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Jim Cox Report: June 2002

Dear Publishers, Friends & Family:

Another task-filled month has come and gone here at the Midwest Book Review, and that means time for another installment of the "Jim Cox Report" complete with office gossip, "tips, tricks & techniques", and a few of those "unsolicited testimonials" that brought a smile to my heart and a sense of accomplishment to my soul.

First, the gossip:

Our newest book review magazine "Small Press Bookwatch" is proving to be worth the time it takes to produce, because virtually every small press, POD, and self-published title featured in its 40+ page June issue would have fallen by the wayside just two months earlier due to a lack of space in our three other monthly publications (Children's Bookwatch; Internet Bookwatch; Reviewer's Bookwatch).

Our newest editorial appointment is that of "International Editor" and was awarded to Jan Bogstad. Jan is an academician and a university librarian who, now and then, contributes the "Bogstad's Bookshelf" column to our Reviewer's Bookwatch publication.

Jan's literary and professional interests have taken her to China, England, Wales, Scotland, Ireland, and elsewhere. My wife and I recently had lunch with Jan and her husband Phil Kaveny ("Kaveny's Bookshelf" -- and our Literary Editor here at the Midwest Book Review). Jan is soon to be off to Great Britain again, to attend three different literary conferences. She accepted my request that she become the Midwest Book Review's foreign correspondent -- and thus became our first "International Editor". Her salary will consist of my hearty handshake, profuse expressions of appreciation, -- and my having picked up the tab for said lunch. :-)

So now the Midwest Book Review has 73 volunteer reviewers (35 of whom have reviews running in the June "Reviewer's Bookwatch"); an Editor-in-Chief; a Managing Editor; a West Coast Editor; an Assistant Editor; a Literary Editor; and now an International Editor. -- At least the volunteer indians still outnumber the editorial chiefs! ;-)

Here's another sign of how things are going around here in a little email from my Managing Editor/Webmaster daughter:

Subj: We had to upgrade our web traffic limit again...

> Hi dad... we had to upgrade our web traffic limit again, because SO many people are visiting our website - more than last month! In February we had just under 2 GB of traffic, and January was less than 1 GB. We're getting over 2 GB of traffic a month now, so I upgraded our limit to 5 GB. This costs us a total of $9 a month, billed every 6 months.

> We shouldn't have to upgrade again... unless our website triples in popularity. :)

Now that's the kind of increased billing invoice that brings a smile to my heart! Our Midwest Book Review website visitor traffic is continuing to increase at a fairly steady rate. I think it's not only because a lot of folks hear about us in one or more of those publishing "how to" books that are out there; or encounter us in one of online publisher groups; we also get a huge number of repeat visitors because we keep doing things like adding more articles to our "Advice For Publishers" section.

And just yesterday, we added 98 new resource links to various parts of our website including Publishers; Writer Resources, Publisher Resources; Book Lover Resources; Copyright; Libraries; and Book Publicity/Marketing.

The Midwest Book Review website is:

Subj: Invitation to be a speaker at the SSGRR 2002s Conference in L`Aquila near Rome, Italy (Jul 29 - Aug 4 2002.)
Date: 02-04-03 00:38:26 EST

> Honorable Professor,

> I have been appointed to serve as the General Chair of the Summer 2002 edition of the SSGRR series of international conferences, and I would like to extend a special invitation to you.

> The SSGRR-2002S (Summer) conference on "Infrastructure for e-Business, e-Education, e-Science, and e-Medicine" takes place in SSGRR (Scuola Superiore G. Reiss Romoli), the deluxe congress and educational center of the Telecom Italia Group of companies.

> This is in L'Aquila near Rome, Italy, from July 29 (Monday) at 5pm (start of the Grand Opening) till August 4 (Sunday) at 10am (departure of busses to the Rome airport Fiumicino and the railway station Tiburtina)....Sincerely yours,

> Professor V. M. Milutinovic, General Chair of the SSGRR-2002S
> (

> P.S. No matter if you will attend the SSGRR-2002S conference or not, please let us know if you like to be invited to the Winter edition of the year 2003 (SSGRR-2003W) to be held in the same place from January 6, 2003 at 5pm till January 12, 2003 at 10am. Shall we reinvite you?

