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Jim Cox Report: June 2010

Dear Publisher Folk, Friends & Family:

When I started my career as a book reviewer more than thirty years ago, I had the basics -- a desk, a bookshelf, a typewriter, a telephone, a rolodex with 60+ publisher's contact information, letterhead stationary, and a roll of stamps.

I worked part-time at what was pretty much the glorified hobby of a dedicated and life-long bookworm. I would get 2 or 3 packages of books a day and took the greatest delight in opening them up to see what was inside. It was pretty much Christmas Morning six days a week.

Now some 32 years later it's more like 30 to 50 packages a day coming into a mail room for one of my guys to open for me. So I thought I give a brief description of what happens to these books being submitted for review that now number about 2300 a month. Here's the process:

Basically when a book arrives in our mail room it is taken out of its packaging or box. The flattened out cardboard boxes and bags of packing material (foam chips and bubblewrap) are taken to a recycling center -- a trip which happens once a week.

The cover letters and publicity releases are placed physically inside the book. They are then piled in a carton with all the other titles to have arrived that day (and the numbers of books arriving on any given day will fill between two and four cartons).

These cartons of books are then taken to my office where their contents are piled on my desk. It's a very big 1950s era L-shaped steel secretarial desk that must weigh half a ton -- and th one enduring component that has been in my office from the beginning. Desktop computer systems and telephone systems have come and gone, but that big old desk is forever!

I then perform my daily literary triage and separate the books into three stacks: Rejection, Immediate Acceptance, and Provisional Acceptance.

The rejections are placed back into cartons to await their ultimate fate ranging from donation, to liquidation, to recycling centers. Those that are Immediately Accepted outright are set aside for their assigned reviewers. Those that are Provisionally Accepted are placed upon our bookshelves to await review assignment sometime within the next 14 to 16 weeks before they lose their eligibility for assignment and must be removed to make room for newly arrived review submissions.

So that's basically the daily process, Monday through Saturday.

A word about cover letters and publicity releases that absolutely must accompany a submitted book if it is to not be automatically rejected from consideration. The cover letter and the publicity release should both be printed out on business letterhead stationary. All too many self-published authors just jot down a note on plain paper, have no publicity release, or simply resort to a newspaper clipping in lieu of a formal PR.

As to what should be in those to essential documents and how they differ from each other, I've written it all down in simple, thoroughly 'user friendly' instructions that you will find on the Midwest Book Review website at:

Writing An Effective Cover Letter:

Writing An Effective Publicity Release:

Now for two particularly outstanding 'how to' books on profitable publishing:

The Writing/Publishing Shelf

Navigating The Rough Waters Of Today's Publishing World
Marcia Meier
Quill Driver Books
2006 South Mary, Fresno, CA 93721
9781884995583, $14.95,

Marcia Meier draws upon her many years of experience and expertise as a journalist, published author, skilled poet, educator, and former director of the Santa Barbara Writers Conference in "Navigating the Rough Waters of Today's Publishing World: Critical Advice for Writers from Industry Insiders", a 130-page compendium of practical, 'real-world' advice, insight, commentary, and instruction for writers seeking publication in today's increasingly volatile, rapidly evolving, and fiercely competitive publishing industry. Drawing upon her contacts in the publishing world, aspiring authors will benefit from the observations of 'The Writer' magazine publisher Elfrieda Abbe, literary agents Paul Fedorko and Jeff Herman, ' founder Ivory Madison, and self-publishing icon Dan Poynter. Of special note are the chapters devoted to the issues of self-publishing, freelancing writing, websites and blogging, and the new social media tools of Facebook, MySpace, and Tweeting. Enhanced with a glossary, bibliographies on the craft of writing, book marketing, a resource listing of writer conferences and retreats, as well as web sites of specific value for writers, "Navigating the Rough Waters of Today's Publishing World: Critical Advice for Writers from Industry Insiders" should be considered mandatory reading for anyone and all aspiring authors seeking to become successful professionals.

POD for Profit
Aaron Shepard
Shepard Publications
PO Box 280, Friday Harbor, WA 98250
9780938497462, $16.00,

The advent of desktop computer word processing software meant that anyone who could type could create a manuscript for whatever their version of 'The Great American Novel' or non-fiction block buster might be. Next came converting that manuscript into a published book -- long the nearly exclusive province of traditional publishers, technological progress in the form of 'publish on demand' or 'POD' publishers came into existence to meet the demand of self-publishing authors who lacked the expertise to accomplish this task but who could simply write a check to someone who could. The trick was how to make a financial profit on that capital investment. "POD for Profit" is clearly written and very nicely organized instructional guide from Aaron Shepard wherein he uses his own experience and expertise in the field to help others learn how to print and publish their own material through print on demand organizations, and not only get their material out there, but prove it to be a profitable move. "POD for Profit" is a choice and very highly recommended read for anyone considering printing on demand as their publishing option.

