In her 25 years in children's book publishing, Emma D. Dryden has overseen revisions of countless manuscripts. She is now focusing on revising herself as she embarks on a new chapter of her life. Last May, after nearly 19 years at Simon & Schuster, Dryden was laid off from her position as v-p and publisher of Atheneum Books for Young Readers and Margaret K. McElderry Books. She has just launched a multi-platform venture, drydenbks, through which she will provide editorial and creative services to children's book authors, illustrators, publishers, and agents; conduct workshops; and act as consultant to those seeking to break into or expand their presence in the children's publishing arena.
Dryden, whose layoff was a part of a company-wide initiative to reduce costs, notes that her termination came as a blow. "It was shocking and sad," she says. "I loved the two imprints with which I worked and I took the editing and publishing of titles on those lists personally." She remarks that she would have considered retirement were she closer to retirement age, but at 45 "didn't feel that I was done by any means."
In the 10 months since leaving S&S, Dryden says she has missed "both the interaction and sharing of ideas with good colleagues and the collaboration with authors and illustrators on wonderful projects. I miss that dynamic and the energy of taking an idea and working it into a book."
With drydenbks, now accessible online, she again becomes involved in that creative process. "I launched this company to continue the work about which I'm so passionate, which is quite simply helping to craft and refine an author's work in progress," she says, adding that the three aspects of her business are intended to tap into what she believes are her key areas of expertise. Dryden will also offer workshop presentations at author retreats, book clubs, and conferences. "In the past, I have conducted workshops, and I want to continue and to broaden the dialogue on what is happening in children's book publishing," she explains.
Dryden notes that the third thrust of drydenbks, a consultancy service, grew out of her realization that many new or aspiring authors, illustrators, agents, and publishers have copious questions about the children's book business. "Over the past months, a lot of people have come to me at random-through Facebook or by e-mail-asking questions on a wide range of subjects," she says. "Since I'm not now affiliated with any company, I have a more objective view of the business, a business that is changing by the minute. This is an interesting and exciting time in children's publishing and I wanted to make consulting a part of what I am offering."
In addition to keeping her finger on the pulse of the children's publishing world-Dryden cites becoming more savvy about digital publishing as a particular focus-she has been making the most of her more relaxed post-S&S schedule. "I've had some leisure time-thank goodness-for traveling and skiing and getting a little life," she says.
Writing is also on the top of her priority list. "Since college I've wanted to do writing of my own, but I don't know whether it will be poetry or something else, or whether I will write for children or adults," she remarks. "I look forward to putting myself in the writer's position as well as the editor's. To be sitting on both sides of the desk will be very gratifying."
Dryden has been pouring some of her writing energy into her blog, where she recently posted an entry on the topic of self-revising, reflecting that "with revision comes revelation." Applying that to her own life, she comments, "I think being laid off from a job that really defined who I was forced me to think about who I am and how I define myself. That was a wonderful opportunity for self-examination and has led me to this point where I'm ready to launch this business, to try new things and test my boundaries."
And where does she see herself in five years? "I'm leaving all options open," she responds. "I plan to remain an active, vibrant participant in the children's publishing community and provide a service to as many people as possible. I don't know exactly what will happen, but I'm not afraid of that-I'm allowing the not knowing to be a driving force. I find that very exciting."