Emma D. Dryden is the owner of drydenbks LLC, a premier children’s editorial and publishing consultancy firm she founded after twenty-five years as a highly regarded editor and publisher. She consults with authors, illustrators, agents, editors, publishers, start-ups, and app developers. Emma has edited over 1,000 books for children and young readers, many of which hit national and international bestseller lists and received numerous awards and medals, including the Newbery Medal, Newbery Honor, and Caldecott Honor.
Brooke McIntyre: How does your background as a publisher and editor shape your approach to editorial consulting today?
Emma D. Dryden: My background as an editor is in direct correlation to what I do today as a consulting editor—assessing manuscripts and making editorial suggestions with a deep focus on craft, character development, plotting, world building, dialogue, and more. I’ve found my background as a publisher has set me apart from a lot of consulting editors and has allowed me to consult with authors, illustrators, agents, and publishers about the overall marketplace, about shaping an editor’s or publisher’s list, about contracts and finances, about how to create a strong, supportive work environment, about balancing work and life goals, and much more. Having been a publisher has enabled me to expand my drydenbks business in ways I hadn’t expected. Editorial work taps my creative side; publishing work taps my business side—and I very much enjoy combining both sides when the opportunity arises in my drydenbks consulting work.
BM: As you know, Inked Voices is home to online writing groups and partnerships. What advice do you have for writers helping other writers with revisions?
EDD: It’s critical for authors to understand and respect another author’s own way of writing and revising—every author has her or his own process, which is likely to be different from any other author’s process. Additionally, authors’ writing and revisions processes are likely to change from one project to another. So saying, it’s important for authors in the position of critiquing another author’s work to stay cognizant of that author’s vision and process as they make comments or suggestions. Too often in peer groups of writers I’ve witnessed authors (sometimes subconsciously, sometimes consciously) try to impose how they would write or revise the manuscript onto another author’s process and this can be extremely detrimental and unhelpful to the revision process.
I urge members of writing groups to lay out guidelines for how everyone’s going to offer criticism, feedback, and suggestion—and to revisit these guidelines frequently to ensure authors are getting what they need out of the group dynamic. One “rule” I like to establish when I’m part of a writing or critique group is for the author whose work is being discussed to remain quiet as people are providing feedback so as to really take it what’s being said or asked or suggested. Once everyone’s offered insights and impressions of the work (including posing questions or concerns), then the author can have their chance to respond. I’ve seen this be a successful way for authors to actually hear and process what’s being said otherwise, authors can feel the need to answer questions right away or explain themselves or what they meant and they’re so busy doing this, they don’t actually take in helpful feedback.
There will be times when authors aren’t far enough along in their writing or revision process to be sharing their work in a group. (I am NOT a fan of authors sharing parts of first drafts or entire first drafts in critique groups—and I’ll discuss this during the webinars). At these times, sharing filled-out Character Interviews, filled-out World Building Interviews, and/or scene checklists (we’ll go over all of these in the webinars) in the group setting to hear feedback and input can be terrifically valuable to the writing and revision process.
BM: What suggestions do you have for writers identifying which freelance editors might be a good fit for them?
EDD: Just as writers need to research agents before they query or submit to agencies, so too writers should be researching freelance or consulting editors/editorial services. I would urge authors who are seeking to publishing children’s books of any kind to focus on working with freelance or consulting editors who have a background and expertise in editing children’s books. There are a lot of us out there now and we each have our own backgrounds, pricing, schedules of availability, interests, submission policies, and so on. If a writer feels it would be helpful to work with a freelance or consulting editor—or if they’ve been encouraged to do so by an agent or editor—follow up by doing research, looking through websites and LinkedIn, getting recommendations, and so forth. You’re going to be spending your time and money—so you need to feel it’s going to be the right fit for you and your work.
BM: What advice might you share with the writer in the trenches who is beginning to feel stuck and discouraged after multiple revisions to their work?
EDD: If an author’s been revising and revising the same manuscript and is feeling stuck, the number one best thing the author can do is put that manuscript away for several months and write something else. The danger of feeling stuck in the revision process is that authors can start to really hate their manuscript and resent the revision process. To avoid reaching that point, I urge authors to embrace the importance of taking time away from their manuscript in order to let the subconscious mind take over for a while; with distance can come clarity, which usually enables authors to return to their work with fresh eyes and renewed passion.
If an author’s spinning her or his wheels with revisions, I will often suggest taking oneself away from the actual manuscript in order to do some new character interviews and writing exercises—these are methods of revision related to the work and tools to keep authors writing in fresh ways. In the webinars, I will be sharing some writing exercises that can be used if authors are feeling stuck in this way. Sometimes getting away from an actual manuscript for a while is the best way to find the way back into that same manuscript.
BM: As an editor, how do you know when a work is done?
EDD: That’s always an extremely hard question to answer. From my perspective as an editor, if the author’s done significant big picture “quantum leap” revisions to the point where neither the author nor I have any lingering questions or doubts pertaining to the action plot and emotional plot, character development, world building, dialogue, and so on—and if the author’s done revisions to attend to small details such as word choice, cleaning up any repetition, going over grammar and punctuation, and so on—then I’d say the manuscript is probably as ready as it’s going to be for the next step, which would probably be submission to agents.
One thing I see quite a bit in my work is authors feeling their manuscript’s “ready” to submit, but they’re actually having some doubts about something or other in the manuscript which they’re hoping agents “won’t notice” or that “won’t matter.” What does this mean? The manuscript is not ready to submit. Authors need to follow and honor their instincts. If an author has any doubts or questions whatsoever about some aspect of a character or a scene or anything else, then the author does herself and the work a great disservice if she doesn’t back up, slow down, and go back in to figure out what’s bothering them and how they need to fix the manuscript to dispel those doubts or questions.
Jessica Murray is a poet and children's writer. Her poetry collection Singing Without Melody is forthcoming from Galileo Press in spring 2022, and her poems are featured in journals such as AGNI Online, Barrow Street, The Cortland Review, Free State Review, Hampden-Sydney Poetry Review, and Memorious. A member of Inked Voices and SCBWI, by day she works in higher education, non-profit, and educational media production spaces.