Nurturing the Next Generation
Developing the next generation of picture book illustrators is part of the mission of Red Cygnet Press. They provide an opportunity for a select group of students to become published author/illustrators while still in school. They act to nurture students along the path from idea to publication. The name, Red Cygnet, was chosen for the “ugly duckling” to beautiful swan image of the baby swan, a cygnet, that grows through proper nurturing to become an elegant adult swan. Red stands for luck but also for passion and creativity.
Founder Bruce S. Glassman graciously answered questions about Red Cygnet Press and their work with student illustrators. More information can be obtained at the Red Cygnet Press website.
What sparked your desire to found Red Cygnet Press?
I had been in children's publishing for nearly 25 years, but in the nonfiction series end. My previous company, Blackbirch Press, was founded by me and my parents, who were both artists. Blackbirch was a very visually oriented company, with great focus on design and imagery. I had worked with illustrators numerous times, but hadn't had an opportunity to really develop brand new projects. Red Cygnet offered me that opportunity.
Was this something you had been thinking about for some time?
Yes. The concept was brewing for about five years or so. Entering the children's picture book arena is not an easy thing to do--there is a great deal of competition, especially for small independent companies who must do battle with the Simon & Schusters, the Vikings, and the other big players. I knew we had to have something unique, that would set us apart--other than the excellent quality of our illustrations and texts. It occurred to me that working with art students would offer us access to a highly energized, young, and creative population. They are immersed in their art and feel this opportunity is a dream come true. They are dedicated, hardworking, and willing to do whatever is asked of them to make their project a success. This is "gold" for a publisher. In addition, we get the excellent satisfaction of knowing we have "discovered" a new talent and have provided recognition to one of America’s next generation of deserving children's illustrators.
Can you explain the process of selecting the projects, which you eventually publish? When we get all the submissions in (we average two deadlines per year), my co-founder, Joshua Gravin, and I sort through all of them. We evaluate each project on five basic criteria, applying each to manuscript and to the illustrations. For manuscripts, we consider the concept, storyline, the actual writing, age appropriateness, and marketability. We judge the illustrations for style, perspective, uniqueness, age appropriateness, and marketability. The submissions that score the best are passed along to an advisory committee, made up primarily of other publishing professionals from varying backgrounds. Together, we all come to consensus on which are the winners.
What made the proposals you eventually chose stand out? Are there specific qualities that you are looking for when you review proposals?
We realize that most of our submittors are illustrators first, and writers second. All illustrators are free to partner with someone else—a writer, for example--but we do require all submissions to be both a draft manuscript and sample illustrations. We don't expect the texts to be perfect, but we do look for storylines and concepts that can be developed into truly special tales. We also look for unique story ideas, especially those with unpredictable twists. The one thing that is a "must" is a great illustration style. That can't be developed. It’s either there, or it isn't.
How difficult was it to select the winning proposals? Was there a disparity in quality that made the choices easy?
It’s often very difficult to make our final selections--there are so many truly talented young people out there. For our first list, for example, we could only choose 12 projects out of a field of more than 120 submissions. But the rigorous selection process really helps us to define what exactly it is that makes a book "special."
There is some disparity, sure, in the quality of submissions. I’d say about 35% of all the ones that come in are easily rejected right away. Many of these have only one side of the equation--either a good story and terrible illustrations, or the other way around.
If a student or Art program is interested in developing a proposal, what steps do they need to take?
Many of our submissions come from students in book illustration programs or have been referred by professors in illustration departments. These are folks that have already learned something about what makes up a good children's book.
If you're not already involved in some sort of book training, I would say that a key step in the process is to immerse yourself in reading, analyzing, and enjoying children's books. See what others have done. Think about the elements that make one book great in your opinion. Go to blogs and become part of the discussion. Go to the ALA web sites or find the books that have won Caldecotts in the past.
When you're ready to submit, go to www.redcygnet.com. We have all our guidelines and instructions up at our
What kind of support do you offer students as they develop proposals?
We don't really offer too much support to people before they submit. We do offer critical feedback to proposals we feel are promising but not quite there yet. We encourage those people to make some changes and re-submit in the next round.
What kind of support do you offer students whose proposals have been selected? Does this vary from student to student? What kind of support did you find most students need in the process?
We offer a great deal of support to each student as he or she develops the actual book. The amount of support does vary a good deal--according to each artist's skills and previous studies. On the text side, we often provide lengthy and detailed memos about structure and character development, as well as ways in which to "hone" an appealing message. On the illustration side, we often have to work with the artists to focus them on heightening drama and interest through the use of perspective. We also provide a good deal of art direction as each piece is composed.
On the nuts and bolts side, we must also communicate all the mechanical specifications we need in order to create files that a book printer can use. We need certain resolutions, certain dimensions, and certain compositions that don't interfere with the gutter, for example, or fall off the edge of the page when the book is trimmed.
Do you maintain publishing relationships with authors or illustrators you have published? ---will you publish a second or third book?
We do maintain relationships, especially after the books are published. Our authors are key partners in the marketing of their books. They are integral to their book's success and are one of our greatest sales and marketing resources.
Our primary mission, however, is to provide the "first big break" for our authors. Hopefully, we help them launch real careers for themselves. If this works, they will inevitably be working for other companies, which is fine. We are not very focused on doing second or third books with our authors. That being said, there is an occasional project that develops as a potential series. In these cases, we would be working on subsequent books with that author/illustrator.
What are your plans for the future?
It is our hope that each year we can increase our list and offer more contracts to more students. In February, we will have four more titles releasing. For fall 2007, we are planning on 15 new titles.
We would like to see red cygnet become a part of every serious illustration department in America. We know that some professors are already mentioning our program to their students as part of their teaching, and many of these referrals are yielding great submissions. It would be great if all aspiring children's illustrators could end their studies by submitting. That way, they could feel that beginning a career in publishing right out of school can be more than a pipe-dream, it can really happen--and we can offer that chance.
Reviews of Red Cygnet Press Picture Books