Eastern PA SCBWI is excited to bring a new webinar series to you in April called “Meet the Agency.” Our featured agency will be Raven Quill Literary. We’ll have four webinars led by four different agents from Raven Quill, and at the end of the series we’ll host a live virtual “Pitch Parlor” with the agents. For more information, including how to register for the webinars and sign up for a pitch session, go to https://epa.scbwi.org/events/webinar-series-meet-the-agency-rqla/.
Today on the EasternPennPoints blog, Heather Stigall interviews literary agent Jacqui Lipton, who will be our first webinar presenter for the “Meet the Agency” series. Jacqui will be presenting “Publishing Law 101” on April 7 at 7:00 p.m. Eastern time. We are also giving away a free critique by Jacqui for one lucky reader, so be sure to check out the details at the end of this interview!
An Interview with Literary Agent Jacqui Lipton
Heather: Jacqui, thank you so much for agreeing to present “Publishing Law 101” on April 7 as part of our “Meet the Agency” series. I’m looking forward to your webinar! Your background in law and writing seems especially suited to agenting. Was founding your own literary agency always a career goal? Can you tell us a little about how Raven Quill came to be?
Jacqui: Yes, my background was pretty well suited to agenting, but I never really thought about it until a really smart mentor pointed it out to me. I was having a bit of a midlife crisis and looking for new challenges, and she pointed out that I liked writing, editing, and contract/intellectual property law, so had I ever considered agenting? It was one of those lightbulb moments for me. Of course, I didn’t wake up and start an agency the next day. I interned for a number of years for an established agent before I even considered going out on my own. I also worked at another agency and consulted for many years on publishing contracts before taking the leap. In deciding to welcome other agents to the nest, I also ensured that they had the necessary background to hit the ground running (from past experience as agents, assistants, interns, etc.). It can be a risky business, but it can also be very rewarding for a supportive team able and willing to grow together, and I’ve been very fortunate in the team at Raven Quill now: Kelly, Kortney, Lori, and our wonderful assistant Lindsay, as well as a group of our own amazing interns.
Heather: The mentor who gave you that nudge to pursue a career in agenting does sound very smart. (And I’m guessing your clients are thankful!) In your webinar, you will be talking about publishing law. What are some common legal questions you come across when dealing with your clients’ manuscripts?
Jacqui: There are a lot of common legal questions, some of which I’ll cover in the webinar. There’s always a lot of confusion about how copyright law works because, frankly, it’s a pretty complex law, often without clear answers in particular situations. So, authors (and editors) often worry about the use of someone else’s song lyric, poem, or other content in their own work and when permission is necessary or when the use is a fair use. There is also a very common misconception that if you attribute someone else for the use of their work, it is a fair use. That’s unfortunately not correct. Copyright law is about copying, not attribution. A content creator may ask for attribution as a condition of giving you a license to use their work, but that’s a contract matter rather than a copyright issue. See? Now I’m getting into the weeds of copyright law. I’m a bit of a copyright/contract nerd and can talk about this stuff until you tell me to stop!
Heather: Your clients are very fortunate to have an agent with your expertise. When reviewing and negotiating contracts, are there any red flags you sometimes see? Are there certain things you always try to fight for on behalf of your clients?
Jacqui: Generally, we try to work with reputable, established publishers, so there shouldn’t be too many red flags in the sense of things that are inappropriate or unprofessional in a contract. However, there are of course things we always try to fight for on behalf of our clients, including making sure we’re not giving away rights that could be exploited elsewhere in a more lucrative way. For example, many publishers do not necessarily focus on exploiting film/TV rights, and those can often be exploited more effectively outside the original contract. The same goes for a number of other sub rights like foreign and translation rights. If the publisher wants to take more sub rights, our aim is to make sure they compensate the author accordingly. Additionally, it’s generally important to understand the scope of option and noncompete clauses and to limit them as effectively as possible so they won’t hinder the author’s future work—I’ve written a number of blog posts on these issues that I can share during the webinar. You’ll find some of them at https://lunastationquarterly.com/tag/non-compete/, https://lunastationquarterly.com/option-and-non-compete-clauses/, and https://lunastationquarterly.com/option-clauses-pros-and-cons/.