Me: I am no stranger to getting invited to speak at conferences, conventions, colleges and universities. But this is the first time I was ever requested to go "international"! As to the "Professor" tag -- I'm afraid I'm not really an academician. I do hold degrees in psychology, sociology, and social work, and I've held positions ranging from Vocational Rehabilitation Counselor for the state of Utah, to Developmental Disabilities Coordinator for the Brodhead School District, to Case Manager for the Dane County Department of Social Services.

Still, it is flattering to think that somewhere in Italy there are folks who have read what I write and think it commensurate with professorial level work. Sadly, I had to decline the invitation for reasons of health -- but it was very nice to be asked!

Now for some "tips, tricks & techniques" -- otherwise known as my free advice and worth exactly what I charge!

In a message dated 02-01-05 05:57:01 EST, kathe writes:

> How about emailing me a blurb about your book review process and I'll send
> it to my friends who aren't on pubforum et. al.


To have your book considered for review by the Midwest Book Review, we require a finished copy of the book (no galleys, uncorrected proofs, or pre-publication manuscripts) accompanied by a press/publicity release, and a cover letter.

A book has a 12 to 16 week "window of opportunity" to be assigned out for review. Currently there are 73 volunteer reviewers to handle an average of 1500 titles a month being submitted for review consideration. We typically generate about 490 to 520 reviews a month. So, roughly speaking, we are able to accommodate about 1/3 of the titles submitted for attention. Wherever possible we give preferential consideration to self-published authors (including POD published authors), small press publishers, academic presses, and regional publishers.

If/when a book makes the cut and is featured we automatically send the publisher a tear sheet and "publisher notification" letter for their files. It is then the publisher's responsibility to notify authors, editors, illustrators, publicists, and anyone else they deem appropriate.

In addition to appearing in our book review publications, reviews are posted on the Midwest Book Review website for twelve months; posted to subscribers;;; thematically appropriate websites; and included in an interactive CD-ROM called "Book Review Index" for corporate, academic, and public library systems.

The books that fail to achieve a review are disposed of by being donated to charity, sold to local libraries and used bookstores, or sent to the landfill. Any revenues raised by the disposal of review copies are used to fund the publication and distribution of our library newsletters and online book review magazines.

And there you have it. The Midwest Book Review process in a nutshell.

Jim Cox
Midwest Book Review

In a message dated 02-02-05 12:45:46 EST, Charles Sheehan-Miles writes:

> I'm disappointed I missed Jim Cox's article. Alas, after reading ten
> messages off this list yesterday morning, I selected the rest and
> deleted them. I'll check it out in the archives.

I've gotten a couple of requests for what I wrote regarding Book Review Cover Letters because folks think they might have missed it...So for the folk who..want to know what I was talking about, here it is:

Some advice on the cover letter that should accompany every review copy submission -- not only to the Midwest Book Review, but to any reviewer, review organization, or review publication.

The purpose of a cover letter is significantly different from that of the press/publicity release (which should also accompany every review book).

The press/publicity release tells the reviewer all about the book itself -- who published it, what the book is about, who wrote it, and all the ways someone can acquire a copy of it.

The function of the cover letter is quite different. The cover letter is you telling the recipient of that review copy why you sent it to them in particular.

Here are some persuasive reasons drawn from really effective cover letters that I've collected and held aside this past month and presented in no particular order of priority:
  1. The book is thematically appropriate for one of the columns that appears in our book review publications:

  2. The author and/or publisher is from the midwest or from Wisconsin.

  3. The subject of the book ties in directly to some contemporary social issue or political event or celebratory occasion (holiday).

  4. They are a fellow member of one of the online discussion groups and appreciate the contributions of Jim Cox and/or the mission of the Midwest Book Review.

