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Spotlight: Jonathan Kirsch, IBPA Legal Council

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July 2013

by Linda Carlson


Closeup: Jonathan Kirsch

Who’s who at IBPA? To introduce you to the people behind the names you often see at IBPA events and in its publications, Spotlight continues its brief profiles. This month, IBPA general counsel Jonathan Kirsch tells us how he combines the practice of law with the art of writing.

“When I was in second grade, my best friend and I each decided to write a book. He lost interest, but I didn’t, and my The Mystery of L.A. Harbor was typed up my mother, photocopied by my stepfather, and handed out to family members,” says Kirsch in response to my question about whether his fiction preceded the facts of the bar.

And, he goes on: “My grandfather provided my first experience in literary criticism when he pointed out that it was unlikely that the boy-hero of my story, age seven, would be appointed as head of both the FBI and the Secret Service for his exploits in foiling a Russian sneak attack.”

That didn’t deter Kirsch, though. He went on to write for the Culver City High School and University of California Santa Cruz papers, and then applied at the Los Angeles Times. “A wise old editor suggested that I get a graduate degree in order to acquire a specialty as a journalist. I decided to go to law school on the assumption that it would provide a specialty and a second profession. I got the job at the Times without the graduate degree, but I stayed in law school.”

That did not mean Kirsch had turned his back on fiction. A mystery based on his divorce law course was published in Ellery Queen’s Mystery Magazine while he was still in law school. He continued to write for the L.A. TimesNewsweek, and California Magazine until he was in his early 30s. “When I was 32, with two kids and despairing of ever buying a house in the overheated L.A. real estate market on a journalist’s wages, I decided to see if I could practice law,” he reports, and he was happy to discover that while practicing he “could continue to write books and articles and remain as active in writing and publishing as I had been.”

If you haven’t checked Kirsch’s Website (jonathankirsch.com), or his author file on Amazon.com, you may be surprised at the breadth of his writing. He wrote two mystery novels for Signet in the 1970s, and then, almost 20 years later, wrote reference books on publishing law. “Soon thereafter,” he reports, “I wrote The Harlot by the Side of the Road, my first book on the history of religion.” After 12 more books on history—the latest, The Short, Strange Life of Herschel Grynszpan: A Boy Avenger, a Nazi Diplomat and a Murder in Paris, was published in May by the Liveright imprint of W.W. Norton—he is now revising Kirsch’s Handbook of Publishing Law.

The handbook, first published in 1996 and updated in 1999, will now incorporate Kirsch’s Guide to the Book Contract, issued in 1998, and it will include material on digital publishing.

Given the many changes in publishing, especially with new media, with publishers acquiring the rights to out-of-print titles, and with authors getting involved in self-publishing when they issue e-editions of their out-of-print titles, I had to ask Kirsch what he believes it’s most important for would-be or new publishers to know.

No surprise, he’s not enthusiastic about legal documents available free online or from other publishers. “Although many clauses in a publishing contract are ‘boilerplate,’ the fact is that contracts have changed drastically over the last few years, and an updated and custom-drafted form is more important than ever,” he says.

Perhaps as important, Kirsch recommends that you plan ahead. “The time to negotiate, draft, and sign a contract is before you publish. Otherwise, you risk forfeiting rights you thought you owned; or, in a worst-case scenario, inadvertently committing an act of copyright infringement.”

That brings us to the third of his “must-know” points. “The mantra for every cautious publisher is to look at everything that is in, on, or around a book or other publication—text, images, quotations, graphic design, trademarks—and ask: ‘How did I get the right to use it?’ The answer may be that it is in the public domain, or that your use arguably falls under the Fair Use Doctrine, or because you asked for and obtained permission [in writing] from the copyright owner, but you should satisfy yourself that each item of content is available for your use.”


Virtual School Approvals

Florida Virtual School (FLVS) has adopted Rausin House Publishing’s Mystic as its One Book One School adventure. Author/publisher Krista Rausin reports that the Virtual School—a public school offering free online courses to Florida students—served more than 150,000 students in 2011–2012 and has a staff of about 1,500 teachers.

Its Literacy Team and Reading Leadership Team told Rausin it seeks titles with:

● content of interest to and appropriate for all school-age children, particularly those in grades 6–12

● a reading level appropriate for both middle- and high-school students

● fast-paced content (for example, fantasy and mystery)

● a strong message that addresses one or more social issues

Because it is a virtual program, FLVS wants to provide activities for students that can be implemented online, Rausin was told. These include podcasts and chat/Q&A sessions with an author. To propose a title for this program, contact Cindy Knoblauch at cknoblauch@flvs.net.


Readers Suggest Booksellers to Approach

Kitty Morse of La Caravane Publishing in Vista, CA, has used reader recommendations to approach booksellers about making direct purchases of Mint Tea and Minarets: A Banquet of Moroccan Memories.

