Editor / Agent Spotlight

Legal Aspects of Writing and Publishing: Interview with Author-Agent Jacqui Lipton, and Giveaway

Hello Mixed-Up Filers! I was fortunate to know Jacqui Lipton at VCFA where we both got our MFA degrees in Writing. After graduating from Vermont College Of Fine Arts, Jacqui has become an agent and an author. I’m so pleased to welcome her for an interview at Mixed-Up Files today.



Hi Jacqui, thanks for joining us today at Mixed-Up Files.

Thank you for having me and congratulations on your recent book deal!

Thank you, Jacqui! Tell us about your book. What motivated you to write Law & Authors?

The more I began to immerse myself in the writing community, the more I realized the need for easily accessible resources for writers who couldn’t necessarily afford to hire lawyers for every little problem, and who could use some guidance on when and how to find legal advice. One thing I’ve tried to do in the book is to make the legal issues fun and accessible by using examples from popular culture to illustrate how things like copyrights, trademarks, contracts, privacy and defamation law work. I’ve also included hints and tips about what issues writers can handle reasonably easily on their own (e.g. registering a copyright) and when legal help may be necessary.

  1. How did you become an agent and an author?

Becoming an author is easy. You just sit at a typewriter and bleed, right?

But agenting is a tougher nut to crack, and I wasn’t always sure that’s what I wanted to do anyway. While I was in the MFA program, the opportunity arose to become a reader for an established kidlit agent. I loved the editorial and manuscript development work and, with my legal background, I was fascinated by the legal and business side of the industry. After a few years of moving in that direction, and doing some informational interviews with other agents, I figured it was time to fish or cut bait.

  1. What are the top three contract provisions an author must understand before signing with an agent?

Agency contracts are actually pretty easy to follow and are usually no more than two or three pages long. It’s the with publishers that are more complex: see below. For an agency contract, it’s important to understand:

  • the scope of representation (what work the contract actually covers e.g. everything you write during the term of the agreement; only your writing in a particular genre or in a particular market etc.?);
  • when and how the agreement can be terminated (how much notice do you have to give? Are you locked in for a particular period after signing?); and,
  • if you move on to another agent, what happens to projects you’ve worked on while at the previous agency (when can you submit them to editors through the new agency? Will the original agency take a cut of the commission?)

Of course, you want to know what commission the agent gets. It’s standard for most agents to ask for 15% of your royalties for a regular sale and higher percentages if they engage other agents for subrights etc. because that sub-agent will also take a cut.


  1. What are the top five dos and don’ts when it comes to contract negotiations with publishers?

It probably depends on whether you’re negotiating yourself or via an agent. If you have an agent, your agent will probably guide the strategy to an extent, and will handle the negotiation on your behalf, but of course in close consultation with you. After all, the agent represents you, not the other way around.

Each contract varies with context so there are no hard and fast rules, but you should think about things like:

  • What rights the publisher is taking. If the publisher wants subrights like foreign, translation, merchandising, film/TV etc, think about whether the publisher is likely to be able to execute those rights satisfactorily. If not, try to retain them, or at least seek a reversion (ie you get back the rights) after a particular period of time.
  • How much is the advance you’re being offered? This is not something you should really look at out of context; you need to consider royalties, sub-rights etc at the same time. A lower advance will be easier to “earn out” (ie pay back out of royalties) so a lower advance isn’t necessarily a bad thing.
  • If you’re writing a book that has significant design or illustration elements (e.g. a picture book), will you get consultation or approval over those design elements, including over the choice of illustrator etc. The same comes up with choice of narrators under audio rights contracts. Many publishers will give you consultation, rather than approval, but most good publishers are collaborative on this score for the most part in any event.
  • Understand that you are likely making certain representations to the publisher that your book doesn’t infringe anyone else’s legal rights, including copyrights and trademark rights, and that your book doesn’t defame anyone. The publisher will likely seek an indemnity from you if they are sued for these things. Try to find out if you can limit the indemnity to non-frivolous legal action (frivolous claims are those that are raised more for the annoyance value than because there is a serious legal issue at stake). See if the publisher is able to extend any of its liability insurance to cover you: this is unlikely but you can ask.
  • Understand what happens if you don’t submit your final manuscript on time or you don’t submit a satisfactory manuscript. Do you have a right to have extra time (if you can’t make your initial deadline), and/or to revise to the publisher’s specifications? If you get more time, how much time? What happens to your advance if you fail to deliver a satisfactory manuscript?

Publishing contracts are much more complex than agency contracts which is why it’s a good idea to work with an agent, if you possibly can. If you don’t have an agent, it may be worth engaging the services of a lawyer with expertise in publishing contracts to help you negotiate these contracts.

