Cicada Books is an award winning independent publisher based in London, UK. Specializing in stunning and unique books for children, including activity books, picture and non-fiction, their books are highly sought and convey wonderful messages. The illustrations in each book are beautifully chosen and have a huge impact on the story or information within the pages. I was so pleased to be given the opportunity to send some questions to Ziggy Hanaor, the Managing Director of Cicada Books.
Ziggy Hanaor, Managing Director of Cicada Books
Ziggy's responses are fantastic and provide a proper insight into the publishing world of Cicada Books and their upcoming titles. I have been lucky enough in the past to be sent some of their books to read and review and I can highly recommend them all. Ziggy uses the following three words to describe Cicada Books, “Handsome, Subversive and Engaging”.
Learning about indie publishers is fascinating as they need to think differently to the larger publishers, offer more unique books and be aware of their brand as they look at submissions, authors and illustrators. Asking Ziggy about 'standing out from the crowd', she had this to say,
“I don’t think it’s a conscious decision to stand out from the crowd. I really love edgy, emerging illustration styles, and I’m always on the lookout for illustrators that have a very distinctive voice. Once we’ve found a way of working together, the books stand out quite naturally because they don’t look like the other books on the shelves. Also, we work with some great printers, and we spend a lot of time thinking about how the books will feel, so hopefully that helps them to stand out too.”
As a smaller publisher, Ziggy and Cicada Books choose to publish 10-12 books each year and I was curious about the number of submissions they receive and how they make those all-important decisions about what to publish. “Submissions seem to come in waves, but we usually get two or three per week. I will always look at the stuff that comes through and try to respond (though it does get busy, so sometimes I don’t). It’s hard to say what I’m looking for. I think if you look at the Cicada website, there is an aesthetic that comes through. Even though the illustrators are all working in different mediums with very different voices, there is a certain approach, which is non-traditional, edgy, but also warm and humorous that they all share. That’s what I’m looking for, and although that sounds quite vague, I always know it when I see it!"
That last sentence, “I always know it when I see it” speaks volumes about Ziggy, her knowledge and trusting her publisher instinct. However, Ziggy wasn’t always a publisher- “I actually started my career as a script editor in television drama. I felt quite frustrated by the corporate-ness of the editorial processes – a lot of cooks involved! I therefore took a career step sideways (or downwards if we’re talking financially) into publishing. I worked for a small independent company called Black Dog Publishing, in which we had zero budgets, but a huge amount of creative control. It was maddening and brilliant in equal measure. While I was at Black Dog I commissioned a couple books that did really well. So when I was pregnant with my first child, I had the idea that setting up my own company would be a way of earning some money and working on my own terms. It’s been a long journey with many painful lessons that I’ve learned on the way, but I don’t regret it for a minute. The freedom to commission and invest in stories and artists that I believe in is a privilege that I am grateful for every day.”
Cicada Books have a huge focus on the illustrative side of picture books. The stories are important, of course, but “Illustration is at the heart of what we do at Cicada. We find talented people on the blogs and on Instagram – and sometimes the graduate shows, and then try to find a story to work up together. Sometimes we develop stories that they generate, and sometimes we work with a pool of in-house writers to create a narrative that that suits their style. But it’s absolutely an illustrator-led process.”
The current catalogue can be viewed from the Cicada Books Website (cicadabooks.co.uk) and there are some stunning books to look forward to this season. I am particularly keen to read Atlas of Amazing Architecture by Peter Allen, publishing October 2020. Ziggy is looking forward to “Pocket Chaotic – that’s a really silly story about a kangaroo joey whose mum is always shoving rubbish in her pocket, illustrated by Daniel Gray-Barnett. Another funny one will be Bartholomew and the Morning Monsters, which is about a boy who struggles to get himself ready in the morning. That one is by a young Irish illustrator called Ruan van Vliet, whose work just cracks me up.”
With plenty to look forward to from Cicada Books, I am pleased to have had the chance to get to know Ziggy and her team better through this interview.
Article and interview by Erin Hamilton