Episode 15! Conversation with Emma Dryden


Welcome to episode fifteen of our kidlitwomen* podcast! Every week this podcast will feature an essay about an issue in the children's literature community (Monday) and a discussion about the essay (Wednesday). 

In this episode, Emma Dryden  discusses her essay "Determining Our Own Value & Worth: It's Valuable & Worth It!" (which can be heard in episode 14) with Shana Targosz.  Emma and Shana discuss the value we place on our work.

Read all the kidlitwomen* essays shared in March

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On today's podcast you will hear:


Before forming the editorial service Dryden books, Emmawas vice President, Publisher of Atheneum Books for Young Readers and Margaret K. McElderry Books, imprints of Simon & Schuster Children's Publishing, editing nearly 500 books over her 25 year long career. drydenbks, is a multi-faceted company pertaining to all aspects of the children’s book publishing business, including providsing editorial and creative services to children’s book authors,   illustrators, publishers, and agents. Emma is also the co-author of the award-winning WHAT DOES IT MEAN TO BE AN ENTREPRENEUR? published by Little Pickle Press in 2016. See more about Emma at her blog, "Our Stories, Ourselves" or her website drydenbks.com.



Shana Targosz is an author of middle grade fantasy. She is also an award-winning costume designer for theatre, opera, film, and television, working with companies such as Disney, MGM productions, and ABC Family. You can find out more about her at www.shanatargosz.com, or find her on twitter at @shanatargosz


Shana:                     I'm Shana [Targosz 00:00:00] talking with Emma Dryden about her essay, Determining Your Own Value & Worth: It's Valuable & Worth It! Emma, thank you for joining us today.

Emma:                     Thank you, Shana, glad to be with you. 

Shana:                     Now can you tell us why you wrote about this topic, and what do you hope people take away from your essay?

Emma:                     Sure. I was very involved with the women who started #kidlitwomen in March of this year. I was very eager to contribute a post. Lots of women were contributing posts and articles of all kinds to kind of just support women in publishing, or to address topics that concern women in publishing, particularly children's literature publishing. So I wrote this essay for that sort of initiative. But it's a topic, this valuing of ourselves, this determining our worth, it's a topic that's very close to me personally. I was hoping that by just laying out some very honest information about my own journey to figuring out how to put a value on my own work, that that might inspire or encourage other women who may be struggling with some of these same issues.

Shana:                     And it's definitely a very common struggle.

Emma:                     Yeah, it is.

Shana:                     And is there anything in your essay you fear people might misunderstand?

Emma:                     It's interesting. I do generalize a little bit about how women behave and how men behave when it comes to asking for what we want and things like that. So hopefully people will understand that I am generalizing, but I'm trying to base my comments on what I have experienced as a businessperson, as a woman, and hopefully people with blog posts like this always recognize that this is one person's point of view, and people will take from it what they feel they can.

Shana:                     Absolutely, your essay is deeply personal, and it goes into details of your experiences and that adversity you faced in the publishing industry. Was it difficult to write about these experiences?

Emma:                     Well, I have written before about being laid off, so that's easier to write about. And now, it's kind of a badge of honor at this point. The hardest thing to write about though was, I did wrestle with whether or not to include my actual salaries. And I do list the salary I started with, a salary that I ended up with, and I thought you know, "Goodness sakes. Why not?" This is the whole point, is if we can't talk ... You know, women have a hard time talking about money anyway, so I figured let me put it out there, because that also adds to the texture of what I'm talking about.

Shana:                     It does, and then I appreciate your honesty there, because it is something that we as women, we always think, "Oh, that's taboo. We can't know we're making." 

Emma:                     Right.

Shana:                     But I think it's because the inequity of pay that is in these industries.

Emma:                     Yes.

Shana:                     You said something that struck me at a very deep level, and I'm going to quote from your essay directly, "Putting a monetary value on ourselves is something women don't do at all well. We generally don't feel entitled. We generally don't feel like we can negotiate well enough. We generally feel we don't deserve something if we don't deserve it. We tend to agree, we tend to say yes more than we say no. And we tend to apologize when we ask for what we want." This is an all-too-common struggle for many women. What helped you subvert this way of thinking?

Emma:                     Yeah, it's so important. I think once I started my own company, drydenbks, I really had no choice. If I was going to go ahead and not just dabble and sort of edit a little bit here and there, but really try to make an income off of this, which I had to, and I just had to face those hurdles that women often have, where I realized I need to sort of put on my big girl pants and just be very clear about what I charge. And no, I'm not going to do something for free, and that kind of thing. 