  1. Could you recommend resources for authors or illustrators who would like to protect their rights in the current publishing environment?

For those who are members of the Authors Guild, there are useful legal resources on their website and they do offer contract consultations.

Volunteer lawyers for the arts organizations around the country provide pro bono legal advice to authors and artists but often have significant waiting lists.

Some writers’ organizations, like SCBWI and SFWA have helpful information about publishing dos and don’ts and current issues of concern on their website, including an “ask a lawyer” bulletin board accessible from the SCBWI website.

The Authors Alliance has useful information on their website particularly about contract negotiations, fair use and rights reversions.

I go into more detail on how to find effective and affordable legal advice in the final chapter of Law and Authors.

  1. Tell us about your experience founding Raven Quill Literary Agency, and your growing team of agents and authors.

It seems to have grown really fast but it’s been a lot of fun. I started the agency earlier this year with the aim of creating a fun and transparent, but of course professional, team of authors and agents working to bring new stories and voices into mainly the kidlit area. A significant aspect of our mission is to help make underrepresented voices heard. We also like to work closely and editorially with all of our authors. The agency largely grew by accident. It started with just me and rapidly expanded to include our other agents who are all amazing (Kelly Dyksterhouse, Kortney Price, and Lori Steel) largely through a series of happy accidents; people being in the right place at the right time.

  1. What advice do you have for authors who want to query an agent at Raven Quill Literary Agency?

Probably similar advice to querying any other agent/agency. Do your homework. Find the agent who seems like the right fit for your work. Write a professional query letter and make sure your manuscript really shines before you submit it. I always say: “I don’t want your fastest work; I want your best work.” There’s a lot of information on our website about what we’re all looking for and how to submit to each of us, and when we’re open or closed to general queries. (We all use Query Manager for submissions and try to ensure that at least one or two of us are open to queries at any given time.) We also regularly Tweet out particular wishlists. We do share submissions between us if we think something is a better fit for another agent. We do consider subsequent projects from someone who has queried us before, or even revisions of projects we passed on, but we like to see authors sit back and reflect on any feedback we may have given them for, say 6-8 weeks before submitting something new. Oftentimes what isn’t clicking for an agent in the first piece is the same in later pieces by the same author. It doesn’t mean that there’s anything wrong with your writing, just that the agent you submitted to isn’t the right fit. We typically respond to all queries whether it’s a pass, a revise and resubmit request or an offer of rep. We try and give feedback in our responses as often as we can but sometimes it’s just not possible with the amount of queries we receive so please excuse any generic “pass” responses. Again, it’s not an indictment of your writing, just a sign of how busy we are.

Note: My usual disclaimers apply to everything in this interview. Nothing about the law is intended as formal legal advice and those who feel they do need formal advice should consult a lawyer with the appropriate expertise.

Thank you so much for having me!

Enter the giveaway for a copy of Law & Authors by leaving a comment below.  You may earn extra entries by blogging/tweeting/facebooking the interview and letting us know. The winner will be determined on June 26, 2020 and will be contacted via email and asked to provide a mailing address (US/Canada only) to receive the book.

If you’d like to know more about Jacqui and her agency, visit her website: https://jdlipton.com/index.html or https://ravenliterary.com/ or follow her on twitter: https://twitter.com/Jacqui_Lipton


AGENT SPOTLIGHT: Tina Dubois of ICM Partners

Hello Mixed-Up Filers! Are we in for a treat today! Years ago, I was fortunate enough to take a workshop with Tina Dubois, literary agent with ICM Partners. Besides running a great workshop, she couldn’t have been nicer! So, I’m pleased to let all of you get a chance to meet her here at Mixed-Up Files.

JR: Hi Tina, thanks for joining us today!

TD: Thanks so much for having me and for your kind introduction! I’m glad our paths continue to cross.

JR: To start, I see you live in Brooklyn. I’m a Brooklyn boy, myself. Sheepshead Bay/Gravesend area. What is it about the city that appeals to you?

TD: The energy, the pace, the people!

JR: I agree with that. You also lived in London, one of my favorite places. How has living in different areas helped influence your tastes?

TD: I want my list to reflect a far greater swath of experiences and points of view than my own. Moving from a small town in New England to study in London surely helped shape that.

JR: Could you tell us a little bit about your path to becoming an agent and also about ICM?

TD: Shortly after receiving my MFA in Poetry from Brooklyn College, I got a job as an assistant to two amazing agents at a boutique literary agency. They taught me every aspect of the business, from pitch letters to contract language to foreign rights. I moved to ICM a few years later and began building my own list under the mentorship of another amazing woman.

