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Cox Report: March 2004
Jim Cox Report: March 2004
Dear Publisher Folk, Friends & Family:
Aspiring authors yearning to break into print should remember that there are two major options
available for them:
1. Persuade somebody else to publish your manuscript.
2. Publish your manuscript yourself.
There are pros and cons to both options. Whether you chose option 1 or option 2 -- that choice
should be an informed one. That means:
1. Read every "how to" book about publishing that you can get your hands on.
2. Talk with other authors and publishers about your project.
3. Keep your options open.
If you choose Option 1: Have all the agreements between you and your publisher written down in
a contract that you are both signatory to. Make certain you understand all of the ramifications of
what you are obligating yourself to -- and what the publisher's responsibilities are to you as the
author in complete detail. You should run that contract past an experienced contract lawyer
(preferably one with previous experience with publishing contracts) in order to make certain that
you haven't overlooked anything.
If you choose Option 2: Create a detailed business plan for your publishing project. Be sure to
address how much capital will be required to not only publish your manuscript (and in what
quantity), but also how much to dedicate to publicity/promotion; distribution; discount schedules;
attrition; storage; returns; other formats (audiobook, video, journal articles), etc. Know what your
financial bottom line is with respect to unit costs (production costs per book); what your sales
need to be in order to break even; prospects for ancillary rights sales; specific operational factors
such as insurance, office supplies, postage, packaging, personnel, licences, taxes, etc.
The largest single factor responsible for publisher bankruptcy is undercapitalization.
The next most import factor is the lack of a focused business plan to promote and sell the
The third most common set of factors: an unattractive and/o badly written and/or poorly
Here's another factor that applies equally to self-published and small-press published authors alike
(even mid-list authors for the large conglomerate publishing houses). The authors are going to
bear the principle burden for promoting, publicizing, pitching, and selling their books.
That is true even if there is a professional publicist on the payroll. It's the author that is going to
have to do the interviews, make the contacts, follow-up on leads, supervise the efforts of the
publicist, and ultimately pass judgement on that publicist's effectiveness.
There was a glorious yesteryear many decades past when publishing was a "gentleman's game", an
exercise in the lofty ethics of the literati, a private club to which only the monied classes were
members. It was an era when only those few elite who owned the presses had the opportunity to
exercise Freedom of the Press.
Then came the phenomena of the desktop computer and the democratization of publishing to the
point where anyone could (and seemingly does) put out a book anytime they wished on what ever
subject pleased them.
When I began as a professional reviewer almost 30 years ago, my publisher lists were dominated
by the New York houses, the university presses, and a scattering of literary small presses with
elite and prestigious reputations.
Three decades later I am swamped daily with books whose authors took no care or concern with
the necessities of professional publishing. Who spent their time and treasure on writing their
magnum opus -- and then try to interest me in a book published on the cheap, with flawed or
absent paperwork, with decidedly inferior cover "art", with typos and a host of other problems
crying out for a copy editor's attention.
I daily receive phone calls from self-published authors who didn't write a professional quality
cover letter, who have no idea as to how to create an effective publicity release, who are amazed
and appalled when I tell them the kind of competition and prejudice they are up against with
respect to reviewers, distributors, wholesalers, retailers, librarians, and the general reading
So here is my advice to anyone who wants to publish and sell a book -- whether it be their own
or someone else's:
1. Read several "how to" books on the subject of operating a small business and creating a
2. Write a business plan for your book.
3. Vette your business plan in conversation with other publishers using such resources as a local
publishers association; on-line publisher discussion groups; PMA University conferences; as well
as subscribing to SPAN and/or PMA newsletters.
4. Read several "how-to" titles specific to marketing, promoting, publicizing, advertizing, and
selling books. Even once you have mastered the basics of book selling, keep reading on a regular
schedule because more "how to" books are published every year and often will have one or two
new "tricks of the trade" that you can apply and profit from.
Publishing a book is every bit as much time consuming hard work as is the writing of the book
itself. Publishing a book has its own set of skills and expertise that must be mastered if you are to
be successful. Ably writing the Great American Novel is all well and good. But if anyone is going
to read it (let alone buy it!), if you are going to be commercially successful with it, then you need
to just as ably publish and market that book with as much effort and labor as it took you to write
Too many people seem to approach book publishing as if it were a kind of literary lottery. That
winning (getting a best seller -- or a break-even seller!) was a matter of luck instead of hard
There are no short cuts to success. If you want to be a successful publisher then you are going to
have to pay your dues, pay attention to your capital investment, and learn what you will need to
know to compete against the tens of thousands of others who are your direct competition in a
volatile, overcrowded marketplace selling their wares to a steadily dwindling customer base.
Fortunately, the novice publisher need not reinvent any new wheels. All the information you need
to succeed is at your finger tips through such resources as the Midwest Book Review website,
your local public library, online publisher discussion groups, and a roster local and national
Now on to some other stuff!
