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Apples from Women by Jill Bryant

July 27, 2011

Jill Bryant is a freelance writer and editor who also writes nonfiction books for children and book reviews for Quill & Quire. She is the author of Dazzling Women Designers, Backyard Circus, Making Shadow Puppets, Amazing Women Athletes, and many others. She freelances for  Scholastic, McGraw-Hill Ryerson, and several other publishers. Visit her site at http://jillbryant.ca/

“I’ve been working in the publishing industry for over 20 years. Over time, I’ve become bitter about certain aspects of the business, but I’m still here! Women in publishing have had a huge effect on my personal success and the shape of my career. I revel in the stories of female success and applaud women freelancers who’ve hiked their rates to match those of male colleagues. Clearly, women in publishing deserve better pay and more respect. A shift needs to occur. In the meantime, whenever I can lend a helping hand to another woman in publishing, it gives me great satisfaction.

Andectotes from In-House Jobs

When I was in second year English at university, I was lucky to land a co-op work placement in the publishing industry. I was hired by a female manager, and returned for the balance of my work-terms. The position paid $10 an hour less than many of my fellow students’ jobs, and I also worked at a movie theatre to make it financially feasible. Still, I adored it.

Back then, I dreamed of one day owning my own children’s magazine, or writing best-selling picture books. I quickly met two women who became my publishing mentors, and lifelong friends. These kinds of relationships are common in publishing, where it can be fiercely competitive on many fronts, but nurturing on others. When I told my mentor Jane that I wanted to be a writer, she said matter of factly, “Stick to editing. It will pay the bills.”

At one publishing company, where I worked in Toronto in the mid-90s, the male president would swagger through the lunchroom looking for choice pickings from young women’s packed lunch boxes. Once he stole a slice of apple from me. I quipped, “You know, you should never take an apple from a woman.” Another time, when he reached for one of my cookies, I asked if he’d like the recipe. I know I surprised myself by speaking out—albeit humorously—but who could tolerate that boorish abuse of power under the pretext of male charm?

While freelancing in the late 1990s, I saw a wall of photos in a meeting room showing presidents of Canadian publishing houses. There might have been one woman in the bunch. I was dismayed at the blatant injustice.

Navigating through Self-Employment

My first freelance job was for a strong, intelligent, determined woman who became my third mentor. She believed in my abilities, and hired me as project manager where I’d oversee a team of editors—something I’d never done before. She was right; I could do it. Her faith gave me the confidence, in later freelance projects, to accept contracts for projects on subjects outside my comfort zone.

I cherish the flexibility of my current freelance lifestyle, which enables me to work at home, pick up my children after school, take them to after-school activities, and take (unpaid) holidays that suit my family members’ schedules. Lately, my husband has had a particularly busy workload, so I’ve been picking up the slack at home. Now, he covers one after-school pick up per week as a way to compensate my time. I’ve been amazed at how much more writing I can accomplish on those days—that is, if I manage to ignore the household chores screaming to be done. (See http://tamsonweston.com/blog/after-ecstasy-the-laundry-ignore-your-chores-and-write/)

The Battle

When it comes to being an author, like many, I waver between brief spurts of confidence and longer periods of self-doubting apprehension. Confidence is central to writing and surviving in the publishing world. Low pay, however, fuels feelings of undervalued self-worth. Rejection letters raise questions, such as “Am I good enough?” and “Should I keep doing this?” It takes great determination to squelch these notions and persevere.

Writing two books in Second Story Press’s “Women’s Hall of Fame” series gave me the opportunity to write real-life profiles about top-notch achievers for girl readers. It’s my hope that reading about the accomplishments of these excellent role models (such as Eileen Gray, Jane Jacobs, and Eiko Ishioka) will empower girls to rock the establishment with their wisdom, creativity, passion, and not-yet-developed skills. I really, really hope that these books, and this 16-book series, will make a difference to girls’ futures.

In my journey as writer, editor, and fan of quality literature, I continue to work with many amazing women in publishing. I’m grateful to the friends I’ve met along the way.”


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4 Comments
  1. Jill, Yes, Yes, and Yes! My path has been a little different from yours–I am a fiction writer and freelance editor who works primarily with individual clients. I haven’t encountered boorish men because (no doubt) I haven’t met most of the people behind my multitude of rejection letters/emails.

    Close friendships with other writers, male and female, are what keep me going. Two small fiction successes in the last year haven’t hurt, but there’s nothing like the shared heart of a fellow traveler on this crazy road we’ve chosen, to impart strength for the journey. Thank you!

  2. This was a great read! I love to hear the stories of women writers. I wrote a quick post about this blog on my new blog (womenreadcomicstoo.blogspot.com); I hope to spread the word!

    Best,
    Angie Spoto

  3. Thank you so much, Helen and Angie. It is wonderful to feel the support of other women writers and editors. I’m thrilled to hear you are sharing this link, Angie. Publishing can be such a competitive climate, but when women pull together (and men, too) to share in the joys of publishing, it really does make it all feel so worthwhile.

    I wish you much success, and many beautiful long-lasting friendships, as you continue in your literary pursuits.

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