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 the definition of 'literary, time limits for film options and perhaps Hot Key's favourite 'genre' 'something amazing'!

Happy New Year, Words and Pictures readers. I hope you've all set yourself some New Year's resolutions for writing amazing books, and then sending them into Hot Key.

I read on an agent's wish list that they like a crossover something with a younger protagonist but an older heart like Wonder or My Sister Lives on the Mantlepiece - YA subject matter but an MG MC. How easy is it to sell books that don't easily fit into an age group or genre? Are they always 'literary'? And how do you define literary?

I don't know the acquisition story behind WONDER, but I know MY SISTER LIVES ON THE MANTLEPIECE was a title that was fought over by many publishers. And, at Hot Key, we're quite interested in books that don't easily fit into categories. Often, books like that stand out. "Literary" is such a flexible term, often used as an opposite to "commercial" as in "mass market". "Literary" can also be used to mean sophisticated or unusual, complicated and perhaps not quite so plot driven. But your two examples show that the opposition of "literary" versus "commercial" gets lovely and blurred when the out of the box become huge hits. Don't worry too much about the labels - just write something amazing.

When you've given a debut author a two or more book deal how do you decide whether subsequent books are continuations of the debut or further standalones?

Gut reaction, I would say. It depends on the first book, how stand alone it is. We usually decide it at the time of acquisition and work it into the contract.

When you sell film rights is there a time limit for options? For example if production hasn't started within 3 years can another film company buy it? Does the author have any involvement in the process?

This is not at all my area of expertise. My understanding is, yes, there is usually a time limit for options, that can be renewed with an additional payment. But both this and any kind of production requirement clause would have to be stated in the contract. The author's involvement also depends on the contract. Most definitely, there should be an agent or film option contract expert involved in this kind of deal for you!

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. Thanks Sara - good to have you back. I've a question for the questioner. It could be jet lag or post holiday slump but what does MG MC mean? Middle Grade...Magna Carta? HNY!

    1. Middle Grade Main Character, I think.

    2. Thanks Sue and Nick - I posted and neglected to translate! Yep, what Nick said.

  2. Middle Grade Main Character - older heart - that's so exciting. Thanks!


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