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Jim Cox Report: August 2006

Dear Publisher Folk, Friends & Family:

Writing and publishing have been part of the tapestry of civilization for at least the last five thousand years. And I suspect from the age of Sumerian clay tablets down to the post-industrial Information Age of desk top publishing, there have been critics and reviewers of what the writers were writing and the publishers were publishing.

So in that grand and ancient tradition of literary kibitzing, here are some comments, observations and recommendations intended to be of practical help for aspiring scribes and novice publishers beginning with a little something my daughter (who is also the Managing Editor of the Midwest Book Review) picked up on the internet:

Subject: For The Next Jim Cox Report
Date: 7/21/2006 8:34:07 P.M. Central Standard Time

Here's an interesting article about changing technology making print-on-demand cheaper and easier than ever, for you to read and possibly refer to in the next Jim Cox Report. It's an article titled "Technology Rewrites the Book" by Peter Wayner, from the July 20th issue of the New York Times.

Technology Rewrites the Book

I learned about this from www.slashdot.org the "news for nerds" website

Beth

I read it and thought it of significant value for anyone contemplating a Print-on-Demand or "POD" approach to self-publishing -- and perhaps a harbinger of more to come as the technological revolution going on within the ranks of the publishing industry continues to evolve unabated.

Also note that information on writing and publishing can turn up anywhere on the internet.

And does the Midwest Book Review website at http://www.midwestbookreview.com have any particular value for inquiring minds on the subject of PODs and publishing?

Subject: Compliment
Date: 4/8/2006 8:16:37 A.M. Central Standard Time
From: dougcummings3067@comcast.net

Jim,

Just a note to compliment you on the vast amount of information on the MBR website. With one POD book out and another on the way, having a thirty-year background in the broadcast media AND having worked with a professional publicist, I thought I was pretty well-versed in the nuances of promotion.

Boy, was I wrong!

If there's anything I can contribute to your site that will help other writers/publishers/publicists, let me know. I've just closed out fifteen years in Chicago radio where I was, at various times, an anchor, public affairs host (bet nobody has ever sent you cookies to try and get a review!) and crime reporter, most recently at WGN.

Again, Jim, thanks for a marvelous site with fascinating information.

Doug Cummings

Partly because the Midwest Book Review itself is mentioned all over the internet and in more than 18 "how to" books on publishing, I get a lot of questions sent to me via email. Such as this one from a newly aspiring writer in need of some assistance:

In a message dated 7/30/2006 12:56:51 P.M. Central Standard Time, hands49660@yahoo.com writes:

I guess my question is this--how do I go about finding someone to help me or advise me on this matter? I need someone to help me with the writing of this book.

Dear Hollie:

There are several possibilities:

1. Self-education. This means going to the "Author's Bookshelf" section of the Midwest Book Review website and discovery the "how to" titles that can help you at what ever stage you are at in writing your manuscript -- and then what to do when your manuscript is finished and you are ready to have it published.

2. Help Groups. Go to the online author/publisher discussion groups that you will find listed in the "Publisher Association" section of the Midwest Book Review website. When you have specific questions, ask them of these members -- especially Publish-L and SPAN which are devoted to helping the novice author and beginning publisher.

One of the first questions to be asked is if anyone knows of a writer's group or club in your part of the world that you could join. Assuming that your financial resources are too limited to hire professional assistance, that's the best advice I can give you.

Jim Cox
Midwest Book Review

As you can see, one of my standard recommendations when asked by fledgling authors and neophyte publishers to teach them how to develop their manuscripts, and/or turn those manuscripts into books, and/or market those books in competition with titles from the Big Guys, is for them to consider themselves on an adventure of life-long learning, beginning with reading some of the appropriate "how to" books on writing and publishing that we've taken the trouble to review and archive those reviews on the "Writer's Bookshelf" and "Publisher's Bookshelf" sections of the Midwest Book Review website at http://www.midwestbookreview.com -- and which are constantly being added to by my monthly book review column "The Writing/Publishing Shelf". Like this one:

The Writing/Publishing Shelf

Author! Screenwriter!
Peter Miller
Adams Media
57 Littlefield Street, Avon, MA 02322
1593375530 $14.95 adamsmedia.com

Author! Screenwriter! How To Succeed As A Writer In New York And Hollywood by Peter Miller (an active literary and film manager for more than thirty years) is for writers who want to enjoy success as both a screenwriter and author, teaching the aspiring writer how to turn a book into a Hollywood script and back. Chapters from the President of a film management and media agency represent the only book which teaches writers how to customize their proposals for both literary and film markets.

