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Jim Cox Report: March 2003

Dear Publisher Folk, Friends & Family:

February may be the shortest month of the year, but the last 28 days have been jam packed with deadlines, meetings, special events, and growing backlogs of books, music CDS, videos, and DVDs needing attention.

I completed my judging for the Audie awards. In addition to my category of Unabridged Non-Fiction, I was also asked to judge the "Classics" category as well. So many fine titles! And I couldn't help but note how more prevalent audiobooks in a CD format are becoming!

It was nice to get a $350 check from Writer's Digest Magazine for an article I wrote for them on the importance of covers for self-published and small press published books. That money went immediately into some needed repairs for the building continues to house the Midwest Book Review.

I also got another donation offer from a grateful self-published author in response to our having reviewed his book (apparently a rather welcome change from the responses he'd gotten from other book review publications, combined with the notorious indifference from the book selling community).

I gave him our usual response about not accepting money from authors or publishers in order to avoid conflict of interest scenarios. And then, because he so badly wanted to do something nice for the Midwest Book Review, I told him that we always need stamps -- when he called I was in the middle of sending out the usual hoards of tear sheets and publisher notification letters.

So he sent the Midwest Book Review three books of stamps!! What a very nice thing to do! I've talked it over with staff and with our funding sources, and it seems to be a unanimous feeling that authors or publishers donating unsolicited stamps to the Midwest Book Review in order to "support the cause" would not constitute a conflict of interest and would be reasonably appropriate.

So it looks like anyone who would like to can always send us some stamps as a "thank you" -- but we do not solicit them. But it feels good to be able to be a bit positive when the occasional "what can I do to help" inquiry comes in. The Midwest Book Review seems to have become something of an icon within the small press community and there apparently are lots and lots of well-wishers out there who are quite protective and supportive of our little efforts in behalf of the self-published authors and small press publishers.

But if you'd like to send some stamps -- please make them the self-adhesive kind! Peel-and-stick is ever some much nice than peel-and-lick!!

Now on to some free advice on matters affecting the publishing and marketing of books. Just remember that the advice I give is worth every penny I charge!! :-)

In a message dated 02-09-20 10:30:52 EDT, Keith writes:

> I believe Mr. Cox's objection is to insulting defacement of the book. It's
> both ugly and insulting to have "Review Copy" slashed over the cover of
> a book sent, after all, to a reviewer. Still, I've not seen him show much
> sympathy to the fact that my distributor does not like being asked for
> refunds on books they never sold. My *distributor* likes them marked
> in some way.

What distributors and publishers want/need is someway to identify books being attempted to be returned for credit when they were not commercial sold in the first place, but sent out into the world as complimentary copies to friends and families, or review copies to reviewers, or promotional copies to bookstore retailers, library reps, etc.

It is very possible to mark books for this purpose without disfiguring the cover. A notation on the inside of the cover, or a stamp on the bottom of the closed book, or even a citation on the back cover would work perfectly well. Some publishers of paperbacks simply use a punch to put a discrete hole in the cover.

> I stamp the side of the book (the side of the pages) "COMPLIMENTARY COPY".
> Black ink, not red. This is also useful for sending free (promotional copies),
> as it signals to the recipient that no one will be after them to pay, or it's
> not a mistaken shipment from Amazon.
> It would be nice to hear Mr. Cox's opinion on that.

"Complimentary Copy" discretely stamped on the inside is just fine and has never disqualified a book for review consideration here at the Midwest Book Review.

But just this morning I tossed an otherwise excellent book on Jewish theology from Jewish Lights Publishing (I do an occasional column called "The Judaic Studies Shelf") because they had pasted over the cover with an info sheet of white paper. And I mean completely over the entire front cover with the kind of adhesive that makes getting the paper to come off a totally yucky experience.

I hate those pasted on "Review Copy" notices, inside or out (and especially out). Just my personal bias. And all reviewers have their little quirks and eccentricities -- just like authors and publishers have theirs.

Incidently, we see almost everything from the six major New York houses -- and virtually none of them every stamp "Review Copy" on their books submitted to the Midwest Book Review for our consideration.

Incidently #2, although it has already been alluded to in this discussion thread, if you are new at this game, please go to the "Advice For Publishers" section of the Midwest Book Review website at and read through the articles specific to the book reviewing process. You will find them to be highly informative and of very substantial and practical value.

Jim Cox Midwest Book Review

In a message dated 02-09-20 20:46:53 EDT, Judy Yero write:

> The recent flurry of posts on the ethics (or lack thereof)
> of reviewers selling books has been fascinating...