Now here are some Q&A's on writing and publishing:

In a message dated 7/3/2009 2:57:41 A.M. Central Daylight Time, writes:

Jim, I have been reading-- with great amusement, and with great feelings of enlightenment-- your excellent articles on your Midwest Book Review. It's amusing because you have an engaging style which reads just about like I'd want it to read-- and enlightening, or perhaps gratifying, that it says the message I hoped to read in it.

I am sending you my own press release for my own book (is this self-published? --we'll get to that) for two reasons. One is because I'd like you to consider it, read the book, review it, do what you can for me. This helps me. The other is because I trust and respect you. No one devotes as much effort as you have devoted to a site on which you don't make all that money, run on a shoestring budget, operate so crucially on faith and goodwill of other people, and then turns out to be a monster. So I'll trust you with what might become a livelihood of my own.

I smiled when your article on the use of press releases in book reviews suggested-- even threatened the unsuspecting-- that some unsavoury reviewer would just copy-and-paste out of a decently-written press release and publish it as a dominant part of his own work as a review. You said, never send anything but your best work. I laughed because I had written mine with the express expectation that some of it would be lifted. I only ever air my best work (some e-mails excepted; as with most people). If they want to use a piece of my release, let them. In a way, that's what it's there for. I'll know where it came from and smile when I see it. (And I probably won't lend that guy much credence in future.)

I was enlightened also by your definition of an unscrupulous reviewer as one who intends to resell the books he was given for free. I confess I thought of this, not at all as a scam, but as a way to 'pay myself back' for providing reviews, primarily with self-published and self-promoted books, the operations of which are always run on the barest of budgets. I went on the CreateSpace and Kindle sites and offered to review books for other authors, as I have some experience in this type of writing, but mainly as a way to encourage the others. I would forward the review directly to the author/publisher, let him do as he willed with it, and read & enjoy the book myself, on the theory that merely getting this guy's work out there into the market increases his visibility to that market. Now you come along and suggest-- no, state-- that that's naughty business. I haven't done it yet, only offered; but I think I will be sure to be very up-front with the several who have admitted interest in my offer and maybe return or donate the book if I choose to pass it on rather than to sell it. I'm not unscrupulous; and I wouldn't want it construed by anyone that I am.

The accompanying '.pdf' file is my release. I have written corporate press releases before and an unafraid of its quality; however I am less than enthusiastic about writing one about my own work. The book is not out in hardcover (yet) and will be out in trade paperback in about a week. The Kindle e-text is up now. I'd appreciate your honest comments and best wishes.

Thanks for all that you do.

J Cherubini

Dear J Cherubini:

Thank you for your very kind words regarding my own efforts in behalf of the publishing community in general, and aspiring book reviewers in particular.

A couple of points:

1. It is standard publishing industry practice that reviewers who receive books gratis from their authors and/or publishers that those books become the property of the reviewer to do with as he or she deems fit. That includes deciding to review it or not to review it. In either case, the reviewer has the right to dispose of the review copy in any manner they deem appropriate. That includes throwing it out, recycling it, giving it away, selling it, or keeping it for their own personal library. Any of these alternatives are honorable. Indeed, any freelance reviewer who claims not to sell off at least some of the titles they receive for review is being disingenuous at best.

2. "Pay for Play", that is, charging a fee for reviewing a book is also legitimate. There are two drawbacks to be considered. One is the potential for a conflict of interest biasing the review. The other is that there are always people posing as reviewers when they are basically thieves seeking to obtain something they can sell and never had any intention of genuinely considering doing a review.

3. Citing from, or even simply rewriting, a PR as part of a review is perfectly ethical. Whether it is truly useful to the author and/or publisher as part of their marketing program is quite another question. Among the reasons for reviewers taking this 'short cut' when framing a review are questions of deadlines, the PR is so well written as a content description that the reviewer cannot improve upon it, etc. The 'value added' element of reviews that draw from a publisher's PR is the reviewer's addition of a recommendation to the intended readership of the reviewed book. From the author and/or publisher's perspective, this practice also means that their PR information will receive a wider audience exposure in terms of the reviewer's outlet(s) for the review. That's also why PR's should always be the best that the author and/or publisher can come up with.

4. My definition of an unscrupulous reviewer is someone who requests a free copy of a book with no intention of seriously considering it for review. My definition of a crook posing as a reviewer is someone who requests a free copy of a book claiming to be a reviewer when they are no such thing.

5. Thank you for your invitation to read the attached pdf file and the Kindle link. Unfortunately I never open email attachments for fear of damaging my computer. It stems from a truly traumatic incident I once had. I don't know anything about Kindles. I'm just to old and set in my ways to read anything but print on paper -- the old fashioned way of one page at a time.

One final note -- your email above lacked an entry in the "Subject" line. It was only because I had a little leisure time this morning (my wife is at a wedding today) that I had opened it up anyway. Usually I don't open emails with no subject line because all too often in the past they proved to be spam of one sort or another.

