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An Interview with Hot Key Books

By Rosie Pinder, Aimee Haldron and Emma Rogers

Hot Key Books, an imprint of Bonnier Books, specialises in fiction for teen and YA readers and this year is celebrating ten years since its launch. Originality is at the heart of what Hot Key Books publishes, with their books aiming to be thought-provoking and provide something a little bit different to other YA fiction on the market. From gripping fantasy worlds to chilling horror, there are loads of fantastic titles to choose from. To mark the exciting ten year milestone, we spoke to Emma Matthewson, Executive Publisher at Hot Key Books, to find out more about the imprint and where she thinks the YA genre as a whole is headed.

What were the motivations behind Hot Key Books when it was first founded?

“Hot Key was set up to publish books for young readers aged 9–19, to publish exciting and diverse voices, and to publish with energy!”

What have been Hot Key Books’ greatest achievements/milestones over the past ten years?

“We are so proud to have helped drive the move for YA publishing in the UK and to have published exciting, established voices such as Garth Nix and Holly Black, as well as bringing a welcome range of voices into the YA space with authors such as Jordan Ifueko, Elizabeth Acevedo and Ciannon Smart. From the beginning, the Hot Key marketing and publicity team were focussed on reaching readers directly and this often meant engaging with social media. Social media was an area that Hot Key helped pioneer in this space and we are still in the forefront of that.”

How do you think the YA genre has changed over the past, say five, years? And where do you think it’s headed?

YA has traditionally been the domain for white authors and there has been a welcome understanding from all publishers that diverse voices are only a good thing. Fantasy has been traditionally strong in this area and still is, but we are also seeing more demand for romance as well as horror. Not always at the same time!”

What are the key things Hot Key Books’ editors look for in a manuscript?

“What makes one stand out? We always look out for the ‘voice’ – which is so difficult to determine, but for us that usually means a compelling read, woven with an urgency from the author as to why they wanted to write this particular book, whether that is subliminal or overt. But either way, something that will have the reader put that book down and then pick up the phone to talk to their best friend about it!”

How will the imprint be celebrating the ten year milestone?

We have already had a great event at YALC, and another at Cheltenham Book Festival this month – and we will be having a party to celebrate with our authors and agents in November. And we will have more initiatives next year – watch this space!”

Eleanor Rose, a member of the Hot Key Books marketing team shared with us some of their bestsellers from across the past decade. We’ve written a little teaser for each of them below so take a look to get some inspiration for your next YA read…

2012: Maggot Moon by Sally Gardner

Winner of the Carnegie Medal and the Costa Award in 2012, Maggot Moon is a powerful story set in a dystopian regime, the Motherland, which takes place in an alternate 1950s. The Motherland is determined to beat its enemies in a race to the moon, but there is much more going on beneath the surface. Standish Treadwell is the book’s unforgettable hero, forced to confront the regime along with his grandfather and a small band of rebels when his best friend Hector disappears.

2013: Paper Aeroplanes by Dawn O’Porter

Described as a gritty, poignant, laugh-out-loud funny, and powerful novel, Paper Aeroplanes is the story of schoolgirls Renée and Flo. They couldn’t be more different to one another but united by their loneliness and dysfunctional families, an intense friendship is made. It’s the story every fifteen-year-old needs to read showing the joy of teenage friendship.

2014: We Were Liars by E. Lockhart

The Sinclair family seems perfect on the outside, but in reality the endless feuds over the family's inheritance and their twisted relationships threaten to pull them all apart. With secrets, lies and freak accidents, it is no surprise that We Were Liars has taken social media by storm! E. Lockhart followed up this TikTok sensation with a prequel, Family of Liars, earlier this year.

2015: Clariel by Garth Nix

Clariel is the prequel to the bestselling series, The Old Kingdom, and has had plenty of success of its own. In Belisaere, the capital of The Old Kingdom, sixteen-year-old Clariel feels trapped within the city walls and longs for her freedom. When a free magic creature is let loose in the city, Clariel has the opportunity to make her escape, but her freedom comes at a terrible cost.