Judy has made one of the more lucid contributions to this discussion regarding reviewers selling review copies.

Let me just add one more note to this symphony on the ethics of properly disposing and/or selling review copies:

The best way for those publishers truly concerned with the prospect of reviewers inappropriately selling or otherwise disposing of the titles that they send to be reviewed is to vette the reviewers first.

To avoid the scam artist posing as a reviewer in order to fraudulently obtain review copies solely for the purpose of selling them for what every they will bring him or her, read the article "How To Spot A Phony Book Reviewer" that you will find in the "Advice For Publishers" section of the Midwest Book Review website at:

As for the clearly established publishing industry norms governing review copies, they are as follows:

1. Publishers can stamp or otherwise mark a book as being a review copy and "not for sale" in any manner they deem appropriate or necessary. But they cannot dictate to a reviewer how the book is to be disposed of by the reviewer.

2. Review copies sent to a reviewer or a review organization or a review publication become their property to dispose of as they deem fit. Specifically, whether or not the book made the cut to and got either a positive or a negative review, or failed to make the cut and therefore failed to achieve a review good, bad, or mediocre -- the reviewer has the legal, moral, and ethical right to keep the book, donate the book, discard the book into the nearest landfill, or sell the book in what ever venue (commercial or non-commercial) they have access to.

3. All publishers should vette all reviewers before sending out review copies. This is to ensure that the review copies will be going to reputable reviewers and not to scam artists; that their book is thematically appropriate to the intended reviewer; and that the both the publisher and the reviewer understand the commonly accepted industry norms regarding the entire review submission processes and outcomes.

Still one more facet to touch upon: If you expect or require a tear sheet and/or some form of publisher notification, you'd better make that a part of your vetting process too.

And remember, considerations of ethics and morality are largely subjective judgements. It's only when we codify these notions into law that they become absolute in the sense that we must all abide by them regardless of personal preferences or perceptions.

Normative rules are normative because most folks agree to them. If you disagree it does not mean you must still abide by them. Indeed you can consider "what most folks do" as being silly or irrational or even unethical.

But your non-normative view does mean that you are a minority and must therefore consider being even more selective in how you operate your business in order to keep faith with your own standards of right and wrong -- such as to whom and under what conditions you choose to employ review copies as part of your overall marketing strategy.

Jim Cox (a professional full-time book reviewer for the last 27 years)
Midwest Book Review

In a message dated 02-09-22 10:28:39 EDT, Sheila Peters writes:

> I have recently published a non-fiction POD book and got a review with
> Midwest Review Books which showed up on my Amazon page. Can any of you
> suggest other sources? I don't want to send books out blindly to those who
> have no intention of even opening the front cover, although I know it's a
> crap shoot.

In addition to our own reviews, I set up a special section on the Midwest Book Review website called "Other Reviewers". This is a resource listing of links to websites of freelance reviewers, review publications, and review organizations. You'll find it on the "Book Lover Resources" section of the MBR website at:

Incidently, I've gotten questions over the years as to why I would provide this service in behalf of my competition. The answer is that it's not in service to other reviewers, it is in service to publishers who don't have a working knowledge of reviewer resources.

But be sure you read all the instructional and reference pieces I've written on and about book reviewing and the book review process (you'll find those in the "Advice For Publishers" section) before you begin trying to match your particular book with thematically appropriate entries in the "Other Reviewers" section.

Jim Cox
Midwest Book Review

In a message dated 02-09-23 11:49:53 EDT, Eric Dondero writes regarding what policy should a small press or self-published author pursue with respect to the furnish of review copies -- and my responses:

> 1. Would you all send out review copies to all 200 who have requested them?

No. Reviewers not only come in the two main categories of "thematically appropriate" and "not thematically appropriate", they also divided in the categories of the good, the bad, and the mediocre. Therefore whether you are approached by 1 or 101 reviewer requests you must respond with some judgement, by exercising and evaluating in order to get the biggest and most reliable bang for your marketing buck.

> 2. Would you limit it to just verifiably legitimate media outlets?

Yes. Just think about it. Would you want to give your book away to an illegitimate media outlet? And all legitimate media outlets can document themselves as being appropriate for your title -- if they indeed are thematically appropriate.

> 3. Would you be highly selective with the freelancers?

Yes. Some freelancers have established relationships with reputable book review outlets (such as those in service to the Midwest Book Review). But other freelancers have no track record either because they are simply too new to the game (do you really want to be someone's experimental first -- only to have them find out for themselves -- using your book as the text -- that they simply aren't up to the time and effort it takes to actually write a review and then find an outlet for it) or because they are perpetrating some form of scam in the hopes of gaining something for nothing.

