Porter Anderson meets Sara O'Connor

Porter Anderson meets Sara O'Connor

An American in London, Sara O’Connor is a transplant to Sarah Odedina’s Hot Key Books from New York’s Little Brown Books for Young Readers.

And O’Connor is making her mark fast: not only is she one of our newly named Rising Stars but she also won the innovative-use-of-data category competition in The Bookseller’s FutureBook Hack last month.

She’s also quite devoted to young people’s literature, I found.

“Children’s fiction is the best part of the industry,” she told me. “Most of the huge books come from our (Hot Key Books’) age groups: Harry Potter, Twilight, Hunger Games, The Fault in Our Stars. Plus, there’s a lot less pretension.

“And talking to young people about stories and the books and authors they love is so thrilling,” she said. “They’re so passionate and committed and so vocal about their opinions.

“And every time we publish a book that people like to talk about, I know I have done a good thing. It’s a bit of an addiction, really, watching stats go up on a hashtag, people favouriting our tweets, commenting on the blog. Each one is a little more validation that we are doing it right.”

Because her focus has become online community work, I asked her if community-building isn’t the real strength of the digital world:

She was referring there to the speed and enticements of the Internet realm:




O’Connor notes the relentless effort such work can seem to require: “You’ve got to constantly work at it,” she told me, to hold an audience – “or you lose. It’s a science…You’ve really got to think about your audience at all times with a community. Habits, wants, needs.”

There’s nowhere a good grasp of community management might be more severely tested than at Allen Lau’s Wattpad, the 25-million-member writing-and-reading platform. And that’s where O’Connor has taken Hot Key Books’ new Young Writers Prize for “unagented, unpublished writers aged 18 to 25 who write novels for teens.”

The competition is open worldwide to writers working in English and submission is accomplished by uploading a manuscript onto Wattpad. The deadline is 16 August, and details are at HotKeyBlog.com

Meanwhile, O'Connor has a hand in so many projects at once that:

That's the author Fleur Hitchcock, who was doing a writing session with young readers for O'Connor on the day we did our #PorterMeets interview -- for the TheStoryAdventure.com. As O'Connor explained:




Hitchcock was in the first Story Adventure cycle in January 2013, and the resulting book, Shrunk! Mayhem and Meteorites, is out from Hot key Books. O'Connor sees this program as one of the best uses of online outreach because it connects children with authors' creativity:




O'Connor has a good mix of experience and interests for this work. "I've always been on an editorial career path," she says, "playing around with technology and communities on the side. In 2010, I set up a children's book editor online community just for fun, and learned loads about community science and connecting with people in meaningful ways. When Hot Key was forming, I was able to bring editorial knowledge, a track record of successful books, plus a vision for how a publishing company could build a brand in the digital space by community building." And the biggest example of what this can mean so far might be the groundswell of support building around nine-time novelist E. Lockhart's We Were Liars. O'Connor makes the point that this book's strong uptake is an example of online networking and its reach.




Endorsed by John Green and others in the YA space, We Were Liars is being made into a film and at this writing, the book is ranking at #213 in US Amazon's paid Kindle store, #141 in US Amazon books overall. Those are very good numbers. In the UK Amazon rankings, it's at #289 for paid Kindle titles, #216 in books overall, very comparable, very good. The book was released in mid-May in both the UK and US markets.

O'Connor says she's hopeful that something may develop from her "My Book Is Better Than Yours" project, which won the data-innovation category at FutureBook Hack. And even if the project, itself, doesn't have legs, she says:




And she won't be standing around in the meantime. As we leave, O’Connor is teasing us about yet another community effort coming, one that relates in some way to the 25-million-member mega-platform at Wattpad: