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Publisher Profile: Red Comet Press

The CBC asks Angus Yuen-Killick, founder of Red Comet Press, questions about the publisher.

How did your publishing house start out?

Red Comet Press was conceived during the first year of the pandemic. I had spent 30 years in corporate children’s publishing and had long harbored a desire to have my own independent publishing company. It seemed that at my stage in my career it was time to jump off the diving board or I’d never get in the water. Luckily the water was warm, and I have enjoyed every minute swimming around. The biggest surprise is the support from friends and colleagues, many of whom just want to be involved with an exciting new project. There are so many people who just wish this venture well and do anything they can to help. It’s truly humbling.

What is your publishing house most known for?

Thus far, we are known for books in translation, especially from Europe, but we are slowly transitioning to a balance whereby we originate books with authors and illustrators ourselves. 

Where in the country is your house based? What do you love about being based there?

We are based out of our brownstone home in Brooklyn. The parlor floor serves as the offices. It’s everything you imagine a movie set of a small publishing house in Brooklyn might look like, mess and all. And books everywhere, of course. No cameras and crew though, just us pounding away on our keyboards. 

What conventions and conferences does your publishing house usually attend?

Institutional sales are the backbone of our sales, so we made a commitment to attend the Texas Library Association and American Library Association conventions from the outset, taking our own booths. We use a third-party marketing firm Publisher’s Spotlight who exhibits our books at several other conferences such as NCTE, NCSS, NAEYC, etc. So far, the strategy seems to be right on track and the feedback is encouraging. We also take a booth at the Brooklyn Book Festival. It’s the only consumer event we do, but it is in our backyard, so deserves our support. 

How many books does your house aim to publish per season/year?

We are publishing about 20 titles a year. That output is pretty much our maximum, at least at current staffing levels. The idea is not to get too big. We want to be intimately involved in bringing every book to market. That way, we can give the care and attention each project deserves. 

Which genres does your house prefer to publish?

We are very visually driven and are pretty much focused on illustrated storytelling serving readers aged 0-12 years. We have a strong commitment to books in translation and have published authors from France, Italy, Germany, Ukraine, Togo, Algeria, and we have a title from Japan planned for 2024. We are moving towards a balance whereby about 50% of the list will be originated by us and 50% in translation. We are fortunate to work with both newcomers and some marquee names in children’s publishing. It is another testament to those who want to be involved and connected to our venture. 

Which formats does your house prefer to publish?

While most of our books are picture books, we do have an imprint, Little Comet, devoted to board books and novelty titles for preschoolers. We started slowly as the printing and shipping costs were so high for these lower-priced titles during the pandemic. So far, we have only published a couple of titles, but they are both selling extremely well. One of them, Tummy Time! is the bestselling title on our list with 30,000 copies in print. 

What are some of your house’s publishing priorities over the next few years?

It takes about 5 years to incubate a new publishing company and reach profitability, so the stability of the business is our primary goal. Despite facing a number of challenges that the pandemic presented, we are on a fast track and our we are making healthy strides in the right direction. Publishing is a long game, and we constantly embrace that philosophy with the decisions we make. We are impatient, but also patient at the same time. Essentially, we are trying to pull all the levers we can, but also know there are many factors at play that affect the sales arc of any individual title and you can only control so much – and the rest is luck, serendipity and being opportunistic. It’s a matter of making lots of little decisions that hopefully add up to a solid and strong business model. 

Which title has your house recently rallied behind?

We are really excited about 101 Ways to Read a Book which is a delightful gift book for any lover of books and reading. It is by two prominent children’s book creators from France, who are paired together for the first time. It is irresistible in its sophisticated humor and charming illustrations. Plus, I team translated it with translator Karin Snelson – and as tricky as it was, we had the best time working together. We didn’t want it to end! It is our lead title for the coming Fall 2023 season. 

Which upcoming titles is your house buzzing about?

We have worked very hard on a book called Extinctopedia. It is an oversize 64-page picture book illustrated in the style of 19th Century naturalists. Not only did we have to handle the challenges of translation (from Italian), but we put it through multiple rounds of scientific review and now are able to publish it under the Smithsonian Institution name. The book is about extinct animals and animals that are at risk of extinction. It is a wonderful introduction to the topic for middle grade readers and includes a strong call to action for animal conservation. I have learned so much from working on it, and I think it is extremely timely as so many of our animals are in crisis.  

We are also buzzing about Mist, an exciting award-winning historical novel by Marta Palazzesi, for middle grade readers, and The Great Grrrrr is getting some early love from booksellers and reviewers. It is about a very impatient delivery monster who has a complete meltdown in the middle of the book when the homeowner is not at home to receive a small package. It is operatic in its expressive illustrations and drama. Nothing there for a child to relate to!

Which of your frontlist titles would be great for a classroom? Which grade?

Be Thankful for Trees by Harriet Ziefert has been chosen as the core text for a new Kindergarten curriculum unit that rolls out in the 2024 school year. It will get massive distribution as the curriculum is adopted by thousands of public schools across 47 states! We should see sales start to pick up in about a year’s time. 

Which of your frontlist tiles would be great for an at-home library?

Who can resist the topic of pet adoption? The Rescues: Finding Home, by Tommy and Charlie Greenwald, is about two shelter dogs – one with one eye, the other with three legs – waiting to find their forever home. Not only is it delightful storytelling, but, as an early reader, is pitch-perfect for those kids just starting to read on their own . . .  and any child who has a pet or wants a pet! The illustrations by Shiho Pate will have you rooting for these adorable misfit characters.

Name a few of your favorite backlist titles that people should check out.

The Secret of the Magic Pearl was on our first list and is a wonderful fully illustrated novel set in Italy for middle grade readers. It has sold very well for us. The storytelling is magical and evocative of an imagined fishing village on the coast. We are working with the author, Elisa Sabatinelli, on a new novel that she is writing in Italian for us. The process is enjoyable as it stretches my skills in Italian. I lived in Rome in the 1980s and still retain a decent fluency. 

The Most Important Thing is a classic in Italy, published over 25 years ago. I felt strongly it deserved to be introduced to English audiences. It carries a universal message of peace and tolerance for young readers with rhythmic predictive text and giggle-inducing illustrations. 

The Gustav & Henri graphic novels are just brilliant slapstick hilarity told with dynamic two-color illustrations. Each book is three stories featuring Gustav, a pig, and Henri, a dog. They are the most unlikely of friends, and their adventures are completely nutty and fun.  

What else would you like to tell us about your house and the amazing work you all do?

I’m just proud of the variety of projects we are working on. We have quite a line-up of non-fiction coming soon. Some of it based on U.S. historical figures who deserve to be better known. We really want to bring books to readers that have multi-layered storytelling. 

We also have a book from Newbery medalist, Linda Sue Park, illustrated by two-time Caldecott medalist, Chris Rasckha. It’s a poem about the love of books and reading and we hope it becomes a treasured tome itself. Although not considered an advanced reading technique, I subvocalize when I read  –   and so, every book we publish must literally sing, especially when it is read out loud. That’s how I know if it meets the mark for Red Comet Press.

Thank you, Red Comet Press!

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