Guest Post: Crisis Playbook from the Team at Raven Quill Literary Agency

© Author-illustrator Salima Alikhan, 2020; used with permission.

By Jacqui Lipton and the RQLA Team

The pandemic has hit us all in different ways, but one comment that’s been made a lot lately is how nothing much should change for authors because so much of what we do is solitary.

Sure, there are questions about how the pandemic will affect the publishing industry generally, economically and creatively. What kinds of books will be bought in the next year or so? How hard will the industry be hit by an economic downturn? Will people be reading more, or less? And will they be buying books or reading/listening on devices?

But for the authors, what’s changed?

Literary agent Jacqui Lipton

Don’t we all just sit in our little writing caves and periodically turn out literary brilliance?

For some of us, maybe. But even those of us who like to work on our own get scared and lonely and anxious. It can be hard to focus when the future is so uncertain, and the news reads like a Dystopian novel.

The folks at Raven Quill Literary Agency have discussed this a lot among ourselves—agents and clients alike—and have come up with a bunch of ways to cope with our anxieties, sense of disconnectedness, and the general uncertainty in the world around us.

We’d love to share our thoughts with you, such as they are. None are solutions that will change the world, but they’re our experiences of what we’ve done so far to combat loneliness, fear and isolation.

As a largely “remote” group to begin with (all the agents and most of the clients live in different cities), we started with the advantage that we’re used to communicating remotely.

We’ve leveraged that as best we can in recent weeks to create and solidify a sense of community and continuity.

So here it is, our “pandemic playbook” such as it is…

1) Community and Connected-ness: Online Writing Sprints

We can’t meet in coffee shops and libraries to read and write so we’ve resorted to a virtual analog. Each weekday, we set up a Zoom meeting for a couple of hours (4 p.m. to 6 p.m. eastern to cater to different time zones). Anyone in the agency can hop in or out whenever they like, including agents, assistants and clients.

We chat for 15-to-20 minutes and set some reading/writing goals, then work for an hour or so and then chat about how/what we did.

There’s no pressure. Sometimes someone might just want to write a poem or a journal entry, or research new book ideas. Sometimes folks only want to drop in and say hello, just to see other faces. The idea is not to be pressured or particularly productive, but rather to be a community of creatives trying to support each other.

We call these get-togethers “Flock @ Four” because, hey, we’re Ravens and we meet at four!

And full disclosure: Our Friday Flocks have become “Happy Friday” drinks and games sessions where we’ve been partaking in writing and art games based on various prompts. This was the brainchild of agent Lori Steel with a little coaxing from her client Anna Drury. The unofficial title of these gatherings, is What the Flock?, Anna’s nod to the situation we’ve found ourselves in these days.

2) Pandemic Playlist

This is the brainchild of client Monica Roe who was emailing her agent Jacqui Lipton random YouTube videos of parody songs about the pandemic. This has become a bit of a running gag during our flocking time with a new video every day or two.

Our plan is to compile the list at the end of the apocalypse, but some of our favorites so far are:

3) Baking, Baking, Baking

And while we’re all stuck at home, many of us are trying to get creative in other ways. A bunch of us really like baking and we’ve been sharing a lot of trusty favorite recipes and new ideas as well. Some of our favorites are:

YA author Kaelyn Christian says:

“I’m trying out a new recipe for cranberry walnut bagels, using the recipe found here. I added orange zest because I think it will taste good. A favorite go-to recipe is a basic shortbread because it’s easy and I can play with the flavors. I love lemon thyme, lemon lavender, and earl gray lavender for flavor combinations.”

4) Art, Art, Art

This has also been a good opportunity to try new things for those of us who can’t bake—or even those who can, but want to try something different. A number of us have tried new artistic pursuits.

Lori has taken up watercolors, and even Jacqui has tried her hand at multi-colored doodling.

We also have some artists in our flock who have been using the time to hone their skills.


Salima, who’s an author-illustrator, says:

“I’ve been working on some picture books that already seemed relevant before the pandemic began, but seem extra relevant now because of their themes of community, connected-ness and empathy.

“One book in particular focuses on storytelling, which so many of us are doing more of in our newly socially-distanced lives.

“Also, on a personal level, I find drawing/painting incredibly soothing and centering!”

5) Workshopping in Real Time

For those of us working on smaller projects or who need feedback on questions about larger projects, this has been a great time, during our flocking in particular, to workshop thoughts and ideas—and even some of the art that’s been created.

Zoom and other digital meeting technology allows us to share screens and critique artwork and other creations.

Salima notes: “I’ve gotten wonderful feedback from other Ravens about my evolving book cover, which I’m trying to hone so that it reflects all aspects of the book.”

6) A Puzzling Time

Some of us have fallen back on the old favorite—jigsaw puzzles.

Here’s a successful attempt by Kaelyn:

and a not-so-successful attempt by Jacqui:

7) LEGOs for Pros

Our resident Lego expert, author Lyn Miller-Lachmann has been in her element creating Lego masterpieces at home lately.

Lyn has issued this challenge to Cynsations readers:

“Can you find what’s different? I created these matching activities set in my Lego town for my daughter’s first grade class in Brooklyn, which she’s now teaching remotely. It’s both a writing prompt and a fun reward for everyone’s hard work.”


8) And Other Stuff

Agent Kelly Dyksterhouse says that getting outside every day has been important for her, even just a short walk down the street for a change of scenery and some fresh air.

Anna has been wearing what she calls her “pandemic lipsticks” and posting each day on social media. She doesn’t wear her boldest colors to work usually, but she finds it makes her feel more put together even though she spends most days in sweaters and leggings.

Anna says:

“A bold lip is a nice confidence boost, so having it on for a video meeting, or to start writing, generally makes me feel like I’m coming from a more powerful place, and then I’m more productive. Hey, whatever works, right?!”

Anna also suggests switching TV pursuits from dark and gloomy to funny. Her recommendations this week are “Schitt’s Creek” and “Derry Girls,” both on Netflix.

Author and poet, Sharon Darrow, along with Jacqui, has engaged in some “pandemic journaling”. Sharon has been using her journal to exercise her poetry muscles, and Jacqui has been writing about how her family is coping with life while “sheltered in place.”

Sharon Darrow

Of course, not everyone can do this, but Monica has an apiary and gets to commune with her bee-friends when it all gets to be too much.

It’s a scary world for all of us right now. We introverts sometimes need support and connectivity, even if it’s just to share a cookie recipe or check in and say hello.

Most of us Ravens are still a little scared and anxious, but we’re doing what we can to help each other through this, and we hope some of our ideas might help some of you too. Write on!

Cynsational Notes

RQLA was born when Jacqui Lipton moved from a previous agency with a small group of clients. Through a serendipitous series of unplanned and largely coincidental events, three amazing new agents and many amazing new clients quickly joined to become what we are today: a tight-knit scrappy literary family working together to promote each other’s voices in a world that needs new ideas for younger readers more than ever.

Jacqui says, “You might call us a ’boutique’ agency,” but she would make you put a quarter in the jar and wash your mouth out with soap. (She thinks that word makes us sound like a dress shop or a florist in Victorian England, but that’s just her opinion.)