Today’s guest needs little introduction for those who have been around for even a short while, like myself, in the world of children’s literature. I am very happy to be interviewing the amazing Emma D. Dryden: New Yorker, encourager, editor extraordinaire, speaker, poet, and all around inspirational woman. Emma has over twenty-five years experience in the business of editing and publishing, having edited well over 500 children’s’ books during her career.
Emma started her career in children’s publishing at Viking and Random House, followed by a position with Margaret K. McElderry, whose eponymous imprint was a part of Macmillan Children’s Books. After McElderry retired, Emma was made Vice President, Editorial Director of McElderry Books, and in 2005, Vice President, Publisher of Atheneum Books for Young Readers and Margaret K. McElderry Books, imprints of Simon & Schuster Children’s Publishing, a position she held until May 2009. Authors and illustrators whom Emma has edited include Ellen Hopkins, Karma Wilson, Alan Katz, Lee Bennett Hopkins, and David Diaz.
This interview celebrates the second birthday of Emma D. Dryden’s editorial and consultancy company, drydenbks, launched on March 11, 2010. I have had the privilege of submitting my own work for editorial evaluation with drydenbks, and Emma’s capacity to inspire confidence and draw the best out of a manuscript and its author is transformational.
- When you were studying English and Poetry at Smith, how did you envisage your future?
[EDD] I expected to become an editor of children’s books and I hoped I might also become an author. My path seems to have been set in High School, where I took many art classes and devoured every English class I possibly could and where I wrote as much as I possibly could—poetry, plays, stories, essays, and the like (NOT including the requisite papers). My HS senior project was to write a children’s book based on a Greek myth—and what I discovered was that writing for children is darned hard! Once in college, I retained my love of language, literature, writing, and artwork, and thought the best way to use them all together would be either to write my own books or help authors create the best books they could. I determined I didn’t quite have the discipline needed to be an author and I also recognized my desire to help and interact with people, so I decided becoming an editor would be my very best path—and children’s books, specifically, seemed best suited to my own interests and personality.
- What has surprised/excited you most about drydenbks over the past two years?
[EDD] What’s surprised me the most (though I know it ought not to surprise me!) is the strength of the supportive community that exists within the children’s book industry. I put in nearly twenty-five years in the business before I started drydenbks and it’s the relationships I forged over that time, as well as the reputation I made for myself, that have come back to support and encourage my work at drydenbks every day. What’s excited me the most, I suppose, is how busy I am—there are many wonderful authors and illustrators seeking advice and guidance who are willing to invest in their careers to seek out what they need and I’m thrilled they’re coming to me and drydenbks.
- What inspired your memorable red drydenbks logo?
[EDD] My partner is an architect with tremendous perceptions of space, color, and graphics. One of the ways she diverted her attention away from my lay-off was to play around with the idea of my having my own imprint under my own name, keeping in mind my desire to have more red in my life (for more on this, see my blog post) and my need for a new business card that was all about me and no longer about a corporation—and she came up with the square red drydenbks logo. I love it!
- Can you tell us a little about your consultancy involvement in e-books and apps in children’s literature?
[EDD] I’m fascinated by all the opportunities being afforded children’s authors and illustrators in the digital arena and spend a lot of my time trying to learn all I can about eBooks and apps. So saying, this brought me to do some consulting with Ruckus Media Group, where I produced one of their apps, ANDREW ANSWERS by Alan Katz, and with eBook platform, uTales, where I’m currently a publishing consultant and leader of the Quality Editorial Panel that approves all of the English language books on the site. In addition, I’m acting as editor and publishing consultant with an eBook/POD publisher on some very special picture book projects—mum’s the word until the books are ready to launch! I’m thrilled to have my hand in some of these digital properties, as the experience helps me stay flexible, adept at different forms of editing, and cognizant about the significant differences between traditional book-making and digital book-making—and I am also a huge believer in the need for any kind of platform that delivers good books to young readers.
- What is the most rewarding part of your work (apart from sipping cocktails and chilling at conferences with your authors)?
[EDD] Don’t ever knock cocktails and chilling with authors! It’s fun, yes, and it’s also work—and it all serves to establish the necessary level of trust that must exist between authors and editors for them to do their very best work with one another. The drinking and schmoozing aside, the most rewarding part of my work is providing a safe place in which authors and illustrators can see their work and/or the marketplace with fresh eyes as well as generating renewed enthusiasm and instilling excitement in authors or illustrators who’ve been struggling with their work or careers, not knowing what to do or where to go next.
- Name a couple of benefits drydenbks has for you, apart from working in pajamas, over your previous work with Simon & Schuster.
[EDD] I don’t work in pajamas, but I don’t have to dress up as much as I used to either, which is comfortable and saves on dry cleaning expenses. Once I started to figure out how to discipline myself, I realized there are definitely huge benefits to being one’s own boss, to making one’s own hours, to determining what to charge (putting a value on your own work), and to deciding what work I will and won’t do based on my professional instincts. Another unexpected benefit drydenbks has allowed me is meeting a whole lot of people whom I never had a chance to meet when I was at S&S—besides meeting terrific new authors and illustrators, I’ve had a chance to meet and work with editors, designers, and marketers from lots of houses; start-up publishers; freelancers; agents; technology experts, and more. And, finally, a critical benefit drydenbks has given me is the ability to edit books organically; by this, I mean that I don’t need to keep a publisher’s goals, budgets, and mandates in mind when I work on a manuscript. Of course, I keep the market in mind, but the editing I’m doing now is more focused and more pure than it was when I was working for a large company—it’s the manuscript and my expertise, period. And that’s been wildly gratifying. My professional world has expanded in ways I never expected through the establishment of drydenbks.
- How has drydenbks changed you?