SIX PRESTIGIOUS PLACES TO GET YOUR BOOK REVIEWED
It seems that the Midwest Book Review has garnered another accolade:
Date: 2/12/04 10:33:24 AM Central Standard Time
It will come as no surprise to you that MBR made a prestigious list for reviewers. Here's the
It appeared in Writers Weekly. Another author sent it to me. -- Laurel
Assembled by Angela Hoy, this is a list that includes the Midwest Book Review along with such
powerhouse review operations as Publishers Weekly; Kirkus Reviews; Library Journal; Los
Angeles Times Book Review; and one I'd not known about previously -- Hollywood Inside
Angela has made it so that a visitor to this webpage can click on each of these review resources
and be informed as to their submission guidelines.
Incidently, this is how I usually learn about the diverse and various honors garnered by the
Midwest Book Review. One of our volunteer reviewers stumbles across them and then zaps me a
little email bringing it to my attention. Thanks Laurel!
I usually get email requests like this a couple of times a month:
Subj: permission to quote
Dear Mr. Cox:
I am preparing a workshop on self-publishing and ran across a quote attributed to you and
Midwest Book Review, but without further source. It is a definition of a self-publisher as
someone who fulfills many roles: writer, editor, designer/artist, compositor/typesetter, etc.
Could you give me a reference citation for this quote and permission to use it in a power-point
presentation titled "Self-Publishing"? The quote would be attributed to you, with reference to
Midwest Book Review, and the full reference would be cited in the reference list. Thank you for
Text and Academic Authors
To which I replied:
The source was me. Permission granted. The appropriate credit citation should be:
James A. Cox
Midwest Book Review
It would also be nice if you could also include our website address:
Midwest Book Review
Giving permission for folks to put your stuff on their website should be encouraged because:
1. It's good advertising for you. It gets your name out, raising your professional profile.
2. It's a helpful thing to do -- especially if you are in this game for more than just the money.
3. You never know what serendipities will accrue to your own benefit and betterment down the
Here's an example of what I'm talking about:
Subj: Jim Cox Report
Please sign me up for the monthly Jim Cox reports. When convenient, please send me a copy of
the January report as recommended by Shel Horowitz on the smallpub-civil list.
Lida E. Quillen, Publisher
Twilight Times Books
Shel Horowitz is a cyberspace pen-pal of mine. We are members of the same online publisher
discussion groups and he's an all-around nice guy. He uses two of my book review columns to
enhance his website. I've benefited greatly from his advice and observations about publishing
issues for lo these many years now. He liked one of my recent "Jim Cox Reports" and told other
folk about it on one of the discussion groups that I'm not on (and in fact, hadn't even known
existed). His kind recommendation resulted in about 19 or 20 folks like Lida Quillen to sign up
for the "Jim Cox Report". This is the kind of karma that comes back to bless you when you are
generous with your own stuff.
Incidently, subscribing to the "Jim Cox Report" is free. Just email me at
firstname.lastname@example.org and ask to be signed up.
On the subject of using stickers on books:
I have suggested that publishers put a small notice (sticker or rubber stamp) inside the front cover
or on the half-title page: (Review Copy -- no credit allowed by the publisher for return of this
book.) The point is not to deface the book, but to simply point out to the booksellers and/or
wholesalers who may innocently come into possession of the book that it was a complementary
copy and may not be returned for credit.
Do you have any thoughts on this --- or suggestions how to better accomplish the goal?
To which I replied:
The above is completely appropriate. What I was referring to in my email to that particular
publisher was that he had produced a very nice looking book and had pasted one of those 3 inch
by 4 inch white stickers (the kind used for address printouts using computerized mailing lists)
smack dab in the middle of his cover.
As to suggestions -- I wrote a couple of specific articles just on this subject. You'll find them in
the "Advice For Publishers" section of the MBR website. And I agree completely with the
observation that the rather larcenous practice some bookstores have of sending in review copies
(and second hand copies traded in) to wholesales/distributors, and then those less-than-August
bodies sending them back to the publishers requesting wholesale discount reimbursements is
atrocious. Discretely marking review copies as such in order to circumvent
wholesalers/distributors from this bit of con artistry is completely fair in order to protect the
self-published author and the small press publisher.
So mark review copies as such -- but always remember that marked books are in steady and
consistent competition with unmarked books when they land on a reviewer's desk.
Midwest Book Review
February turned out to be a very active month for authors and publishers wanting to show their
support for the Midwest Book Review and what we try to accomplish in behalf of the small press
community. Here are new names to add to our "Postage Donator Honor List". My heartfelt
William J. Neven - "The Final Phase"
Mary M. Nyman - "When The Leaves Fall"
Darsay Luadzers - "Virgin Sex"
Andra Medea - PivotPoint Press
Madelene Towne - Green Mansion Press
Fern - Peanut Butter and Jelly Press
Gary Worthington - TimeBridges Publishers
Sue Freeman - Footprint Press
Deborah Robson - Nomad Press
Dale Carlson - Bick Publishing House
This is about all I've got time for. There is a huge stack of tear sheets showcasing March book
reviewers on my desk and they are silently insisting that I crank out publisher notification letters
If you'd like to send books for review or simply donate some postage stamps for "the cause", then
direct them to my attention. Until next time, goodbye, good luck and good reading!
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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