Editor Spotlight: Emma D. Dryden

Sept. 12, 2018

We are pleased to feature editor Emma D. Dryden, editor and owner of drydenbks LLC, a premier children’s editorial and publishing consultancy firm she founded after twenty-five years as a highly regarded editor and publisher. 

Inked Voices and Kidlit411 invite you to join an intensive revision workshop,  Revisions: Ways to Renew, Refresh & Rework Your Manuscript with Emma D. Dryden, featuring two webinars (Oct. 9 & 16) and small revision groups:

  • Three hours of intensive instruction, over two hour-and-a-half sessions. Sessions will be recorded and available for 60 days after the live sessions.
  • Opportunity to practice revision techniques on your own manuscripts, and in peer groups, which will helps you sharpen your editorial eye, and get actionable feedback on your work
  • Office hours sessions for questions on applying revision techniques
  • Over a dozen handouts for continued reference after the workshop
  • Workspace open for two months, Oct. 8- Dec. 10, 2018

Enter to win a free seat in the class!

Tell us about yourself and how you came to edit books for children and teens.

I was born and raised in New York City and always loved to read, write, and draw. An English major in college, I studied poetry writing and storytelling with Nancy Willard, took a poetry writing seminar with former U.S. Poet Laureate, Richard Wilbur, and I recognized my passion for working with language, story, and illustration.

My first publishing job was a summer internship as a "jack of all trades" at Viking Children's Books and I began what has now been a thirty-two year career in children's publishing with an entry-level editorial position at Random House Children's Books followed by positions at Margaret K. McElderry Books. I was eventually named Vice President, Publisher of Atheneum Books for Young Readers and Margaret K. McElderry Books, imprints of Simon & Schuster Children's Publishing, a position I held until May 2009. 

In 2010 I launched my own editorial & publishing consulting firm, drydenbks LLC, through which I edit children’s books; consult with authors, illustrators, agents, and foreign publishers about publishing matters of all sorts; am a creative consultant with several e-book and app publishers and small presses; and am a collaborative writer. 

Over the course of my career I’ve edited hundreds books for children and young readers, ranging from board books and picture books to poetry anthologies, novelties, non-fiction, middle grade fiction, and young adult/teen fiction and fantasy. The numerous award-winning and bestselling authors and illustrators with whom I’ve worked are Ellen Hopkins, Cornelia Funke, Karma Wilson, Susan Cooper, Alan Katz, David Catrow, Raul Colon, Karen Katz, Marjorie Priceman, Lee Bennett Hopkins, and Paul Zelinsky. Last year I added “Author” to my credits with the publication of my co-authored picture book, WHAT DOES IT MEAN TO BE AN ENTREPRENEUR? (Sourcebooks/Little Pickle Press) and that experience helped make me even more respectful of writers - it’s hard work!

We can’t wait for your upcoming webinar with Inked Voices and Kidlit411 on revisions. In the meantime, what are the one or two top pieces of advice you’d give someone about to start a major revision of their work?

The number one piece of advice I’d give authors just about to start a revision of their work is to be sure they’ve completed an entire draft of the manuscript before they ever begin to revise the work. I cannot say strongly enough how critical it is to complete a whole draft from beginning to middle to end prior to doing any revision work. This is hard to do and not enough authors heed this advice, and it shows in their work. 

A second piece of advice I’d give authors is they must allow themselves time away from their complete drafts—and I mean at least two months; ideally even more than that—before they begin any revisions. Distancing oneself from a draft of a manuscript is critical to the writing and revision process and it’s something authors don’t do as often or as diligently as they should. I will explain the importance of this—and the why of this—in more detail during the webinar!

Another piece of advice I’d give authors on the verge of their revision process is to understand the difference between revision and polishing—and to plan on tackling big-picture revisions (what Darcy Pattison calls “Quantum Leap revisions”) and incremental revisions long before doing any polishing. I see lots of authors “polishing” their work thinking they’re revision, but they’re not doing the real deep-dive revisions they need to be doing—the kind of revisions that pull a manuscript apart before it can all be put back. This kind of revision can be daunting; I’ll be offering lots of tips on how to do deep-dive and “quantum leap” revisions in the webinar.

How important is it to get a professional critique before submitting work to an agent or editor?

While it’s absolutely necessary for authors to get critiques of their work through workshops, critique groups, beta readers, manuscript swapping, and so on, it’s not totally necessary for authors to get a professional critique from someone like me before they submit to agents or editors. That being said, though, the marketplace is fiercely competitive and agents and editors are so darned busy and have such full lists they’re going to find any reason they can to turn down a submission. 

In light of that some authors are finding it valuable to get a professional critique and to take their work through revisions under the guidance of a professional editor prior to submitting their work. Keeping in mind a professional critique is not the same as putting finishing touches on a manuscript to “pretty it up” for submission, a critique from someone like me is essentially an intensive edit that will push the author to do at least one more round of revision, will likely raise new questions, and will, in essence, mimic the experience of the kind of editorial input and assessment an author might expect to get at a publishing house, so it can be a big commitment (timewise, financially, and emotionally!) to hire a consulting editor and I suggest authors think of it as an investment in their craft. 

