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Jim Cox Report: June 2011

Dear Publisher Folk, Friends & Family:

Spring has now well and truly sprung in my little part of the world. The spring titles for and about gardening are currently getting my personal attention -- as they usually do around this time of year.

But it's not that I wish to comment upon today. Instead I want to bring to your attention as an author and/or publisher how important your contact information is with respect to your investment in sending out review copies to freelance book reviewers, book review publications, book review web sites generally, and to the Midwest Book Review in particular.

Here at the Midwest Book Review we continue to average about 2,300 titles a month coming in seeking review. We are able to generate around 700 to 800 reviews a month -- roughly one out of every three submissions makes the cut and gets reviewed.

When a book is reviewed it is our policy to notify the publisher (who is responsible, in turn, for notifying their authors, editors, illustrators, publicists, and anyone else they deem appropriate) and along with that publisher notification letter we also include a copy of the review for their records.

That means once a month in a letter writing process that takes a full week to complete, we mail out publisher notifications and reviews to 600+ publishers.

Unfortunately, every month we get "returns" from the post office with such stamped messages as "Return to Sender, Attempted - Not Known - Unable to Forward"; "Return for Better Address"; "Return to Sender - No Such Number - Unable to Forward"; "Box Closed - Unable to Forward - Return to Sender"; and the ever popular "Forward Time Expired - Return to Sender".

So for the publisher review notification letters I sent out for our May reviews last month I got the following "bounce backs" from the post office:

Gold Mountain Ventures
Spellbinder Press
Atlatl Press
Aqueous Books
Alternative Views Publishing
Echelon Press Publishing
A&E Videos
Aric Davis
Conciliar press

Fortunately for Conciliar Press the post office return notification included a new post office box address for them so I was able to re-send the publisher notification letter to the new address. As for the others, the only way they will ever know that their books make the final cut and got reviewed is if those titles are to be found on Amazon where our reviews are automatically posted in our role as a content provider for the largest on-line bookseller in the business.

You may think that 10 out of 700+ isn't such a bad track record. But the same thing (in about the same numbers) continues to happen month after month after month.

So the moral of the story is -- always be sure that the reviewer or review publication to which you've made a financial expenditure to provide them with a copy of your book for review has a current address for you so that they can provide you with a copy of the review for your own marketing and promotion campaign.

Otherwise what's the point?

Now on to some reviews of 'how to' titles for writers and/or publishers:

The Writing/Publishing Shelf

A Librarian's Guide On How To Publish
Srecko Jelusic & Ivanka Stricevic
Neal-Schuman Publishers
100 William Street, Suite 2004
New York, NY 10038-4512
9781843346197, $80.00,

Eighty dollars might seem a very high price for a 200-page instruction manual specifically written and designed by the collaborative team of Srecko Jelusic (Vice Rector in Chargee of International Relations, publishing, and library, and an Associate Professor at the University of Zadar, Croatia) and Ivanka Stricevic (Assistant Professor, Department of Library and Information Studies, University of Zadar, Croatia), but publishing is a fundamental responsibility and a basic element of the job of a librarian as they are responsible for producing library catalogs, bibliographies, monographs, scientific papers, exhibition catalogs, periodicals, and reports. Fairly unique in the professional literature for Library Science, "A Librarian's Guide On How To Publish" (part of the 'Chandos Information Professional Series') will prove to be an invaluable and practice compendium and instructional guide that will insure professional standards of quality as Professors Jelusic and Stricevic address and explain all the procedures librarians will need when undertaking any of this publishing projects and duties. Of special note is the attention paid to electronic publications and such issues as production schedules, timetables, and project finances. "A Librarian's Guide On How To Publish" is an essential and core addition to professional and academic Library Studies instructional reference collections and should be considered mandatory reading for anyone charged with the responsibility of publishing within and for the library market.

19th Century American Writers on Writing
Brenda Wineapple
Trinity University Press
One Trinity Place, San Antonio, TX 78212-7200
9781595340696, $18.95,

America was a new nation, and America's writers answered the call for creating a literary legacy we can be proud of. "19th Century American Writers on Writing" tries to gain an understanding of these great minds by looking at what they have written on their trade, writing, be it in the form of essays, poetry, prose or else. With additional notes from Literary history student Brenda Wineapple, placing her expertise to grant greater understanding, "19th Century American Writers on Writing" is a strong pick for any literary history collection with a focus on American literature.

Writing and Illustrating the Graphic Novel
Daniel Cooney
250 Wireless, Hauppauge, NY 11788
9780764146299, $23.99,

Writing and Illustrating the Graphic Novel: All New Edition provides a fine survey sharing the secrets of creating character, plotlines, and how to bring drama to a graphic novel story. The basics of drawing are covered, including digital rendering, in a fully illustrated step-by-step presentation of both black and white and color sketches.

