London Book Fair Interviews: Sara O'Connor of Hot Key Books

In the run up to The London Book Fair (see us on stand X610), we’ll be running a series of interviews with some prominent and interesting figures in the book publishing industry. Asking them for their thoughts on hot button issues that are currently resonating throughout the industry.

Our first is with Hot Key Books‘ Digital and Editorial Director, Sara O’Connor, who sets out and manages the digital strategy for the aforementioned Young Adult/Fiction publisher.

1. How has digital disrupted traditional publishing workflows, in your experience?

The traditional publishing workflow of author, to editor, to designer, to typesetting to printing or digitising, to selling, is still how books get published. The timings and costs are now much more variable, as well as the people behind those stages. We use xml typesetting software in house to control our scheduling and keep costs low. It is the selling part where digital disruption gets much more interesting.

I think the thing that surprises people the most about how we work at Hot Key is that social is fully integrated into our workflow – how we talk to each other, our authors and our readers from our MD, Sarah Odedina down through to our interns. It isn’t a separate marketing thing; it is constant and spontaneous and sometimes risky. We make time to blog daily, create videos weekly and experiment often on any channel that might expand our audience, and have created a job that sits equally between editorial and marketing, dedicated to telling the stories behind the stories – including the story behind the people at Hot Key Books. This process starts from the moment we acquire a book and never really ends.

2. Now the market is starting to show some signs of maturity, do you think digital growth will taper off?

I don’t think digital will encompass 100% of the market in my lifetime, and it has been growing from basically 0% – so it makes sense that digital growth is slowing down. But it will continue to grow and to be an essential and exciting place for publishers to deliver (and discover!) their content.

In terms of social media, I think growth will be exponential as publishers will continue to innovate and give more time and money to this space. Because it’s fun, but more because it is effective at reaching customers. And I think the people that will most benefit from this explosion are creative coders.

3. What’s the next “big thing” in the digital book space?

As a new company, we are still focusing on acquiring customers. For us, the next “big thing” is something that has been building for years: BookTubers are young people so excited about reading that they dedicate enormous time and energy into creating a YouTube channel dedicated solely to books – there are hundreds of them with thousands of subscribers and millions of views. What is not to love about that?

We’re also going to continue to play with how a book gets written, the “author” step of the workflow and linking that up with the “selling” step. We want the audience to be a partner with the author and with us in the book’s creation, by growing our online “live writing” website and supporting authors like Laura Dockrill who is posting each step of the writing journey for her next YA series on tumblr at

Outside of us, I think things like affiliate sales links, selling ebooks direct and gifting ebooks are exciting opportunities, all of which are being offered by companies like Valobox.

4. Do you see a “print renaissance” in the near future, with consumers starting to more greatly appreciate the concept of owning something physically tangible?

There can’t be a “print renaissance” if customers never stopped buying print in the first place. Readers never abandoned physical books – and publishers haven’t either. Individual readers will make individual choices on platform, often different for individual books. Publishers just need to provide as many options as are cost effective.

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