5 questions for Sarah Benton of Hot Key Books [INTERVIEW]

Sarah BentonIn the last 12 months Bonnier’s newest enterprise, Hot Key Books, has gone from boardroom idea to fully fledged business, currently supporting 17 people and a list of 9 excellent children’s titles in the first year alone.
With an ambitious target of 30 – 50 titles to take to market in the second year, Sales and Marketing Manager, Sarah Benton, talks about how it feels to be part of the team leading the charge into the rapidly evolving future of successful Children’s books.


1) So the first two titles, Insignia by SJ Kincaid and Angel Dust by Sarah Mussi launched just this week; the lead up to this point must have been exciting! Which of the upcoming titles are you most excited about? Can you share with us any exciting previews of upcoming campaigns for the pre Christmas September – December titles?

The lead up to publication was unbelievably exciting, and nerve-wracking! From January, when most of us started, we had been building up to a deadline of 2nd August – publication day – and when it came it didn’t feel real! We’ve been blown away by the reaction to our launch list, and how varied it is, which is what people seem to like, but our launch books are like children – I couldn’t possibly pick a favourite!

Alongside our print and straight ebook list, we also have two exciting interactive iBooks coming for Maggot Moon by Sally Gardner and A World Between Us by Lydia Syson, which will contain banks of extra content, with the aim to spark conversation around the very political themes included in both books. We’ve never learnt so much from working on a book before!


2) Your new purpose built site sounds like it will be a phenomenal platform for your authors to reach out to their readers. Apart from the advantages of creating community for your readers, what else will attract children and their parents to the Hot Key site?

Yes, the website has been built around the aim of conversation, and one of the functions we have built in will be a Reading Lists area, so that authors, organisations, magazines etc can give us their top reads (any books, not just Hot Key books) to list on our site, and also allow readers to share their own reading lists.

I think in this digital age, we shouldn’t forget that actually nothing excites children and parents more, than meeting an author they love in the flesh, and then it’s a bonus if they can chat about it online afterwards with them too – it’s the best of both worlds! So we’ll also be out and about in the traditional sense too, with many of our launch authors at book festivals this autumn, For instance Gareth P. Jones will be on a Ghost tour for Halloween, complete with undertaker outfit, for a spooky interactive event.


3) You will be deep into submissions reading by now for your Guardian partnered Children’s Fiction prize. It’s novel in the UK to encourage peer to peer writing; by encouraging young writers, do you anticipate the Hot Key list be more focused on debut talent?

Yes – the reading is happening every day on these in order to work up to a shortlist for December. We were so happy with the submissions we had – over 350 manuscripts from young people all over the world, who were also studying, or doing exams at the same time, so they needed to be committed to writing to enter. We were very pleased.

We are definitely always committed to finding new talent, but it will never only be that. Established authors will always feature heavily on our list, as we offer them the chance to publish something a little bit more unique with us, and as a boutique publisher, gain a little more attention too.


4) The bloggers are very excited about the personalised approach to your launch – name tagged canvas bag, bound proofs and flash drive loaded with PDFs – and you plan on having monthly events going forward. Books are quite a personal thing, do you worry that with the increase in digital that books need to be made more personal by the marketing surrounding them?

We are very committed to the personal and open approach at Hot Key Books, that’s for sure. I think people are fascinated by publishing and authors, and in the past, a lot of the ‘behind the scenes’ process has been locked behind an iron curtain by publishers. We definitely set out to change that; we would never want to be seen as a faceless corporation! The bloggers, and much of the book trade have really responded to that.

I don’t worry about digital becoming less personal, if anything I think it is more personal. If you are reading a book you are enjoying (ebook or print) how great is it that you can tweet the publisher, or the author to tell them the bit you are enjoying right at that moment and get a response? In fact, our ebooks will have hashtag prompts at the back to them asking readers to tweet out their reviews of the book once they’ve finished it. And that’s something that just wasn’t possible ten years ago.


5) In your commitment to digital, are you hoping your new approach of providing immersive and potentially exclusive digital content will particularly draw in young boy readers, who are traditionally a tough market?

I definitely agree there is potential to draw in more boy readers with digital content, and immersive editions, and that is very exciting indeed. There are some books that lend themselves to interactive elements online – in a digital product sense, and also in a digital marketing sense.

However, I do believe that boys love a good story as much as girls do, and you can’t ignore the story just because there might be more bells and whistles that come with it. I still believe the key to getting boys reading is just a brilliant story hook, packaged in a way that will look good enough alongside their Xbox games! I think it really helps boys get into certain books though if the author is easily accessibly online. I’ve been told by a few teen authors writing for boys that the most popular question they get asked is – ‘what’s your Xbox Live gamer tag?!’


About Hot Key Books
Hot Key Books is a top quality, strongly commercial and diverse fiction list, and a major player in children’s publishing. The company name derives from the power of stories to open doors and feed the imagination of readers. Hot Key Books seeks to unlock the power of reading, a love of books and a joy of stories for readers of all ages. It also reflects the digital age in which we now live through its association with ‘hot key’ commands – the short cut command on a keyboard.
To keep up to date with Hot Key Books, follow them on twitter @hotkeybooks and look out for their new website launching shortly.

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