For Librarians

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

 

Diversity in MG Lit #17 Equity for Black books and their creators

It’s my goal with these posts to shine a light on new diverse books for young readers at the middle grade level. It’s a regular feature on the Mixed Up Files Blog because the disparity in attention that diverse books receive is an ongoing problem. Recent events, however, call for a more systemic look at racism as it exists within the children’s book industry.
I have been writing for the last 25 years and have had published work for the last 11 years. In that time I’ve met people at all levels of the publishing and bookselling industries. Across the board I’ve found kind folks with good intentions. There has been an awareness of the inequalities in the industry as far back at the 1920s or 30s. Efforts have been made over the last hundred years, and yet time after time they have come woefully short of anything that looks like equality.
Rather than cast blame I’d like to look at the retail side of the equation and a handful of concrete ways all of us can make book sales grow, especially for POC authors & illustrators. It’s not the entire solution, but one sure way to make more money available for Black authors is to make books more available to Black families. Here are a half dozen steps you can take to do right by authors of color.
  1. Buy your books from Black-owned bookstores. Here’s a list of them by state. If there’s one near you, please become a regular customer. If not order from one once in a while and have them ship the books to you.
  2. Support Indie bookstores. Most new voices are first discovered and promoted by indie booksellers. Indie bookstores are a venue for book events for local authors not given a publisher-sponsored tour. And indie bookstores selling books at their cover price are the ones that give an author their full royalty. Those venues on line or elsewhere that offer discounts on books are giving the author less in royalty. Royalties are what make it possible for an author to continue writing.
  3. Donate to BINC. BINC is the Book Industry Charitable Foundation. They provide assistance to booksellers which helps them stay open in the face of difficulty. The assistance includes help with serious medical expenses, eviction prevention, funeral expenses, disaster assistance, domestic violence survival, utility shut-off prevention, and many other things. Donate here. Every little bit helps, especially now when so many book stores are struggling.
  4. Read books from Small Presses. Even the big publishers agree that the most daring and diverse books come out of small, independent, regional, and university presses. If you are a librarian, especially one on a book award committee, please give equal attention to the small press gems from Amistad, Just Us Books, Cinco Punto, Orca, Charlesbridge, Lee & Low, Enchanted Lion, Lerner, , and the many others listed here.
  5. Get involved in small business politics  If I could wave a magic wand I’d love to give every neighborhood and town it’s own vibrant independent bookstore. Sadly many people live in a book desert. If that’s your community, spend some time at your town’s council meetings. Ask the local small business association what you can do to bring a bookstore to town, The American Booksellers Association has a small business issues section that offers, state-by-state some suggestions for advocacy for bookstores. This kind of advocacy can be boring and feel far removed from the heat of the moment but if we want Black businesses to flourish in the future we have to lay the groundwork for it now.
  6. Use and promote your public library. Librarians are often at the forefront of advocating for diverse books. If your local library is not as inclusive as you’d like, The American Library Association has materials to help a library conduct a self audit and take steps to diversify the books on the shelf. If the books on your state reading lists and battle of the books lists are not reflecting Black lives, speak up. Librarians choose those lists; they need to hear from you. If they’ve consistently done a good job of serving the Black community—give them that feedback too. Help your library by using it regularly, requesting Black-authored books regularly, and supporting it with your votes when the library levy is on the ballot.
  7. Advocate for a full time teacher-librarian in every public, private, and charter school. Librarians pay a key role in introducing young readers to diverse voices. They also support diverse authors by buying their books. Show up at school board meetings. Pay attention to how school funding is allocated. Make sure there is always budget for diverse books and the librarians who support them.
  8. Most important of all–Vote. Vote in every election, especially the local ones. Be a well-informed voter, drawing your information from a variety of sources. Be a passionate voter, advocating for free access to the ballot box for all. Speak up when voting abuse happens. And always, always, keep in mind the readers you serve as a parent, teacher, librarian or bookseller. Serve not just your immediate interest but their long term benefit.

How do I motivate students outside the classroom?

