Hearing and Tasting Our Work

"I always find if you read fiction out loud you know what you have to change by what you stumble over." - Alice Hoffman.

As anyone who has worked with me knows, I'm a huge proponent of reading our manuscripts aloud.  It's critical to do this when your work is a picture book--we can all agree that the most successful picture books are not only those that can be read aloud over and over again, but those that we want to read aloud over and over again. So the very best way to write a picture book is to read it aloud as you go along. It's equally critical, though, to read your fiction and non-fiction aloud. Yes, it will take a lot of time, but this must be part of the writing process because the reading process is itself a multi-layered sensory experience. We don't read only with our eyes--as we read, we feel a story; as we read, we sense a story; and as we read, we hear a story.  And so, the very best way to write a novel or non-fiction that will appeal to readers is to read it aloud as you go along. 

Saying something aloud makes it more real for us. We can think something, we can feel something, we can wonder about something, we can even write something down. But I've often found it to be true that when we say what we're thinking or feeling, when we give a voice to it, that's usually when it becomes most real, whether we like it or not. We can't take it back. It's out there.  It's been witnessed. So too, our manuscripts. We must witness our own stories, we must witness our own writing--and by doing so, we will experience our stories and our writing in new ways, in ways that will reveal flaws, in ways that will reveal poetry, in ways that will reveal what we need to adjust, revise, omit, add.  

As we read aloud, we feel our words on our tongues--we taste our words, we taste our stories--and just as there are certain textures and flavors of foods we find delicious or distasteful, so will we begin to recognize what textures and flavors of our writing we find delicious or distasteful. And in so doing, we will be refining our work in ways that will engage the deeper senses of our readers.

We must hear our words. Taste our words. See our words. Feel our words. As we do, our senses will become more acute and we will experience our stories and ourselves more fully, we will share our stories and ourselves more fully.

(c) emma d dryden, drydenbks LLC


What Does Our Backlist Say About Us?

Publishers have backlist – the list of older books still available to the public, as opposed to titles newly published, called frontlist. Building a strong and reputable backlist has traditionally been seen as the way to produce a profitable publishing house. Backlist not only bolsters a publisher’s financial position, but it can also define and bolster a publisher’s reputation and identity.  We look at an imprint’s backlist to get a sense of what the imprint stands for, how diverse or limited the imprint is, how the imprint has performed in terms of awards and reviews, and the overall reputation of that imprint. We don’t necessarily know the editors and designers who work at the imprint, but looking through an imprint’s backlist, we come to assumptions about who those editors and designers are, what they’re interested in, what they care about, what they’re like. Those assumptions may be right, or they may be entirely wrong; it doesn’t matter. Either way, for all intents and purposes, an imprints’ make-up and the make-up of the people behind the imprint will be judged by the backlist.
The concept of being perused and judged – rightly or wrongly – based on backlist doesn’t really need to bother publishers. But let’s think about our own “backlists” – and whether we feel confident in having ourselves judged by strangers based only upon a perusal of all that we’ve made available to the public. Our published works, books, eBooks, apps, music, art—that’s all backlist we have to nurture and sustain. If anyone has heard me speak on this topic, you’ll know I’m a stickler for encouraging no publication of any kind (print, digital, traditional, indie, self, I don’t care) without feeling what we’re publishing and offering to the public represents us the way we want to be represented,  to be seen, and to be judged.  But what about our other backlist? Our internet backlist. As Seth Godin points out in the post that got me thinking about this topic, “the internet doesn’t easily forget.”  It’s important to realize our backlist consists of every post, every photograph, every tweet, every article, every comment, every interview, every publication that we’ve ever made somewhere online. Some of our backlist may be hard to find, just as a publisher’s out-of-print titles may be hard to find. But nothing is impossible to find. It’s called Google. And it reaches back and deep, a trawler without regard for what’s dredged up for anyone to see—friends and family, who may be forgiving; potential employers, agents, editors, and business partners who won’t be.
“Your history of work is as important as the work you'll do tomorrow,” Godin says.  All of our backlist is valuable. Or it ought to be. What does your backlist say about you?
(c) emma d dryden, drydenbks LLC


Are You Being Served? A Recipe for a Great Critique Group

- 2-12 dedicated authors (can be of different genres & formats; can be of same genre & format)
- heaping doses of imagination
- heaping doses of respect
- heaping doses of sensitivity
- liberal doses of gentle honesty (if you opt for brutal, critique group will become too tough and hard to swallow)
open-mindedness and creative flexibility
- willingness to ask questions and listen to answers
- generous sprinkles of laughter (can use hysteria and guffaws if desired)
timer (enables fair attention paid to each author)
- cough drops & water (enables requisite read-alouds)
bathroom & stretch breaks
delicious food
comfortable setting (a cozy setting is even better, if you can find it)
wine or spirits (for after critiques are completed! Some may find wine or spirits appropriate during, but proceed with caution)
optional: friendly dog and/or cat; fireplace; views (ocean, woodland, mountains, etc.); anything else to enhance experience


Gather ingredients together on a regular basis. Stir with professionalism, exuberance, imagination, and inspiration. Surprises may result. Quiet moments of reflection may be required. Questions can be asked for which there may be no immediate or clear answers. That's ok. Allow for staying open to possibilities; critique groups vary based upon the ratio and balance of ingredients.  

Caution: If each author doesn’t feel heard and respected, the ratio of ingredients has gone awry and you will most assuredly want to double-check your recipe.

Note: Every once in a while, it's a good idea to add a one-time ingredient to this recipe, such as a professional editor or published author who will provide a new voice and perspective to the discussion – this can best be achieved over a weekend. For a sample taste of this sort of enhanced group experience, go to this post from the Route 19 Writers blog. 

This recipe serves many, including a richer society of writers and readers.

  (c) emma d dryden, drydenbks LLC


today marks the 3rd anniversary of drydenbks!

As hard as it is to believe three years have gone by since I put out my shingle, it’s entirely gratifying to be so busy and fulfilled by the work I love—by work that seems to be filling a need in the children’s book community.

During these three years I’ve consulted with authors, illustrators, agents, editors, publishers, teachers, librarians, doctors, producers, musicians, scholars, executives, technicians, and more—and along the way, with each conversation, with each new idea, with each "why not?", with each "just try it and see," I’ve become a better editor, a smarter person, a more whole human being. 

I move through this world with a heightened awareness of the creativity and imagination that’s all around us and in each of us.  Three years ago, I had to ask myself the tough questions, had to take a leap, had to push myself into the discomfort of the "why not?" and "just try it and see"--and here I am, just trying it and seeing...and the view's great!

drydenbks couldn't be successful without the support of so many colleagues, clients, and friends. I know this. I appreciate this. And am blessed.

with heartfelt thanks to Joanna Marple and Julie Rowan-Zoch for 
taking the drydenbks logo designed by Anne M.Corvi and 
creating this word search in honor of drydenbks’ third anniversary.