  5. They are responding to an invitation on our website as a small press publisher or self-published author to bring their title to our attention.

  6. A review of one of their previous titles appeared in our publications or was reviewed by me.

  7. They saw a review by us posted on Amazon for some other book in the same category or genre.

  8. They were participants at one of the seminars or workshops that I'd given or been a panelist for.

  9. They read one of my articles in a regional or national newsletters that they get. One of them mentioned reading about me in the new (4th) edition of Tom & Marilyn Ross's "How To Self-Publish" book (page 322 for those of you that are curious).

  10. They had contacted me by phone or email for my submission guidelines.

  11. It was a second sending, at my request, because their follow-up to a first sending indicated that the book didn't arrive for some reason or other.

  12. The first sending was that of a galley or uncorrected proof and in response to my email or letter indicating that we required a finished copy for review -- here it is.

Let me restate:

The principle function of the cover letter is to tell me why the book is being submitted for my attention and consideration.

The press/publicity release tells me what the book is actually about and why it's worth my time to review.

Jim Cox
Midwest Book Review

In a message dated 02-02-05 21:48:51 EST, Steve Carlson write:

> I also appreciated Jim's newsletter for the important ground it covered. But
> one of his recommendations surprised me--and struck me as dangerous. He
> described the publicity release as a thorough description of the book.
> This probably works if the release is used *only* in kits sent to reviewers.
> However, it's the kiss of death if you send such a release to news or
> feature editors. Unless your book is about Harry Potter, a release that
> mainly just announces the book and describes it will get trashed and the
> publisher who sent it will lose credibility for future releases.

Steve is quite correct: My "cover letter advice" was for books submitted for review to reviewers -- not publicity releases send to bookstore retailers for persuading them to stock their shelves with the title in question.

And the book reviewer oriented publicity release to accompany the book and the cover letter should have a one-paragraph summary description (not a thorough description which would be expected to require many paragraphs or even a couple of pages).

And even more the point: That one paragraph summary description should be so well crafted that you wouldn't mind seeing it picked up and repeated verbatim within pages of Publishers Weekly or the Library Journal.

That's because now and then a reviewer will use that paragraph as a frame upon which to build their commentary. And every now and then an book review publication editor will be in need of some "filler" to finish off a column or a page and use it "whole and entire" for just that purpose.

Incidently, a publicity release means something quite different to a journalist than it does to a reviewer or a bookstore retailer or a librarian.

The moral of this observation is that publishers should make one publicity release carefully crafted for each of these disparate "audiences" and gear its formation to the needs/interests of that particular category of recipient. While the bulk of the information will be very similar, there will be differences in the amount of information provided, the shaping of the information provided; and the nature of information provided, and even the format in which it is provided (print, fax, email, phone).

> This is not an argument with Jim. He provided some extremely valuable
> insights on what to mail to reviewers. I picked up some tips from his report
> that I'll use. My only point is that sometimes a little bit of knowledge can
> be dangerous. The type of "release" that may be appropriate for a reviewer;
> as part of a press kit that includes a review copy, is the worst possible
> thing that you could possibly send to a news or feature editor.

For the newbies on our list, Steve and I are long time cyberspace pen pals and PubForum friends. Steve is an expert when it comes to approaching journalists (read magazine and newspaper editors and columnists). For him the term "press release" and "publicity release" and "news release" have very specific and professional meanings.

And it's important to know the criteria used for terms that often originate in one professional context (e.g., newspapers) and are carried over into another (e.g., book reviewers). Let me emphasize that Steve is correct when he distinguishes between the approach to be used with journalists and the approach that works best with reviewers.

In conclusion, here is some "how to" advice I gave recently on the subject of how to put together a PR (publicity release) for book reviewers -- and you can see why you might want to do something just a bit different for journalists:

In a message dated 02-02-05 11:15:15 EST, Dolores Hiskes writes:

> I always read everything you write--your sane, sensible, and
> lucid thoughts are extremely well received.
> (I would love to send you a copy of Phonics Pathways, but for
> me the stumbling block has been writing a press release--I've
> never had time to that in my life. And since I am now writing
> two requested articles for other major organizations don't know
> when I can....sigghhhh....)

