Emma DrydenToday I have the pleasure and honor of bringing you a guest post from one of the most knowledgeable AND most generous people in the children’s literature industry — Emma Dryden. I’ve been lucky enough to work with Emma multiple times in myriad ways–from attending her workshops at conferences, to interviewing her for trade articles, to using her phenomenal editorial services to shape up one of my picture book manuscripts. It was my extreme good fortune that, when I announced that I was crowdfunding my next picture book via Kickstarter, Emma expressed interest in being one of my “behind-the-scenes” crew members. Therefore, I’ve had the benefit of bringing her years of publishing expertise to bear on this project as we learn together what the potential implications of crowdfunding are for children’s publishing.

I asked Emma if she would be willing to write a guest post providing her views about crowdfunding as a new option for authors, illustrators, publishers and agents based upon what she has observed during my campaign. As is typical of Emma, when you ask for something, you get 500% more than whatever it was you were expecting! So please allow me to step aside now and let Emma’s post speak for itself. Welcome Emma!

As a freelance editor with over twenty-five years experience as an editor at three of the big-five publishing houses, I’ve had thedrydenbks logo opportunity to work with authors and illustrators who are not only dedicated to deepening their craft and their knowledge of the marketplace, but who are exploring all of their agent options and publishing options. The variety of consultancies and conversations I’ve had over the past several years have resulted in my becoming very interested in and inspired by the myriad of opportunities available to authors and illustrators right now, from publishing with a large house in a “traditional” way; publishing with a small, independent house or start-up; publishing digital-only; self-publishing; and, something that’s come to my attention most recently, the notion of hybrid publishing.

By now we should all be familiar with the term hybrid author, but what does hybrid publishing mean? Well, much in the same way the hybrid author doesn’t limit herself to one sort of publishing platform or program, and thinks strategically about when and where it makes sense to publish digitally for one project, publish traditionally for another project, self-publish another project, and so on, all with the same level of professionalism and personal branding. Hybrid publishing is very much about taking the best of several worlds to create a brand new publishing model that involve an agent and a publisher working with an author (and illustrator) to take a non-traditional route to get a book published.

How Julie Hedlund is approaching the publication of her picture book MY LOVE FOR YOU IS THE SUN provides a terrific example of hybrid publishing at work—and could indeed set a precedent for small presses and authors/illustrators. For reasons Julie explains in her series of “Why I’m Crowdfunding my Next Picture Book” posts and videos, her publisher at Little Bahalia, a small house that publishes story apps before they offer any sort of print format, loved the manuscript but was not in a position to commit to publishing Julie’s new picture book, which is better suited to be a print book than an app or eBook. Julie has an agent and the two of them discussed the fact that without Little Bahalia on board, this particular picture book manuscript—which is a sweet, non-character-driven rhyming bedtime story—might have too hard a time getting a foothold with editors at houses who were likely to either have enough bedtime stories, or who only acquire character-driven picture books, or who find the work to be too “quiet.”

Now, here’s where this gets interesting: some agents would have told their author to put that manuscript away and work on something else and some authors would have reluctantly done just that, allowing the confines of the marketplace to have the final word on the fate of that manuscript. But Julie didn’t want to put the manuscript away so fast and she asked her agent and the publisher what might happen if she figured out a way to raise the funds herself, and gather together the necessary team (including an editor and an illustrator, as well as her agent and publisher at Little Bahalia), to essentially create a production-ready book—would Little Bahalia be open to adding the book to their list (as a print-only version) under these circumstances? The publisher said indeed they would. So Julie went ahead and figured out how she could do this—and decided on launching this Kickstarter campaign. And she did it in complete transparent collaboration with an illustrator she brought on board, her agent, and her publisher.

In what’s being called one of the riskiest publishing marketplaces ever for picture books, this is risk-sharing at its best. This is about an author taking a thoughtful, proactive approach to marketplace restrictions and trying to find a reasonable solution with the very people who were “rejecting” the project even though they loved it. This is about a forward-looking agent acknowledging her author’s goals, trusting her author’s strengths, remaining relevant to that author, and figuring out ways to negotiate new sorts of contracts. This is about an experienced illustrator being willing and able to work on spec up front and share rewards on the back end. And this is about a small publisher staying cognizant of marketplace and budgetary constraints while supporting an author and being nimble enough to figure out new methods of publishing and distributing that author’s work. This is the sort of risk-sharing that’s steeped in respect for all parties involved in the publishing of the best possible book, without cutting corners when it comes to editorial, design, or production quality—and who all agreed that if the funding didn’t work, the project would be shelved. Everyone agreed to be all in or not at all—but were willing to work hard on the front end to do what they could to insure the funding would work.

The sort of forward-thinking “let’s try this!” attitude is what excites me most right now, and I’m happy to say I’m starting to see more of this as I look around the children’s book industry. I’m also aware of too many authors, illustrators, agents, and publishers not willing, or not in a strong enough position financially or otherwise, to try anything quite this new and unorthodox, which does mean that some excellent books won’t be getting unto the hands of the kids who could really need them.