Heather: Thank you for sharing those resources! Two of our lucky webinar participants will be receiving a copy of your book, Law and Authors: A Legal Handbook for Writers (*NOTE: you must attend the webinar live to be eligible for the book giveaway!), which sounds perfectly suited for our crowd. But you also have another book coming out called Our Data, Ourselves: A Personal Guide to Digital Privacy. Can you tell us a little about that?
Jacqui: Sure. Thank you for asking! It’s kind of a depressing book, but the aim is similar to Law and Authors—to make people aware of legal and regulatory issues that may impact them in their personal or professional lives and to hopefully explain those issues in a user-friendly way. Our Data, Ourselves attempts to explain what corporations and governments can do with your personal information—how, where, when, and why they collect it and what rights you have to monitor and control those uses (unfortunately, not a lot!). The book is broken down into chapters relating to different aspects of our lives, e.g., privacy at school, privacy in the workplace, health information privacy, financial information privacy, social media privacy, etc. Each chapter ends with some tips and tricks about how to monitor what is happening with your personal information and whether there are avenues to investigate and object to particular uses.
Heather: As depressing as you say it may be, that sounds like a must-read for all of us. Many of our members are looking for agents. What qualities would the ideal client have?
Jacqui: Actually, I think the better question is, What qualities would the ideal agent have for each client?—because the agent/author/illustrator relationship is so personal. I have always tried to be client focused, figuring out what approach best suits the client and working in a way that makes sense to them in terms of edits, submission strategies, etc. I tend to be pretty transparent and possibly give too much feedback on projects (although I’m working on that!). I try to ensure that clients understand that my feedback, while often voluminous, is not intended to be prescriptive, and only food for thought for revision, etc.
But as to your original question, what qualities an ideal client for me would possess, I think the most important thing is a sense of professionalism and a willingness to work hard and ask questions if something doesn’t make sense. Talent is obviously a big part of the equation for success, but there are so many talented authors and illustrators out there that if you can add a level of professionalism and openness to feedback from an agent and/or editor (even if you don’t ultimately accept the feedback), you are already a step above a lot of other creatives. And bear in mind that feedback won’t always be about your manuscript per se (if you’re an author). It may be about choice of illustrator for a picture book or graphic novel; design/format issues; publication/marketing questions, etc. Publishing is a more collaborative process than many authors and illustrators realize when they first dip their toe into the industry’s waters. SCBWI is a great organization for learning about those aspects of the industry outside the scope of the actual writing or illustrating process.
Heather: This is great advice for our readers—thank you! Your website states that you represent everything from picture books to middle grade to young adult, and even some adult projects. Can you give us a sense of your tastes by telling us some recently published books that you love and why?
Jacqui: That’s such a tough question! (But thank you for asking.) My tastes are so ridiculously eclectic that it’s hard to nail down favorites. And I should also say that even if there’s a particular book or project I love, I don’t always have a sense of how best to position it in the marketplace and might think another agent is a better fit for that reason—although when that happens, I usually make a point of noting that in my pass note to the author.
I actually just picked up a copy of Cherie Dimaline’s Hunting By Stars (having loved the original Marrow Thieves). These pieces are set in a dystopian future that weaves in the way Native peoples have been treated in the past in such a clever, eye-opening, and beautifully written manner. I’m so glad she was able to continue the series. And like everyone else, Angeline Boulley’s Firekeeper’s Daughter blew me away last year for similar reasons. And it’s just a heck of a good read. I loved Rita Williams-Garcia’s A Sitting in St James. It’s such an ambitious, epic, and intricately crafted piece.
