Monday, April 2, 2012

Words From the Wise #7 - Emma Dryden


Two and a half years ago at the SCBWI-Los Angeles Working Writer's Retreat I had the honor and the pleasure of meeting Emma D. Dryden of drydenbks.  Not only was she a critique group facilitator, but she was also a featured faculty member.  Emma spoke about the importance of developing an online presence as a writer, and the start of ebooks for children.  I recall sitting there completely overwhelmed, and thinking that ebooks for children was a completely silly concept.  After all, what good parent would allow their children to read digitally?  If you have followed my blog at all, you know how my feelings have changed on this one.  

I invite you to enjoy Emma's thoughts as we all wish her a congratulations on the success of her company,  drydenbks, which has just celebrated its second anniversary on March 11.  Happy Anniversary Emma, and wishing you many more successful years in the world of Kidlit!




 1. Please describe your history on how you became involved in children's books.

 My parents instilled in me a great love and appreciation for books and reading. In school, I took all of the art class, English classes, and writing classes I could take. For my senior project in High School, I intended to write a picture book based on a Greek myth—which ended up being about 10,000 words!  I realized then and there that writing for children is really, really hard! In college, I wrote a lot of poetry and plays, but determined I didn’t have quite the discipline to write my own books.  I thought I might be good at helping and inspiring writers to write their books, so I set out to find an entry-level job in publishing—with a special interest in children’s books for the sake of the stories and artwork I loved so much.  Between my junior and senior years, I landed an unpaid summer internship with Viking Press Children’s Books (I was a gal Friday, doing anything anyone asked, and I soaked it all up like a sponge!) and my first job right out of college was with Random House Children’s Books, where I was assistant to two brilliant editors. And that’s how it all began.  



2.    I have discussed uTales quite extensively on this blog.  What is your involvement with uTales?  Is there anything that you can tell us about how the site will continue to evolve in the future? 

I’ve been interested in keeping my hand in anything to do with publishing children’s apps and eBooks and it’s been exciting to see the launch of the digital picture book platform, uTales.  One of the first illustrators to work with uTales brought them to my attention and I greatly admire the people behind uTales as well as the philosophy and goals for this start-up. They’ve brought me on as an editorial and publishing consultant as well as the leader of their Quality Editorial Panel, which offers feedback to uTalers about their work and oversees approvals of all the English-language uploads.  I know uTales is expanding their platform to start publishing eBooks in Swedish soon, and they intend to offer eBooks in several other languages before too long, so this truly is a global platform for authors and illustrators.  There are some terrific partnerships uTales is securing that promise to result in some very important and smart picture books. And I’m excited by the founder’s directive that uTales offer books that are entertaining as well as educational—perfectly suited for sharing between parents and children as well as between teacher and classroom.



3.    Do you feel that authors who are sticking with only traditional print publishing will be left by the wayside, especially if they are not already well established? 

Not at all.  I think traditional publishing is here to stay for a good long while yet. I do, however, think it behooves authors and illustrators to educate themselves about the various publishing options that are now open to them in order to stay savvy to changes in the marketplace. I also think there are wonderful opportunities right now for authors and illustrators to publish in a variety of formats and on different platforms without hurting themselves or their reputations in any way—and by doing so, they could thereby expand their reach to their target audience and at the same time become more adept and flexible as to how best to format, market, and produce their work. 



4.    You have spoken a great deal about the importance of social networking for authors.  Can you explain some of the ways that up and coming authors can get involved with and use social networking to their advantage?  Do authors who have well established careers need to use of social networking in order to keep up with changing trends in publishing, or will their catalogues be able to sustain themselves without it?

One of the key outcomes of the changes that have resulted in our society from so much digitization is the proliferation of companies and consumers being in direct communication with each other. We can apply this on a more personal scale when we think about how an author (or illustrator) can benefit from being in direct communication with their readership.  Social networking channels (Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, Google+ etc) give authors an opportunity to communicate with their readers—not so much the young readers (unless you’re a YA author), but the adults who are so important to the sale of your books: parents, teachers, librarians, bloggers, reviewers, editors, agents; not to mention, fellow authors and illustrators!  Not every social network platform reaches the same audience nor has the same results, so it’s important for authors to do their homework to determine which platform/s might best serve them and with which they’ll feel most comfortable.   Social networking is NOT meant for the hard sell, but rather for communication, a sharing of ideas, a give and take—which ultimately can and will result in people being interested in your work and in buying your books.  So saying, I feel it’s wise for pre-published authors to start gaining a good “webutation” through social networking and for published authors to retain their audience and stay attuned to new readers and new developments in the marketplace through social networking.  Always at a level of commitment that makes sense for that author.



5.    How do you think that e-books are effecting the amount of reading that people are doing?  Specifically children?  Are they replacing traditional books with e-readers, are they reading e-readers in addition to print, or are they not changing at all?

