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

Welcome to our monthly Ask A Publisher feature, hosted by Sara O'Connor, Editorial Director, Print and Digital at Hot Key Books. This month, the Q and A is about graphic novels, editing, second novels, titles and a little bit about submitting. Next month, Sara will tackle some of the great questions that she couldn’t get to this time, about covers, genres, the acquisition process and more!

I am curious to know if you have noticed any increase in interest for graphic novels or comic books for children? My experience is that the general public are much more receptive and enthusiastic in conversation about this kind of book but are they buying and reading them? NoBrow, a publishing house dedicated to graphic novels, has just launched an imprint for children - FlyingEye Books. How this has been received by others in the industry? Has it or will it inspire other publishing houses to do something similar?

I have noticed a fair amount of attention for graphic novels in the mainstream recently. About the same time I got your question, Julia Eccleshare had written this response in support of the format: and there is the fantastic Phoenix Comics magazine for kids that is mainstream enough to be on sale in supermarkets. (Buy it!) You could also argue that WIMPY KID and all its inspirations are graphic novels – which people are buying in droves.

There was an interesting comment on the Big Green Bookshop’s blog recently about shelving. They could sell poetry more effectively when it was shelved among the general fiction. I wonder if we would see more graphic novel sales if they were mixed in among the YA books, rather than tucked away in its own section – or best yet, shelving in both?

At Hot Key we are experimenting with a graphic biography of sorts. Later this year, we are publishing Isobel’s Journal, written and illustrated by an eighteen-year-old girl. As with a lot of books we publish, it’s not easily classified into any particular niche, but it is wonderful and fascinating and we can’t wait to see readers’ reactions to it.

We are happy to consider graphic novel submissions (for ages 9 to 19) – so please do send them in.

How important are titles to the pitching process?

Not hugely, and this is because your publisher will ask to change it if they don’t think it’s perfect. I think the title is hugely important in the selling process, but pre-publication, it is quite common for titles to change.

I think the title is hugely important in the selling process, but pre-publication, it is quite common for titles to change.

How much time do you generally spend on editing a manuscript after an author submits their 'finished' draft? What are the most common areas of improvement that you come across?

Apologies for the cliché, but how long is a piece of string? It depends on the state of the manuscript when it comes in. For some, I’ve asked for major overhauls – for others, I’ve only done a close line edit. It can be one round of edits or three. I write editorial letters that I obsess over, have editorial phone calls and/or spent hours making tiny notes within the script.

As for common areas of improvement, I am a cutter – really questioning if what is there is necessary. Have a look at coverage of one of my SCBWI masterclasses written up by Candy.

How quickly would you expect an author to write their second book?

As quickly as you can while matching the quality of your first book. If you’ve written a fantastic novel, your audience will want to read something else by you – now. As close as you can get to “now” without going completely insane or compromising quality is what you should aim for.

The trend is to get your second book out a year after your first. So, if you sign a deal in January 2013 and your book is coming out in January 2014, your publisher will likely want book 2 publishing in January 2015 – perhaps delivered in the summer of 2014. That’s 18 months from the signing deal.

Other SCBWI writers will be able to speak much more to the perils of this. As a writer, you’ve got to balance the needs of your audience and the needs of your creativity to find the right amount of time. My advice is to be honest with yourself up front, at contract stage. As long a publisher has time to plan – and you aren’t missing deadlines – there should be time for you to write book 2.

The trend is to get your second book out a year after your first.

I have a children's book which is almost complete – written and illustrated. Should I attach the pdf in my first contact with the publisher, or should I get in touch initially just to say hi and can I send it along for their opinion? Any help appreciated and if anyone has access to anywhere with sample letters that would be great too.

Great, congratulations on finishing! As you submit, you should check each individual recipient’s submission policy – there will be a lot of variation. Some will want a query with nothing attached, some will want a sample, some will want the whole thing. (I would advise your PDF to be smaller than 5MB or you will struggle to get it received by various company servers – or send a link to download once it’s been requested.) You can look here for great querying advice:

So, my questions for you:

1. How many of you have bought a graphic novel in the past six months?
2. Second time authors, any advice for your fellow writers about the time it takes to produce that second book?

If you have any questions for Sara, you can either submit them in the comments section below or you can email them to  Sara will return with her answers on the 15th July.

Sara O'Connor is 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. She looks for books that are brilliantly written, that stand out and that have lovely authors behind them, with a slight preference towards the 9-12 age category.

She's 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.


  1. Hi Sara!

    Thanks for this.

    In answer to your question, yes I have purchased a graphic novel in the past couple of months. And unsurprisingly, like my fiction, I like character-led graphic novels ... though the art will swing me into buying something that I wouldn't otherwise read in another form.

    As for second novels, I've been a dreadful author and taken three years with my second book Shine. I just couldn't get it out any faster. My publisher has been very understanding ... but I'm sure they would have preferred a quick turnaround.

    1. Any specific graphic novel recommendations?

      As for your second book, you took the time you needed to get it right! And your (brilliant) publisher knows that's the most important thing.

  2. We haven't bought any graphic novels in the last 6 months, but have taken out plenty from the library. On average, we buy around 3 a year.

    1. Any favourites to recommend?

    2. Not necessarily for younger readers, but I'd recommend Y: The Last Man series and the Alan Moore classics - V for Vendetta, Watchmen & From Hell.

