Allie Spencer’s Route to Publishing Via Winchester Writers’ Festival

allie-spencer[1]I always wanted to be a writer and, whether it was university essays, short stories or legal pleadings (I’m a lawyer by trade) I have always put pen to paper in one form or another. The idea of writing a novel, though, was rather daunting. As someone who read a lot of novels, it was probably inevitable that sooner or later I would have a go but…well…they’re quite big, aren’t they? And don’t they take a long time to write? Then, after a bit of research, I discovered that all people initially want to see of your novel are three chapters and a synopsis – and that instantly seemed a lot more manageable. So, with an idea in mind and a rough synopsis beside me, I booted up the laptop, opened a new Word document and typed ‘Chapter One’ at the top of the page.

Writing the novel was easier than I’d imagined. The flaw was that once I’d finished it, no-one seemed to like it. In fact, after the blood and – literal – tears sweated over it, the poor thing was roundly rejected by every single agent in the country. One publisher did ask to see the full manuscript but, after due and weighty consideration, they rejected it too. However, I’d been well and truly bitten by the bug and I duly began Book Two. Around this time, I heard about an event in Winchester called a ‘Writers’ Conference’ (now the Festival of Writing). Here, I was told, you could not only attend classes and workshops but you had the opportunity of pitching your work directly to agents and publishers. I signed up for a Saturday session and the most extraordinary things began to happen. I saw an agent and an editor who were both very enthusiastic about Book Two. Crucially, this gave me the confidence I needed to press on, get it finished and begin the submission process all over again. This time, the outcome was completely different: twelve months later, I had secured an agent and, the year after that, I had a two book deal. tug-of-love-150x243 ‘Tug of Love’ – formerly known as Book Two – went on to win the Romantic Novelists’ Association award for the best debut and was shortlisted for the prestigious Melissa Nathan Award for Comedy Romance.

The Winchester Writers’ Festival, though, is about more than publishing deals. Being an author is a lonely life and it is all too easy to let doubts creep in about your work or for you to feel isolated and unsupported in what is a highly competitive industry. Coming to Winchester allows you to be part of a writing family; a family where people want the best for you and will do what they can to help you succeed. Each Festival I have attended – whether as a delegate or, later, as a tutor – allowed me to come away recharged and enthusiastic. It is about meeting kindred spirits, finding your tribe and, most importantly, it is one of the best ways I can imagine to get your writing journey off to a flying start.




Hot Key Books Submissions


About Hot Key Books

Hot Key Books is a division of Bonnier Publishing, publishing books for 9 – 19 year olds. We started publishing in 2012.

We publish stand out, quality fiction that people like to talk about.

Many of us come from a background of traditional publishing, looking to do things a little differently, focusing on top-notch author care and actually talking to readers who love books just as much as we do.

Who Are Hot Key?




Having fun

Book lovers

A Good Publisher Gives You



An audience


A happy feeling



Pitches internally

Edits, works closely with authors

Promotes internally

Bottom line:

Starts the process


Concepts the cover

Commissions the cover

Company/imprint branding

Typography, inside & out

Bottom line:

Makes it look good


Negotiates pricing

Deals with special effects

Manages scheduling and logistics

Bottom line:

Makes it real


Involved in acquiring

Builds list of pre-readers (bloggers/media)

Commissions promotional materials

Books events, especially festivals

Bottom line:

Spreads the word


Works with retailers

Gets books into store

All around the world

Manages stock

Bottom line:

Puts it where readers can get it


Pulls together all the costs

Makes recommendations

Bottom line:

Keeps us all in line


Not a separate department

Infused into everything

Blurs the lines between all the departments

Bottom line:

The saviour of (some) publishers


Thinking about submitting? Great! First, make sure your manuscript is amazing. Then, send it in full to us at Please include a full synopsis too! We don’t mind what format files are sent to us in (although we prefer Word and PDF) but please note that we only accept electronic submissions. We will always try to get back to you within three months.