It's easy when you learn the trick of it. Here's what you do:

Take your letterhead stationary (it will already have a number of these PR info bits in your printed letterhead) and including the following:

Then write a one paragraph description of the book.

The write a one paragraph author bio (noting any special credentials).

Keep it to one side of a single page.

And there you have it.

Jim Cox
Midwest Book Review

In a message dated 02-02-08 13:07:17 EST, Shel writes:

> Now, Jim is a gentleman and always sends a courtesy copy; others do
> not, but that doesn't make them any else valuable. While it's not LJ,
> I am *delighted* to have a review from Today's Librarian (LJ did
> review my older book, Marketing Without Megabucks: How to Sell
> Anything on a Shoestring)--and immediately got the review up on my
> website.

My practice here at the Midwest Book Review of sending a tear sheet to the publisher when featuring a title does seem to be the exception to a general rule of neglect regarding such feedback to publishers by the book reviewing community.

What I've long recommended to authors and publishers is that they periodically type in the title of their book into the Google search engine to see what pops up. Sometimes you'd be amazed!

I would also do the same with your name and the name of your publishing house. Such searches are lightning quick and can uncover gems of promotionable mention -- as well as cases of plagiarism and unauthorized chicanery as well.

When using the Google search engine be sure to enclosed your titles (or any other words or phrases you're looking for) within in quotation marks like this: "The Wit & Wisdom Of Jim Cox" - without the quotation marks you will get hits for Wit, Wisdom, Jim, and Cox - but with "The Wit & Wisdom Of Jim Cox" you would only get hits for that some-day-I-may-write-it mythical book of mine.

Jim Cox
Midwest Book Review

In a message dated 02-02-08 20:18:09 EST, ___ writes:

> 1) If you were me, what would you do to gain the most in-depth
> experience regarding publishing?

There is "book learning" -- reading every "how to" book you can get your hands on, taking notes on what you read, and then organizing it all into a coherent, step-by-step processes that you can implement given your own available resources, time, energy, and opportunities.

There is "street learning" -- either by just jumping in and doing a publishing project on your own, or engaging in some form of apprenticeship (volunteering or employee based) with an experienced publisher and acquiring a hands-on experience that can then be put to good use when launching your own publishing projects.

Experience may well be the most effective teacher -- but it can also the most expensive.

If you can, I would recommend a blending of "book learning", with apprenticeship, and then a careful engagement with your own book publishing project.

Incidently, "book learning" is best thought of as a form of life-long learning. Never stop reading "how to" materials, and never stop talking with other publishers about what they (and you) are doing, experiencing in the publishing industry, or trying out in the marketplace.

> 2) What kind of consulting or employment would you go after? For
> example, small or large publisher? PR agency or freelance small pub
> marketing? Part-time consulting or full-time position?

Unless you live in New York City you can pretty much forget about hooking up with one of the conglomerates -- besides, achieving entry level positions at a Random House or a Penguin Putnam really won't teach you all that much about do-it-yourself or you-are-in-charge publishing. This is because they have all pretty much become compartmentalized bureaucracies supervised (or should that be suppressed) by semi-literate corporate bean-counters.

My advice is to hook up with a small press. And the best way to find them in your part of the world is to locate and join up with a regional publisher association.

National groups like PMA or SPAN are excellent for newbies and I recommend a one-year membership in both -- because there is so much to learn and both organizations have excellent newsletters and seminar/workshop programs to offer.

But it is at the regional or local level that you will find opportunities for both paid and volunteer work of a kind that can justifiably be considered "apprenticeship" quality for learning the nuts and bolts of turning manuscripts into books, and books into money.

> 3) Do you have any suggestions for going after that position? (I will
> join PMA and a couple of local publishing organizations.)

