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Cox Report: June 2007
Jim Cox Report: June 2007
Dear Publisher Folk, Friends & Family:
This month I'd like to lead off with a bit of 'in-house' gossip.
WHA-AM is the Madison, Wisconsin based National Public Radio station and every morning at 7:00 am Monday through Friday they have a telephone call-in talk show with a guest and a topic. Last Monday their guest was a literary critic and the subject was a lamentable trend in newspaper publishing that has seen the reduction (and for a growing number of newspapers the outright elimination) of book reviews.
So I had to call in and add my opinion as to what was contributing to this sorry trend. Basically, in my opinion, it is the changing nature of the newspaper business where small and local papers are being bought up by larger ones, and those larger ones are themselves then being bought up by international corporations. One consequence of this practice of mergers and consolidations is that where newspapers were once under the control of Journalists (with a capital "J") who felt that information in all its forms had intrinsic value, they are now under the management of corporate bean-counters seeking bottom-line profits above public service. Their reasoning is that if you reduce or eliminate book reviews and you can use the space they formerly occupied for other, more lucrative purposes. You can also simply eliminate those pages and reduce production costs.
The guest was kind enough to not only agree with me but go on to elaborate and cite specific examples of the point I was making.
Then (having identified myself as the editor-in-chief of the Midwest Book Review for going on 31 years now) I was able to make a second observation -- that this regrettable trend with the newspapers was actually benefitting the Midwest Book Review in that a growing number of freelance reviewers who has lost their newspaper outlets are now contributing their reviews for our online book review publications as an alternative.
The host of the program of the program thanked me for calling up and then much to my surprise asked that I stay on the line and talk to one of her producers. It seems that they want to schedule me as a guest for a future show. I guess the subject is going to be trends in the publishing industry, the role of the reviewer, small press publishing in Wisconsin, etc.
It was a nice little boost to a book review editor's ego!
Here's the latest batch of reviews for some of the new 'how to' books written for aspiring writers and novice publishers:
The Writing/Publishing Shelf
The Freelance Writer's Bible
1181 Angelo Drive, Beverly Hills, Ca 90210
1879505851, $19.95 www.amazon..com
David Trottier is a successful freelance writer and writing teacher who since 1998 has had hundreds of his articles published in magazines ranging from 'Writer's Digest' to 'Road and Track'. he has also authored several successful books (including "The Screenwriter's Bible"), written and sold several featured film scripts, worked as a business writer, copywriter, and newsletter editor. In "The Freelance Writer's Bible", David draws upon his considerable experience and expertise to create an invaluable compendium of information, advice, instruction, tips, techniques, illustrations, anecdotes, and more about just what aspiring writers seeking freelance careers must know and be able to do if they are to be successful in their chosen field. from discovering and developing a creative vision, to achieving higher and higher levels of creativity and improved writing excellent, to selling in seventeen key writing markets, to creating a strategic marketing plan, "The Freelance Writer's Bible" will prove to be a reliable instructional guide and 'user friendly' manual. Readers will learn how to set up a writing business, make that business profitable, deal with writing bocks, write effective query and proposal letters, enhance their writing income, and so much more. With a great deal of 'fill in the blank' forms, this must be considered something of a 'consumable' title and therefore not a good selection for a public library collection. But if you aspire to becoming a professional freelance writer, regardless of the genres or media you intend to work in, then you need to give a careful and personal reading to your very own copy of "The Freelance Writer's Bible" by David Trottier.
From Hollywood Experts And Published Authors
Marilyn Peake, editor
Double Dragon Publishing
PO Box 54016, 1-5762 Highway 7 East, Markham, Ontario, Canada, L3P 7Y4
155404426X, $15.99 www.double-dragon-publishing.com
Compiled, organized and edited by author and columnist Marilyn Peake, "From Hollywood Experts And Published Authors: Words of Wisdom For Starving Artists " features commentaries and information contributed by a variety of authors to the free monthly online newsletter edited by Marilyn Peake -- 'The Golden Goblet' -- during its first year of publication, with some of the articles being especially written for this informed and informative little compendium of advice for writers. The contributors range from Natalie and Lincoln Bandlow on 'Literary Legalities: Copyright And Other Protections For Aspiring Writers'; to Michael J. Wallach's 'Oh, Those Managers And Agents...Can't Live With Them, Can't Live Without Them...'; to Patricia Harrington's 'Grants And Opportunities For Writers: Thinking Outside The Box', to succinct advisories from ten other savvy, experienced, articulate, knowledgeable writers. Each contributor is given a brief biographical introduction followed by their contribution. Useful, practical, and an easy read, "From Hollywood Experts And Published Authors" is strongly recommended for anyone aspiring to a career as a professional writer regardless of genre or media.
