3.11.2018

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

61 comments:

  1. This is fantastic, candid, vulnerable, and useful. Thank you, Emma!

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    1. I so appreciate your response, Martha. I consider you a woman to emulate in our field - and your comments mean a lot. Cheers!

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  2. This was a wonderful post, Emma. Thank you so much for sharing your hardships and your wisdom!

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    1. Thank you for your wonderfully supportive comment!

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    2. ❤❤❤❤ Always my Dumbledore!

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    3. Thank YOU, Bobbi! So appreciative to have had you with me on this journey.

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  3. This is great, Emma! I'm following your lead in so many ways. Thanks for setting the standard and raising the bar!

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    1. Thank you! Good luck on your journey - and know there is support for you along the way!

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  4. Congratulations on your eighth anniversary, Emma! Your paragraph about woman often struggling to put a monetary value on themselves is a very important one, and extends beyond consulting to include compensation for writing and illustrating, school visits, awards decisions, etc.

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    1. Exactly right, Patricia! Thank you!

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  5. What a fantastic post, Emma—inspiring and informative. We live in a time of such great and rapid changes that stories like yours—stories of reinvention, grit, and perseverance—are so needed. You add so much to this industry. Thank you!

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    1. Thank you so much, Henry! I appreciate your terrific comments. Reinvention and grit seems to be the name of the game for so many of us.

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  6. I’m so proud of you, honored to know you and excited to see what your future brings! You are a rare gem in this business...kind, supportive, approachable and smart as hell!! Congrats on 8 years!! ❤️ Angie Karcher

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    1. How lovely of you, Angie- thank you! So glad to be on the path with you!

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  7. I’m so proud of you, honored to know you and excited to see what your future brings! You are a rare gem in this business...kind, supportive, approachable and smart as hell!! Congrats on 8 years!! ❤️ Angie

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  8. Thank you for sharing this wisdom, and happy anniversary! I learned a little bit about placing value in two different careers. When I worked in antiques, I learned to price high because of the perceived value of the items to my customers. When we priced high, customers felt they were getting something very special. They were not as interested or as excited when prices were lower. In my career as a writer, I learned this lesson with school visits. I did some freebies early on, and I was not treated nearly as well at these visits. When I started charging, the respect factor went up. When we value ourselves, others will too.

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    1. Absolutely right, Kimberly. As a publisher, I was often in meetings about perceived value and added value when it came to how we were going to package and price our books. An interested topic -- and one that, as you rightly point out, is as much about people as it is about things. "When we value ourselves, others will too." -- Hear! Hear!

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  9. Congratulations on eight years, Emma, and thank you for such an honest, heartfelt and informative post!

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  10. Great post. Thanks for this!

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  11. In my first marriage, I never had my name on a credit card. Now, in my second marriage, I had dropped my individual cards to share one major card with my husband. After nearly 20 years of renting, we bought a house a couple of years ago. I'd always thought that keeping one major card would show creditors how responsible we were with money. Instead, MY credit score was dinged because I haven't had any long-term credit in my name, alone, for nearly a decade. Lesson learned. I'm back to having my own credit lines. Women and money have a complicated, and abysmal history. Congrats to you, Emma, on your success!

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    1. Oh, goodness, thank you for your honest comment. You make an excellent point about the importance of maintaining separate credit. I am going to amend my post to add this!

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  12. Anonymous3/11/2018

    I also lost my main editing gig in 2009 (though I'm an unknown freelancer, not at all at the same level as you), so I really feel for you; I went through dark days too. I remember hearing the news when you were laid off and also when you went out on your own. It's so exciting that you've been able to succeed in what was almost a new profession and new model for editing work -- the independent editor. Thanks for excellent advice and a candid look at what went into that success for you!

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    1. 2009 was a bad year in publishing for so many of us. Thank you so much for your comment -- and feel free to email me if you ever want to connect. You can find my contact information on the "connect" page of www.drydenbks.com. I think it's important for consulting and freelance editors to stay connected!

