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Jim Cox Report: December 2003

Dear Publisher Folk, Friends & Family:

It's often said that nothing succeeds like success. The Midwest Book Review has now embarked on its 28th year and by every measure I can think of must be considered an on-going success. We continue to have a strong core of dedicated volunteer reviewers, editors, and contributors. We continue to have a strong publishing operation of four monthly library newsletters, five online book review magazines, a popular radio broadcast going out to 124 countries around the world, a robust working relationship with and with the Gale Research Company's "Book Review Index" as a monthly "content provider", and with steadily growing subscriber lists to the book reviews we generate. We continue to have the active (and often enthusiastic) support of more than 1200 publishers who furnish us with an average of 1500 titles a month for review consideration. -- And we are debt free thanks to the continuing support of foundation grants, private sector contributions, review copy liquidations, and very careful budgeting.

But that on-going success has also had some unintended consequences. The demands upon my time have continued to increase in the form of volunteer reviewer liaisons, publisher and author inquiry responses, publications editing, and my own volunteering with respect to awards judging, seminar/workshop teaching, personal commitments in support of small press publishing, and general office management duties.

The increases upon my time and energy in meeting these challenges and assignments has resulted in virtually no personal involvement in the topic threads and dialogues for my three favorite on-line publisher discussion groups. Every morning I spend an average of 60 minutes simply downloading the daily email, then deleting spams; publisher discussion group threads for which I have no particular expertise; and responding to specific publisher, author, and reviewer emails.

I haven't had the time to simply join in the publisher list discussions even when the topics were germane to my expertise as a reviewer and/or an observer of the publishing community.

That's the one thing thrust upon my by the continuing expansive success of the Midwest Book Review that I miss the most.

As it is, I have been seriously consulting with members of our in-house editorial staff about cutting things back to more manageable and less frenetic levels. Would that mean cutting one or more of our publications? Reducing the numbers of our volunteer and free-lance reviewers? Decreasing the numbers of publishers and/or authors who could submit books? -- All of these possibilities are simply abhorrent to me.

There is also the possibility of increasing the responsibilities of others by delegating more of what I do each month to them. I use form letters to notify publishers about having published reviews of their books. That's one of the biggest demands upon my time. Still another area would be handing over answering the telephone to my assistant -- but I so dearly love that bit of human contact with authors and publishers!

Fortunately there is no emergency compelling swift answers to these dilemmas. And the one sure thing that will continue to have a top priority for me is banging out the Jim Cox Report every month. -- Speaking of which, I will now move on to some "tips, tricks & techniques" advice for aspiring writers seeking to break into print, and novice publishers seeking to successfully market their books.

Sage Advice #1: Consider the career of writing and publishing to be embedded with one of the basic and fundamental concepts of Adult Education -- the one called "Life Long Learning". One of the biggest mistakes a writer or publisher can make is to think that they now know it all and that there's nothing left to learn. Every year there are a dozen or more "how to" titles published on writing and/or publishing. Most of them come from the specialty house "Writer's Digest Press" which is an imprint of F&W Publications. Virtually all of there titles are available through, or directly from the Writer's Digest Press website (use the Google search engine to zap you there).

There are very good titles published by other houses, and a great many "one-shot" titles written and self-published by experienced authors with successful track records of their own. I see just about every "how to" title for authors and publishers as they are printed up and become available to the reading public. It is these volumes which are reviewed in my regular monthly book review column called "The Writing/Publishing Bookshelf" which is a part of every issue of our online book review magazine "Internet Bookwatch". The current issue and several years worth of back issues are archived on the Midwest Book Review website.

One of the nicest features is that most of these reviewed and recommended books for aspiring writers and publishers can be obtained for free through your local community library's "InterLibrary Loan Service". My advice is that whenever possible, get a "how to" book from your local library. Read it. And if it looks like one that you will want to refer back to time and again -- buy your own copy and create your own professional reference bookshelf.

Incidently, you always want a sheet of paper and a pencil handy when reading these writing and publishing "how to" books so that you can make notes (including page numbers). While most of the material in these books will be repetitious, they will often cover the same ground with slightly different language, illustrative anecdotes, and the like, in a way that will enhance your own ability to fully grasp and later implement the ideas, notions, concepts, and instructions concerned.

The other big reason for reading several different books covering the same instructional ground is that usually each book will have something new to offer you, be it an idea, a strategy, a suggestion, an observation, or a warning that will enable you to be save money, anguish, or time, while improving your performance, product, or bottom line.

Every writer should read three books on how to get good literary representation in their attempt to become published -- you'll find them in the "Writer's Bookshelf" section of the Midwest Book Review. Every small press publisher should read three good titles on the role of the professional publicist -- and you'll find several of those in the "Publisher's Bookshelf" section of the Midwest Book Review.

With respect to this last point -- you'll also find an informational listing of recommended publicists and marketing experts in the "Publisher Resources" section of the Midwest Book Review.

My main point in all of the above is that whether you've been writing and publishing for 3 months or 30 years -- there's still new things to learn about, old skills to improve and additional skills to acquire, new information about new processes, technologies, marketplace changes and trends to keep up with.

So being a dedicated writer or a professional publisher means being a "Life Long Learner" if you hope to succeed against all the odds and obstacles that you face in your chosen profession.

Now on to some "Unsolicited Testimonials" and my responses to them:

1. Dear Mr. Cox,

You can only imagine my astonishment and delight when I recently looked at information regarding my book Dear Donna, It's Only 45 Hours from Bien Hoa on I discovered that included with the data concerning the book was a review of my modest work written by the Midwest Book Review. I am indeed fortunate that there are no flying insects in my home, as my mouth was agape for several seconds. This was not only my first review, but one that was very favorable as well. I cannot thank you enough, and I intend to use the review in an effort to get some newspapers and literary magazines to also review the book.