You go after a publishing relevant position the same why you would seek a position in any other field.

  1. Prepare a resume.

  2. Join a local or regional association for the purpose of making contacts.

  3. Ask the people you encounter in the profession about what their manpower needs are with respect to their publishing projects.

  4. Figure out how you can be of value to a particular publisher with respect to their current or forthcoming projects.

  5. Then make application to join them in their publishing project as either a paid employee (if they can afford what you have to offer) or as a volunteer (if what they have to offer is worthwhile enough as a form of technical education for yourself in the craft and business of publishing).

One last piece of advice for all the good folk who aspire to one day becoming publishers, whether of their own work or the work of others:

Never neglect the incredible resource that is the online publisher discussion group (PubForum, SPAN, Publish-L). At virtually ever stage of the publishing process, from manuscript selection to the disposal of overstock, the men and women that form the online small press publishing community work generously together to critique what you need to be doing, provide answers for your questions, generate solutions for your problems, and generate ideas for you to consider and adapt to your activities, profitability, and success -- including the non-material definitions of successful publishing.

Jim Cox
Midwest Book Review

In a message dated 02-02-09 22:11:49 EST, Fushigi Sekai writes:

> 1) Do I have to pay for each book that is published?

Yes, I'm afraid you do. In fact, your available investment capital (money) will be one of the key factors in determining whether your have a print run of 100 or 1,000 or 10,000 for your book.

> 2) How old do I have to be in order to be eligible to publish a book?

There are no minimum age level requirements to publish a book. In fact there are some speciality publishers like Kids Can Press where publishing is a collaborative effort between adults and kids as young as 7 or 8.

I would strongly recommend that you visit the Midwest Book Review website and read through the articles that you will find in a section called "Advice For Publishers". You will find a great many answers to your questions about publishing books. You will find the website at

Jim Cox
Midwest Book Review

In a message dated 02-02-14 20:27:16 EST, Fern writes:

> > Jim Cox has graciously offered to screen books for the new IP
> > branding program. He will look at: Front, back, and interior
> > physical appearance, as well as data bits that reviewers,
> > librarians, and booksellers would need.

And then Bill Warner responded:

> I think that's great. He is already passingly familiar with several hundred
> of us all ready, and certainly has the background. Perhaps he will pass
> on a few standards that he will look for so no one is surprised?

Here then, are the standards I used in that famous "literary triage" that takes place on my desk every workday morning as I examine the day's intake of review book submissions:

  1. Title -- how is it laid out as part of the cover

  2. Author -- ditto above, and on the spine as well.

  3. Publisher -- I hate it when the publisher is not cited either by name or icon on the book's spine. Every spine should present title, author, publisher (in that order, top to bottom) and of sufficient size and type font as to be easily read for shelf browsing in a library or bookstore.

  4. ISBN number & that ID code block on the back. LLC also, if there is one.

  5. Price -- if the price is not printed on the book then it had better be found on an accompanying publicity release.

  6. Cover art -- this is an esthetic judgement, intensely subjective (eye of the beholder and all that) but critically important.

  7. Back cover promotional text and/or author bio/credentials

  8. Quality of binding (has to do with anticipated shelf life for libraries)

  9. Print font (type and size) for interior text -- a goodly number of books are dismissed because their type is too small for the intended readership (often a choice made to cut down on paper required).

Basically, a small press title must be as attractive or compelling as those put out by the major houses and adhere to the same esthetic and marketing standards as you will find by simply browsing the shelves of your nearest bookstore.

Incidently, the major houses are just as capable of screwing up the physical appearance of their books as anyone else. I've seen countless horrifying examples of art departments gone nuts at Random House or HarperCollins.

What you want is to have your title appear as having been professionally produced to normative standards in terms of its physical qualities including type fonts, font sizes, cover art, and back cover info.

