Jovan Richardson – HarperCollins Christian Publishing
- Written by: Neil Cote
- Produced by: Liz Fallon & Kirk Dyson
- Est. reading time: 5 mins
While music has always been her passion, law became Jovan Richardson’s primary interest. And early on, she recognized that an entertainer or author doesn’t succeed through talent alone.
“You’ve got to be business-savvy and protect your rights,” she says. “I was recording and singing and writing my own material and realized I could be taken advantage of if I didn’t understand contracts and the legalities of the business. So, I thought law school would be beneficial for me.”
It’s enabled Richardson to combine her interests into a productive livelihood. While studying for the bar after graduating from the University of Tennessee College of Law in 2014, she took a temporary position as a contracts manager with HarperCollins Christian Publishing in Nashville. This proved a good fit with Richardson contributing legal acumen while gaining business insight on the production of creative content. Her responsibilities only grew and in 2020 she ascended to her present position of assistant general counsel.
“I’ve stayed with the company I love,” she tells Vanguard from Music City headquarters. “Of course, there was serendipity, but I was ready for the opportunity. It’s definitely a story you don’t hear every day.”
And thanks to Richardson, a lot of writers have been able to tell their own stories while having their rights, as well as those of HarperCollins Christian Publishing, duly safeguarded in what’s become a fast-evolving publishing industry.
Going by the book
While Richardson isn’t among those sourcing talent, prospective authors or their agents are introduced to her once the publisher negotiates the main deal points of an acquisition. Then it’s up to Richardson and her department to draft and finalize the publishing agreement, and for this she applies lessons garnered from a book she studied in law school, “Getting to Yes.”
The first edition written in 1979 by Roger Fisher and William Ury and subsequently enhanced by Bruce Patton—all members of what’s called the Harvard Negotiation Project—“Getting to Yes” advocates: separating people from problem; focus on interests, not positions; inventing options for mutual gains; and use of objective criteria.
“I highly recommend it as a source for negotiation techniques and principles,” Richardson says. “Drafting the author agreement is a huge responsibility because we must consider the long-term needs of the business when negotiating and handling certain requests for revisions to a contract. If we don’t secure certain rights, we’d have to consider that impact on our business. However, it’s also essential that we cultivate a cohesive dynamic with the author’s team. So establishing systems for efficient negotiations that maintain the company’s interests while also fostering author relationships is key.”
Richardson and her team work to identify important legal considerations for the company. They’ll create reference documents, boilerplates and other systems to be implemented. There’ll be legal memos that outline such defenses as fair use or public domain against alleged copyright infringement. There’ll also be regular training sessions for other departments on the latest publishing issues. Though there’s obvious common ground between publisher and author, legal issues do arise which the latter may not be aware of. Assessing risk has to be among Richardson’s concerns.
“When we receive requests to review book concepts for legal implications, vet manuscripts or review third-party material to be included in our works, we’re looking to spot issues that could give rise to a libel, invasion of privacy, or copyright infringement claim,” she says. “Our ultimate goal is to ensure we’re legally compliant in business operations and reduce legal exposure as much as possible. As our publishers and editorial groups conduct business, our department takes special care to equip them with the proper tools and general knowledge as it pertains to legal considerations.”
Volumes of issues
And about those legal considerations, there are many. This is, after all, a multimedia world and HarperCollins Christian Publishing is intent on solidifying its hold on hope and inspirational books—and not just in standard book form.
More authors are opting for the audio version, which Richardson says can necessitate a legal understanding of the music industry. Maybe it’s an inspirational song by Alan Jackson or Reba McEntire that an author wants to include. In these instances, Richardson has to obtain permissions and grant of rights, including permissions from the owner of the master recording and musical composition. Should such a book be optioned for a television show or movie, that’s another round of rights that must be negotiated.
HarperCollins Christian Publishing also handles many curriculum-based projects in which an author includes audiovisual components. That too adds complexities in need of legal oversight, but Richardson being a creative sort, she finds ways of “getting to yes”—and how natural it feels.
“I can relate to the satisfying feeling of completing a work that required care and effort,” she says. “It’s thrilling to be part of a company that assists others in that process with a mission to inspire and motivate others.”
Time was when Richardson might have made her mark in this industry as someone other than a lawyer. Raised in Indianapolis, she took to writing music and singing at a young age, oftentimes with her twin sister Jasmine Jackson, who’s gone on to teaching and is studying for a doctorate in literacy.
How those two could belt out a tune, often a Gospel or inspirational number. While they never released a full album, they’re well known in the community.
The Nashville music scene, however, is a tough nut to crack. Book publishing isn’t any easier—it’s been said the actual writing is the easy part.
But there is a way of getting from points A to B, and helping to implement creative concepts by providing insight from a legal perspective is rewarding for Richardson. All the better, she says, that at HarperCollins Christian Publishing, the content is about hope, perseverance, self-development and often, but not always, with a spiritual underpinning. That’s all Richardson needs for inspiration.
“In a sense, it has all come full circle,” she says. “I use my creative background combined with legal expertise to assist others in pursuing their dreams.”
View this feature in the Vanguard Spring III 2023 Edition here.
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