The 750 subscribers to her monthly newsletter—a list built from Website visitors as well as participants in her presentations and cooking classes in California, Arizona, Texas, Florida, Illinois, Pennsylvania, and Washington, DC—have volunteered the names of bookstores, some of which buy direct and some of which buy on consignment. “I find this method more targeted than Facebook and other social media,” Morse explains. To ensure that stores keep inventory on hand, she calls each store every few weeks regarding reorders.

Separately, Morse reports that Mint Tea and Minarets was reviewed in the April 2013 issue of the culinary magazine Saveur, where it was described as an “absorbing new memoir” that “reads like a novel, with yellowed family pictures, antique postcards, and arresting photos . . . of contemporary Morocco, heightening the sense of adventure.” It was earlier reviewed in the San Diego Union-Tribune.


In the Media

● The Man Who Seduced Hollywood, a Chicago Review Press title, was reviewed in a spring issue of Vanity Fair and then recommended in a later issue. The Great American Jet Pack, another Chicago Review Press title, was reviewed recently in Discover magazine. And a third Chicago Review Press title, Springsteen on Springsteen, was reviewed in Publishers Weekly.

● Several United Kingdom publications and broadcast stations have recently featured Jason Lewis, whose travel memoir, The Expedition: Dark Waters, was published by BillyFish Books. He was interviewed on three BBC Radio 4 programs, including Midweek, which described him as “an adventurer who became the first person to circumnavigate the earth using human power”; he appeared on the BBC World Service’s Outlook; and he was the subject of a lengthy cover feature in the Royal Air Force News and a story in the British bimonthly Adventure Travel. Brief reviews appeared on the Financial Times Website and in an Outdoor Photography magazine column headed “Armchair Adrenaline,” and his speaking appearances in the United Kingdom were announced in Geographical, the Royal Geographical Society’s magazine.

● Really Big Coloring Books’ Being Gay Is Okay—a coloring book combined with “trading”-style cards featuring celebrities who have come out or are considered supporters of gay rights—has been covered by such media as the HuffPost Gay Voices; Out.com; and the Baltimore ABC affiliate WMAR-TV. Two network-affiliate Austin, TX, television stations discussed the book with representatives of the conservative group Texas Values, who called it “gay propaganda.” One station also interviewed lesbians and a psychologist, who were more supportive. GLBTQ publications and Websites have reviewed the book too, with one, Florida Agenda, calling the paperback “a huge step forward in normalizing gay youth, same-sex families, in addition to acting as a preventative measure for bullying.”

● Medea: A Delphic Woman Novel from Poisoned Pen received a starred review in a recent Publishers Weekly, which called it “every bit as good” as author Kerry Greenwood’s recent Egyptian historical thriller, Out of the Black Land.

● Life, Liberty, and the Pursuit of Food Rights, published by Chelsea Green, was recently reviewed in Publishers Weekly.

● Jonathan Kirsch’s The Short, Strange Life of Herschel Grynszpan: A Boy Avenger, a Nazi Diplomat, and a Murder in Paris (see profile above) was the subject of a lengthy review in the Wall Street Journal, which called it “an excellent, thought-provoking biography.” It was also reviewed in the Los Angeles Times, which said it “made a valuable contribution to our understanding of Kristallnacht, whose 75th anniversary falls this year.” The Jewish Journal wrote, “Kirsch tells a powerful story with the skill of a novelist and the precision of a historian.” The title was reviewed by Publishers Weekly and Kirkus Reviews earlier this year.

● A Spy to Die ForThe Magic of “I Do”, and A Little Night Mischief, three Sourcebooks Casablanca romances, were reviewed in recent issues of Publishers Weekly, as was Tainted Angel, a Sourcebooks Landmark title. Three of the publisher’s Jabberwocky titles—Isabella: Star of the StoryA Funny Little Bird, and Oh, the Things My Mom Will Do—were reviewed in recent issues of School Library Journal.

● The Biting Solution, a Parenting Press title, was reviewed in a May issue of Library Journal.




Spotlight is compiled by Linda Carlson (lindacarlson.com), who welcomes members’ news of notable special sales and licensing deals, significant recent media coups, movie and television options, and other achievements at linda@ibpa-online.org.

Please report on how you accomplished something as well as on what you accomplished so others can benefit from your experience as they applaud your achievements.

Note: We must have URLs for accessing any media coverage you’d like us to mention.

Please submit your news for Spotlight in the text of your email (no attachments) and remember to include:

● your name and title

● the name of your publishing company as it appears in the IBPA membership directory

● your email address

● URLs for the archived editions of any media stories you’re telling us about

Since information for this column is needed about eight weeks in advance of an issue’s publication date, news you submit by July 14 can be considered for the September and later issues. News that is time-sensitive should be directed to lisa@ibpa-online.org for consideration for the IBPA e-newsletter, Independent Publishing Now.


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