independent bookstores

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.

Indie Spotlight: The Bookworm, Omaha NE

Note:   In response to the virus crisis, The Bookworm will be open for its usual hours, but with the following changes to help everyone shop safely. They are postponing all in-store book clubs, to be resumed in the future.  Staff is increasing cleaning of surfaces, credit card machines, door handles, bathrooms, etc. For those keeping their distance, The Bookworm will ship books anywhere in the country at $2 less than the going shipping rate, and will ship orders of $100 or more for free. They will make free contact-less courier deliveries three days a week within nearby zip codes. Customers may also arrange to pay by phone and get curbside pick-up. For further information, please go to bookwormomaha.com.

[This interview took place before the Coronavirus became pandemic, so some of the discussion below of book clubs and nearby sites to visit should be kept in mind  for the future.] 

What better place for a bookworm to visit than a store called The Bookworm? We’re talking today with their Children’s and Young Adult’s Manager, Hannah Amrollahi.
MUF: It’s always a delight to see an independent bookstore that’s been going for a while (since 1986). You’re not only surviving, but thriving.   What keeps you going?
Hannah: Community support allows the Bookworm to thrive. We can host programming of all kinds and stock magnificent books, but without community support and engagement we wouldn’t be here. Omahans continue to show they want vibrant, physical spaces, and we are so appreciative. People drive everything we do.

MUF: What do you want readers to experience when they visit The Bookworm? You and your staff seem to have especially strong backgrounds in books and education. How do you help readers find their next favorite book?
Hannah: We strive to greet every person as they enter the store and offer assistance before they leave, because that is a basis of hospitality. Conversations between people, readers and booksellers, are personable in a way algorithms cannot be. Our favorite question to ask customers is “what was the last book you read and loved?” and let the conversation flow from there. We offer the opportunity to find something similar, but equally important, something new, niche, or related. When readers visit, I hope they leave with a sense of wonder, energy to carry into their reading, and a book they will love.
A strong background in education helps booksellers find the right books for a burgeoning reader, where their reading level and interest has taken root. The majority of sales in children’s are gifts, they are not for the customer themselves, and so we want to bring that expertise to assist. The Bookworm has a strong staff connection to Montessori, and independent learning, teaching, and reading are also strongly connected.

MUF: What’s a good day at Bookworm for you?
Hannah: The best moment I have is when I hand a book to a child and their eyes light up in excitement. A very close second is handing a book to an adult and hearing them say, “oh, this is perfect!” for the child in their life. This interaction looks a lot of different ways now that I manage as well as hand-sell. Sometimes it’s an email to a local school letting them know the books for their author event have arrived. It can be the jitters in a volunteer’s hand picking up advanced readers donations for a local charity. If we’re having an event it can be the hectic pace in a line. Regardless, it is always the best part of my day.

MUF: Bookworm seems to be book club central! You have over a hundred external book clubs getting discounts and seventeen in-store adult clubs for many different interests. That suggests strong community connections. Last, but definitely not least, is your monthly Very Newbery book club for middle graders. What‘s the next selection Very Newbery is reading?Hannah: We love book clubs! All of our store ones are open to new members, so we are constantly meeting new people and enjoying the chatter about a book.
The Very Newbery club was started last summer and we’ll resume it in 2020! I would love to read the 2019 Newbery, New Kid by Jerry Craft, since it’s the first graphic novel in the category. It would be a joy to hear what kids think about this milestone.
Currently, we work with a local parochial school for the Chat N’ Chew bookclub and the University of Nebraska at Omaha for a Young Adult Literature class. Both have several titles, as they span across grades, but for February I love Flora and Ulysses by Kate DiCamillo and Front Desk by Kelly Yang. The first is a zany and lesser-known title by a big-hit author (remember Because of Winn-Dixie?). The second is an own-voices title that paints a realistic and poignant picture of immigration in the United States in its highs and lows.

MUF: One of the great things about independent bookstores is that the books you carry are curated by people who know books and not just business. Please tell us some titles, new or old, fiction, poetry, or nonfiction you find yourselves recommending these days to readers ages 9-12?
Hannah: Nine to twelve is such a great age. Here are a few of my favorites.
New: Dark Lord Clementine by Sarah Jean Horwotiz is the type of book we have on hand because I fell in love with its quirky fun. A light read featuring an “evil” daughter dealing with a host of villagers, a sickly father, and a whittle-witch, it will enchant readers with variations on tried and true tropes while incorporating surprisingly real-world themes of privilege, family expectations, and reparation.
Old: A musty church. A mysterious visitor. The Letter for the King. I discovered this 1962 classic from Tonke Dragt, whose own life is a fascinating study of her time, after the Netflix movie announcement revived interest. It has so much to offer, amazing out-loud, fantastic syntax reflective of its translation from Dutch, short chapters that make it fit easily into any schedule, and truly endearing characters struggling with the most basic, and most important, moral decisions. When can you share a secret? To what do you owe a promise? An all-ages book I only wish I had read earlier so I could be re-reading it sooner!
Nonfiction: I have some newer titles I love, but All of Us: a Young People’s History of the World from Yvan Pommaux and Christophe Ylla-Somers is still my favorite world history for this age group. The over-sized, beautifully illustrated hardcover has the literal weight of history. The authors tell a linear story of humanity that focuses more narrowly on America and Europe only in the near present. Time becomes a third character that moves the book around the globe, placing the Bering Strait migration, the development of Chinese writing, the Indus Valley, and early Crete together on glorious spread. History is messy, but this book achieves a robust introduction and a questioning tone that will provoke curiosity.

MUF: If families visit your store from out of town, would there be family-friendly places near by for a snack or a meal after shopping? And if they can stay a little longer, what are some unique sites or activities they shouldn’t miss?
Hannah: Omaha makes an extremely family-friendly vacation. Down the sidewalk from The Bookworm is the Market Basket restaurant, a local establishment, and within a few minutes’ drive is a local bakery and restaurant, Le Quartier. For a longer day, there is the Joslyn Art Museum, a free-entrance museum with outdoor sculpture garden and children’s room, the Omaha Children’s Museum, and award-winning children’s theater company, The Rose. Area parks are spread out across neighborhoods, whose old “small town” main streets have kept their individual flavor as the metropolitan area grew. Dundee, Florence Mill, and the award-winning 24th Street Mural Corridor celebrate Omaha’s diverse communities.
Finally, The Old Market downtown features red cobblestones and vibrant businesses tucked into historic buildings. The Durham Museum downtown features full-scale historic train cars and interactive exhibits. Ending the downtown tour at Ted & Wally’s homemade ice cream and Hollywood Candy bookend the day. Check out Visit Omaha, Omaha Magazine, and Nebraskaland for features and ideas!

MUF: Now that we’re all trying to stay home, what a great time to read, and we hope you discovered some titles in this discussion.   It’s also a critical time to support independent bookstores like The Bookworm, yes?  Read and support, a win-win!