In mystery/thriller, I’ve been very partial to Maureen Johnson’s Truly Devious series (also extremely clever and beautifully crafted) and Kristen Simmons’ Vale Hall trilogy. I actually love everything Kristen writes—she’s so versatile and always has something interesting to say. And in adult mystery/thriller, I’m a fan of Megan Miranda and Lucy Foley. (I also love Megan Miranda’s YA mysteries, and Fragments of the Lost is a perennial favorite.)
I’m always a sucker for a good romance in both YA and adult. I really enjoy Casey McQuiston’s books, as well as Alexis Hall and Jen De Luca.
I realize I’m listing a lot of adult and YA fiction and a lot of my own sales recently have, strangely enough, been picture books and middle grade nonfiction. I always love nonfiction if done well—interesting structures, subjects, and approaches.
And I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention that two of my own clients have MG releases coming out this spring: Monica Roe’s Air and Lyn Miller-Lachmann’s Moonwalking (co-authored with Zetta Elliot). Both of these books are with FSG, and they are both amazing. Art Coulson’s MG debut, Chasing Bigfoot, also just came out with Reycraft, a Native thriller/mystery with a lot of humor and heart.
And for those who like adult mystery, Soho Crime is re-releasing Marcie Rendon’s Cash Blackbear series—the first two books are re-releasing in April, and the brand new and long-awaited third book, Sinister Graves, is releasing in October.
Okay—lengthy answer to short question, but I love talking about books as much if not more than I love talking about contract law.
Heather: I think I’m going to have to add a few more books to my “to read” list! Thank you so much for your time, Jacqui. We’re all looking forward to your webinar on April 7. See you then!
Jacqui Lipton is a professor of law/legal writing, consultant, and literary agent who has published widely on contract, copyright, and trademark law, cyberlaw, privacy, and defamation issues, with an emphasis on laws relating to the publishing industry. She is the author of Law and Authors: A Legal Handbook for Writers (University of California Press, 2020) and the forthcoming Our Data, Ourselves: A Personal Guide to Digital Privacy (University of California Press, 2022). She writes regular columns on legal issues for authors for the SCBWI Bulletin, Luna Station Quarterly, Savvy Authors, Catapult, and her own agency’s website (Conspiracy of Ravens Blog). She is the founding agent at Raven Quill Literary Agency where she represents a variety of projects from children’s literature (picture book through young adult) to adult genre fiction.
April 7, 2022 at 7:00 p.m. Eastern Time
Can I quote song lyrics in my book? When can I incorporate other people’s photography and art in my own work? What if I want to write about a real person? Could I be sued for defamation? In this webinar, agent/attorney Jacqui Lipton will take us through the publishing law basics, surveying copyright, fair use, defamation, privacy, and contract law (contracts with agents and publishing houses). Come along with your legal questions and concerns! There will be a giveaway of two copies of Jacqui’s book, Law and Authors: A Legal Handbook for Writers, for two lucky participants who attend the live webinar. For more information and to register, go to https://epa.scbwi.org/events/webinar-series-meet-the-agency-rqla/.
Eastern PA SCBWI is giving away a free written critique (PB, MG, or YA; fiction or nonfiction) with literary agent Jacqui Lipton to one lucky Eastern PA SCBWI member! For picture books, Jacqui will critique one full manuscript plus a 2- to 3-sentence pitch in the same document. For middle grade or young adult, send up to 10 pages of your manuscript, plus a one-page query letter in the same document.
To enter, please comment on this blog post before 9:00 p.m. Eastern time on Friday, March 25. We will choose the winner at random from those who comment. Must be a current Eastern PA SCBWI member to be eligible. Please include your full name as it appears in your SCBWI membership. If you’d like to comment on this blog post but not be entered to win (e.g., if you are not an Eastern PA SCBWI member or if you are not interested in a critique), simply state that along with your comment. Materials for the critique are due Friday April 8, 2022. The winner will be announced in the comments section of this blog post, so check back after the deadline to see if you’re our winner! Instructions for submitting materials will be sent to the winner.