The Fine Print Of Self-Publishing
Mark Levine
Bridgeway Books
212 - 3rd Avenue North, Suite 471, Minneapolis, MN 55401
www.book-publishers-compared.com
1933538562 $16.95 1-612-455-2290

Two related phenomena are principally responsible for the tremendous growth in the numbers of self-published authors flooding the marketplace with their titles: the personal computer with word processing software and the rise of the publish-on-demand (POD) companies. Now Mark Levine (President of Click Industries, Led), an e-commerce company with 19 web sites that provide produces and services to small business entrepreneurs, writers, musicians, and artists) draws upon his impressive expertise, experience and research to create a kind of "Consumer Report" style evaluation of 48 self-publishing companies and the services they provide (for a fee) to aspiring authors wanting to turn their manuscripts into books. The Fine Print Of Self-Publishing analyses and ranks the contracts and services of 48 different POD companies and identifies the strengths and weaknesses of taking a POD approach to self-publishing. Special attention is paid to publishing contracts, but the true value of this handy little compendium of practical information are the chapters devoted to: "Outstanding Self-Publishing Companies"; "Some Pretty Good Self-Publishing Companies"; "Publishers Who Are Just Okay"; and perhaps the most valuable chapter -- "Publishers To Avoid". No aspiring author contemplating signing up with a POD should ever put pen to contract paper without first carefully reading Mark Levine's The Fine Print Of Self-Publishing.

Perfecting Your Prose
Gary Michael Smith
Chatgris Press
Box 15092, New Orleans, LA 70175-5092
193055401X $14.95 chatgrispress.com

Every author who has ever put pen to paper (or in this day and age, their fingers to computer keyboard) knows they have room for improvement when it comes to expressing themselves. Perfecting Your Prose: A Guide To Improved Writing by writer, editor, educator and consultant Gary Michael Smith addresses the diverse grammar and writing issues of diction, description, the syntax of the well constructed sentence, and the orderly flow of the essay. Perfecting Your Prose covers style mechanics guidelines fully applicable to both nonfiction and fiction writing, and is an utterly invaluable self-teaching tool for high school and college students as well as aspiring and professional writers. Also very highly recommended is Gary Michael Smith's Writing For Magazines & Trade Journals: Finding Them, Writing For Them, Getting Paid By Them (Chatgris Press, 1930554036, $14.95).

How To Start And Run A Writers' Critique Group
Carol J. Amato
Stargazer Publishing Company
P.O Box 77002, Corona, CA 92877-0100
orders@stargazerpub.com
0971375682 $14.95 1-800-606-7895

How To Start And Run A Writers' Critique Group by Carol J. Amato offers accessible and practical answers to the questions and problems that beset beginning, intermediate, and experienced writers who could benefit from the critiques, observations and advice of their peers in a small group setting, but don't have ready access to one. It gives helpful organizational suggestions and information to anyone hoping to start a writers' critique group. In so doing, such groups offers the chance for writers from novice beginners to seasoned professionals to improve their skills and writing through a voluntary professional association with others engaged in writing for fun or profit. The benefits of carefully planning such a group are multiple and easily accessible to the aspiring writers, including particular attention to the issues of critiquing manuscripts, dealing with difficult members, formal organization steps, sponsoring related events, and getting publicity. There is a very handy appendix with sample forms, including suggested critique group rules (small or large groups), a critique group checklist, and corporation bylaws. In sum, How To Start And Run A Writers' Critique Group is an invaluable, 119-page tool to those writers (regardless of their preferred genre) who are in search of peer feedback and self-improvement in the execution of their chosen craft.

Self-Publishing Manual
Dan Poynter
Para Publishing
Box 8206, Santa Barbara, CA 93118-8206
1568501344 $19.95 parapublishing.com

Self-publishing Manual: How To Write, Print And Sell Your Own Book helped promote a whole new world of self-published titles when it appeared nearly thirty years ago: this new 15th edition completely revises details, adding new text and showing how to build a book, promote it, bypass publishers, and work with short-term book printers. An ongoing recommendation; particularly since the update reflects major changes in the industry. It should also be noted that the Midwest Book Review is given a positive recommendation in this "how to" manual.

Writer's Digest Books
4700 East Galbraith Road, Cincinnati, OH 45236
www.fwpub.com

Tim Lemire's I'm An English Major Now What? (1582973628, $14.99) will hit a chord with any who love the liberal arts yet find themselves wondering how to get a job with such a degree. Surprisingly some big names too have English degrees: Alan Alda, Steven Spielberg, and Stephen King among them. I'm An English Major, Now What helps majors and grads understand how to apply their interests and skills to the job market. Chapters show how to market an English major, how to move beyond the usual writing/teaching directions to promote English skills in exciting career choices, and how to enhance and hone such skills through extracurricular activities. A 'must' for any who love English. William Baer's Writing Metrical Poetry: Contemporary Lessons For Mastering Traditional Forms (1582974152, $16.99) is a breath of fresh air because it teaches all the basics of poetry in all major forms, yet uses a modern set of examples and focused assignments, not droll re-reading of past classics. From a review of poetry's history to discussions on its applications in pop culture and to modern themes, Writing Metrical Poetry is an excellent study.