Writing the Paranormal Novel
Steven Harper
Writer's Digest Books
4700 E. Galbraith Road, Cincinnati, OH 45236
1599631342, $17.99,

Writing the Paranormal Novel: Techniques and Exercises for Weaving Supernatural Elements Into Your Story provides writers with a fine reference on how to build successful supernatural elements into any story line. Whether handling magic and vampires or creating a twist of plot and a believable subplot, this covers writers' techniques and tells how to research a novel and get it published. An outstanding survey results!

Writer's Digest Books
4700 E. Galbraith Road, Cincinnati, OH 45236

Donald Maass's THE BREAKOUT NOVELIST: CRAFT AND STRATEGIES FOR CAREER FICTION WRITERS (1582979901, $24.99) uses lay-flat hardcover spiral binding to make it easy for shelving and reference alike and comes from a veteran literary agent who uses his workshops and previous books to provide writers with keys to getting a novel recognized. Examples from modern authors from all genres teach the basics of writing great fiction and offer important insights into the differences between ordinary and exceptional writing. The story-by-story analysis and comparisons and invaluable for any novelist. Larry Brooks' STORY ENGINEERING: MASTERING THE 6 CORE COMPETENCIES OF SUCCESSFUL WRITING (9781582979984, $17.99) examines the basic of what makes a good story or screenplay superior. From the design and elements that make up a story to how it handles six specific aspects of storytelling to become superior, this is a pick for any novelist who wants to improve their writing style.

Now for some Q&A commentaries:

Part of my job is educating authors and publishers with respect to pertinent aspects of the publishing industry as it exists today. Here is just such a correspondence that you might find interest in the form of a Q&A email dialogue:

Subject: David Ronin
Date: 10/14/2010 10:40:00 A.M. Central Daylight Time

Dear David:

I'll take your points within the body of your email:

David -- You said in one of the articles posted on your site that you like to hear about typos in a review. I figure you'd also like to hear about typos in articles on your site.

In "Writing an Effective Publicity Release," you spelled "stationery" as "stationary," in the first sentence after the list on the first page. In "How to Spot a Phony Book Reviewer," there's the same typo on page 2, as part of item 3.

Jim -- Thank you. I'll have my web master correct the spellings.

David -- I don't know if you want to hear about duplications, because perhaps the duplication was intentional. But here goes:

1. "Rules re. Review Copies" and "How the Book Review System Works" duplicate each other with respect to good days of the week for review copies to arrive at reviewers' offices.
2. "Publishing Cycles and Sending Review Copies" and "Publication and Review Copy Timing" duplicate each other with respect to good months to seek reviews.

Jim -- The duplications don't matter. Sometimes redundancy is a useful teaching tool for reinforcing information as part of the learning process.

David -- On to other matters:

Before my firm joined Independent Book Publishers Association (f.k.a. PMA), I called them to ask about programs they did as mentioned in books on starting a publishing company. They told me those programs (including batch mailings to distributors who'd said they'd give special attention to such mailings) had been discontinued. Instead, they referred me to other firms that provided such services for a fee.

My firm joined IBPA anyway. Since then, virtually the only thing we get from them is spam soliciting purchase of everything from consultants' services to co-op programs at book fairs to reference materials---all provided by others than IBPA and all costing money.

My firm has gotten more just from the free materials on your site, already (meaning more value) than anything we got before we dropped out of IBPA.

So, besides making that point, I want to register my distress that you give priority for reviews to firms that are members of IBPA.

Jim -- The IBPA (formerly PMA which stood for Publishers Marketing Association) is still a useful resource of information for aspiring publishers. But I do agree with you about their 'publicity programs' being of limited value. It's far better for authors and/or publishers to do their own reviewer recruitment, vettings, and mailings using such resources as the Midwest Book Review's web site massive data base "Other Reviewers" which lists freelance reviewers, book review magazines and publications, book review web sites, etc.

The reason priority consideration is given to considering IBPA members is that it is still one of the only truly national organizations for small press publishers and self-published authors. Being a priority consideration submission does not guarantee a review assignment. It simply means that when those 76 newly arrived titles hit my desk on a given morning that I'll take a little bit more time with them in the screening process than I will to their competitors vying for my attention.

Incidentally, I'm on the 'automatic' list to receive monthly reviewer request forms for IBPA so I pretty much see everything their members are publishing and seeking a review for. I think one of their chief values for their members is that they know about me and the Midwest Book Review while so very many novice publishers and first-time self-published authors do not. Not to be immodest, but that might well be worth a significant share of their membership fee.

David -- Next, a question: my firm has been soliciting "blurbs" for the back covers of forthcoming books. (The firm is a start-up.) We attempted to get the names of literary agents for some authors that we could find no other contact information for, so we could ask them to ask those authors if they've be willing to look at bound galleys and consider providing favorable comments.