Thank you again!


Doug "Doc" Neralich

Jim Cox: This little "thank you" note embodies two things that delight me most. A positive response from this POD published author (1st Books Library) and the determination to utilize my work to help the author get his book noticed in the always overcrowded marketplace which is so clearly dominated by the major houses. I wish every author we review would "go and do likewise".

2. We just read your review for our new title You're in Charge...What Now? and thought it was great. Our author is especially pleased - he thought I wrote it!

Thank you,

Bryan Howland
Project Manager

Jim Cox: Reviewers (and their editors!) like feedback as much as any author or publisher. One of my jobs is to always make certain that "thank you's" like this one from Bryan are routinely forwarded to the relevant reviewer. Some reviewers want their name in lights. Other reviewers prefer anonymity. I never give out reviewer contact information, but prefer to simply forward such messages to the reviewer and leave it up to him or her as to what (if any) response they'd care to make.

3. James,

I just found the review for my latest book, Down the Cereal Aisle, online at the Midwest Book Review. I have let all of the parents who are part of the compilation of the book know of it and am receiving many happy email notes from them.

Thank you for reviewing this book of memories. When a child or sibling dies, parents and family fear many things. One of the biggest fears is that the child will no longer be remembered. Having a book with all of the children's special memories to share with the world is a tribute I wanted to give to parents. At a recent Compassionate Friends Conference held in Atlanta, 14 of those parents with recipes and remembrances in my book were present. The book sold many copies and has brought comfort and hope to many with broken hearts.

Thank you for reviewing Down the Cereal Aisle.


Alice J. Wisler
Daniel's House Publications

Jim Cox: Every reviewer has their own rules and reasons for deciding which book(s) they are going to devote their time to. My own personal criteria is as follows:

The physical appearance of the book. The presence of proper accompanying paperwork (cover letter/publicity release). The subject or topic or category of the book. Who published it (priority is given to small presses over major houses).

What Alice didn't know is that I spent a year as a psychiatric social worker with a "Death & Dying" caseload in the old Madison General Hospital dealing every day with catastrophic family loss. Even these several decades later it continues to be a subject dear to my heart. Her book was a natural when paired up to my own interests and background. It had a decent appearance, was accompanied by the right paperwork, and was a small press title -- but it was the subject matter that made it a lock!

4. Dear Mr. Cox,

Thank you so much for your kind review of "Restore Your Magnificence: A Life-Changing Guide to Reclaiming your Self-Esteem." I appreciate your support and all you do the champion our work.

With appreciation,

Dr. Joe Rubino CEO, The Center For Personal Reinvention

Jim Cox: The only category that has a tougher time getting reviewed than small press fiction are small press "self-help" books. Please believe me when I say that "how to" books in the area of self-help, self-improvement are a very hard to get reviewers to accept as an assignment. This is because of three principal factors: 1. With the advent of desk top and POD publishing, there are so many of them!! 2. Most of them come from self-published authors with no training or particular expertise in publishing and therefore no (or limited) experience in marketing. 3. The authors all to often lack credentialed expertise for the advice they are giving. 4. So many of these titles are thinly disguised exercises in self-catharsis.

Another of the columns I regularly do (I told you how busy I always seem to be!) is called "The Self-Help Shelf". The ones that make it through the selection process have to be like Joe Rubino's title -- exceptionally well presented, well written, with an author offering some basic level of credentialed or experience-based expertise. In his case he had it all. Good packaging, good presentation, and thoroughly "reader friendly" for the non-specialist general reader with no particular background in psychology.

The result was a book that I could recommended with a substantial confidence that it would safely and competently benefit it's intended readership.

5. Thank you for sending me the "Library Bookwatch" tear sheet that includes the review of my book, "Drive-about." I'm glad the reviewer liked the book. I will use a quote from the review in my publicity material.

Thanks again,

Jeff Green
Curly Books

Jim Cox: It is a basic, fundamental principle and policy of mine that reviewers have an obligation to provide the publisher with a copy of their review so that the publisher can have the benefit of the reviewer's critique and know what that particularly reviewer has recommended with respect to the book in question. It's going to continue being a policy for the Midwest Book Review for as long as I continue to be the editor-in-chief. Even when it means that I will spend an average of 15 workdays a month doing nothing but sending out tear sheets accompanied by publisher notification letters. You can get a sense of the enormity of this task when noting that the Midwest Book Review generates an average of 750 to 800 reviews a month. That's a lot of letters and a lot of postage!

Speaking of postage! I am so pleased to announce that once again some very kind folk have donated postage stamps to the Midwest Book Review as gestures of support and appreciation for our efforts in behalf of the small press community. This time around they are:

Suzanne H. Schrems - Horse Creek Publications Dia - Platypus Media (and Dia also included a birthday card for me!) Sid Jackson - j-Press Publishing Paulette Maggiolo - "The Guilty Teacher"

If you would also like to donate postage stamps (or books for review), just send them to the attention of:

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

If you would like to subscribe (for free) to the Jim Cox Report, just send me an email and ask to be signed up. Back issues of the Jim Cox Report are also archived on the Midwest Book Review website at

Until next time -- Goodbye, Good Luck, and Good Reading!

Jim Cox
Midwest Book Review

James A. Cox
Midwest Book Review
278 Orchard Drive
Oregon, WI 53575-1129
phone: 1-608-835-7937

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