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    2. I was ahead of the pack, being laid off in late 2008! :P I was freelancing with a lot fewer years of editorial experience than Emma, and in talking with her about it after I'd moved to NYC and she'd started her business, I was totally undervaluing myself and my time while I was freelancing. If I ever go freelance again, I will not make that mistake again, especially now that I've had 8 more years of experience in-house (I started at Lee & Low a week before Emma started her company).

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  13. Thank you for this. So inspiring and warm-hearted.

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    1. Thank you so much, Margaret!

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  14. Thank you for sharing this, Emma. It helps to hear others' stories, and share our own. I do recall clearly how I hurt for you when I heard the news (not knowing you, but having followed your work during the years I'd begun writing for children), but then was thrilled that I'd be able to give myself the opportunity to have you critique my then-early manuscript. Even beyond your critique, your belief in the importance of my story has stayed with me during these many years of revision, some awards, more revision, and the ongoing journey to find it a home. I feel heartfelt gratitude for your belief in my work, and lucky to have found you available at just the right time!

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    1. Oh, Carol, thank you for these kind words. You were one drydenbks' earliest clients and I appreciate your comment so very much. And keep going with that manuscript - it and you are worth it!

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    2. Thanks, Emma. I won't give up on it - : )

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  15. This is such an important essay Emma, and so filled with important truths. Thank you for sharing your story this way.

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    1. Bruce, your comment and support mean so much to me. Thank you, my friend!

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  16. Congratulations on your anniversary! And thank you for sharing your path to you own business. S&S's loss is a great benefit to writers who need your expertise!!

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    1. Thank you for this, Laurie!

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  17. Damn straight! As a freelance editor, I started out very timidly back in 2007, but after a while I realized I was really undervaluing myself. Same thing with the online course that I teach. When I think about how little I charged when I first launched it -- practically free! -- I cringe. I make no apologies about the cost, and encourage online "competitors" to raise their prices as well. I know some people are afraid of charging more because writers don't have a lot of disposable income, and I understand and share that altruistic viewpoint. But in the end, undervaluing your own expertise helps no one at all and only serves to perpetuate the "who am I to charge more" fallacy. Congratulations on eight years, and also a shout out to your partner who got angry and did something about it! <3

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    1. Yes! I do quite a bit of consulting with editors who either have their own freelance/consulting businesses or who are thinking about starting one and I always make them talk about the money-- and invariably I say, "You're worth more than that. Don't underestimate your reputation and your years of experience." They will be my competition, yes, but I've found there's room enough for all of us. Thank you for your comment and support, Renee. (And that shout out to my partner!)

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  18. I've been admiring you from afar for a long time. Thank you for this piece. I wish I didn't need to be reminded so often of what you wrote about, but since I do, I'm grateful you offered these words.

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    1. Thank you, Audrey! I'm a fan of your many picture books and I appreciate your comment. We all need to remind ourselves and each other of our value and worth!

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  19. Your story parallels some of my own, Emma. I was laid off from my dream job, working in the art department of a daily newspaper, when it closed it’s doors in March 2009. I’d finally found a work home, after 17 years of scuffling from this to that.

    Lately, I’ve also been doing a lot of thinking about women’s self worth. Monetarily, and the larger paradigm of being women in this male-centric, top heavy world.

    I've also been feeling some anger about honesty, and impatience with social correctness. I wish more people would share openly. Each one of has experiences that might, no, I daresay will help someone else, or bring comfort, if they just weren’t so damned scared to not come across picture perfect (whatever that is). Thank you, Emma, for your heart-wide-open honest gifts of your experience.

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    1. Wow, 2009 sure did a number on so many of us! I'm sorry to hear of your layoff, Wendy, and thank you for your comment. I agree with you, the more we can honestly and opening discuss ALL aspects of business -- the good, the bad, and the ugly! -- the better off we will be and can move to support one another going forward.

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  20. Brilliant. Thank you for walking us through those days. And sharing the wisdom.

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    1. Thank you so much, Lorie Ann. I think only by walking each other through experiences like this can we help and support one another.

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  21. Extremely valuable. And I need to have a hard think about why it was so hard for me to visualize answers to those questions at the end.

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    1. Thanks, Susan! Answering those questions isn't easy for most women. So glad you're thinking about the answers...and writing them down makes them more real.