> 4. Can you think of any ways to weed out the "freebie searching" book
> review requesters?

Yes. Read the article "How To Spot A Phony Book Reviewer" that you will find (along with several other informative articles on book reviewing and the book review process) in the "Advice For Publishers" section of the Midwest Book Review website at:

Jim Cox
Midwest Book Review

In a message dated 02-09-27 08:21:56 EDT, Mark Holofcener writes:

> I recently sent in a book that I both wrote and published called Evan's
> Earthly Adventure for a review. I followed all of your guidelines for having
> the book reviewed, and now I find the copy I sent you for sale on Ebay.
> I would like to hear from you why my book is for sale. This isn't right. It's
> dishonest.

Dear Mark:

I just wanted to let you know that your email arrived in my download this morning. We talked by phone yesterday afternoon and left it that you would send me a copy of the cover so that I can trace your submission at my end. Incidently, for a self-published author confronted for the first time with one of the more uncomfortable aspects of the publishing industry, I thought you conducted yourself with an admirable courtesy.

But there is one thing I want to set out quite clearly. When a publisher sends a book to a reviewer in the hopes of acquiring a review, that book (whether or not it succeeds in getting a review) becomes the property of the reviewer, the review publication, and/or the review organization to dispose of as they deem fit and appropriate.

More specifically, to sell a review copy to a third party (whether it be a friend, family member, library, or bookstore) is neither dishonest or unethical -- it is a clearly established industry norm.

If/when a publisher feels that it is wrong -- then it is incumbent upon that publisher to vette (inquire of and about) the reviewer as to their practices in this regard. Indeed, some reviewers hold that the selling of review copies is not an ethical means of their disposal -- but rather review copies should be discarded by being donated to non-profit organizations (e.g., libraries, prisons) or sent to paper recycling plants or landfills.

I would strongly urge you to read the article "How To Spot A Phony Book Reviewer" which you will find in the "Advice For Publishers" section of the Midwest Book Review website at -- This is the definitive treatise providing clear and practical guidelines on identifying scam artists who solicit books from publishers with no intention of considering them for review, but are only out for what every money they can make from naive, gullible, and inexperienced publishers.

As to the more than 1500 titles that are submitted for review consideration to the Midwest Book Review, here is what typically happens:

1. About 500 of them will make the cut and be reviewed. The publisher is automatically sent a tear sheet and a "publisher notification" letter for their records. It is then incumbent upon the publisher to notify authors, editors, illustrators, publicists, and anyone else they deem appropriate.

2. Of the 1000 that don't make the cut (for any number of reasons), they are disposed of in one of the following venues (depending upon the individual title):

a. donated to libraries, friends of library groups, and other non-profit organizations.

b. sold to libraries and local bookstores to raise funds in support of the Midwest Book Review

c. sent to a Madison based recycling center (any rejects from there go directly to landfill).

Most specifically, the Midwest Book Review does not sell review copies on the internet or to private parties. I suppose there is no theoretically distinction between this and selling off review copies to used bookstores or local libraries, but I just never liked the idea -- a personal eccentricity.

Incidently, with respect to libraries, I do this in my capacity as an Acquisition Consultant to Dane County Library Services. At the regular meetings of our 18 community libraries constituting the South Central Region here in Wisconsin, my theory is that while all 18 head librarians have "hands on" exposure to the book, only one of them can buy the title at half-price as an MBR fund raiser, the other 17 will be inspired to return to their respective offices and sent in purchase orders for it. It's just my idea of squeezing out a little bit of last minute publicity/promotion exposure so that the publisher can get at least that much return for having gone to the trouble of providing a book for review that for one reason or another failed to achieve a review assignment.

One final thing -- although I've never heard of this online dealer who is apparently based somewhere in Wisconsin and offering a copy of your self-published title for sale, (especially in the face of your having only sent review copies to two book reviews in Wisconsin) there might be still another explanation. Several online bookdealers offering their "used" titles on do so by securing new titles from publishers and other distributors, then selling them a point or two under Amazon. So your offered book might not actually be a review copy.

But I will cheerfully try to track the review copy you had submitted to Midwest Book Review. It could be that it achieved an assignment from one of our reviewers, who has simply not turned the review in yet. You'll understand that since I deal with 50 books a day (comprise that very stable average figure of 1500 titles every thirty days), I simply cannot hold that kind of data in my unassisted memory.