2016: Cell 7 by Kerry Drewery

Shortlisted for the Lancashire Libraries Book of the Year in 2018, Cell 7 is a book full of mystery and suspense. Martha Honeydrew is found standing over the dead body of an adorned celebrity with a gun in her hand. Now, the public will decide whether she is innocent or guilty by watching episodes of the TV show Death is Justice. This book is praised for its exploration of reality in the media with various POVs.

2017: Spellslinger by Sebastien de Castell

The first in the compelling fantasy series by Sebastien de Castell, Spellslinger is bursting with tricks, traps and a talking squirrel cat. Following Kellen as he prepared to face his first mage’s duel and the start of four trials that will make him a spellcaster when suddenly his magic is gone. As Kellen risks everything; his family, his home, his life, the mysterious Ferius Parfox may be his only hope of surviving… With now six books in the series, this is a perfect read for fantasy lovers.

2018: The Cruel Prince by Holly Black

Another book that has taken the TikTok community by storm, The Cruel Prince is the first book in The Folk of Air series. When she was seven, Jude and her two sisters were stolen from their parents to live in the High Court of Faerie, a place that despises humans. Ten years later, Jude must defy Prince Carden, to win her place in court and save her sisters.

2019: Stepsister by Jennifer Donnelly

From New York Times bestselling author Jennifer Donnelly, comes Stepsister, the story that takes up where Cinderella’s story ends. This book follows Isabelle, the younger of Cinderella’s stepsisters who is fearless, brave, and strong-willed. The values which are not desired in a girl in this story. Stepsister is the story of the bully – who roots for them? Is there hope? Can she find her own happily ever after?

2020: Clap When You Land by Elizabeth Acevedo

Shortlisted for the CILIP Carnegie Medal 2021, and from the award-winning author of Poet-X, this intensely powerful tale of family, grief, and rediscovering your roots written in verse will have you hooked from the start. The story follows two sisters who are unaware the other exists and only discover their secret when their father dies in a plane crash. Inspired by the real-life events involving the American Airlines flight 587, this book is memorable for its treatment of grief and lyricality.

2021: Witches Stepped in Gold by Ciannon Smart

The first in a stunning duology by Ciannon Smart, Witches Steeped in Gold is a fantasy novel that sets two rival witches on a mission to destroy the powerful ruler who threatens both of their worlds. Sworn enemies, the two witches form a deadly alliance to take down the threat to their worlds. This twisted cat and mouse game will have you gripping the pages yearning for more.

2022: When Women Were Dragons by Kelly Barnhill

The Mass Dragoning of 1955: thousands of women sprouted wings, scales and talons, and took to the skies. Alex Green is only a young girl when her Aunt Marla transforms, but her mother does not. Alex must keep her silence on this taboo subject, along with her secret crush on schoolmate Sonja, as she struggles with her connection to the phenomenon. When Women Were Dragons was published earlier this year and has been described as a soaring coming-of-age novel.

We hope that gaining some insight into the imprint and their bestsellers has inspired you to take a look at some of Hot Key Books’ titles if you weren’t already familiar with them! Remember though that this is just a small selection of the fantastic range of teen and YA books that Hot Key has published over the past ten years. You can find out more about their new releases and their upcoming events by going to their website, which also has a great blog section including quizzes, recommendations and even a tutorial for how to make a protection spell jar inspired by Madeline from Deirdre Sullivan’s Perfectly Preventable Deaths and Precious Catastrophe. The website includes information about how to sign up to their newsletter, too. You can also keep up to date with Hot Key Books by following their social media accounts: @HotKeyBooksYA on Twitter, @HotKeyBooks on Facebook and Tiktok, and @hotkeybooksya on Instagram.



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