Sixty-Four years As A Writer
312 Main Street, Caldwell, ID 83605-3299
0870044532, $16.95 www.caxtonpress.com 1-800-657-6465
For more than six decades, Bill Gulick successfully pursued a career as a writer and author. He has written twenty-seven novels, eight books of non-fiction, as well as several plays. A regular contributor to 'The Saturday Evening Post' and other national magazines, many of his published stories became major motion pictures starring such Hollywood luminaries as Burt Lancaster and Jimmy Stewart. His friends and associates in literary circles and the publishing industry are legion and range from A. B. Guthrie, to Elmer Kelton, to William McCleod Raine. Gulick has also made a name for himself as a leading authority on Pacific Northwest History."Sixty-Four Years As A Writer" is a remarkable, memorable, personal history of his life and career from his days in Oklahoma during the Great Depression to his current status as one of America's premier Western authors. Very highly recommended reading (especially for anyone contemplating a professional writing career for themselves), this is an intrinsically fascinating memoir laced with anecdotes and told in a superbly articulate and engaging narrative style for which he is so well known.
Mystery Writing In A Nutshell
John McAleer & Andrew McAleer
James A. Rock & Company Publishers
9710 Traville Gateway Drive, #305, Rockville, MD 20850
1596635053, $9.95 www.rockpublishing.com 1-800-411-2230
The combined effort of best selling author John McAleer (and a winner of the Mystery Writers of America annual 'Edgar' award) and Andrew McAleer (Professor of Crime Fiction at Boston College and the author of three published mystery novels), "Mystery Writings In A Nutshell: The World's Most Concise Guide To Mystery And Suspense Writing" truly lives up to its title as a 100-page compilation of succinctly presented tips, tricks and techniques for crafting good mystery fiction whether as a short story or a full length novel. From defining mystery and suspense, to the concept of a narrative hook, to diverse elements for story ideas, to enriching the context of the story, to the use of motives and weapons, to character development issues, to plotting out a story, "Mystery Writing In A Nutshell" covers it all in crisp, 'user friendly' detail. Of special note is the concluding section devoted to 'Miscellaneous' offerings that include a number of invaluable entries including 'Conversations About Writers and Writing' and 'A Short Essay on Writers Influencing Writers'. Any aspiring writer seeking to professionally establish themselves in this popular and demanding genre should read what John and Andrew McAleer have to say in the pages of "Mystery Writing In A Nutshell".
On Writing Romance
Writer's Digest Press
c/o F&W Publications, Inc.
700 East State Street, Iola, WI 54990
1582974365, $16.99 www.fwpublications.com 1-800-726-9966
In addition to several nonfiction books, Leigh Michaels is the published author of more than eighty romance novels and so brings a very special expertise to "On Writing Romance: How To Craft A Novel That Sells", her instruction manual for aspiring writers in a demanding and popular genre. Practical, comprehensive, informed and informative, "On Writing Romance" covers the origins and evolutions of the romance novel, and then takes the aspiring writer through each and every stage of the writing and publishing process. Breaking down more than thirty romance subcategories, aspiring writers will learn how to steer clear of cliches and stereotypes by studying the genre they propose to establish themselves in; craft engaging and realistic characters that will appeal to a discerning readership; add conflict through the use of secondary characters; utilize tension and timing to make love scenes come alive; and provide stories with 'happy-ever-after' endings that are neither ordinary or uninspiring, but will reward the reader with a story that they will remember long after the book is finished and returned to the shelf. Enhanced with a sample query letter, a cover letter, and synopsis, "On Writing Romance" also provides specific and practical 'how to' information on preparing a manuscript for submission to agents, editors, and publishers. Anyone seeking to write a commercially successful romance novel of any kind should begin by giving a careful and considered reading to Leigh Michael's "On Writing Romance".