We called or e-mailed (or both) to those authors' publishers to get the names of those authors' literary agents. With the calls, all we've ever gotten is voice-mail, with no call returned, despite repeated calls. Same thing with e-mail.

Any suggestions?

Jim -- Experienced literary agents are routinely deluged with such requests and simply have no time to accommodate them. These are professional people who charge for their services. Their author clients are also folk who are subject to a profusion of such requests and their time is limited and valuable. Don't expect any favorable results from 'cold calling', asking authors and agents to review galleys and proofs for free.

In my experience (and I've been in this game for going on 34 years now) the only established authors willing to review galleys and manuscripts are for those authors with whom they have had a previously existing friendship or other association.

David -- With four authors, we did track down snail-mail addresses, but no phone number or e-mail address. So we sent them each a bound galley with a cover letter, asking them to please consider reading the galley and then providing a blurb.

Any comment on that?

Jim -- It's similar to sending an unrequested manuscript to a publisher. It's going to be pretty much rejected for consideration out of hand.

You are asking strangers who are professionals in the business of writing and publishing for a significant amount of time and energy and effort to be expended on your behalf with no compensation. It's simply not going to happen.

David -- Last, it appears Midwest Book Review is a labor of love. It appears you even run at a loss. Why don't you charge, at least a nominal sum, for each book submitted for review? ---Say, $5 in stamps and $5 by check. It would really just cover the cost of processing, if that. Given your sincerity and integrity, my firm would have no problem with paying for reviews. And I doubt anyone would think a firm was trying to "buy" a favorable review in return for a mere ten dollars compensation per title.

I know you're pressed for time. I tried to keep this short. Thank you.

David Ronin, Editor
Bold Type Press, Inc.
Austin, Tex.

Jim -- In light of what I've just written about not expecting to get what you want for free, I classify it as a general rule to which the Midwest Book Review is an exception.

We do not charge for our services because we don't have to. We are supported primarily by two annual foundation grants and what revenue can be derived from the liquidation of review copies. Even so, we are a post-publication review and so require the published book -- no pre-publication manuscripts, galleys, uncorrected proofs, or Advanced Reading Copies (ARCs) are eligible for a free review. For those (as well as for ebooks and pdf files) there is now a $50 "Reader Fee".

The philosophy underlying this policy of not charging for reviews of print editions for published titles that are in print and available to the reading public is so that we may avoid any conflict of interest issues. If a book received a positive review it's because it deserves it in the opinion (right or wrong) of the reviewer. Not because some money was exchanged.

There are some honest pay-for-play reviews. I would sight Forward Magazine as just such an example. But even there you have to deal with conflict of interest considerations when evaluating their reviews.

The reason we permit the donation of postage stamps by authors, publishers, publicists, and the general reading public, is the felt need for so many fine people to be able to express their appreciation and support for what we try to accomplish in behalf of the publishing industry in general, and the self-published and small press publishers in particular.

I've spent a bit of time in responding to your points. I'm always happy to do so. Book reviewing isn't just my occupation, it's also my pleasure, pastime, and passion.

Because the questions and concerns you raise are so very germane to publishing as we know it today, I'm going to include our exchange in one of my monthly "Jim Cox Report" columns for the benefit of other authors and publishers that make up our diverse publishing industry.

Jim Cox
Midwest Book Review

Finally we have "The Midwest Book Review Postage Stamp Hall Of Fame & Appreciation" roster of well-wishers and supporters. 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:

George Ratz
Arlene Klein
Daniel Brako
James Brown
Joanne Conrad
David Fingerman
Joseph A. Williams
Marv Gold -- "Story Teller"
Bill Schubart -- "Fat People"
Diane Brandow -- "Rainstorm"
Jack Burch -- "The New Trinity"
Diane Craver -- A Christmas Gift"
Frank Kuron -- "Thus Fell Tecumseh"
Dee Davidson Dosch -- "A Summer in '69"
Susan Stocker -- "The Many Faces of PTSD"
Shepard Publications
Stone Bridge Publishing
Ingalls Publishing Group
Caballo Press of Ann Arbor
Janice Phelps -- Luck Press
James Nemad -- Avanty House
Mary Ceska -- Neppherhan Press
Nan Wisherd -- Cable Publishing
Marty Schupak -- Youth Sports Club
Denise Grosskopf -- Andres & Blanton
Nicholas Terlecky -- Paiboon Publishing
Donna J. Cornett -- People Friendly Books
James McDonald -- House of Lore Publishing
Gary Joseph -- Servants of the Father of Mercy
Kimberly Clowater -- Western Hemisphere Press
Steve Carlson -- Upper Access Inc. Book Publishers
John R. Guevin -- Biographical Publishing Company
Beverly Newton -- International Jewelry Publications
Barbara Wall -- The Barrett Company
Elizabeth Waldman Frazier -- Waldmania!

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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