Now on to a few more specific Q&A emails:

In a message dated 4/10/2006 11:23:23 A.M. Central Standard Time, FT@FrancisTapon.com writes:

Mr. Cox: I read all your advice on sending out review copies and your message to publishers is clear: send as pristine of a copy as you can. If they must put "review copy," do it on the inside, you advise.

What about autographing it to the potential reviewer?

I've done this when I'm confident that the reviewer will be reviewing it (and not passing it onto someone else). I figure that this will make the reviewer feel more connected to the author and value his copy more than if I just put the impersonal "review copy" stamp in the interior. And it is a small deterrent from a book store sending it back to me for credit.

Is this a good solution, or should I just stick with sending out pristine copies?

I'll send you a copy of my new book today, if you'd like.

Francis Tapon

Dear Francis:

If you can be certain of who the reviewer will be (and that they don't supplement their income through the resale of the books they review) then my advice would be to go ahead and autograph it.

But when you are not certain -- and here at the Midwest Book Review it is not at all certain as to who would be assigned to a given book -- then it's a turn off for prospective reviewers and not worth diminishing your chances of a successful review assignment.

Jim Cox
Midwest Book Review

As much as I'd like to help everyone get their title reviewed, there is the inevitable disappointment that can ensue if only because we are sent so many more books than our available reviewer resources can meet. That's one of the reasons why it is so vitally important that anyone submitting a book for review also do an efficient follow-up to judge how their submission is faring with respect to the book review organization, publication, or freelancer that received the capital investment that is your book. This following exchange will help to illustrate why and how, plus the "publishing industry standard" protocols regarding books submitted for review to us (or anyone else):

In a message dated 4/10/2006 1:02:12 A.M. Central Standard Time, DavyChameloman@aol.com
writes:

Hello again. Per your request, I now have traced the three books I sent to you.

They are; "The Figure, A Short Story", ISBN 0-75963-124-7, Pub Date 2000, Pages 98. (Horror)

Next is; "Dream Leapers", ISBN 1-4010-5990-2, Pub Date 2001, Pages 156., (Science Fiction)

Finally, "Walkers", ISBN 1-59286-118-0, Pub Date 2003, Pages 113 (Sci Fi).

Mr. Cox. In view of the time that has elapsed, I think it only prudent to have you return the three books to me, since I doubt they have been reviewed. I have others whom are waiting to review them for me and I really can not see any reason to hold that process up. When I sent them three to you, I did so including a large self-addressed stamp envelope. I also, at your behest sent you five postage stamps, since you advised me that there was no fee of any kind. I am anxiously awaiting the three books return, thanks for everything.

Sincerely,
Davy Johnson

Thank you for the additional information on the three titles. It really is the only way I can track specific titles around here. After all this time I can still confirm that they each arrived safely and passed my initial screening. Unfortunately they each ultimately failed to achieve a review assignment. This is no reflection on the quality of your work because it made a quite favorably impression on me in order to pass my screening. Simply the unfortunate consequence of having only 76 reviewers to cope with the more than 2000 titles a month arriving here for review consideration.

The books were long ago disposed of. Although I don't record disposals like I do arrivals, they were most probably donated to the local "Friends of the Library" group for their twice yearly fund raising book sale. That's what tends to happen with fiction titles.

While it is unlikely that you would choose to hazard future titles with us, I do want to give you a word of advice. Authors and publishers should wait no more than 10 working days after they have send in a title for review -- no matter who they have sent it to.

That's time enough so that the reviewer can confirm the safe arrival of the book; the reviewer can inform the publisher of the book's status with respect to the review process; and it gives the publisher the opportunity to provide any further information or assistance the reviewer might need.

To wait months and even years later for such a follow-up is not really worthwhile because of the sheer numbers of titles good reviewers, prominent review publications, and responsible book review media outlets are consistently inundated with.

Sending requests (and even postage) for returning unselected books submitted for review consideration is simply not realistic for the same reason.

I'm going to take the liberty of repeating my advice in the next "Jim Cox Report" for the small press community because it is information that every author and small press publisher should know as they prepare their marketing plans and budgets with respect to the issuance of -- and follow-up on -- review copies.