I'm going to share my responses in one of my monthly "Jim Cox Report" columns that I do for the benefit of the small press community of writers.

Jim Cox
Midwest Book Review

In a message dated 7/4/2009 3:22:45 P.M. Central Daylight Time, writes:

Dear Mr. Cox,

When a publisher submits a book for review, is it necessary to include a prepublication date with a certain amount of lead time? Is it permissible to submit a well-produced print-on-demand edition?

Thank You,

Tim Mathews

Dear Tim:

1. When submitting to a pre-publication review it is necessary to cite the prepublication date. For the submission to be considered you must submit it at least 3 months ahead of that date, otherwise the submission will be rejected out of hand.

When submitting to a post-publication review (such as the Midwest Book Review, trade magazines, television and radio interviewers) the publication date does not matter. What matters is that the book, when it is submitted for review, be in print and available to the reading public.

2. For those reviews that will accept PODs such a submission is quite appropriate. Unfortunately (and unlike the Midwest Book Review) most of the major reviews are prejudiced against POD produced titles. So check a given review publication's submission guidelines -- and inquire specifically if they will accept POD titles for review.

Jim Cox
Midwest Book Review

In a message dated 4/13/2009 4:46:41 P.M. Central Daylight Time, writes:

I just want to thank the reviewer of my book. After working for 4 years and going through the anguish of self-publishing, this beautiful review made it all worth while. Thank you so much for your eloquent description and appreciation of the text. Many thanks,

Gari Stein
The More We Get Together
Music For Little Folks

Dear Gari:

Thank you for your very kind words. Reviewers like feedback every bit as much as authors and publishers!

Incidentally, although our bylaws prohibit accepting money from authors or publishers (in order to avoid any conflict of interest issues), our board of directors did amend it to allow authors and publishers who wanted to make a gesture of support for what we try to do here at the Midwest Book Review in behalf of the small press community to be able to donate postage stamps "for the cause". So if you'd like to send some stamps, feel free (but not obligated!).

In the meantime, I look forward to your next project!

Jim Cox
Midwest Book Review
278 Orchard Drive
Oregon, WI 53575

Finally we have "The Midwest Book Review Postage Stamp Hall Of Fame & Appreciation" roster of well-wishers and supporters like Gari. These are the generous folk who decided to say 'thank you' and 'support the cause' that is the Midwest Book Review by donating postage stamps this past month:

Norma Hartie
C.J.S. Hayward
Carolyn Howard-Johnson
Alison Hart -- "Gabriel's Journey"
Bill Fonte -- "This Is Life Eternal"
Susan DiPlacido -- "Shuffle Up and Deal"
Zoe Roxanne Ztarr/Kakas -- "Mindmuscle"
Lynne Namka -- "Your Quick Anger Make Over"
Pam & Fred Gilberd -- "Under the Carmel Valley Sun"
WordTech Communications LLC
Rooster Buggle Pue Books
You Came Too Publishing
Dreams Shared Publications
Jean Sheldon -- Bast Press
Peter Adler -- Tree Tunnel Press
Nancy Wagner -- Prairieland Press
Patricia Q. Wall -- Fall Rose Books
Philip M. Cole -- Colecraft Industries
Tom Hollyday -- Solar Sipper Publishing
Robert W. Kurkela -- Kidzpoetz Publishing
Jim Adam -- Gragthor Terrazin
Liz Ball -- Hidden Pictures Publishing
Joel Amkraut -- Nelson & Jones
Jan Surasky -- Sandalwood Press
Godfrey Harris -- The Americas Group
Charyl M. Tomas -- TM Books & Video
Patricia Weenolsen -- Rubythroat Press LLC
Peter Hays -- Sem Fronteiras Press
Janice Phelps Williams -- Lucky Press
Patricia Norton -- Short Vowel Phonics Books
Margaret Cecconet -- Cecconet Publishing House
Greg Lilly -- Cherokee McGhee Publishing
Mary Ceska -- Nepperhan Press LLC
Kim Doyle -- Faithtalk.TV
Kirkland Gable -- Winner's Way Affinity Group
Nigel J. Yorwerth --Yorwerth Associates
William S. Bike -- ANB Communications
Maryglenn McCombs -- MM Book Publicity
Helpful Media
Ascot Media Group
Sally Chapralis & Associates

If you have postage to donate, or if you have a book you'd like considered for review, then send those stamps (always appreciated, never required), or a published copy of that book (no galleys, uncorrected proofs, or Advanced Reading Copies), accompanied by a cover letter and some form of publicity release to my attention at the address below.

All of the previous issues of the "Jim Cox Report" are archived on the Midwest Book Review website. If you'd like to receive the "Jim Cox Report" directly (and for free), just send me an email asking to be signed up for it.

So until next time -- goodbye, good luck, and good reading!

Jim Cox
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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