Friday 7 June 2013

Emily Thomas - Hot Tips from Hot Key Books

by Addy Farmer

Emily Thomas - publisher at Hot Key answers 11 burning questions ...

Emily Thomas at Lincoln Inspired!
I began my publishing career at Andre Deutsch Children’s Books as a secretary but I was far more interested in sticking my nose in all the incoming manuscripts and asking a LOT of questions. I moved about a bit: editorial assistant at Scholastic, working with the great David Fickling, followed by a stint of non-fiction editing at Kingfisher books, and then a move to Hodder Headline as junior editor, editor, senior editor, senior commissiong editor, and then publisher of teen fiction at Hodder Children’s Books… It’s been such an exciting career in publishing so far, and now, as Publisher at Hot Key Books, I have arrived at the job I dreamed of all those years ago: to be buying such fabulous books from so many talented authors, working with wonderful colleagues to build a brand new and thrilling children’s list here at Hot Key. It really doesn’t get any better than this.

Addy So, Emily, I've got eleven questions for you, all from eager authors. I'm pretty sure that there are more than eleven questions to be asked and I get the feeling that you may have a few in the comments. To begin - what drives your passion for children's writing? When did it start?

Emily I can't remember exactly when I learnt to read, but as soon as I did, the moment I did, that was when I knew I loved books, and I understood the value of them – for me, as a child. Great books provide children with not only good stories but also with a view of other worlds, and other people/characters, whose lives may be be blessed, or unlucky but whose journeys inspire and delight. Reading broadens the mind just as much as travel does, because it is learning, and building children's' capacity for compassion and empathy too. The books we read as children can be instrumental in our emotional growth.
The Moomins - adventure, travel and story all-in-one
Addy Can you remember the first book you read which made your stomach flip over/heart race? What about your first commissioned book? That had to be special.

Emily The first part of a book I read which made my stomach flip over was the scene in A Little Princess by Frances Hodgson Burnett where poor outcast Sara Crewe's attic is transformed into a luxurious chamber by the gentleman next door. This act of kindness made me burst into tears as I recall.

But every single one of Joan Aiken's novels made my heart race. She was a genius, a brilliantly transportive, yet totally grounded novelist. I am sorry to say I can't remember which exactly was my first commissioned book..but I am particularly proud to have discovered the very clever teen author, Sarra Manning back around 2002. She was a regular columnist for Just Seventeen (now defunct) and her slightly left-field, witty but substantial writing was nothing like I had ever read in that genre. Guitar Girl is a defining novel for me, and I think for the whole of girl-centred contemporary YA.

Addy Do you have a favourite genre?

Emily I don't. I am always surprising myself by realising I am reading a genre I never thought I liked and loving it. If really pushed I would say I like quality realistic fiction rather than elves or fairies or robots. But in fact I love any story whose characters are fully dimensional and with whom I identity, or for whom I feel. If a book moves me to tears, joy or laughter I am in! 

Addy You're a writer as well, can you tell us a little bit about what you've written?

Emily My 'pen name' is Lee Monroe and I have written three paranormal romances – the Dark Heart trilogy – all about a human girl's love for a werewolf boy and both the emotional and physical challenges they face to be together – and the danger they often find themselves in. I have also written a 'fated love' contemporary realistic novel called Love is a Number, which is like a teen version of One Day. It plays with the idea of soul mates and of the happiness that can come out of the most terrible and painful situations sometimes.

Addy How do you distinguish paranormal from supernatural?

Emily Ah, that question!…Supernatural and paranormal do cross over of course, but supernatural is more ghost led, perhaps and paranormal more fantasy driven. Other than that, in many ways paranormal is the new word for supernatural, perhaps!

Addy Does your writing influence your choices for Hot Key?

Emily No. Not at all. Hot Key is a publisher with a diverse and healthy balance of literary writing and quality and mass market commercial fiction and the authors at the heart of it all! I would certainly consider publishing a book such a 'Lee' has written, if the right one came along. But my taste, like that of the entire editorial team here covers a wide range of genres and styles. It is the only way!
Addy It's got to be asked - what do you look for in a ms?

Emily I look for something special, something a cut above – usually in the writing, but sometimes in the concept. I want to see something in the author that I want to invest in – whether great potential or fully fledged clear talent – and this applies to more literary novels as well as very commercial novels!

Addy Can you give us a brief overview of your list?

Emily We publish fifty titles a year – and as touched on before, this consists of such prize winning gems as Sally Gardner's Maggot Moon (a novel for 12 years and above with the appeal of A Curious Incident) and Lydia Syson's A World Between Us – to sci-fi adventure in the form of the insignia trilogy, to gossipy romance, steamy 'New Adult' and charming, quirky boys adventure for 9 to 12 year olds in The Great Galloon and Edward Carey's Iremonger books.

Addy What marks Hot Key out as different/special?

Emily An independent spirit! We have the style and the individual author care that smaller boutique houses offer, and we have a digital presence that is the envy of the industry. Our online networking through social media and through encouraging our authors, our readers and our booksellers to blog makes us stand out in terms of reaching out to our readers. We are dedicated to spreading the word. All that and the fact that we are the proud inventors of the Hot Key Ring: a unique guide to content, perfect for adult purchasers and for readers themselves and something that completely avoids age banding which, given the variety of reading ability within an age group is not necessarily helpful at all when choosing a book! We are also actively encourage young writers (as illustrated by our Young Writer's Prize in partnership with the Guardian Newspaper).

Addy When will you be accepting picture books?

Emily When a text a comes our way that we have an immediate visual vision for and for which we share a passion. 

Addy I know that 90% of your accepted mss are from agents but you do have a slushpile, so what can all our non-agented readers do to make their ms stand out form the crowd? Your top submission tips, please! 

  • A short, well researched pitch for the ms, and a sample of no more than three chapters, well presented and with a full synopsis/synopses. 
  • A letter that shows the reader has taken the time to understand our list and thus whether or not their story will fit. A non-ficton text for example, is not something we do, nor is a book for 5 to 8 year olds (yet), though if the covering letter is persuasive enough we will always look at younger texts. 
  • Patience, not necessarily persistence, is also the key. Don’t' nag us, it might put us off, but do feel free to send a reminder after six weeks.
The defining characteristic of our list is 'quality' and the crucial ingredient is the 'Author'. All our authors we want to build, and we firmly believe in publishing something for every reader, whatever their reading ability or their taste for nine year olds and above. 

Hot Key has such a great list and I love your passion for authors and sticking with them! Thanks, Emily!


  1. Great interview. I'm a big fan of the Hot Key Ring - such a useful guide to what's in a book. I've used it as a parent and as a writer it's a really quick way into finding books similar to MSs I'm working on. Here's a link explaining it further in case anyone's not familiar:

    1. Excellent! Many thanks for the link Louise!

  2. Gill Hutchison7 June 2013 at 11:53

    Thank you for asking the Supernatural/Paranormal question for me Addy. Great interview. Gill

  3. I missed seeing this post! Very useful questions and answers. Hot Key is such a dynamic company and nice to see you'll accept younger books.


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