Illustrator Ken Min, who created the artwork for Rana DiOrio and Emma D. Dryden’s new picture book, What Does It Mean to Be an Entrepreneur?, tells the story of meeting Emma in person for the first time at a conference. In recalling that he was nervous (the story ends well when she gives him a big, warm hug), he refers to her as a “legendary editor in children’s publishing.”
And it’s not a stretch to say that. Emma, as you will read below, worked as a Simon & Schuster editor for nearly twenty years. After that, she started her own company and now works as a consultant, guiding people in the industry, including authors and illustrators, in the ways of children’s book and Young Adult publishing.
I talked to her via email about her work now and what it’s like to be co-authoring her first picture book after decades in editing.
Jules: Hi, Emma! How does it feel to be debuting as a picture book author, given your extensive knowledge in the field with editing, advising, etc.?
On that note, I am well-aware of your work in children's lit, but for anyone reading this who is new to your name, can you summarize your background? (I'd love to talk later about what you're doing now, but right now I mean your past twenty years working in publishing.)
Emma: Hi, Jules! I'm thrilled to be talking with you about my book and my work. The writing process was, in a word, hard. As I expected it would be. And it was fun. I was lucky to have a co-author with whom to collaborate to create a text with which we're both proud. I definitely had to remove my editor hat to allow myself to be an uninhibited writer, and that wasn't always easy.
Prior to starting drydenbks, I spent nearly twenty years as an editor with Margaret K. McElderry Books, an imprint of Simon & Schuster Children's Publishing, and oversaw the McElderry and Atheneum children’s lists at S&S as VP, Publisher. I edited hundreds of books for children of all ages, and as publisher I continued to edit my own list of titles, while overseeing eleven editors and their lists of titles. I loved being an editor and a publisher because I could combine creative skills with business skills. This is a combination I enjoy and seem to be good at.
Jules: I imagine you and Rana spending a lot of time in the beginning brainstorming how to approach this idea of what an entrepreneur is -- rather, how to capture that for children in this book. Did you know right off the bat that you wanted it to be less nuts-and-bolts and more about the spirit of entrepreneurship (which is something I like about the text)?
Emma: Rana has a best-selling series of What Does It Mean to Be...? titles that explore the spirit of being something—green, safe, kind, and so on. As an entrepreneur and mother of kids for whom she’s a role model, she wanted to develop What Does It Mean to Be an Entrepreneur? and she hired me to be the editor of the book. At the time I came on board, she reached out to some well-known entrepreneurs to try writing for children. Rana showed me a sample text that came in, and in my email explaining why I thought the approach the author was taking wasn't right—it was predominantly about the business side of being an entrepreneur—I included a few lines of my own text that I thought might be better suited to the spirit and goals of the book. Rana agreed with me and shot me back a few sample lines of her own text—and in a conversation about something else entirely, I jokingly suggested we should write the book! And that's exactly what happened.
Rana and I are the owners and managers of our own companies, and we live the challenges and triumphs of entrepreneurship every day. It didn't take us long to draft, revise, re-revise, and finalize a text we feel suits the spirit of entrepreneurship on a level young people will appreciate and be inspired by.
Jules: Speaking of entrepreneurship, can you talk a bit about your work at drydenbks? What’s the most fulfilling---even challenging---part of your work now?
Emma: I founded drydenbks in 2010 to offer editorial and publishing support, insight, and guidance to anyone in the children’s book field—authors, illustrators, agents, editors, publishers, start-ups, app producers, and so on. I’m proud to say my business is thriving and I’m extremely busy. The most fulfilling part of my work is seeing drydenbks clients do the really hard work (I offer intensive editorial notes and suggestions!) and then go on to find agents and/or get their work published. This happens often, and it’s so gratifying. The most challenging part of my work is sticking to a healthy work/life balance. I think that’s the most challenging thing for any entrepreneur and, indeed, for any author or illustrator—juggling everything that comes from being your own taskmaster with taking care of yourself.
Jules: It sounds like really gratifying work. What’s next for you? Are you working on any more picture books right now?
Emma: I have lots of consultancies and editorial projects lined up, so that will be keeping me busy. I owe my blog a few posts, so I need to focus on that sometime soon. As for more picture books, I don’t have anything cooking right now, but I hope to have the chance to write more, absolutely! The past six years have taught me to embrace and welcome not knowing exactly what’s coming next. For some, that’s a very uncomfortable place to be, but I love it. So much possibility!
Julie Danielson (Jules) conducts interviews and features of authors and illustrators at Seven Impossible Things Before Breakfast, a children's literature blog primarily focused on illustration and picture books.
WHAT DOES IT MEAN TO BE AN ENTREPRENEUR? Copyright © 2016 by Little Pickle Press, Inc. Illustration used by permission of Ken Min.