Free Fire Zone
Smith & Kraus Publishers
76 Aver Road, North Stratford, NH 03590
1575252406, $17.95 1-800-895-4331
Playwright Theresa Rebeck presents Free Fire Zone: A Playwright's Adventures on the Creative Battlefields of Film, TV and Theater, a tell-it-like-it-is guide for aspiring professional writers to the career politics inherent in writing for movies, television, and theater. Free Fire Zone also covers how to write a script with honesty, originality, and vision, but its unique strength lies in its insights for navigating Machiavellian power struggles, and the lies in all shapes and sizes that have practically become calling cards for the industry. "When a theater tells you that you have a home there, what they really mean is they want the right of first refusal on all your plays, and they don't want to have to pay you for it." "When it comes to talking to actors, let them figure out as much as they can on their own. It is always better to have an actor figure out what feels right for his character himself; it is never as good to tell him what he's playing." Free Fire Zone is highly recommended as a one-of-a-kind guide that anyone attempting to break into multimedia writing must read.
Publishing Without Boundaries
Michael N. Ross
The Association of Educational Publishers (AEP)
510 Heron Drive, Suite 201, Logan Township, NJ 08085
0978985702, $24.95 www.edpress.org
Very highly recommended and instructive reading, "Publishing Without Boundaries: How To Think, Work, And Win In The Global Marketplace" by Michael N. Ross (Senior Vice President, Corporate Development, Encyclopedia Britannica Inc.) focuses upon the impact digital publishing has had on the publishing industry, how to work with international publishers, and how American publishers can maximize development efforts. "Publishing Without Boundaries" is designed to teach publishers how to adapt what they do to other cultures and media for the purpose of establishing relationships, negotiating licensing, and developing co-publishing contracts. Of particular importance to educational publishers, "Publishing Without Borders" has a great deal of relevance and value for American trade publishers, niche publishers, independent publishers, and self-published authors seeking to expand their markets into other countries.
Writer Profits: "How I Got the Gig"
Susan M. Carter, editor
8917 Kell Avenue South, Minneapolis, MN 55437
0967029171, $14.95 www.writerprofits.com
Expertly compiled and deftly edited by Susan M. Carter, "Writer Profits" is a very special compilation of advice and commentary by fifteen professional writers who share their individual stories of pursuing and winning writing assignments of all kinds. Included in this group, each of whom wrote their own chapter, are both part-time and full-time writers, writers who right for fun and writers who ply their craft for profit, writers who write periodically and writers who write every day. Collectively, their stories reveal a wealth of tricks, tips and techniques that will have exceptional and practical value for aspiring authors seeking to break into print, as well as those novice authors seeking to land paid assignments. "Writer Profits" shows just how to turn a vacation into a book opportunity, turn quick tips into quick cash, become a recurring columnist, get writing referrals, establish and develop a technical writer career, become a script writer for television, and so much more. If you want a career as a professional writer, give a careful reading to "Writer Profits" and learn how to land gigs of your own!
Remember that you can access reviews for literally hundreds of books published over the years on the subject of writing and publishing in two sections (Writer's Bookshelf & Publisher's Bookshelf) of the Midwest Book Review website at http://www.midwestbookreview.com
Now for some Q&A from my email box:
In a message dated 5/7/2007 8:01:51 P.M. Central Daylight Time, NegaScout@shaw.ca writes:
I was hoping I could get you to elaborate on this e-mail. I will post your response on my blog. While the blog is by no means well-trafficked, it does get 50-100 unique users a day, most of them writers.
Question 1. You receive 2000 book/month. Are all the books read? How do your in-house reviewers decide which books get a positive recommendation? How is a book's intended audience determined?
