Last night I was lucky enough to attend the Hot Key Books offices in London for their very first parent parlour.
As the mother of a twelve year old boy with very fussy reading tastes I was quite happy to put my parent hat on for a change and have the opportunity to talk books, however I must admit that as a writer I loved the idea of getting a quick peek into the offices of a real life publishers!
(If you're interested, very cool, open plan with piles of books everywhere - heaven!)
The meeting was run by Amy Orringer and Sara O Connor and after a quick dinner our group of ten or so parents began our session.
Although we were asked about our childrens favourite books the evening was not (unfortunately) about the types of books we would like to see published but more about what we want from a publisher. It was interesting to see that everyone in the books business is looking for ways to improve and to reach their audience.
Some of the questions we were asked included;
" How important was the publisher when buying a book?"
The overwhelming response from us was not important at all. This led onto questions about what publishers could do to make their brand more appealing.
Suggestions ranged from reinstating something like "The Puffin Club" to providing more appealing websites. It was felt that many publisher websites were all about selling and not particularly user friendly. We asked for things like extra content from the authors, games, competitions and exclusive events.
An indication perhaps of how everyone in the business is being asked to provide more to their customers, not just the authors but the publishers too!
There was also a big discussion on age rating and banding and how many parents found it difficult to know the content of books. Hot Key books have a colour coded circle on the back of their books which gives an indication of what the book is about.
Many parents wanted more specifics though and it was suggested that the website could have a button for parents which would give more indication of swearing, sex or violence for example. Another idea was having parent reviews which could indicate what age it might be suitable for and avoid parents needing to pre read everything.
We were also asked if we were using digital books or the real thing. 100% of us were all buying "real" books. One of the main reasons is because we feel our children spend too much time looking at a screen already and we feel that reading gives them a break from screen time.
Amy and Sarah showed us some of the remarkable things that can be done with digital books now.
"Maggot Moon" by Sally Gardner for example has many different features that give exclusive author content and enable the reader to experience reading the way a dyslexic person might.
Although digital work can enhance the experience it may be the a few years before parents (from our group at least) are buying them for their children as standard.
The evening ended finally at 9 p.m although we could probably have talked for longer. I do feel it wasn't exactly what we expected from the night. Many of us were hoping from that we'd be asked for more input into the type of books we would like to see published but I did find it very interesting nonetheless and a good opportunity to think from a publisher perspective for a change. I'm also impressed that Hot Key Books were passionate enough about what they do to ask for our input. It will be interesting to see whether any of our suggestions are taken on board and indeed if Hot Key found the evening useful.
We were all lucky enough to be able to choose several books to take home as a reward for our help and it was very hard to pick from all their marvelous titles. I finally took home
The Great Galloon by Tom Banks
Clockwise to Titan by Elon Dann
Maggot Moon by Sally Gardner
I think I and my son will enjoy reading them so a big thank you to everyone at Hot key Books for an interesting evening.