I will say, many of the clients I work with started to submit their work to agents and have not had offers of representation—and they come to me to see if I can help them understand why the work isn’t hitting the mark. And every time, I can see reason for the author to expend a lot more time and work on the manuscript before they query again—and this, I believe, speaks to how many authors are probably starting the querying process before their work is actually ready.  Again, hiring a professional editor is not necessary to the process, but it can’t hurt to help an author deepen their craft.

You are highly in demand as a freelance editor. What qualities do you look for in a manuscript to want to take it on as a project?

I do reserve the right not to take on a project, and the primary reason I might turn down a project is if I’m just not sharing the author’s passion, enthusiasm, and vision for that project. This may have to do with a subject matter, writing style, art style, or overall tone or approach that just doesn’t appeal or compel me. Editorial opinions are subjective, and so while it may be true that “an editor can edit anything,” that’s not the way I work. If an author is going to be spending a lot of time and a lot of money to work with me, I want to feel confident I can help them with the work while also sharing in their enthusiasm for that work. 

So, I will submit proposals to authors when I feel their project has enormous potential to be picked up by an agent; when the writing is such I know I’ll be able to offer lots of craft advice and guidance; when I can sense from the cover letter, synopsis, and first 10 pages (which is what I require for submissions) that the author has a great handle on their intended audience, knows what their manuscript is really about, and seems open and ready for a professional critique.

What is one thing most people don’t know about you?

Let’s see… I am all over social networks, so I suspect most people attending our webinars know lots of stuff about me! I don’t keep that much hidden. But something people may not know about me is that I’ve been trying my hand at abstract paintings in a wonderful art class a few blocks from where I live—and I am loving the chance to express myself creatively in new ways. 

Where can people find you online?

My drydenbks website www.drydenbks.comis the best place to find out information about drydenbks, including my submission policy. The “connect” page of the website has my contact information and links to my pages on Facebook, Twitter, Google+, Pinterest, and LinkedIn. My blog “Our Stories, Ourselves” can be found at https://emmaddryden.blogspot.com/.

Emma D. Dryden consults with authors, illustrators, agents, editors, publishers, start-ups, and app developers. Emma has edited over 1,000 books for children and young readers, many of which hit national and international bestseller lists and received numerous awards and medals, including the Newbery Medal, Newbery Honor, and Caldecott Honor.

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  1. Emma sounds like she knows her stuff. Invaluable course.

  2. I have followed Emma for years and have lots of respect for her expertise.

  3. I've heard great things about Emma! Good luck everyone. :)

  4. Great interview with esteemed editor Emma D. Dryden. What a wonderful career she has had!

  5. Letting a MS sit for two months before revising is so hard, but I definitely needed the reminder. Thank you for the interview!

    1. Letting a manuscript sit IS hard; it's necessary, though, to allow the story to live in your subconscious. And the time away from one manuscript can allow time to be spent on another one. Thanks!

  6. It is sooo hard to put that manuscript down — into ‘the drawer’ — for two+ months but so very valuable. Definitely, advice worth heeding.

  7. Emma Dryden has a fan club. I am its unofficial president. I value her wisdom and guidance. These are the only words I could write not needing revision. (())

  8. I've just taken a ms out of the drawer where it has been resting for four months. I need this course!

  9. It sounds like an amazing course.

  10. This course sounds wonderful! I've followed emma for some time and have considered her services. This course sounds like a great first step!

  11. This course sounds great! Thank you for the giveaway opportunity :)

  12. Excellent information. Thanks so much!

  13. I've appreciated Emma's advice in previous posts.

  14. A dream prize to win for sure. Thank you for the opportunity to possibly win, Emma, kidlit411 and Inked Voices! And Emma, thank you too for the excellent tips you just shared with us.

  15. This is an amazing opportunity and my manuscript needs this course.

  16. Excellent advice about revising, and especially how polishing isn't revising. I want to know more and would be a dedicated student in the course! Thanks, Emma, KidLit411 and Inked Voices.

  17. I loved this interview, especially the part about the difference between revision and polishing.

  18. I am pondering Emma's observation about making sure you have completed a first draft before revising - and the revision vs. polishing distinction, which I am pretty sure I'm clear about. Love these clear opinions about process.

  19. Emma, what a wonderful opportunity to learn from the best. Thank you for sharing your revision top tips and providing us the opportunity to earn a spot in this tremendous workshop.

  20. Wonderful information! Revision or polishing, something I need to remember to consider. Thank you!

  21. I love this interview and I agree that distancing yourself from the MS makes a HUGE difference. I'm keeping my fingers crossed to win such an insightful workshop!Thanks for the opportunity!

  22. Thanks for a great interview, and terrific opportunity! Thinking about some mss I have in "time out" to give them some space- hope to be ready to look at them again.

  23. Sounds like this course would offer so many valuable tips! Thanks for a great post!


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