Emma:                     So, the more I allowed my new business to really matter, and for me to understand that I needed to make this business successful, so that I could put some money into savings, so that I could pay the bills, so that I could remain a contributing member of my household, I needed to just face those common problems that women have and just get over it. Not easy, not always easy. But once I became more confident about the business and the work, and I was getting really positive response from clients and colleagues, that all helped me build my own confidence.

Shana:                     Yes, and that's something that you went into your essay as well, is that you started at one level and you went, "Oh, this is working, and I'm seeing that I need to raise my value."

Emma:                     Yeah, yeah.

Shana:                     And another section of your essay that spoke to me was this, and again I'll quote. "What defined my value and worth were my name, my expertise, and my reputation in the children's publishing industry. No one could take these away from me, and these were fully intact. My thinking shifted, my attitude shifted." And you went on to say this moment hit you when you saw the logo created by your partner [Ann Corvey 00:05:44]. Can you tell us more about that earthshaking moment?

Emma:                     Yeah, it was kind of great. My partner Ann is an architect, and so, she has a very good design sense. But she was so angry at me being laid off that she too needed to kind of channel her anger somewhere. So she did it by creating this bright red logo. And it's funny, because historically, I've been a little bit afraid of red. I'm, tend to go for blue. And when all this happened, I needed to have more red in my life, a very strong, bold, confident color, or at least that's how I see red. And so, she designed this logo and put it out there, and it's spelled D-R-Y-D-E-N-B-K-S. It just looked very strong to me, it almost looked like the kind of logo I might have had if I had had my own imprint at a publishing company. So it was very empowering. 

Emma:                     It reminded me that, yes, I can put out this logo and stand behind it and kind of embody the red and the strength of it. And so, it was kind of a pivotal moment. Everything built around that logo. The website came after that. Everything else came after that logo. Yeah, I recommend the logo idea for people. 

Shana:                     I do, I love that, and I love how your partner, how she turned into anger into something positive and productive with the creation of your logo. And it's almost along the lines of, "Don't get mad, get even," but in a far more constructive way.

Emma:                     Yes, yes, exactly. I wasn't allowed to get even. I couldn't really express much of anything for about a year. So putting the logo out there spoke for me. 

Shana:                     That's wonderful. In your essay, you list six exercises to help women recognize their worth and gain confidence, and I'll repeat them here.

Emma:                     Okay.

Shana:                     One is write down all your greatest attributes that pertain to your work. Two is write down five positive adjectives about yourself as a worker. Number three, write down what excites you most about your work. Number four, write down your work goals, your immediate goals, and your goals for five years from now. And number five, write down what's stopping you from achieving your work goals. And number six, finish the sentence, "I am worth it because ... " And all these exercises you did yourself when establishing drydenbks. How did you come up with them?

Emma:                     Again, I kind of had no choice. I needed to do sort of the pro list and the con list. So I was making a lot of lists, but when I had hit that sort of low point of, what do I have to show for all this? What do I still have that the company didn't take away when they laid me off? I needed to do some sort of just positive thinking. I needed to write it out so I could see it. 

Emma:                     Being in this business, I am a writer. I encourage writers to write all the time. And so, writing things down kind of made them real. I think whenever we're faced with just writing five positive words to describe yourself, it's not always easy. And I'm talking about women particularly, don't always allow themselves time to actually say, "Well, what am I good at? What do I bring to the table? What am I excellent at? What are my goals?" 

Emma:                     And so, I needed to do that for this next chapter of my career. So I didn't do it in any terribly organized kind of way, but when I was writing this post, I realized that I have now turned the tables a little bit, and I do ask authors to write those kinds of statements for themselves if we're consulting about life goals and work goals and things like that. So it's valuable. 

Emma:                     I'm also a big believer in writing prompts for authors. And so this, "I am worth it because ... " it's a great prompt to fill out. And it's the kind of thing I think we should all be doing every couple of years actually.

Shana:                     Definitely, and it's so positive, and it really makes you reflect on what you've gone through, where you're at now in your creative life and in your personal life both, because they do [crosstalk 00:10:26]

Emma:                     Yeah, absolutely. 

Shana:                     So thank you for sharing those exercises, knowing who we are at our core is invaluable. 

Emma:                     It is, it is.

Shana:                     And the honest answers can really lead to some eye-opening moments.

Emma:                     Yes, yes, there can always be surprises that come up from an exercise like that.

Shana:                     So the topic of your essay, were there other ideas you'd considered writing about instead?