Answer: When books arrive each day, Monday through Saturday, our mailroom guy takes them out of their respective bags, boxes, and packages, puts the accompanying paperwork with them, then stacks them all on my desk. Then I sit down and do a kind of literary triage -- meaning that I personally screen them and put them into one of three stacks:
Stack 1: Automatic rejection. This can be for such reasons as they submitted a title that is a galley or uncorrected proof -- and we review finished, published copies only. The book features a substandard cover that would make it non-competitive with others of its genre or category as encountered on a bookstore or library shelf. The type is too small for its intended readership. A cursory inspection turns up typos or flagrant errors of grammar. The book arrived without an accompanying cover letter and/or publicity release.
Stack 2: Automatic acceptance. This is usually because I've got a reviewer who specializes in the genre or category the book represents. The book is especially unusual, well-made, or otherwise distinctive. The book is in a very popular genre such as a cookbook, an art book, or a significant social issue currently in the news.
Stack 3: Possible acceptance. The book arrives accompanied by the appropriate paperwork, passes muster in its physical appearance, and I'm hopeful that it will be accepted for a review assignment by one of our reviewers sometime in the next 14 to 16 weeks. This is, by far, the largest stack to come out of the daily screening process.
Question 2. What happens if your volunteer disagrees with the in-house reviewer? Is their review discarded?
Answer: All reviews by our volunteer and freelance reviewers are run regardless of whether they give a positive or a negative recommendation so long as they coherently explain to the reader the basis for their opinion. Occasionally we will have two or more reviews on the same title. I run them all on the basis that each reviewer brings to their review of that same title differing life experiences, skills, abilities, and perspectives.
Question 3. Midwest Book Review's Wikipedia article was recently changed from
"[Midwest Book Review] claim to accept no financial donations from authors or publishers for their services. However, their reviews tend to be highly promotional, and when submitted to Amazon.com are always accompanied by a five-star rating."
"[[Midwest]]. It is an organization of volunteers committed to promoting literacy, library usage, and giving priority consideration to small press publishers, self-published authors, and academic presses. They accept no financial donations from authors or publishers for their services."
Your site claims you do not accept compensation for reviews, but because of the above, I would like to ask you straight out. Do you accept any donations or compensation at all from authors or publishers or any other agent at any point in the review process?
Answer: We do not permit authors, publishers, or publicists to contribute financially to the Midwest Book Review in order to be able to avoid any conflict of interest issues. We do permit anyone to donate postage stamps to the Midwest Book Review if they want to express their appreciation or simply say 'thank you' for what we try to accomplish in behalf of the small press community. Our board of directors determined that postage stamp donations would not constitute an inappropriate means of expressing support for the Midwest Book Review's three part mission statement to promote literacy, library usage, and small press publishing.
Question 4. Why are so many of your reviews similar to the Editorial Descriptions? Many of Midwest Book Review's reviews could be written without having read the book. Is there any vetting or oversight of your volunteers?
Answer: The reviews turned in by the reviewers range from brief blurbs to multi-page essays. We provide reviewers with a 'Reviewer's Guideline' (you can find it in the 'Advice for Publisher' archive that is on the Midwest Book Review website at http://www.midwestbookreview.com). Basically a good review provides an accurate summary description of the book's content followed by a coherent recommendation with respect to it's intended readership. Often that summary description can be drawn from the publicity release in combination with the book's contents.
Question 5. Please elaborate on why you believe Amazon's rating system is flawed.
Answer: This has long been a pet peeve of mine because it is so arbitrary. One' person's 3 is another person's 4, and a third person's 2. There are no standard definitions of what these numbers should mean or stand for. I'd like to see them done away with altogether -- but Amazon won't permit the posting of any review unless it is given a number in their 1 through 5 rating system.
So I instructed our webmaster (who does all the posting for reviews generated 'in-house' by the Midwest Book Review editorial staff) to use 5 if the book was given a positive recommendation.
The theory is that for a book to make it all the way through the Midwest Book Review process from its initial screening, through it's being accepted for a review assignment, to the review being completed and published in one or more of our monthly book review publications, it merited the highest recommendation available under the Amazon rating system. Inferior books, flawed books, substandard books are assumed to have been weeded out and never made it to the 'finish line' of publication in one of our book review magazines.
