Alli Brydon is a freelance children’s book editor and author who has worked in children’s publishing for 15 years, both in the US and UK.
What was your route to becoming a freelance author and editor?
My route to going freelance came after about 12 years of working at publishing houses and agencies, gaining experience in all facets of the industry. I started as an Editorial Intern (a looooooong time ago) at Penguin Books for Young Readers in NYC, and it was there I discovered what I wanted to be when I grew up! Then, a year later, I landed my dream job as an Editorial Assistant at Sterling Publishing, also in NYC. After 9 ½ years at Sterling I had worked up to Senior Editor and decided I needed a change, a new challenge. So, I joined Bright Agency to expand and manage their US branch and also to be an agent for many talented children’s book authors and illustrators. That’s where I gained the most experience in starting and running a business. It’s also where I expanded my professional circle and got to know so many amazing folks working at all different publishing houses, both in the US and UK. All of this experience – over a decade of learning, growing and working – helped me launch Alli Brydon Creative in 2017.
Since then, my business has branched out in so many wonderful ways: I am now also an author of children’s books; I work part-time as a Commissioning Editor building a children’s book programme for Trigger Publishing; I’ve given talks and classes on picture book writing and revising; I work on long-term projects with self-publishing authors; and I do developmental editing for large and small publishing houses both in the US and UK.
That is such an interesting route to what you do today! And having experience in both US and UK publishing always strikes me as being useful when the markets are so wildly different. So, what inspired you to seek out a publishing role, and then go freelance?
Growing up, I didn’t know I wanted to work in publishing, even though I always loved books and reading. My sister was really the more bookish one in our family. I studied English and Creative Writing at university and graduate school but didn’t come to publishing until I took over a job my sister held one summer, as part-time Editorial Assistant at a publisher of library science textbooks. The subject matter was dry, but the whole experience whet my appetite for editorial. I was hooked! Then I landed that internship at Penguin and kept in touch with my mentors there, which led me to my next publishing gig at Sterling. At Sterling, I went from Editorial Assistant – Associate Editor – Editor – Senior Editor. Then I obviously turned to managing/agenting at Bright.
And again, I never planned to go freelance until I actually made the leap! I had been an agent for over two years and really wanted to get back to the editorial work I was doing prior to that. I missed working on a book project in great depth and just the whole machine of publishing: the editorial development, the art directing, the design process, the physical production of the book, the plans to help market and sell the book—all of it. So I decided to go back to it, but on my own terms working for myself. I wanted more freedom and flexibility, and the freelance life really does afford that. In fact, if I hadn’t gone freelance in 2017, I probably wouldn’t have felt as confident about making the move from NY to the UK in 2018 with my family.
I very much empathise with you on missing parts of the editorial workload. I agented too during a brief freelance stint, and what you’ve just described was how I felt too! But I also perform best when I’m in-house, and I love the buzz of an office, which was another reason why freelance life was definitely not for me. I really respect the self-discipline that freelancers have, and I would love to hear about what a typical working day is for you.
I’m sure you can imagine that, just like in any job, there is no ‘typical working day.’ Well, I think for freelancers, ‘atypical’ is the norm! Since my clients are all over the globe and require my time in different ways, I can be working at odd hours if I need to hit a deadline or have a call with someone in another time zone. But since I have small children, my workday usually begins as soon as I return from school drop off (around 9am) and ends right before I pick them up. I like to keep regular hours (pandemic notwithstanding!) as the rhythm of the workweek keeps me motivated.
But on any given day I could be doing admin (there quite a bit of admin in freelancing!), working on a manuscript critique for a private client, reading submissions or giving sketch notes for my role as Commissioning Editor at Upside Down Books/Trigger, planning my next blog post, pitching for new work, giving advice to a self-publishing client, writing or revising a manuscript, planning PR for books I’ve authored, and the list goes on and on...
In fact, you can see my to-do list here:
What is the most satisfying part of your job?
The variety! No two days are ever the same, which keeps things exciting. That, and having the time to write children’s books, which I build into my workweek.