Incidently, I think stickers on finished books is the way to go, rather than (at least for the first edition) an IP (Independent Publisher) logo being printed on the dust jacket or book cover. I would prefer to see the finished book to judge "IP" worthiness because it's the finished book that will give me the most reliable presentation to pass judgement on.

Plus, it would allow already published titles to get in on this "branding" thing for those that would like it.

One last comment -- this screening or vetting process that I've volunteered for (Fern is soooo persuasive!) does not include passing any judgements upon the literary quality of the content. Just the physical aspects of the marketing-the-book-as-product elements.

Jim Cox
Midwest Book Review

In a message dated 02-02-16 17:09:59 EST, Steve Karris writes:

> But in the case with Quality, since they claim to sell to libraries, I
> must ask: Will someone who goes to a library to find a book on a
> particular subject pay attention to the cover before opening the book
> to search its contents? I do not think that the average person would
> although there would be some exceptions. And would a library spend
> twice as much money to buy a particular book assuming that the
> content is the same or nearly the same in both books?

The hurdle to overcome is not the library patron's reaction to a flawed or inferior cover, but he acquisition librarian's reaction to a flawed or inferior cover.

Librarians pay attention to books presented for acquisition according to the following (and pretty much in this rank order):

1. reviews
2. patron requests
3. filling gaps or making updates in their library collections
4. physical appearance.

Jim Cox
Acquisitions consultant for Dane County Library Services (Wisconsin)
Midwest Book Review

Now for some of those "unsolicited testimonies" that tend to put a smile on my lips and a song in my heart!

Date: 02-04-02 11:18:11 EST
From: (Lisa Smith)
To: mwbookrevw@AOL.COM (James Cox)

> Dear Jim:

> Thank you for another valuable monthly report! You always include such useful information for people at various stages in their publishing careers. And I always learn something from every one of your posts and reports.

> Cheers, Lisa

> Lisa A. Smith Writing at Work

Me: This is exactly why I sit down once a month to write this little "extended monolog". Thanks Lisa!

Date: 02-04-03 11:46:43 EST
From: (Janice Marschner)

> Thanks, Jim and Abel Greenspan, for the wonderful review of my book, "California 1850 - A Snapshot in Time." It's very much appreciated.

> And thank you, Jim, for all of your sage advice and helpful information on your website and posts to the self-pub e-mail groups!

> Have a wonderful spring!

> Janice Marschner Coleman
> Ranch Press

> Dear Mr. Cox,

> Please pass on our sincere appreciation to Paul T. Vogel for his stellar review of our premier novel, Khalifah by John Elray, in the April issue of Reviewer's Bookwatch. It made everyone's day. Thanks.

> Ray LeBlanc
> Publisher Aardwolfe Books

Me: Able Greenspan and Paul Vogel are two of our volunteer reviewers. Whenever this little expressions come in for one of our people I always pass them along. Even reviewers appreciate feedback and thank you's!

From: (Dan Seidman)

> ...When The Death of 20th Century Selling was reviewed by Jim Cox the book was newly released. I can attribute 400 books ordered from his review (THANKS AGAIN, JIM!). A similar number was ordered when Fearless Books reviewed me (THANK YOU, TOO!)....

> Dan Seidman, The Death of 20th Century Selling

Me: This is actually the publisher's bottom-line reason for the practice of having a book reviewed. An author might also like to have literary feedback, the publisher appreciates validation for the choices they make -- but the fundamental rationale for the capital expenditure consumed by offering a book for review is the hope and expectation that the review will enhance sales.

> Dear Mr. Cox,

> Thank you very much for your letter of April 3rd advising that our book, Dave's Quick 'n' Easy Web Pages, was reviewed online. Nice quotable review too. We look forward to putting it on our back cover at the next printing. Thanks again.

> Bruce Lindsay
> Erin Publications

Me: Don't just let positive reviews pile up in some office folder. They cost you some of your precious capital. Get your money's worth and put them all to work for you!

Jim Cox, Editor-in-Chief
Midwest Book Review
278 Orchard Drive, Oregon, WI 53575

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

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