This applies only to our 'in-house' reviews. The reviews turned in by the freelance reviewers and volunteers are their property. Only they have the right to decide whether or not to post their reviews on Amazon. They (and only they) have the right to decide what rating number to assign to those reviews they decide to post on Amazon.
For example, one of the Midwest Book Review's most prolific freelance reviewers is Harriet Klausner. She is also one of the most prolific reviewers on Amazon.com -- and she does not uniformly ward 5's to the reviews she writes and posts.
Then consider the phenomena of differing opinions! One person's trash is another person's treasure. Books I read and disliked as a teenager in high school literature classes became books I appreciated when re-read as an adult some thirty or more years later.
The moral of this story is that while you should make yourself open to the opinions of others, ultimately it's your own views, opinions, judgements, and values that should determine your choices in books as in life.
Question 6. Why do all of the books you rate merit a 5 star rating? Surely each of the 32,000 books you've rated cannot be flawless. Why are there no 4.5 ratings?
Answer: See the above response to Question 5.
I sincerely thank you for your time and look forward to receiving your response.
To which I responded (in addition to the above Answers):
It's my pleasure. I always enjoy discussing what we do here at the Midwest Book Review. In many ways we are so unique as to be something of an anomaly in the publishing industry. We've been written up (and uniformly positively) by some 22 'how to' books over the past 30 years. As experienced and organized as we are, there is always something new to be learned, something that we could do better, something previously overlooked and needs to be paid attention to.
Anytime an author, a publisher, or a reviewer deems themselves to be above critique and criticism, that's when that author, publisher, or reviewer will begin to atrophy and eventually make themselves obsolete among their peers and with the public.
I'm going to include this Q&A response in my monthly column the "Jim Cox Report" which I write for the benefit of the small press community. It is also archived on the Midwest Book Review website.
Thank you for taking the time to engage in our 'cyberspace' conversation. If you could, would you please post it on that SF Reader list. And, of course, you have my complete permission to include my comments in your own blog and anywhere else you feel would be appropriate.
Midwest Book Review
278 Orchard Drive, Oregon, WI, 53575
Jordan then email me a follow-up response to my reply and gave me an invitation to read both the Q&A and some additional comments he and others made. This is the URL for Jordan Lapp's blog on writing and it makes fascinating reading:
I took advantage of Jordan's invitation to read his response to my answers to his questions comprising our little ‘cyberspace' interview. I enjoyed his thoughtful commentary and even though my mind is unchanged with respect to basically ignoring Amazon's rating system by automatically using 5 for any book that was recommended in its review by one of our ‘in-house' reviewers, I completely respect what Jordan had to say about a reviewer's responsibility to the prospective reader.
I added some more of my own observations to Jordan's blog with something not covered in our interview that I think readers of Jordan's blog might find of interest. Here's what I had to say:
There are basically two different audiences for book reviews:
1. Librarians and Booksellers
These folks like their reviews succinct and brief because of the time constraints of their jobs and the sheer overwhelming volume of books being published and brought to their attention virtually every working day.
2. The General Public & Academia
These folks tend to like their reviews to be extensive, comprehensive, and detailed.
The Midwest Book Review (founded in 1976 as a weekly radio show in Madison, Wisconsin) began publishing monthly book review newsletters in 1980 when Ronald Regan and his Republicans (in an unholy alliance with Blue Dog Democrats in the congress) drastically cut federal funding for community and academic libraries. One of the results of the draconian reductions was that the small and mid-sized libraries had to terminate their subscriptions to such expensive magazines as Publishers Weekly and the Library Journal.
So the Midwest Book Review started producing a book review publication that was distributed to library systems for free. It was a big hit and has grown over the years to what you will find archived on the Midwest Book Review website at http://www.midwestbookreview.com
This little bit of history might give you some further explanation as to why so many of our ‘in-house' reviews are still following that succinct, brief, summary form that you see so much under our name on database websites such as Amazon.com. While reviews in the two of our publications comprised solely of reviews from freelancers and volunteers are often much longer.
Incidentally, our reviews are also to be found on other online databases such as Lexus-Nexus (used principally by journalists and academicians), Golaith, and the Book Review Index (used principally by academic, corporate, and community librarians.