What is the least satisfying part of your job?
The lack of real, live co-workers (although I suppose everyone in publishing has given this up recently because of lockdown). Since I usually work from home (or from a sweet little studio called Peppercorn, where I do my writing), I don’t have the regular office chat or the social aspects of a publishing job. I miss having a ‘work bestie,’ eating lunch with office friends, and bouncing ideas freely around some cubicles.
My colleagues at Trigger are AMAZING, and one of my favourite things is seeing them on Google Hangouts during our weekly meetings. But since I’ve always worked remotely, rarely do I see them in person. When it’s safe to do so, I’ll probably go to Trigger’s London office from time to time.
And how do you juggle your author and editor work?
To be honest, I’m not sure! Some weeks I feel like I can barely come up for air. But when business is busy, that’s really good. I think I find it easier to fit in creative time when I only have snippets of it here and there. Whenever I tell myself, “I’m going to block off half of Sunday just to write,” I wind up messing around on social media or watching reruns of Killing Eve (both worthy endeavours, to be fair). The pace and excitement of a busy work life ignites my creative life. And when I know I only have a little bit of time to write, it helps me focus and use that time wisely.
But I do have to be wary of Editor-Alli getting in the way of Author-Alli’s writing process, which she really does way too much.
Oh my gosh, I also relate to this and most of the time I feel like I work best when I have a bit too much going on. It’s like the planets align for me if I keep myself constantly under the cosh. (Of course, there are also moments when the work bottlenecks for whatever reason and I clearly just have too much on.)
What are some of the skills that you’ve developed?
I’m going to answer this question in a really boring way, because I think if you have great editorial mentors (which, thankfully, I always have) you’ll develop those creative skills over time through on-the-job experience.
The skills I’ve developed that help me run a successful freelance editorial business are:
· Balancing my financial books and keeping all my admin straight
· Keeping in touch with my professional network, because word-of-mouth is often where new projects come from
· Managing my time so I can deliver great work early when I can, because repeat projects come from happy clients 😊
What are some of the biggest challenges you’ve come up against?
The biggest challenge I face as a freelancer is the rollercoaster of financial insecurity. Especially when just starting out, the budget is tight. There are high-earning months and low-earning months. And, I’m not gonna lie: those low-earning months are scary. Then, because there is never a steady pay cheque as a freelancer, when work does come in I usually say “yes” to everything, which can make me feel overloaded. I finally, now, three years after starting my business, can manage the peaks and troughs and also almost guarantee that I’ll have steady work—which feels great.
The finance side of it was definitely something I struggled with as a freelancer, and it’s so heartening to hear another person say that it can be managed, despite the uncertainty at times.
Last but not least, can you tell us about some of your personal highlights?
One major highlight was launching Upside Down Books, the children’s book imprint of Trigger Publishing, in early 2020. I was brought on to create a list of fiction and nonfiction picture books, activity books and middle grade on the topics of mental health, wellbeing, mindfulness and emotional intelligence. Books that help children express their feelings and work through mental health issues are so necessary, and working on this publishing programme is really rewarding.
Another big project for me was working as developmental editor and project manager on the 2018 picture book A Day in the Life of Marlon Bundo, with Chronicle Books and the team at Last Week Tonight with John Oliver (which is a huge TV programme in the US). The book became an instant bestseller and cultural phenomenon, and featured gay bunnies getting married all while skewering the current US government. It also raised a ton of money for LGBTQ+ charity, so it was a win for all! I’m incredibly proud of that book.
After being a children’s book editor for 15 years, becoming an author was a big deal for me. Myths & Legends of the World (ages 9 – 12) published with Lonely Planet Kids in October 2019 and the book turned out looking amazing. I had my first author event (pre-pandemic) in my local bookshop, and that was a thrill!
And any time I can share books I’ve made and get the seal of approval from my own two kiddos at home... that’s kind of the biggest personal highlight ever!
Alli Brydon on Twitter.
Alli Brydon on Instagram.
Alli’s freelance editorial site.
Alli’s author site.