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  22. Wow....this post really hit home. I was recently given an opportunity to work with a former colleague. I had no problem reaching out to her and describing all the writing jobs I've done since we worked together. But I choked on what my fees would be. And I mean choked! What was my worth? Was I even worthy, since she has way more experienced than I? Well, I researched and researched and eventually, gave her a range, including a "willing to discuss" sentence. Because I really wanted this chance. And blessings, I've been given the chance! I'm looking forward to working with her and writing (hopefully)loads of pieces for her. And maybe just maybe, I'll have more confidence on asking for what I'm worth. Thanks again for sharing your story!

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    1. Thank you for sharing your experience. It's so important that we stay conscious and aware of how we're behaving around money and around asking for the money we know we are worth!

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  23. I really appreciated this. Thanks for sharing, Emma. I'm definitely going to take a moment to do the exercises you suggest.

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    1. Thank you, Leah! These are exercises I think we should be doing every year or so to take stock.

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  24. Wow. As a newbie in this industry, I read this with great interest. What powerful reflections and such wise insights. Good for you, Emma, for claiming YOU and for continuing to share yourself and your creativity with all of us. And thanks for the exercise, too - great for a (nother) snowy day in N.E.

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    1. Welcome to the industry, Mary! It's a wonderful industry, even with its flaws. Thank you for your comments.

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  25. Thank you for this. I'm also in the publishing industry, but on the writer end of things, and it has always struck me as wrong that writers are afraid to ask for what we want/need from publishers lest they find another more compliant writer to work with. It's like publishers and agents hold all the cards. After 27 books, I feel my creative side being pulled toward illustration, and though I shall continue to write, I want to see if I can sell my visual art as well as my literary art. That requires looking at myself in a different mirror and learning to sell myself all over again. Thinking about what you went through, and seriously addressing the questions you posed will be a big help, I think, so thank you again. www.kristinbutcher.com

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    1. Thanks so much for your comment. Wishing you all the best on your journey, Kristin.

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  26. Always an inspiration. In fact, I quoted you in a presentation this weekend. Thank you, Emma!

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    1. Thank you, Kami! I am honored!

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  27. Hi Emma, this is so timely for me. I suppose you could have written and posted it in any one of the last several years and it would have felt timely. I am a woman who chose to stay home with kids, and now that they are older, trying to figure out my "value" - like me being at home with my kids is somehow at odds with my value as a contributing member of society (I realize how ridiculous that sounds, but it's been a hard mental juggle for me). I have a wide skill set that I use as an independent contractor, but have yet to value it properly - I will do the exercises you outlined in your post. Thank you. I met you for the first time right around the time you launched Dryden Bks. We ate lunch together at the SCBWI conference in Niagara falls. I was very new to all of this (think, deer in headlights). You were sweet and insightful and even just this last week, advice you gave to me, I noticed, is still lingering in my head. It wasn't so much exactly what you said, but about the way you delivered it - your warmth and excitement permeated me. I felt like I could do this. I've been writing since then (I came as an illustrator), and reworking things, and finally, bravely beginning to submit queries. I just wanted to highlight the role that we, as women, play in lifting each other up. You did that for me. So, thanks. And I'm so happy for you. Congratulations on eight years.

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    1. Julie, how absolutely wonderful to have your comment - thank you! I appreciate your lovely recall of our meeting at SCBWI Niagara Falls and I'm so pleased things I said resonated with you. It sounds like you're on the right path at the right pace for you and your work--and that's the best way to travel in the publishing world. Continued inspiration to you!

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  28. THIS. Thank you for sharing your truth. I can't tell you how much it resonates. I've been in an ongoing debate with myself regarding where to take my writing career, and a big reason why I haven't stepped away from my day job is my fear that I won't make enough money. But truly, there's a bigger issue behind that - the fear that I won't have the confidence to charge what my work is worth. Seeing that reality is incredibly helpful. And . . . congratulations on eight years!!!

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    1. Gayle, thank you for your supportive comment! Go for it! You have a community our here holding a net.

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  29. I think this is an issue most women contend with. Thanks so much for sharing your insight Ms. Emma. Best wishes for all your literary endeavors.

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