Jim Cox
Midwest Book Review

Two or three times a year I'm asked to help someone out in their research for a book or a paper. This time around it was Robert Rousseau who is in the process of writing a piece about reviewing and the publishing industry.

In a message dated 4/14/2006 9:32:14 A.M. Central Standard Time, rousseauwrites@aol.com
writes:

Dear Mr. Cox,

Hello. I love your site, have had one of my books reviewed there-- under a pen name-- and continually use it as a source for looking into good books. Along with this, I'm also a freelance writer who is currently writing an article on book reviews. Therefore, I was hoping I could ask you a few questions (see below). Your background and experience would be invaluable to the readers I reach on this subject, and once the article was published I'd be happy to send it to you via email (after a scan).

So, if you're interested, please see below for my questions. If not, I understand. Just please when you get a chance let me know either way. Have a happy holiday weekend.

Sincerely,
Bob Rousseau

1. How many books does Midwest Book Review review per year on average?

We average 2000+ titles a month, or roughly 2400 per year.

2. Why send to an internet book reviewer as opposed to a print reviewer? What are the advantages?

You expand the audience for an awareness of your book in both internet and print reviews. These audiences also do not tend to overlap each other to any significant extent.

3. How important are book reviews to overall book sales?

Critical. Only books that get reviewed will seriously be considered for acquisition by libraries, stocked in bookstores, or be able to compete successfully against other books in the same genre, category, or topic that prospective buyers will find side-by-side on bookstore shelves or on Internet bookstore websites like Amazon.com.

4. Do you feel authors enjoy marketing their books? Or is it really a case of necessity? Do they consider the word marketing a "bad word"?

Most authors do not enjoy marketing their books. They would much rather be writing their next one. A lot of authors feel they lack the public speaking skills, marketing chutzpah, or gregarious personalities usually associated with selling -- which is what marketing basically is.

Thanks, Mr. Cox. I hope that you decide to take part.

Anytime.

There are two reasons I always try to respond to requests like Robert's. The first is that I rather enjoy the status of being an "elder statesman" within the publishing community dispensing advice and commentary about the making and marketing of books. The second is in fulfillment of the now 30 year old mission statement of the Midwest Book Review to promote literacy, library usage, and small press publishing.

Now, as usual, I'll conclude with this month's additions to the "Midwest Book Review Postage Stamp Hall of Fame & Appreciation". My personal thanks to all of these wonderful people who made the gesture of a postage stamp donation to us and in support of what we try to accomplish in behalf of the small press community.

Ron Lovell
Tom Schwartz
Jane Robinson -- "The Divine Declaration"
Norm Cowie -- "The Adventures of a Guy"
Anita Jefferson -- "Climb Every Obstacle"
Jeannette Belliveau -- "On the Road"
Alvaro J. Alves-Miho -- "Engimas of the English Alphabet"
Tom Kelly -- "Cashing In on a Second Home in Mexico"
Blue Scarab Press
Crossquarter Publishing Group
Lori -- CustomWords
Ariel Santiago -- Vocalis Ltd.
Gene Roebuck -- Earmark Publishing
Lida E. Quillen -- Twilight Times Books
Beverly Newton -- International Jewelry Publications
Sandra Brandeburg -- Lost Myths Ink
Dale Carlson -- Bick Publishing House
Linda Delgado -- Muslim Writers Publishing
Howard Binkow - Thunderbolt Publishing
Elizabeth Whiteker -- St. Kitts Press
Jessica Elin Hirschman -- Cookie Bear Press
Frances Keiser -- Sagaponack Books
Monica James -- Buckskin Press
Leila Joiner -- Imago Press
Jeff Webb -- Boxigami Books
Alan Fox -- Planned Television Arts
Robin Eldredge -- Bumble Bee Productions
Patty Lavelle -- Avalon Marketing
Elizabeth Waldman Frazier -- Waldmania! Publicity
Karen Villaneueva -- Karen Villanueva Author Services

All the back issues of the "Jim Cox Report" are archived on the Midwest Book Review website at http://www.midwestbookreview.com. You can also receive the "Jim Cox Report" directly (and for free), just send me a request asking to sign you up for it. If you have a book to be reviewed or postage stamps to donate in support of "the cause", then direct those books and stamps to:

James A. Cox, Editor-in-Chief
Midwest Book Review
278 Orchard Drive, Oregon, WI 53575

Until next time I bid you all Goodbye, Good Luck, and Good Reading!

Jim Cox
Midwest Book Review


James A. Cox
Editor-in-Chief
Midwest Book Review
278 Orchard Drive
Oregon, WI 53575-1129
phone: 1-608-835-7937
e-mail: mbr@execpc.com
e-mail: mwbookrevw@aol.com
http://www.midwestbookreview.com


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