Discovering 'A Boy Called Hope'

How does a publisher find 'that book', the one that everyone falls in love with - and then make sure it becomes the most talked-about book around? Rebecca Hill, Usborne fiction director, talks about discovering Lara Williamson's A Boy Called Hope.

Rebecca writes, 'Finding your dream book is a bit like falling in love. Editors are sent dozens of manuscripts a week; we start reading these submissions in the hope that we'll find 'the one'.

Late on a Thursday afternoon back in April 2013, the brilliant literary agent Madeleine Milburn sent me an email entitled A Boy Called Hope. I opened it, read her glowing description of the manuscript she was submitting from a debut author, and decided that I needed to take a look at this one straight away. And it wasn't long after I started reading the manuscript, maybe just a few pages in, a chapter at the most, when I thought: 'This one is special'. I was enraptured and I couldn't stop reading. A smile spread across my face, warmth tingled through my heart and my head told me 'This is perfect'.

Just like falling in love, I became a bit obsessed. I couldn't think about much else. I wanted to tell everyone about this brilliant book. More importantly, I thought, this book has to be published by Usborne. A Boy Called Hope is heartbreaking and hilarious, a life-affirming first novel with a truly remarkable voice and a character who reaches out and touches your heart from the very first word. A seemingly simple story about one boy, his dreams and wishes, his fears and worries, a story about what makes the world go around - a story, I feel, that's just right for the world we live in today.

Luckily everyone on the acquisitions team felt the same: this is a thought-provoking book that you can't stop talking or thinking about. Of course, we weren't the only publisher who liked Lara's book and along with other houses we all met with the author and her agent to share our passion and to discuss our offer. I felt incredibly nervous but, helped by my colleagues Anna Howorth and Amy Dobson in marketing and PR, we showed Lara our ideas for how we would publish, position and market Lara's novel and explained why we - more than everyone else - were the perfect home for the book.

Our vision was that this was a middle-grade book aimed at 9+ readers but, like the best children's stories, it would stretch far above and beyond that - and this was something that really chimed with Lara. Our passion and dedication in wanting to tell everyone about the book formed the original idea for the marketing campaign, which focused on the idea of 'spreading a little Hope'. Our aim was to appeal to both middle-grade and cross-over (young adult) readers. We wanted people to read and love A Boy Called Hope as much as we do and encourage them to recommend the book to their friends and family.

Social media was vital to this grassroots campaign and the hashtag #ABoyCalledHope quickly filled up with amazing reader reviews, features and photos. The response has been phenomenal - generous authors saying online how much they love the book, Cathy Cassidy giving us a quote for the front cover, booksellers, librarians and Usborne staff all taking the time to 'spread the hope'.

Alongside the marketing and PR campaign, we were putting the final touches to the book. Every book needs an edit and there was one section that I felt Lara could spend more time on. We discussed this over tea and biscuits, and then, like the very best writers, Lara went away and delivered a second draft that was flawless - it felt as if it had always been written that way.

As for the book cover, our vision was always to do something childlike and hand-rendered; however, this concept developed when talking to retailers who felt that the universal appeal of the book should be reflected on the cover. We soon found ourselves stripping the look right back to its bare essentials. The designer, Elisabetta Barbazza, opted to render the powerful title in simple collage type, and then scattered the cover with the moon and stars, which reflect Dan's private hopes and dreams.

As an independent publishing house, we are so lucky to be able to fall in love with every book we buy and our list is filled with gems of every shape and size. In no time at all the finished copy of A Boy Called Hope made its way into my hands to join our collection of beloved books - the most rewarding moment for any editor.

There seems to be a brilliant number of moving, honest and funny books publishing at the moment, such as Clare Furniss's Year of the Rat and the YA book Trouble by Non Pratt. My wish is to see UK authors rise to the top of the charts and, beyond that, I hope everyone enjoys A Boy Called Hope as much as we all did.'

For more information on A Boy Called Hope and to read the first chapter extract go to:

18/03/2014Discovering 'A Boy Called Hope'
  • Add Your comment