I found Jordan's blog to be of great interest and will be installing a link to it on the Midwest Book Review website in the section devoted to "Book Lover Resources".
I then thank Jordan for his continuing and invaluable efforts to provide a place for commentary and conversation about books, writing, and publishing. In a world where shouting is what passes for discourse, it's a genuine and informative pleasure to find reasoned discussion presenting diverse (and differing) views on controversial subjects, opinions, and policies.
Midwest Book Review
In a message dated 5/16/2007 3:49:34 A.M. Central Daylight Time, firstname.lastname@example.org writes:
Dear Mr. Cox,
Thank you for all the informative articles you have produced to help people like us - small publishers with lots to learn. We are about to create a press kit for a novel and would like to know how best to create one. Do you have any articles or guidance that will assist us? Thanks and cheers from some of your Australian fans.
The basic press kit includes the following materials kept within a folder:
1. Cover Letter
2. Press Release
3. Reviews & Clippings (for kits sent to booksellers and librarians only, omit from those sent to reviewers)
Optional and additional items in a press kit can include:
4. An extended author biography
5. Author photo
6. Publisher Business Card
8. Marketing Sheet (can include any author tour promotion schedules)
9. A copy of the book
Note #1: You can dress up the front of the folder with gluing on a copy of your book cover.
Note #2: It should be noted that a standard Publicity Release is a single sheet of paper containing the following information:
4. Publisher address
5. Publisher phone numbers, email address, website URL (if any)
6. ISBN, price, page count, publication date
7. A one paragraph summery description
8. A one paragraph author biography
Not that if a letterhead stationary is used, that some of these 'info bits' will already be present in the masthead and need not be duplicated elsewhere on the document.
This is a commonly asked question so I will also include our Q&A into one of my monthly "Jim Cox Report"'s for the benefit of other novice publishers as well.
Midwest Book Review
Finally, I received a succinct and undated note (accompanied by a postage stamp donation) last week via snail-mail and it truly made my day!
Let Me just say that your website has been more valuable than most of the books I've read in terms of how to start a publishing company.
Brooklyn Arts Press.
Thanks Joe! It's nice to be appreciated!!
I'm now going to conclude with "The Midwest Book Review Postage Stamp Hall Of Fame & Appreciation" roster of well-wishers and supporters. These wonderful folk decided to say thank you and 'support the cause' that is the Midwest Book Review by donating postage stamps this past month:
Anonymous (Santa Ana, California)
Kay Abella - "Fighting Castro"
Shannon Tracy - "Simple Health Value" (Dr. Andrew Myers)
Raymond F. Flaherty - "He Didn't Say Good-Bye"
Elizabeth M. Brown - "Aristotle: The Firefly's Message"
Tetrahedron Publishing Group
Career Advancement Publications
Alexander Kuklin - DNA Press
Rick Gelinas - Ophir Publishing
Mark A. Boone - Blacksmith Books
Jane Altschuler - Gordian Knot Books
Susan Amundson - Khobi Hero Books
Steve Carlson - Upper Access, Inc.
Sam Moffie - UEL Enterprises
Joe Millar - Brooklyn Arts Press
David Smitherman - Palari Publishing
Charlsie Russell - Loblolly Writer's House
Dean Papademetriou - Somerset Hall Press
Bill Adams - Mandy and Andy Books Inc.
Michael & Linda Gray - Rolling Hills Publishing
Geri Palmer - Zion Publishing & Communications
Smokie Brannaman - Horseman's Services Limited
Krystal Hatfield - Airleaf Publishing and Bookselling
Michele Palmisano - Growing Field Books
George Pettingell - Frankie Dove Publishing
Maryglenn McCombs - MM Book Publicity
If you have postage to donate or if you have a book you'd like considered for review, then send those stamps or a published copy of that book (no galleys or uncorrected proofs), accompanied by a cover letter and some form of publicity release to my attention at the address below.
If you'd like to receive the "Jim Cox Report" directly (and for free), just send me an email asking to be signed up.
So until next time!
Midwest Book Review
278 Orchard Drive, Oregon, WI, 53575
James A. Cox
Midwest Book Review
278 Orchard Drive
Oregon, WI 53575-1129
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