Distance learning took many teachers by storm.

With the advent of Covid19, teaching went from being in front of a classroom of students to being behind a computer with periods of facetime. The magic of the classroom and active student engagement was gone. Every teacher was faced with the same question. “How do I motivate students outside the classroom?”

Before I describe the following Harry Potter contest, imagine using other books you’d like to feature. How could you incorporate a biography? A STEAM book? Historical Fiction? Think how this system could work in your own classroom between students, between classrooms within the grade level teams, or between grade levels in the same school. Have fun. Think outside the box.

Our school librarian was concerned that our students would opt for entertainment games instead of reading a good book. She and the other librarians in our school district came together and created a Harry Potter Contest. The contest was designed to be a competition between schools.

After creating the different elements of the contest, the librarians designed a website with weekly instructions and a leaderboard featuring house points. Before the contest began, the librarians sorted the schools into houses. My school was sorted into Hufflepuff.

(As a side note, we just finished the contest and it was a HUGE success. Students were engaged, books were read, lively conversations took place, and best of all, the schools came together in a friendly reading competition. Oh, and Hufflepuff won!)

Harry Potter Contest

Week One

  1. Reply to your Hogwarts invitation letter via electronic owl (Google Form)

Prompt positive responses are worth 5 pts; late responses will still be accepted, but will only be worth 1 pt.)

  1. Access a copy of the first Harry Potter book. The audiobook is currently available to stream for free online (in English, Spanish, French, Italian, German, and Japanese) from Audible Stories; and the ebook is free on Amazon for Amazon Prime members (please talk to your parent/guardian for assistance).
  2. Take a picture of yourself reading/listening to the first Harry Potter book (worth 1 pt). Submit to your house email box.

Week Two

  1. Read Chapters 1-4
  2. Find out what wand you would get by taking this quiz
  3. Design your own wand or Arm yourself with a wand such as a chopstick, stick, or pencil. Post a pic with a sign showing your quiz results (worth 5 pts). Submit your results to your house email box.
  4. Take the Ch 1-4 Trivia Quiz (Teacher created Google Form) Your answers must be submitted by noon on (TBA). Participation is worth 10 pts. The winner from each House will battle the other Houses in a Trivia Match. Extra points will be awarded to the house that wins.

Week Three

  1. Read Chapters 5-8
  2. Show your House spirit by making a House bookmark. Post a pic of you using your new bookmark (worth 10 pts)
  3. 3. Ch 5-8 Trivia Quiz Your answers must be submitted by noon on (TBD date). Participation is worth 10 pts. The winner from each House will battle the other Houses in a Trivia Match. Extra points will be awarded to the house that wins.

Week Four

  1. Read Chapters 9-13
  2. Create your Patronus animal out of origami
    • Dog (easy)
    • Cat (easy)
    • Horse (that flips) (medium)
    • Bird (that flaps) (medium)
    • Snake (medium)
    • Rabbit (medium)
    • Fox (not hard, per se, but has more steps to it)
    • Phoenix (not hard, per se, but has more steps to it)
    • Mouse/Rat (doable, but slightly tricky at times)

Share a pic of your Patronus (worth 15 pts)

  1. Chapters 9-13 Trivia Quiz. Your answers must be submitted by noon on (TBD date). Participation is worth 10 pts. The winner from each House will battle the other Houses in a Trivia Match. Extra points will be awarded to the house that wins.

Week Five

  1. Read Chapters 14-17
  2. Make something for the Hogwarts end-of-year feast (for some inspiration, click here)
  3. Take a pic of your food/beverage for the virtual banquet table (worth 20 pts) Submit to your house email box.
  4. Ch 14-17 Trivia Quiz Your answers must be submitted by (TBA) to be in the running to compete in the Trivia Cup Final against the other Houses; the winner from each House will battle the other Houses in the Trivia Cup Final held at (TBA) with questions from the whole book.

    The winning school wins the HOUSE CUP!

    The winner is awarded the right to display the HOUSE CUP for one year, until the next competition.