It’s not news that really young children are adept at using the devices their parents are using—smartphones and tablets—and as a result, they have access to apps and eBooks through these devices. While I can’t say if young children are reading more because of these devices, what I can say is that if they are reading at all on these devices, we may as well pay attention to puttinng the very best quality books on them.  That being said, there are a lot of studies being done to determine who is really reading on devices and how they’re reading in general—and the most recent study I’ve seen is that middle graders and teens aren’t doing a whole lot of reading on devices.  I’m not going to be the one to decide whether or not we should be letting and encouraging our children to read on devices—rather, I am of the mind that reading is excellent for children in any way they can get good books. What I am seeing most of all is more opportunities for reading for children through the availability of books (paper and boards), eBooks, and apps (and I’m talking about books on apps, not games). I don’t think digital is replacing paper and boards at all, but is simply an alternative form of delivery.  When it comes to the very young, I do believe it’s still essential there are books available that don’t make sounds or have special effects, but that simply make use of text and illsutration to stimulate a child’s imagination—I know traditionally published picture books do this; I have seen a handful of digitally published picture books do this, too.



6.    What are the 3 best pieces of advice that you can give to someone who is trying to break into the world of children's publishing? 

1. Read.   2. Write.  3. Join the Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators (SCBWI).  Read as many children’s books as you can—read them silently; read them aloud. Look at the jacket artwork. Look closely at the illustrations. Listen to the voice. If you’re a picture book author, read picture books, of course, but also read some poetry, middle grade, YA, and non-fiction. If you’re a YA author, read YA, of course, but also read some middle grade and picture books.   Write as much as you can. Experiment with your writing, trying different perspectives and points of view. Write a scene only in dialogue. Write a paragraph and then try to rewrite it in one sentence. Play with language. Just keep writing.  And join SCBWI– a global organization that offers resources, information, support, and community to children’s book authors and illustrators.https://mail.google.com/mail/images/cleardot.gif




Emma has been part of the children's book world for 25 years.  She has edited almost 500 children's books of all genres.  Her titles have included books that have become Newbery Medal, Caldecott Honor, and Coretta Scott King Author Honor books, just to name a few.  Emma is currently on the SCBWI Board of Advisors, as well as the head of the uTales Quality Editorial Panel.


21 comments:

  1. Wow, this is great information here. Thank you for the advice and for sharing with us Emma.

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  2. What an interesting and informative interview. Thank you so much, Sandi and Emma. The more I hear about uTales, the more interesting it sounds. And although I prefer traditional books, I am learning to use my Kindle and I recognize the need for all authors to educate themselves on ebooks and apps. Like Emma said, the important thing is to get quality books to kids in all genres.

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    1. I agree. No matter how we can get kids to read. . . as long as they are reading. Glad that you enjoyed the interview Susanna.

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  3. I meant formats, not genres! (Although genres is true too :))

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  4. Thanks Emma and Sandi for a great interview. I love uTales and the adventure of ebooks and all they have to offer us artists/writers and new readers, but I am glad to hear that traditional children's books are still going strong, oh how I love them!

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    1. I love traditional print books too. . . someday.

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  5. What a fantastic interview! Thank you so much to Sandi for bringing Emma here and to Emma for such rich insights.

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    1. Julie, it was my absolute pleasure! I am glad that you enjoyed the interview!

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  6. Wow Sandi, this was a really good and informative interview. Thanks for posting.

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    1. Thank you Sharon. I am glad that you found it helpful.

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  7. This was very interesting for me. I enjoyed reading about Ms. Dryden! I agree that regular books are here to stay but ebooks are being used more. Thanks for the interview! :)

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    1. You are very welcome Erik. I am glad that you found the interview interesting. I am happy that traditional print books are here to stay.

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  8. Great questions Sandi, to help us probe some of Emma's expertise in these topics. I like Emma's encouragement to experiment with our writing. As someone who hasn't been writing long, I at first felt a lot of pressure to focus on a limited style/topics etc, which would be my "niche". While I certainly hope that there will be a recognizable uniqueness to my work, I am finding I need to try many things along the way to see what works for me, and what I can do well.

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    1. I agree. I need to experiment some more with my own writing. I tend to stick with PB. I don't know which way I would go next, but I think that it is an important part in my development as a writer. I'm sure that your writing does have its own uniqueness, and that someday anyone will be able to pick up a book and say. . . of course, that was written by Joanna!

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    2. Such a good point Sandi! We can all listen to a book and say, "Hmmm. Sounds like Karma Wilson!" or "I bet that's Roald Dahl." Cultivating something so uniquely identifiable is a terrific skill!

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  9. Thank you, Sandi and Emma, for this great interview.

    I first encountered Emma through an interview Emma Walton Hamilton did with her on the Children's Book Hub, and I grow more impressed with her the more I learn about her -- and the more I learn from her.

    I was particularly struck this evening by her suggestions for writing, and all the great experiments she put forward as ways to stretch and hone our skills.

    Thanks again!

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  10. Sandi - Thanks so much for your interview with Emma Dryden. I attended an SCBWI Retreat last year where Emma was a featured speaker. Her enthusiasm for children's books was contagious. Between all of the great information, and a lot of laughs, she managed to bestow on each participant a fresh insight as to what it will take to be an author in our changing digital world - much of it she shared in your interview. Thanks again to you, and Emma!

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