In February the launch of a new children’s press was announced: Red Comet Press. Today we welcome the press’s founder Angus Yuen-Killick to tell us more…
Claire Storey: Angus, thanks so much for agreeing to answer some questions for World Kid Lit. We’re very excited to hear about a new children’s publishing company that will be regularly featuring translations. Could you tell us a bit about your new venture? What age groups will you be publishing for?
Angus Yuen-Killick: Hello Claire, thanks for your enthusiasm for my new venture. Red Comet Press, is the result of spending so much time in lockdown and reflecting on which new path to take at this point in my career. I have always admired my colleagues running their own independent presses and started my own publishing career at one many years ago in the UK. I am naturally entrepreneurial and felt compelled to take this step as the pandemic lockdown seemed the perfect moment to incubate a new project. I am blessed to have so much support from my husband, Mike, who is handling creative direction, production and marketing, and a raft of freelancers who work on royalties, bookkeeping, copyediting, contracts, social media, publicity etc. So many people have raised their hand to help, it has been very encouraging, and the Red Comet team is making it all possible. The focus of the publishing will be picture books, but I am also looking at some projects for older readers such as early chapter books and middle grade novels. I just need to land the right books that speak to me and I can see their potential. It may take time.
CS: You have been involved in several large publishing companies. What was the motivation in starting Red Comet?
AYK: As I rose through the ranks of corporate publishing, I found my days were more focused on strategy and management and my connection to the actual business of publishing books and working with authors, had diminished. So, it is with great enthusiasm that I travel back to a role where my responsibilities are on bringing books from creators to readers and shepherding them through all the various steps in between. Every decision has a related effect and the results of my work are so tangible. It’s won’t necessarily be a smooth ride, but at the end of the day, I will own whatever successes and failures I have created. That, I find very exciting and ultimately rewarding.
CS: Translations feature among your lead books and we understand you will continue to include translations moving forward. Is this a conscious decision to include texts in translation and if so, why do you feel this is important?
AYK: Yes, there is such a hidden wealth of books being created around the world that the English audience is not exposed to. Translation is the velvet curtain you pull aside to reveal gems from some incredibly talented authors and illustrators from other cultures. I am honoured to be one of those to pull back the curtain and share these books with an English-language audience. I hope to continue along this path and to find some projects from other corners of the globe, beyond the shores of Europe.
CS: Of your four translations, two are from Italy and two from France. How did you come across these books and what drove you to choose them as your lead books?
AYK: The lovely organizers at the Bologna Book Fair granted me access to their Global Rights Exchange website back in August 2020. I will say it took many hours of determined detective work to navigate and track down the titles. I requested and read a lot of pdfs of books. After sitting with each of the four books I acquired, I developed a clear vision of how each of them could work well in our market. Some of the smallest editorial changes can make a world of difference when adapting a book for the English market. Luckily, I had the blessing of all the publishers and creators to do the necessary work to bring them to the audience in the right way, with the right modifications for an English audience.
CS: I see from your website that you translated two of the books yourself. How does that experience differ from when you are hiring a translator to do the job?
AYK: As a fairly competent Italian speaker, I was excited to use my skills, but, as you know, translating the text is only the first step. Making the text sing for an English audience is the other critical part of the process. One of my books, Cat and Dog, has only 32 words, but it took hours of deliberation to land on the best 32 words for the English edition. Who knew there were so many options for seemingly simple pairs of adjectives? It just speaks to the creative writing challenge that translation presents.
The Secret of the Magic Pearl, came with a beautiful English translation by Christopher Turner. Most of the editorial work on that book was focused on some of the details which I felt needed tightening up and some reorganizing of the pages and expanding out the gorgeous illustrations by Iacopo Bruno. I worked with a freelance editor and the author on the text, and my creative director and I worked on the design and layout. Our edition conforms more to our market expectations where, for example, such things as a contents page at the back of a book are not customary, so it appears in the frontmatter.
But even with that book, I am taking some risks. It is long for the picture book format (92 pages) and has about 8,000 words, but I wanted to give as much real estate to the illustrations as possible. So much of the storytelling is visual and I couldn’t bring myself to constrict it in this edition. Hopefully it will stand out and be embraced by readers, despite its unusual length. It fits well with the other books on my list which are all great for reading aloud and sharing with children.
CS: Do you have plans to look beyond Europe for future translations? If so, are there any additional challenges when searching for new books outside of the main European languages? If not, what are the sticking points that might prevent this?
AYK: I am dying to get to Bologna and Frankfurt to meet with publishers and reps from Europe and beyond. That has been the main challenge to finding new titles. I need to work my relationships with agencies, especially in Asia, where I am unable to read the texts myself. I already have my feelers out and contacts on the lookout for me, so we’ll see what comes my way and strikes the right chord.
CS: In your press release, it mentions that two of the books will be optimised to be streamed online as read-aloud animated storybooks. Could you tell us a bit about this? Do you see this as an area of potential growth for picture books?
AYK: I’m working with Vooks.com. They are an online streaming channel featuring picture books adapted into short videos with gentle animation, sound effects, music and narration. They reach over 1.3 million families and teachers, so it is a great way to expose my titles to a large audience. I’m all for reaching out to audiences wherever they are consuming media and sharing great storytelling and art. I think it is complementary to our book publishing efforts. It’s a great promotional opportunity and the videos of my books are timed to release just prior to the on sale of the physical books, which should help with pre-orders. So, from acquisitions to sales and marketing, I have my sleeves rolled up and am ready for this September and October when my titles go on sale.
CS: Angus, thank you so much for talking to us and all the best with your new venture. We’re excited to
see what comes next!
AYK: I shall be sure to share! Thanks for the great questions.
Cat & Dog by Tullio Corda, translated by Taylor Barrett Gaines [French / France]
Before We Sleep by Giorgio Volpe and Palo Proietti, translated by Angus Yuen-Killick [Italian / Italy]
Mister Fairy by Morgane de Cadier and Florian Pigé, translated by Angus Yuen-Killick [Italian / Italy]
The Secret of the Magic Pearl by Elisa Sabatinelli and Iacopo Bruno, translated by Christopher Turner [French / France]