ICM Partners is one of the oldest and largest agencies in the world, with offices in New York, Los Angeles, Washington, D.C., and London. I’m very fortunate to work with such incredible colleagues representing the most talented people across so many disciplines: music, comedy, theater, broadcasting, television, film, podcasting, speakers, publishing, you name it!

JR: What was the first book you sold?

TD: Anne Ursu’s middle grade fantasy trilogy, The Cronus Chronicles. It set a high bar, and I’m so grateful to Anne for trusting me with those books—with all of her children’s books!

JR: What do you enjoy the most about your job?

TD: I love working with my authors. They are so talented: creative and smart and funny. And hardworking!


JR: What sort of books do you look for?

TD: I’m looking for middle-grade and YA fiction across all genres. I’m also interested in middle-grade and YA nonfiction, specifically memoir (including graphic memoirs), history/biography, pop culture, and social issues. I want diverse voices/#ownvoices. I want books with something important to say about the world we live in and that challenge the status quo. I have a soft spot for unpredictable magic and characters facing impossible choices. I love books that make me laugh and cry in equal measure.

JR: Are you very hands-on with your authors?

TD: Yes. I like to be involved with every aspect of the publishing process. It’s really a collaboration with my authors—from the submission strategy to the editorial vision to the cover design to the marketing and publicity plan. The focus is always on creating the best book, considering the market it’s being published into, and anticipating how the author’s career is being shaped with each book being published. I’m also an editorial agent, so it’s not unusual for me to do a round (or two) of edits before going out with a project.

JR: With everything that’s going on, what’s the state of publishing right now?

TD: My answer to this question changes moment to moment. There are terrible, impossible losses—book sales, jobs, lives. There are also heartwarming acts of generosity and kindness—established authors using their robust platforms to support debuts; booksellers and libraries serving their communities with remote events. None of these things erase the very real hardships facing us right now, and I can’t pretend to know what’s to come. But I am grateful for the publishing people who are working hard to give us stories to help make sense of our world–and real facts for when certain voices in that world speak nonsense.

JR: What advice can you give to authors?

TD: Write from your most empathic, beautiful self, pursue whatever fascinates and scares you, and read widely.


JR: That’s great advice. I always like to ask, what was your favorite book as a child?

TD: I don’t know that I had a favorite—or rather, my favorite was always whatever book I was currently reading—but I know Jacob Have I Loved by Katherine Paterson resonated deeply with me.


JR: What’s one thing from your childhood that you wish could come back?

TD: The raucous family gatherings we used to have when my mémère was alive. All the aunts and uncles and cousins still get together, but it’s not the same without my mémère’s cooking and her smile. She was full of mischief, and she loved us grandkids. My sons would’ve adored her.

JR: Very sweet. One of my grandmothers never got to meet my kids and I always wish she had. How can people follow you on social media?

TD: @tinaduboisny

JR: Okay, before I let you go, a few months ago, you posted a photo of you holding a duck, and made it seem like it’s a ritual. I need to hear the story behind that.

TD: Oh, jeez, how do I explain this? Several years ago when I was home for the holidays, my oldest childhood friend took a photo of me with one of her chickens perched on my head. The following year, it was two chickens. Then three. Then four. This past year, she added ducks to the mix. Every year I insist it’ll be the last (because claws and beaks and dignity), but you will not find two people laughing harder, and so the tradition continues.

JR: It did look like you were having a lot of fun, but I suggest you quit before it reaches vultures! I’d like to thank you again for taking the time to speak to us today!

TD: Thanks so much for having me! It was a pleasure getting to chat books–and birds!—with you, Jonathan.

NEW AGENT SPOTLIGHT: Joyce Sweeney of the Seymour Agency

Hello Mixed-Up Filers! Are we in for a treat today!

I’ve been looking forward to today’s agent interview for a while, since  it’s with someone who I’ve been friends with for a long time. Before becoming an agent, she had been a mentor to many writers and did a lot to help them become published, including me. She recently became an agent, and what’s even better is, she became an agent at the same place as where I’m represented!

Please help me welcome Joyce Sweeney of the Seymour Agency!

JR: Hi Joyce, thanks for joining us today!

JS: Thanks, this is my first interview as an agent, so I’m officially not a ‘secret agent’ anymore!

JR: I’m glad we could play a part in the big reveal! To start with, you’re an accomplished author yourself, what was your first published book, and what was your journey like to publication?

JS: My first published book was CENTER LINE, Delacorte Press, 1984. It was a contemporary YA about runaways. I won the first annual Delacorte Prize for a First YA novel, which makes it sound like an overnight success, but my then-agent had been shopping the novel for over a year, before we heard of the contest. The book sold really well and won a lot of awards and two movie options. So haha to the 34 publishing houses who rejected it.

