Determining Our Own Value & Worth: It's Valuable & Worth It!

logo by +grace lin 

My first job in publishing, as an Editorial Assistant, was with Random House Children's Books and a starting salary of $14,000. I became an Associate Editor with Margaret K. McElderry Books (an imprint of Macmillan Children's Publishing) in 1990 with a salary of somewhere around $20,000. Over the course of nearly twenty years with the company I moved up the editorial and corporate ladders to become Vice President, Publisher of Atheneum Books for Young Readers and Margaret K. McElderry Books, two prestigious trade imprints within Simon & Schuster Children's Publshing (which had, years before, bought Macmillan). 
I was laid off in May 2009. The layoff stripped me of my contract, my corporate title, my business card, my salary ten times what it had been 1990, my status in the field of children's publishing, and all the accompanying perks. That layoff stripped me of what I'd come to believe defined me as a worker, as a business person, as an adult, and as a woman. 

As people do in a corporate structure, I'd become accustomed to my bosses determining what salary, bonuses, and raises I deserved based on their perception of my value and worth to the company. I was doing fine until...I was laid off because I'd gotten too expensive. Ironic, right? I spiraled...

For three months following the layoff I questioned what I was possibly worth anymore. If I no longer had the contract, title, business card, salary, status, or perks, what was my value and worth in the children's book industry? Did I have any? I was more shocked than angry at that time...Well, I was angry, but because I'd been under contract, I wasn't allowed to express my anger publicly. My partner was angry--and allowed to express it. Within the first few weeks after I was home, she channeled her anger into a design for a logo. It looked like this: 

logo design by anne corvi
That logo--the bold red; my last name; the balanced letters; the fun alternative spelling of "books"--helped me come to an empowering realization: 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.                                       

I launched my own children's editorial and publishing consultancy firm on March 11, 2010. It was called drydenbks. I had a logo! I made business cards.  I created a website. And then I was faced with two huge challenges: Forming an LLC and coming up with what to charge clients. The LLC formatting wasn't easy , but it was way easier than coming up with a fee structure. Now was the time for me--and me alone--to determine what salary, bonuses, and raises I deserved based on my own perception of my value and worth to my company and my clients. Of course I needed to establish a fee structure commensurate with my name, expertise, and reputation. How hard could that be? I'd been a VP, Publisher overseeing  over $25-million dollars in annual business, but when it came to figuring out what to charge--figuring out, essentially, my value and my worth--I hesitated, I doubted, I made excuses. I didn't want to undersell myself, but I sure didn't want to charge people "too much." What would people think if I had the chutzpah to charge high fees? I probably didn't really deserve to charge high fees, right? I mean, it's not like I'd spent years in graduate school or had a PhD. It's not like I was a psychotherapist or a lawyer. So who was I to charge so much, to charge "too much"?

I compared the fees other consulting and freelance editors were charging. There weren't nearly as many consulting children's book editors out there as there are now, but there were two in particular whom I respected--one woman with fewer years experience as an editor and no experience as a publisher, and another woman with more years experience as an editor but no experience as a publisher. I decided I'd be safe in setting fees somewhere in between the fewer-years editor and the more-years editor and see what happened. drydenbks launched. I was busy. I was in demand. And one year later I raised my fees. This wasn't because a year had gone by and it was time for a raise. This was because I'd gained a confidence in myself I'd never had while working for Simon & Schuster; this was because I'd learned to say "no" in ways that progressed my business; this was because I recognized my experience as an editor and a publisher put me in a different league than some other consulting editors, and that raised my value and worth to clients. 

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.  Men in my experience don't have a problem with any of this at all. Men are able to ask for what they think they deserve whether they deserve it or not. Men generally do feel entitled. Men generally have no problem saying "no." And men rarely apologize when they ask for what they want. It was extraordinarily valuable to me in determining my own value to consult with women friends and colleagues as I launched and established drydenbks. It was also extremely valuable to me to think about what language and attitudes my male co-workers and staff at Simon & Schuster used in negotiations and meetings. 

drydenbks LLC is celebrating its eighth year anniversary today. It's hard to believe it's been that long. Being the owner and operator of my own business has taught me how to be a stronger worker, a stronger business person, a stronger adult, and a stronger woman. Much stronger. I am entitled to the fees I charge for the work I deliver to clients. I say "no" when I think that's best for my business (not to mention my sanity). If I see I'm apologizing in an email when asking for what I want, I edit that apology out of the email. Do I have chutzpah? Well, the word is defined as "shameless audacity, impudence." I don't think I have chutzpah. What I do have are my name, my expertise, and my reputation. 

There were some exercises I did when I was establishing drydenbks LLC--exercises that helped me move forward and gain confidence in doing so. And funnily enough, I now ask many women clients--writers, illustrators, editors, agents, teachers--to do these same exercises when I'm consulting with them about work priorities or life/work balance and goals:
  • Write down all your greatest attributes that pertain to your work. 
  • Write down five positive adjectives about yourself as a worker.
  • Write down what excites you most about your work.
  • Write down your work goals--your immediate goals and your goals for five years from now.
  • Write down what's stopping you from achieving your work goals.
  • Finish this sentence: I am worth it because ______________

There are four pieces of financial advice I recommend to women all the time:
  • Have your own checking and savings accounts separate from those of your spouse, partner, or family member
  • Establish your own lines of credit and keep at least one credit card in your own name.
  • Have a good accountant
  • Read this article: Money Is Power. And Women Need More of Both. 

And I can't emphasize enough how empowering these two exercises can be:
  • Create a business card for yourself.
  • Create a logo for yourself!

(c) emma d dryden, drydenbks llc