Incidently, I'm going to take the initiative of sharing my response to your inquiry with three online publisher discussion groups for which I have the privilege of contributing advice and counsel to from time to time: PubForum, Publish-L, and SPAN (an online discussion group focused on self-published authors like yourself). Your inquiry is not only important, but one that confronts all novice publishers and should be revisited from time to time.

Jim Cox
Midwest Book Review

In a message dated 02-09-28 14:50:45 EDT, Sam (Florida Academic Press) writes:

> I recently came across one of Gordon Woolf's books (we
> are his US Fulfillment agents) on, and saw
> with amazement a reviewer's comment to the effect
> that MW Book Review probably gets paid for its reviews
> because he had not come across a negative review of yours
> anywhere on the Amazon site...

This was brought to my attention by several nice folk who thought I should do something about it.

> Since with hindsight and middle age I have learned *not*
> to accept to review books I do not like, the latter part
> of this comment may be true, but the impression created
> by the first part is *very* negative for the Review...

From time to time I've expressed the reason for the 5 Star citation on every book that makes it through the Midwest Book Review vetting (reviewing) process and then has that review posted up on the Amazon site.

Basically, in the reviewing process we eliminate any book that has a negative review from its assigned reviewer. It gets nothing but a benign dismissal. The only books that make it through for Amazon postings are those that are recommended by their reviewer for the book's intended readership.

That means they are, by the definitions applied by that particular reviewer, the title(s) in question are above average -- which means either 4 or 5 stars on Amazon's five star rating system.

And what I've done is to instruct our webmaster (who does the postings) to declare an extra star for the category 4s on the grounds that they are either a self-published, POD published, small press published, academic press published, or speciality press published title -- and those kinds and categories of publishers simply don't have the financial and promotional finances or resources to compete with the major houses.

Another way of saying it is that in my personal opinion, with very few exceptions, any small press title that wins a positive review from our people merits a recommendation to the reading public as being of the highest caliber and well worth their consideration for their own personal (or professional) reading list.

I receive the occasionally complaint (two or three times a year) to the contrary. But then, as Editor-in-Chief, the folks who comprise the Midwest Book Review, the publishing community, as well as the librarians, book retailers, and the general reading public must simply put up with my eccentricities and approaches to the reviewing process as I have worked to create it for the last 27+ years in behalf of the small press community.

Incidently, I seem to remain a favorite among the Amazon content providers as far as their internal hierarchy goes -- and have been since almost the very beginning of their great online experiment at selling books to the public.

You can also appreciate how difficult it would be to educate disgruntled posters like the aforementioned gentleman who knows nothing about the Midwest Book Review beyond our presence on the Amazon website, and who posted his complaint and rather erroneous theory regarding us. I'm confident that he did so not out of any particular malice, but simple confusion as to who we are and what we are about. For example, the Midwest Book Review, by policy, refuses all financial contributions from authors and publishers whatsoever in order to avoid conflict of interest considerations.

So the best we can do is all that we can do, and we must depend upon the quality of the books that we have recommended to their Amazon inquiring readerships as truly being 5 Stars worth of reading -- each and every one of them -- to maintain our credibility in the eyes of the reading public.

And it seems to have been a fairly successful strategy over the past 27+ years!

I'm going to take the liberty of posting this to the online publisher discussion groups because it is a subject that is germane to some of our discussion threads about the book review process in general, and our activities at the Midwest Book Review in particular.

Jim Cox
Midwest Book Review

In direct response to the above post came the following:

Hi Jim,

Here is my 2 cents worth on the subject your reviews.

You, Jim, have chosen a higher road than many of the reviewers and you need to assess just what you want to accomplish as Editor-in-chief at your own created MBR. (You created you decide how you want to review books.) Let me tell you how you helped me. You reviewed my 1st book that set me on the path to publishing. You gave me my first break. Since then I have had other books and a video. I now have a book, Write from Your Heart, that has been at the top of the list on Amazon since it came out a year ago Oct. My video, After the Tears, has grown as word spreads. Many individuals, counselors and parents write to me to tell me how much these items have helped them. Now, Jim, if you hadn't helped me with my first book, Dolls Aren't Just for Kids, I might not have continued my work. I have improved, I have learned a lot from you and others at Publish-L.

Now to the point, you can take time away from books and individuals that you think have potential and review a book that is of lesser quality. Is anyone going to put it on their site on Amazon. (I think not) You don't see movies put bad reviews in the newspapers.

Jim, you have done well, don't let others dictate what they think MBR should be doing. You are helping others. You are letting us know what good books the self-publishers are putting out.

Think of a classroom full of kids. Would you choose to highlight the worst student and pick out all the things they have done wrong just to make the teacher look good?

