thoughts on publishing and books and life: @hotkeybooks and Hot Key Blog.


  1. Hello all! I'm so thrilled to be part of the re-launch of Words & Pictures. It's been bubbling away for some time, so congrats to the whole SCBWI-BI team behind it.

    Please do ask any questions - specific or general, for any department. The more the merrier!

    And, yes, I am technically on maternity leave, but that has never stopped me doing SCBWI-BI things before. Sara Grant and I put together the second Undiscovered Voices anthology (2010) during my first maternity leave.

  2. Thank you, Sara ... and yes, my first question was: aren't you on maternity leave? All the best things happen on maternity leave.

  3. Congratulations Sara, I didn't know you were on Mat leave. I bet they're really missing you at HotKey.
    My question is : If an author had a project that included illustrations or interactive ideas within the manuscript, how would you like to see that presented within the submission?

  4. Honoured to have Hot Key on board at Words & Pictures. I'm a BIG fan.
    Loved Maggot Moon, so many read out loud lines.

    My question is given Sally Gardner's success and dyslexia awareness and acceptance being so much greater, are publishers doing to anything to enable dyslexic readers?

  5. Thanks for offering to answer our questions - it's much appreciated!

    My Q is: Do publishers look less favourably on manuscripts that the author submits directly (i.e. without an agent)? Have you ever taken anyone on via this submission method?

  6. Looking forward to seeing everyone's burning questions answered!

  7. If a publisher rejects your manuscript but says nice things about it, is it okay to resubmit after a rewrite?

  8. How many picture book texts can I send in one submission?

  9. What have been the biggest turn-offs for you in a submission?

  10. Do publishers have favourite agents? When you're shopping for an agent, should you be looking at which publishers seem to favour which agents?

  11. Oh ... and congratulations on the birth of your baby boy!

  12. It might be called a "personal statement," but don't make the mistake of thinking this type of job application letter is all about you. See more phd personal statement


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