  3. Hi Sara thanks again for an interesting post. My 8 year old girl is massively into graphic novels/comic books at the moment. We get them from the library. I usually have to nag a bit to get her to read a 'straight' novel but she's always happy to pick up one of these. It's my prejudice I suppose but I find myself saying 'only one graphic novel' at the library when she comes back with a fistful and no 'normal' books. I wonder if this is wrong? Is reading 'reading' regardless of format?

    1. I do think reading is reading regardless - but it's definitely good as her parent to guide her to branching out into things she wouldn't choose for herself. So, maybe, you switch it around and for every three graphic novels, she reads one (really awesome) text book -- what you don't want is for her to associate text books with that "aw, Mum" feeling... because there are plenty of great using-words-but-very-visual books for visual thinkers to enjoy.

  4. I buy graphic novels and comics, read them, borrow them from the library and blog about them. My most recent purchase was last week - Rumble Strip by Woodrow Phoenix.

    Personally I prefer to browse this kind of book when it is separated from text only books - I'm either interested in one or the other, not both at the same time. But I can understand the argument for mixing graphic novels in with other types of books. There are still a lot of preconceptions about graphic novels and people quite often don't realise the tremendous variety that is out there - this way they might make happy discoveries. By graphic novel I mean books where text and images constantly work together to tell the story but of course there are many other books that fall somewhere between this and text only.

    I look forward to seeing Isobel's Journey when it is published.

    1. Wow, RUMBLE STRIP looks totally fascinating!
      ( I've never seen a social issue graphic novel like that before -- which just provies your point that people don't know about the variety.

      Kudos to you for spreading the word!

    2. I do enjoy illustrated books as well and it has been great to see Maggot Moon getting the recognition it deserves. I was at the launch at FreeWord Centre and was fascinated by the story behind it. It is a great story by Sally and the design and the drawings are also brilliant.
      Apologies for my mistake in my earlier comment - Isobel's JournAL.

  5. Thanks Sara and SCWBI for a great Q &A
    i've recently bought Anya's Ghost, Persepolis, Friends with Boys and Susceptible and reviewed some of them here:
    Late as I am to the party I have really enjoyed them despite my advanced age!

    1. Ooh, ANYA'S GHOST looks right up my street! And I hadn't seen Malorie Blackman's list. Thanks for pointing that out.

  6. I love reading these posts, and I can't wait to get my hands on Isobel’s Journal. Fingers crossed graphic novels or more novels with illustrations for older fiction will become the next big thing. I got Anya's Ghost for Christmas and loved it, which then prompted me to buy The Gigantic Beard That Was Evil, which I am obsessively making all my friends now buy because it's SO good.

    1. Now, THAT is a great title. Hilarious!

  7. There are some wonderful graphic novels out there, depending on what age groups you're looking for.

    I I think "I Kill Giants," is a really wonderful graphic novel for all ages, and is incredibly similar to the beautiful novel "A Monster Calls," by Patrick Ness.

    There is also Persepolis, which is incredible.

    As far as adult oriented graphic novels, Watchmen is incredibly character driven and brilliant, and I hear great things about Sandman.

  8. I found this very interesting re: graphic novels. My first book (haven't written a second YA yet) came out last year with half text, half sequential graphics. The students on school visits love the concept, though interestingly, some of adults who have read it felt that the graphics got in their way.
    I am a great believer in illustration for all ages, and in all genres - though the editing process with the publisher (to accommodate so many graphics in my book) felt very, very long! I had to lose a lot of words . . . but that was okay as most of them were adjectives!
    I adored working with an illustrator - seeing my story come to life through someone else's eyes has to be one of the most joyous things that I have experienced.
    I too loved A Monster Calls. I too worry about my offspring's reading choices. I too enjoy these posts!
    Wow, that was a major ramble in a very small box!

  9. Thank You Sara. This is such brilliant insight in the publishing mind! And I love that you say ' As with a lot of books we publish, it’s not easily classified into any particular niche,'.

    To answer your question, I haven't bought a graphic novel in the last six months but I do own a copy of Tamara Drewe that pre dates the film. I'd love to get my hands on Gemma Bovery. I love Posy Simmonds (what I've read and haven't read enough yet) because reading Tamara Drewe was better than watching the film because aside from great drawing and writing, reading a graphic novel has the privacy of reading a book as opposed to watching a film and but the illustration - seeing the mind of the author- increases that. Not sure if that makes sense yet!

  10. If only I had bought just one graphic novel in the last six months! I came to comics and graphic fiction later in life, and it's been a pleasure to rediscover some of the classic Marvel and DC comics with my kids. I'm currently avidly collecting Scott Pilgrim (the new colour versions are awesome) and I'd recommend the Fables series which I have about 15 volumes of! Another vote for Persepolis too (especially after Chicago's School Board tried to ban it!)


We love comments and really appreciate the time it takes to leave one.
Interesting and pithy reactions to a post are brilliant but we also LOVE it when people just say they've read and enjoyed.
We've made it easy to comment by losing the 'are you human?' test, which means we get a lot of spam. Fortunately, Blogger recognises these, so most, if not all, anonymous comments are deleted without reading.

Words & Pictures is the Online Magazine of SCBWI British Isles. Powered by Blogger.