In my opinion, Jim, I would like to see you keep on doing what you have been doing. That way you above the other reviewers actually accomplish more.

Who wants to read a bad review. Show me the good stuff. I'm too busy to waste my time.

Have a great weekend.

Kathrine Peterson
Healing Stories of Grief and Faith (at the printers now)
Write from Your Heart
After the Tears
Dolls Aren't Just for Kids
Awesome Sweet Secrets

Katherine's post is very representative of the overwhelming majority of responses to my advocating, defending, supporting, and promoting the small press publisher. Of giving the self-published author a break whenever I reasonably can. I know that not everyone agrees with me. That's perfectly okay. They can start their own book review publications and/or organizations and employ whatever criteria they wish when determining what books to review and how to "star" them when posting those reviews to Amazon or anywhere else.

Jim Cox
Midwest Book Review

In a message dated 02-09-24 21:40:55 EDT, you write:

> You offer a good list of publishers, but there is one you should remove
> asap: "" is now leading to a pornographic site, one
> that is probably being tracked for visitors by legal authorities, because
> of the age of the "greeter" and what she is going. It also brings pop-ups
> for gambling and other undesirables. Sorry I have to bring this to your
> attention. Robert Netkin

Thank you for bringing this to my attention. With a website as massive as the Midwest Book Review I depend a great deal on the kindness of visitors to point out defective links. I'll have our webmaster delete this particularly obnoxious one tonight.

{And I did. That same night my master daughter checked it out and deleted the link which had apparently been hijacked by some kind of porn operator. We run a link check program every couple of months to delete the broken and obsolete links. But when a working link has been appropriated by someone other than the original resource, that link checking software would never know it. So I really do depend on our Midwest Book Review website visitors for alerts like the one this kind and helpful person had brought to our attention. Please always feel free to bring stuff like this to my attention.}

Jim Cox
Midwest Book Review

And speaking of stuff brought to my attention -- here are some "Unsolicited Testimonials" and a few more remarks:

> From: (Kim Murphy)
> Dear Mr. Cox,
> I wish to thank you for reviewing my book, Promise & Honor, in the
> February "Small Press Bookwatch". Please pass on my thanks to your
> reviewer. You perform a wonderful and valuable service for small presses.
> Thanks again., Sincerely, Kim Murphy

My folks raised me to say "please" and "thank you". Most folks raise their kids that way -- or try to. It's the social grease that makes the wheels of community turn with as little friction as possible. It also denotes basic appreciation -- which can be a powerful motivator for future activity and behavior. And it doesn't have to be elaborate or fancy or complicated. Kim Murphy's having taken the time to say a simple thank you means that any future projects sent my way from her will have a bit of an edge over whatever the competition for my attention might be on that day.

In a message dated 03-02-08 14:39:20 EST, writes:

> From: (Keith McLeod)
> Dear Mr. Cox:
> Thank you for your kind review of "Where's Daddy?" for the February issue.
> It hits the mark spot on.
> Keith McLeod, Publisher, Harbinger Press

Keith's little note illustrates still another function of the "thank you" -- that of providing feedback as to the quality of a reviewer's assessment. As to whether or not the reviewer got it right (at least in the eyes of the author and/or publisher). We all of us need feedback -- even when it might point out something we missed or otherwise got wrong. And gives us a chance to correct the error or address the perception of error.

In a message dated 03-01-08, writes:

> Dear Mr. Cox,
> I want to thank you very much for an excellent book review and also for you
> time and patience.
> The author, John Cooper, is working hard on the next two books of the series.
> I'm looking forward to reading what you think.
> I was wondering if you received our poster "Score with Reading" I sent. If
> you did I hope you like it, if not please let me know.
> Thank you very much,
> Kerlene Thomas, Acct. Rep.

Thank you notes can also serve as a way of introducing new projects and laying the groundwork for future submission. Incidently, it was a very nice poster and I was happy to have it!

> From: (BZ Riger-Hull)
> Jim,
> I just received the review script for the reviewers choice
> review of our title The Soul of Success.
> I want to thank you for the fabulous review, I am thrilled, and
> to thank you for your professionalism and dedication to the world of
> books.
> Your service is great and the way you handle the volume and variety is
> remarkable. I am thrilled with the review and my marketing mind is spinning
> trying to figure out the best ways to spread the word and build momentum
> on your impressive review.
>Have a fabulous day
>BZ Riger-Hull, Author, Success Coach, ACC

And, of course, there is the ego-stroking, morale raising, smile engaging function of receiving an effusive thank you!

Jim Cox
Midwest Book Review

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

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