Emma:                     There were, I mean this topic that I hit on, it's so dear to me and so important and so personal that that's what sort of came to the top. But as I was thinking about just women in children's publishing, there is quite a few inequities. And so, I contemplated writing about the differences between men and women in terms of what kind of marketing attention they might get. I was thinking about inequities among white women and then women of color. I was trying to think about a topic that might suit that kind of idea.

Emma:                     But this particular topic, as I said, is so personal, it actually came out very quickly. And I felt very confident about this position I was taking. So that's what I stuck with.

Shana:                     Yes, and then was there anything you'd considered adding to your piece, but then chose to leave out?

Emma:                     Actually I don't think so. I didn't want to belabor things, because really the lay off wasn't the point. I could have talked more about that, but that's no longer the point, and it's not the point. It's really more now taking my experience and seeing if I can inspire other women to, not necessarily to run out and start their own business, but to just think about getting the confidence to ask for what you want, ask for it in a very professional way, that kind of thing. So I think I covered what I intended to cover in this.

Shana:                     Definitely. How do you hope children's publishing will change in the future?

Emma:                     Well, I do hope that women ... well, I mean, gosh. We're looking at publishing changing sort of every day. And particularly in light of just the #kidlitwomen movement, but also with the Me Too movement, we're seeing a lot of changes. And I guess what I hope is just that there will be more equity in terms of the books that are published, in terms of the author's voices who are being encouraged, women, people of color, people of difference. I hope that children's publishing will continue to support all voices, all stories. Yeah.

Shana:                     Yeah, you can see that shift happening, and I do hope it continues.

Emma:                     Yeah, I do too, I do too. If anything, I think most of us now are just more conscious of what to ask for or things to think about when we're being invited to panels, invited to speak, where I hope we're all being more conscious of, well, who else is on the panel? Are voices being represented? Is there a good diversity of topic and of speaker and that kind of thing? And then, sort of as an extension of that, is thinking about asking for what we need and what we want in professional ways, I think is really important.

Shana:                     It is very important. And then also uplifting others that aren't finding their own voices yet, that need that boost.

Emma:                     Right.

Shana:                     You worked in the publishing industry for nearly 30 years, and now you are a consultant with your own company. Can you tell us more about that?

Emma:                     Sure. I mean, as I said in my article, this sort of starting my own company stemmed from being laid off, but I've been extremely busy, which is a wonderful thing, where I work with authors, illustrators, agents, publishers. And I do a variety of things now. I edit manuscripts, but I also consult about the industry. I consult about setting work goals and priorities. I work with people who are independently publishing as well as traditionally publishing. So, it's a very broad work that I do as a consultant, and it's terrific. 

Emma:                     I love actually at this point not being affiliated with any one publishing house, because I can bring a much broader industry perspective to the work that I do. I still stay very much in touch with people at lots of different houses. I am still very much within the children's publishing industry. So I gain a lot of knowledge that way. I know a lot of secrets. So, it all serves me well as a consultant. I don't give away secrets, but I let what I know deeply about publishing kind of inform and advise people as we go along. So, it's a nice broad consultancy that I've created. So, it's actually quite a lot of fun.

Shana:                     And where can people find you?

Emma:                     I have a website, it's www.drydenbks.com. And again, that's spelled D-R-Y-D-E-N-B-K-S. And my website has all my contact information on the connect page, it has a bio of me, it has just lots of information about my work ethic and also submission guidelines if anybody wanted to contact me and things like that. So, that's probably the best stop to make is at www.drydenbks.com.

Shana:                     Excellent. And now for our final question, what is your biggest publishing dream?

Emma:                     That's a great question. Gosh, maybe I'm typical woman, I'm not dreaming big enough. But it's funny, I guess when I was at Simon and Schuster, my biggest dream then was to have my own imprint. And that's not the case, but having my own company, that's something I never even thought of. So, that's sort of one dream that kind of came true but in a unexpected way.

Emma:                     And at this point, I guess for myself, my dream is to just stay very busy and challenged and interested and excited by all the different projects that are coming to me. In terms of publishing in and of itself, I'm not sure what to dream about publishing insofar as I just ... it's changing. It's evolving, it's developing. And so, I just want to be around to see how it all continues to play out. I think there are some very exciting opportunities for authors and illustrators right now. Very interesting, exciting opportunities with small presses. And so, it's a vibrant time. So I'm glad to be in it.

Shana:                     Well, thank you so much for joining me today. It has been a delight to talk to you.

Emma:                     Well, thank you, Shana, so much fun.


Grace Lin