JR: As I mentioned, you’ve been a mentor to many, and have also helped a ton of writers become published. How many has it been, and how did you first get started in that?

JS: We are up to 64 magic beans now! I award a magic bean to anyone who works with me, who secures a traditional publishing contract. It sort of evolved. I was teaching five-week writing classes through the Broward County Library system. Then I noticed people would do really well, but lose momentum once the five weeks were over. So I switched to an ongoing class, where I could really mentor people over the long haul. To my surprise, within one year of starting the group, we had our first person published. And the following year, two more, and the following, five more!  So I felt we should be celebrating all this and I started handing out the magic beans, which are the seeds from the South American Guanacaste tree. As you know (as a magic bean holder yourself) we hold a little ceremony, shake rattles, hug and cheer. It’s such a hard thing to be traditionally published, and I believe those who make it should get a celebration.

JR: The magic bean ceremony really is a lot of fun, and I still proudly have my bean! As a teacher/mentor, you had cultivated a lot of relationships with editors and agents, and one of the things I know you did was reach out to them when you thought you had a student who was ready to take the leap. It seems like such a logical progression to become an agent, yourself, since you were already advocating on behalf of your stable of authors. How did that officially come about?

JS: People have told me over the years I would make a good agent, but it seemed like a weird, distant, impossible thing to me then, like it would involve moving to New York and having power lunches. My agent, Nicole Resciniti, approached me about it last December and I was sort of stunned, along with flattered and immediately after, super excited. She pointed out it was the same job I’d been doing all my life, except now I could potentially take my mentees all the way to the finish line! So how could I not be excited about that?

JR: Nicole definitely has an eye for talent. (Wow, I love how I seamlessly got that in!) Were you nervous about making that change? 

JS: Sure. It’s a lot of responsibility to the writers I represent. But I do know how to spot talent and know when people are ready, and I am starting to have fun with the pitching and matchmaking parts. When I see my first client make a sale, I can’t even imagine how exciting that will be.

JR: Since I happen to know some of your clients, I hope that happens soon! What’s changed in publishing between the time you started and now?

JS: Technology has changed tremendously, but you don’t want to hear how I used to have to type out my whole manuscript while walking ten miles in the snow.  I think a lot of it hasn’t changed that much, except it’s more competitive, and editors have to think more about sales and marketing. The good change is that children’s literature is more diverse and inclusive.

JR: You’ve already started taking on clients. So, what sort of books and authors are you looking for?

JS: At this time, I’m mostly representing picture books and middle grades of all types; fiction or non-fiction. I’m drawn to lyrical voices and stories that elicit strong emotion. I like all genres.

JR: Are you very hands-on with your authors?

JS: I’m very editorial, obviously, since that’s my background. And I like to communicate. As you know I’m a great believer in helping writers shape their expectations and feel good about the direction things are going. Then they can be free to create. When I have a bigger list, I don’t know if I will be as communicative as I am now, but knowing me, lol, I probably will be.

JR: What advice can you give to authors?

JS: Worry more about your craft than your platform. There are lots of ways to market an author, but there is no way to sell a book that is not outstanding.

JR: What was your favorite book as a child?

JS: PETER PAN, then HEIDI, then LITTLE WOMEN. Then I started loving Beverly Cleary and read her obsessively. Then, around fifth grade, I started reading adult books so there was a big John Steinbeck period. But my all-time favorite series was called SPACE CAT. Long out of print, and not high literature for sure.  Space Cat explored the solar system and interacted with all the beings there, who strangely, were also cats!

JR: Cats, how shocking. Favorite movie?

JS: Pirates of the Caribbean, I, II, III and on to infinity.  I’m also passionate about thrillers for some crazy reason. The Hand That Rocks the Cradle is a favorite.  And musicals. And horror. Okay, I just really like movies.

JR: What’s one thing from your childhood that you wish could come back?

JS: I used to sincerely believe that anything I went for, I could achieve. Okay, I still believe that a little.


JR: Well, that’s still a good belief! How can people follow you on social media?

JS: Facebook, Twitter @joycegrackle, Instagram sweeney1217.


JR: I know that of all the authors you’ve ever mentored, I’m by far, your favorite. Okay, I know you didn’t actually say those words, but I can infer. Also, this isn’t really an actual question, just a statement that I wanted to make since I knew there’d be others reading this, but that’s neither here nor there.

JS: I think my answer is so obvious, I will refrain from commenting.


JR: You don’t have to, we know. Anyway, I want to thank you so much for taking the time to speak to us today!

JS: Thank you! This was fun!


JR: Thanks again to Joyce, welcome to Seymour Agency, and best of luck going forward!