Why Children's Publishing Needs Freelance Editors Now

"I’m one of a new sort of unaffiliated editor available to the children’s book 
industry, with allegiance only to the best practices involved in 
creating and offering the best books for children."

Throughout the earth’s history tectonic plates have either fused onto other plates to form larger plates, rifted into smaller plates, or been crushed by or subducted under other plates — or indeed have done all three. As we ride the rifting, drifting and shifting tectonic (or ought we to call them tech-tonic?) plates of the publishing landscape, there’s been some notable transformations taking place among many editors in the children’s book industry. As more editors are leaving long-time positions with companies, due to budgetary lay-offs, burn-out or life changes of various kinds, we’ve witnessed a rise in the number of highly skilled freelance editors available to the writing population.

As one of these editors, freelance after 25 years with various companies, what impresses me is not just that there are so many of us out there, but how extremely busy we are and how varied our work has become. We’re in high demand right now for a myriad of reasons that go far beyond book doctoring and editorial guidance.

I’m being hired by authors at the beginning of their careers who know they need to polish their work before it can be represented or sold; by authors (both agented and unagented) in the middle of their careers who are struggling to stay relevant and marketable and want a new career strategy; by agents seeking an impartial perspective on the changing marketplace; by publishers in need of concentrated editorial support for an intense project because they don’t have editors available; by editors craving advice about best practices and some form of mentorship because publishing houses don’t put stock in the value of mentoring as they once did; by authors weighing publishing options — from self to indie to “legacy” — in need of help to make smart decisions for their work and their goals; by start-up e-book and/or app publishers who want expert input about the content and the market; by a library exploring how they might become a publisher for local writers; by a major book review source interested in hearing about the digital marketplace.
My skills as a former publisher are informing my freelance work just as much as my editorial skills right now — and to be of service to this array of clients, I’ve found it necessary (and interesting!) to stay informed and abreast of the myriad of options authors and illustrators have (traditional, digital and otherwise). The result is that I no longer bill myself as just an editor, but rather an editorial and publishing consultant.
I suppose I ought not to be surprised by any of this — overworked editors are being reprimanded by their companies for “wasting too much time editing books” (an exact quote, I promise!); agents are grappling with manuscripts that editors won’t acquire unless they’re nearly print-ready and they don’t have time to research all of the possible indie, small venues and platforms that could offer the best publishing experiences for their clients. So many companies affiliated with children’s publishing are scrambling to incorporate bits of the new with the old; many individuals at these companies, though, are unable to focus and just don’t have time to adapt new skills or process all the input, to pay attention to what’s going on in the digital arena, to explore new options, to experiment — they’re turning to anyone who has some breadth of knowledge of the business as well as some handle on what the shifting of the plates might mean for the future, and they’re looking outside of any one company or organization, into the rich fields of the freelancer.
The word freelance comes from the knights whose lances were free for hire, and originally meant a free companion or person free of occupational or political party obligation or allegiance. I’m one of a new sort of unaffiliated editor available to the children’s book industry, with allegiance only to the best practices involved in creating and offering the best books for children. As I edit, I do so wholly and completely, without distraction by corporate initiatives, meetings, P&Ls and mandates, thereby providing an author or illustrator a more in-depth and pure assessment of their work, craft and process. At the same time, I also provide a market view not colored by any one company, but that encompasses a far broader perspective. Such services, I find, are not only providing authors, illustrators, agents and other industry clients support and guidance, but information and perspective, all of which seem to be in somewhat spare supply in the current upheavals of the business. 
What’s not changed, and this seems to me to be at the heart of what’s driving the freelance editor’s and/or consultant’s business right now, is the importance of story. Our industry’s story is undergoing some major revision right now and it’s not going to be finalized any time soon, if ever. Our own life stories change every day, leading us down paths we may not have expected. Where books — delivered by any means, on any platform — fit into all of this, particularly for young readers, is to provide us with whatever we need to feel moved, entertained, not so alone, empathetic, hopeful, engaged and better equipped to face the journey.

The Latin verb root of the word “editor” is edere — to bring forth, to bring about. It strikes me that it’s perhaps this new crop of editors of which I’m so proud to be a part — the editorial and publishing consultants whose allegiance is only to story, who are poised to truly fulfill the mandates of bringing forth, bringing about; while helping to bring forth the story editorially, simultaneously bringing forth clarification, information and guidance on a broader scale; while assisting in bringing about the story, also assisting in the bringing about of change.
This editorial by Emma D. Dryden was first published 07/20/12 in PublishingPerspectives, an online journal of international book publishing news and opinion. With correspondents around the world, Publishing Perspectives provides personal stories and analysis from those on the cutting edge of digital, global, and self-publishing.
(c) emma d dryden, drydenbks llc


Staying on the Road: 7 Tips for Authors & Illustrators

I was asked recently by my colleagues in the SCBWI-Oregon region to share some inspirational thoughts for authors and illustrators. I am happy to share these remarks with a wider audience:


Read.  Read as much and as often as you can. Read books within the genre and style in which you write.  Read books in genres and styles with which you’re less comfortable. Read aloud – from books you love, from books you don’t love, and from your own work – to learn about voice and narrative flow. Read in order to become a stronger writer.

Explore & Expand. Explore all options for yourself as a writer or illustrator—explore creative options and publishing options. Expand your thinking as a creative person to try new styles in your own work. Explore new avenues for the exchange of ideas and for inspiration, be it through social networking, critique groups, conferences. Expand yourself and expand your art – try something you’ve never tried before in your writing or artwork.

Adapt. Adapt to change. The creative environment and the publishing environment are underdoing significant changes right now and it’s critical to remain as adaptable as possible. Be flexible and open to new ideas, new strategies, and new business models.  Be flexible and open to new approaches to your own work. Adapting to the new environments in which we live and work doesn’t mean giving up any creative instincts; rather, it means expanding the possibilities for yourself and your work.

Diligence. Be diligent with your craft. Practice. Write and rewrite. Sketch and re-sketch. Be as diligent with revision as you are with the first draft of anything you create. And be diligent as the marketplace throws up its barriers: if you get rejected, keep sending out your work; if you get feeback, revise; if you have questions, take time to figure out the answers.

Invest. Invest in your work and in yourself. Figure out what you’re willing to invest in your craft and recognize it as an investment in your future, your career, and your confidence. Investment can be many things: saving up to attend a conference or two throughout the year; working with a freelance editor and designer to ready your work before you submit or self-publish; taking the time to research the marketplace, agents, and publishing options.

Network. Create a network that supports and inspires you. Never before have authors and illustrators had so many opportunities to make contact with each other, with colleagues, and with their audience. Take advantage of the various ways in which social media can expand your reach, your “platform,” and your knowledge. You don’t have to be everywhere in the social network, but it makes sense to be somewhere and to participate in conversations with people whom you might not otherwise meet.

Goals. Set yourself goals that make sense for where you are in your own process. Allow your goals to develop and change as you develop and change, as your work develops and changes. Set manageable goals that you can reach, so you feel good about your progress—and set some goals that are huge, that may feel a little scary, so you can push yourself further and deeper. Goals are met when we’re ready to meet them. Goals are set to inspire us to stay on the road.

(c) emma d dryden, drydenbks llc.  First printed in SCBWI Oregon's NewsWorthy, July-August 2012 edition.