[EDD] drydenbks has made me more knowledgeable and more confident. I am far more knowledgeable about the broader field of publishing than I had a chance to be when I was focused solely on the goals and requirements of one company. Further, I’m more knowledgeable about myself—I have a far better and truer sense of my abilities and my worth as a professional than I did when I was at the mercy of a hierarchical and restrictive corporate structure. And that’s given me more confidence in myself as an editor, as a business woman, as an expert in my field. drydenbks has also made me more empathetic to authors and illustrators—as a freelancer myself, I know what it means to need to pay the bills, negotiate annual insurance coverage, deal with family matters, and try to find time through it all to work creatively. In fact, many of my consultations often touch on matters of life-family-work balance, insurance options, how to determine what to charge for one’s services, etc. It’s all been a fascinating outcome of establishing my own company and it’s given me a greater sense of self-sufficiency.
- What grammatical error bugs you the most when you are editing?
[EDD] I am a bug about punctuation, spelling, and grammar. I don’t pretend to know everything when it comes to grammar and punctuation (I so admire copy editors for having a handle on this!), but I do feel strongly that the way in which a manuscript is written and formatted is an author’s calling card, suggesting to the world how seriously and conscientiously the author takes their own work. To my mind, allowing a sloppy text make the rounds says the author isn’t taking enough care with their own work and I have to wonder, then, why should an agent or editor take care with their work? This is by no means to say that the content of an author’s work matters less than grammar and punctuation—not at all! The story and characters most definitely matter most and I can certainly see through messy punctuation or grammar to the potential of an author’s work. But overall, since you asked, I do feel strongly that taking care with the details of the presentation of their work can contribute to establishing an author’s reputation in the field as someone who is taking their work and the process seriously.
- Describe your workspace to us.
[EDD] I am lucky enough to live in the large New York City apartment in which I grew up. The building was built in 1929, with a small “maid’s room” behind the kitchen. My mom always wanted that room for her office (she was a writer and researcher), but the room never evolved beyond a storage area. After my mom died and I moved into the apartment, I always fancied the room might become a guest room or an office, but there was no need to rush to renovate it. My partner’s self-employed with her own architectural firm and had a fine set-up and routine going on—my lay-off put a big ol’ cramp in that, so the very day I came home laden with boxes of books, children’s book artwork, and children’s book-related toys and tchotchkes that had accumulated over twenty-three years in corporate offices, we started to envision how to renovate that room into an office. Living with an architect, you don’t just slap fresh paint on the walls and put up curtains and call it an office—oh, no! You sand and scrape, you re-set pipes, you re-finish floors, you scrape eighty years worth of (mostly lead) paint layers off doorframes to reveal the original steel frames, you get the radiator sand-blasted, and then you paint and decorate! We did it all ourselves over the course of several months—talk about self-sufficiency!— and it makes me proud to set foot in my office every day. While I don’t have pictures of the space to share, I have an album of photos of the amazing children’s book art that’s up on my walls at: https://www.facebook.com/media/set/?set=a.381234144095.158099.288029404095&type=3
- What’s up on your own writing front?
[EDD] I love to write and I struggle nearly every day with a desire to write and not writing! And I come up with brilliant excuses for not writing—no time, Facebook and Twitter, house cleaning, playing with the cat, editing another book, cooking dinner. I decided to keep a blog (http://emmaddryden.blogspot.com/) as a means to exercise my writing chops in a way that’s more public than keeping a journal—and I don’t post nearly as often as I’d like. I have lots of tidbits of ideas and prompts for stories and poems; I just need to discipline myself to put other authors’ work aside for a little while to focus on my own. I trust that time will come when that time is meant to come.
- You seem to have your hand in so many different pieces of kidlit pie and you have consulted on over 150 projects in 2011. Emma, tell us, are you still regularly taking on new clients? And are you doing any SCBWI presentations/workshops over the next few months, which might be of interest to us?
[EDD] I do take on new clients all the time. Once I receive a submission package that meets all of the drydenbks submission guidelines (posted on my website at http://www.drydenbks.com/services.html), I require several weeks to determine whether and/or how I might be of the best possible service to that author or illustrator and their work, at which time I submit a declination or a proposal that outlines the scope of the work, the fee, and the proposed schedule for completion.
I’m on the Board of Advisors for SCBWI and am a huge fan of the organization. Even though I don’t acquire books for publication through these conferences, I continue to speak at various regional conferences and the national conferences about what’s going on in the technological landscape, best practices, and the craft of writing. This year I’m scheduled to speak at the New York Metro chapter on April 3; the Canada East Retreat & Conference on June 8-10; the 41st Annual Summer Conference on August 6-12; I’ll be skyping through to the Big Sky(Montana) Fall Retreat on September 28-30; and am making plans to join in the Missouri Fall Conference on November 3. I may be attending a couple more SCBWI conferences this year and I’m also discussing the possibility of joining another freelance editor to run a week-long writers retreat in October. I guess I’m busy!
- If you could spend the day with any children’s fictional character, with whom would that be?
[EDD] Fern Arable on her father’s farm, so I could spend time with her, Charlotte, Wilbur, and all the animals.
- What word do you think your friends would use to sum you up best?
[EDD] I think the word my friends would use to sum me up best might be “supportive” or “dedicated.” I think my clients might use the same words.
- Do you have time to read adult literature for pleasure? If yes, what genre?
[EDD] When I read adult literature, which isn’t often, I read fiction or memoir (the more quirky and/or dark the person’s life, the better). I am a closet true-crime fan and the more creepy the story, the better.
Emma, thank you so much for sharing a little about yourself and drydenbks today. So, a secret crime-reading DIY pro! Who would have known? I hope you can pull off that week-long writers retreat.
Happy Birthday, drydenbks! To your continued success!