First completed illustration for My Love for You is the Sun

First completed illustration for My Love for You is the Sun

Now, I will say this: For this sort of hybrid publishing to work, you have to start with two things: First, the very best manuscript possible. Julie spent years writing this manuscript—this was not something she just dashed off to see if it would fly—and she worked hard with critique partners and an editor before anyone ever saw the work. And second, you have to attach a highly professional, accomplished illustrator to the project who thoroughly understands the crafting of picture books. Without these two components, the project won’t make it.

Having an open-minded agent and publisher committed to the author’s and illustrator’s goals are the next essential elements to thereby launch this sort of project into a professional category of publishing that may not be familiar but that’s going to yield an excellent book of which everyone attached can be very proud. The way in which MY LOVE FOR YOU IS THE SUN is coming together sets a new precedent and I for one very much look forward to seeing how Julie’s campaign progresses—and to seeing the book in print!

Emma D. Dryden is the founder of drydenbks, a multi-faceted company pertaining to all aspects of the children’s book publishing business. Her expertise is working with authors to help define, enrich, and craft their work to make it viable for the current marketplace. Emma boasts over twenty-five years of experience editing and publishing children’s books at Viking Children’s Books, Random House Children’s Books, the Margaret K. McElderry imprint at Macmillan Children’s Books, and ultimately became Vice President, Publisher of Atheneum Books for Young Readers and Margaret K. McElderry Books, imprints of Simon & Schuster Children’s Publishing, a position she held until 2009 before forming drydenbks. 

Emma has edited nearly five-hundred books for children and young readers, ranging in format from board books and picture books to poetry, novelty books, non-fiction, middle grade fiction, and young adult/teen fiction and fantasy. Books published under her guidance have received numerous awards and medals, among them the Newbery Medal, Newbery Honor, Caldecott Honor, National Book Award nomination,  Coretta Scott King Author Award, Coretta Scott King Author Honor, Coretta Scott King Illustration Award, Indies Choice Book Award, New York Times Best Illustrated Award, Museum of Tolerance Children’s Book Award, Edgar Allan Poe Award, Oppenheim Toy Portfolio Platinum Award, Christopher Award, Jane Addams Book Award, Boston Globe/Horn Book Award, Robert F. Sibert Informational Book Award, and National Parenting Publications Gold Award.

Emma is a member of ALA (American Library Association), ALSC (Association for Library Services to Children), and is on the Board of Advisors of SCBWI (Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators). She is frequently invited to speak about the state of the industry and to lead workshops and seminars pertaining to all aspects of the craft and business of children’s books.

Categories: Agents, Authors, Children's Books, Creativity, Crowdfunding, Guest Blogging, Picture Books, SCBWI, Writing · Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,



  1. Thanks for sharing this insightful and informative guest post from Emma D. Dryden. Lots to ponder as publishing children’s books just keeps changing. Best of luck to you with hybrid publishing your picture book, Julie!

  2. The more I read about this project, the more impressed I am both with the project, and with YOU, Julie! What a fantastic post by Emma, getting into the depth of what this venture means for you, Julie, for the other members of your team, and for the world of creating children’s books at large. Thank you, Emma, for this and for all you do for the kidlit community, and thank you, Julie, as well.

  3. Wonderful, wonderful! Julie great good luck on the book (the art is sumptuous!). It is scary in this day and age, with the ground shifting more rapidly than ever before. But I do love an “outside the box, out the door, maybe onto the lawn, or better yet the stratosphere” kind of thinking, so this is a great model, IMO. It would also ensure the quality of work. Thank you for the article and thoughts Emma, and thank you Julie for sharing!

  4. Gteat post by Emma. I am really in awe of you doing this, Julie.

  5. You go girls! So inspired by this achievement!

  6. This was a very interesting post Emma. And, I’m delighted to know that you’re on board and interested in the outcome! Julie, you have such a great support team.

    Author Trudy Ludwig (Confessions of a Bully) has taken this route through crowdfunding and Kikstarter. Like you she had written a very different book, which her publisher wasn’t interested in. She raised money, but not as much as she hoped for. But, she doesn’t have the huge following you do on social media. It has been an interesting process for her and her book will be out in the spring. She wrote me a long e-mail and said she’d be happy to share what she learned with you. If you are interested, I’d be happy to forward her e-mail to you.

  7. Thanks for pointing me over here to come read this post, Emma. It’s really interesting. I’m wondering in these agent relationships what’s happening with their commissions. Do you think they’re making a full commission, or that they’re willing to take less? This is one of the big “creative” questions we’re facing with agents who are interested in bringing their authors to SWP, and maybe where hybrid publishers are already being forward thinking. Anyway, I’m excited by all of this open-mindedness too!

    • I think agents are going to have to be as flexible as authors in these new business models. I’m aware of some agents expecting their usual 15% commission, but am also aware of other agents who are agreeable to a lower percentage, so that the risk-sharing is more equally balanced. Might have to be a case by case basis.

  8. I’m a hybrid author, having pubbed with Random House and American Girl, but also having indie pubbed and early in 2014 I’ll be doing a digital-only novella with Inkspell. Yay! This new twist that you talk about is interesting too.

  9. Thank you Julie for this post. My son did a music project with kickstarter and I know it is a challenge. And Emma, this is the same open-mindedness that so impressed me about you at YBB Oct. 2012. It’s all so hopeful and seems to be breathing new life into the already hard journey towards publication.

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