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

Publishing expert, Sara O'Connor returns with another set of answers to your questions this month. This time she's focusing on New Adult, switching genres as a writer and offering her tips on how to get a job in publishing. 

There'll be a break during December, but please continue to send your questions in and Sara will answer these in the January Ask a Publisher Q&A.

How easy/difficult is it to get a job in the publishing industry? Does it matter what degree you have, and is the best way in to get an internship?

This is a topic I have blogged about a lot on the Hot Key blog. In short, it is pretty difficult. No, degrees don't matter as much as demonstrated commitment. Doing an internship can be a way in, but just as valuable is a project that you've done on your own initiative: publish an ebook, put together an anthology of writing, an online magazine, a regularly updated blog with a decent audience, volunteering in your library, putting on a local lit festival, etc. What you want to do is have a great letter, and then have assets to put on the table once you get your interview. You want to put something awesome down on the table and say, "I did this."

The much longer answer, including tips on cover letters and interviewing, plus a practical example of how one BookTuber broke into the industry can be found on this link.

Is the New Adult genre becoming more popular/widely accepted? And do you think it is just a fad or is New Adult here to stay? 

I think the genre is very much an industry term - publishers and writers might know it, but the general reading public isn't really paying attention to those labels. And, yes, I do think publishers will want to continue publishing books with 18-25 year old protagonists, with a bit of racy content.

What are your thoughts on switching audiences and genres as a writer - e.g. as JKR has moving from children's to adult's and fantasy to contemporary. Does it make it harder for the publisher in terms of marketing or does it just give a wider reach to potential readers? 

Yes and yes, is the answer. It does make it harder for publishers, and I tend to advise writers to stick with one genre for three books, to get a hold in one, before trying another. But if you can write for different age groups, do! Another strategy is that if your current publisher doesn't want to publish you in a different age category, you can always try another. Several authors publish with one age group at one house and a different at another.

If you have any questions for Sara, you can either submit them in the comments section below or you can email them to

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. This is the first time I've heard the term New Adult. Thanks for answering those questions too. Very informative!

    1. Yes, I do think it's a very "industry" term. Kind of like "enhanced ebook"... But there is an audience of adults who love to read young adult, and so it's a way of sneaking a bit more naughty bits. If you're interested, you can check out the new Hot Key Unlocked imprint which is publishing "new adult" Christmas romances, and also running regular writing contests to find new talent:

  2. Thanks, Sara!

    For those people a bit later in their career who want to break into publishing, I can share a bit of advice that Sara herself gave me - try to move in sideways. Are there some existing skills that you have that could be used in a support role at a publisher - admin, IT support, HR etc? Once you have your foot in the door, then it's much easier to stealthily move across into the role you want.

    Of course, you could do what I did, which is wait 2 years for exactly the right role to come up and then pursue it like crazy! But try not to actually go crazy in the process, because interviewers don't like that...

    1. Yes, Nick is a PERFECT example of getting into publishing using the skills you have. If you have digital skills, you'll be in hot demnd. If you're a talented storyteller, you can also try working for a book packager like Working Partners. Design skills could land you in an art department, etc.

    2. It's all about passion, isn't it? And flexibility. With the industry in a period of change, publishers want staff who they know can adapt to new challenges and new ways of working. So having a broad portfolio of skills (especially some digital) and a willingness to learn can get you a long way through the recruitment process.

  3. Thanks, Sara. I clicked on a Hot Key Unlocked link the other day - pitched perfectly for the New Adult genre by the looks of it. Looks great as a series and all the richer for being written by 5 different authors - or is that one author with 5 pen names? :O) Funny, it's the first time I've pondered writing for (New) adults

    1. Ha! It is five different authors, two of whom we found through our writing contest. A LOT of the entries were from people who hadn't written in the category before, plus we had some great experienced self published writers. We have several more submission calls up our sleeves, so follow us on Twitter for when we announce the next one.

  4. I'm introducing a best blog! The statement of purpose for internship is an amazing site for everyone.


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