Return to home
page Book Reviews, Book Lover Resources, Advice for Writers and Publishers
Home / Jim Cox Reports / Jim Cox Report: May 2001
Home | Jim Cox Reports Index

Jim Cox Report: May 2001

Dear Publisher Folk, Friends & Family:

Another month gone swiftly by, and the world was greeted with new issues of our four library newsletters and two on-line book review magazines. For those new to Midwest Book Review, our two on-line book review magazines "Internet Bookwatch" and "Children's Bookwatch" are free -- just send a request to be signed up and include your email address. All subscribers have full permission to utilize any of our reviews to enhance the informational content of their websites or newsletters, or to pass reviews along to thematically appropriate internet discussion groups -- just cite Midwest Book Review when doing so.

This is in addition to our Bookwatch TV show with episodes featuring Howard Glick on DVD Movies; Christine Swantburg and her new book of poetry "The Red Lacquer"; Steve Spoerl, the author of "Sut McCaslin"; and Robert Greenler with his memoir blended with popular science called "Chasing The Rainbow".

On the last day of April, I sat down as I do every last day of the month to edit and lay out the reviews submitted by our cadre of 48 volunteer reviewers. Four hours later, I had edited a total of 149 pages of other folks' reviews. So, in addition to the reviews created for our library newsletters (which are automatically included in our book review magazines "Internet Bookwatch" and "Children's Bookwatch") our total productivity for the May issues, if printed out as a single volume, would be about 212 pages.

It's no wonder that the folks at the Gale Research Company in Michigan send me postage reimbursement and an endless supply of pre-formatted computer disks to encourage me to continue to provide them with our review output each month, for inclusion into their "Book Review Index", an interactive CD-ROM for corporate, academic, and public library systems. This way they don't lack for content!

And it's the same reason why the folks at Amazon, Borders, and B&N like to have me keep sending in our monthly tally of reviews, the better to enhance their online bookstore websites as well!

The big news around here is that we now have an experienced, capable, professional web designer who has volunteered her considerable services and expertise to update, upgrade, and generally improve our Midwest Book Review website!

About six weeks ago I got an email from Sandra Williams who introduced herself, complimented me on our website, and had a list of suggestions on what we might do to make the Midwest Book Review website more "user friendly".

She had some terrific ideas -- and clearly knew what she was talking about. She also volunteered to make these recommended changes, using her own website to house the new and improved web pages so that I could tangibly see what she had in mind. She volunteered her time and effort because she thought that well of the Midwest Book Review and what we try to do for the writing, publishing, library, and readership communities.

I accepted her very kind and timely invitation -- I was planning on drafting my computer science major daughter to do a major overhaul of our website this summer -- and gave Sandra permission to download our pages and re-do them with her ideas in mind.

The first "rough draft" was a total success. I offered some feedback ideas and suggestions. The second draft is now ready. And I'm now ready to request my friends and fellows in the publishing community to visit this work-in-progress to give me (and through me, Sandra) your feedback, ideas, suggestions, recommendations, and comments.

[Managing Editor's note: The new website design is currently up and running - you're browsing it right now! We always welcome feedback. Please email your thoughts to]

Incidently, at the bottom of this new MBR homepage is a link to Sandra's website that I think might be of interest to you as well. It's titled:

Site design by Williams Writing, Editing & Design

The link leads to Sandra's web design business. Its URL is

Now, on to some "tips, tricks & techniques" for aspiring authors wanting to break into print, and aspiring small press publishers trying to sell what they've published. This first is an email very typical of its kind, and one that comes in every now and then:

> Jim, I've been contacted by Charisse Floyd in Arkansas who wants to review
> our Writing for Trade Magazines book. She mentioned Midwest Book Review.
> Just thought I'd quickly check to see if she's a legit reviewer.
> Ken Hanson
> Dixon-Price Publishing

Anytime a publisher is contacted by someone they are not previously familiar with and who is seeking a review copy, that prospective reviewer request should always be vetted. A great resource for vetting is this very publisher discussion group. You should also read (if you haven't already committed it to memory!) my article on "How To Spot A Phony Book Reviewer". You'll find that article among several others of considerable merit in the "Advice For Publishers" section under the "Writing & Publishing" heading on the Midwest Book Review webpage.

By the way, Charisse Floyd is one of our 48 volunteers. She lives in Arizona and sends her reviews to us via email -- ah, the wonders of the computer age in service to the literary community!!

Keith McLeod, Publisher, Harbinger Press, in participating on a recent discussion thread about "Paying For Reviews", noted in passing that:

> Jim Cox is one of extremely few reviewers
> who goes to the trouble of mailing each publisher a tear-sheet. I've
> only encountered one other that performed this courtesy. And I happen to
> know he spends an entire day performing this tedious task, plus
> absorbing the cost of the postage.
> ...When you review
> hundreds of books a months, that's a lot of money, even dedicated staff.
> Asking the publisher -- who has been done a favour -- to off-set the
> cost does not alarm me. These are not high-income organizations. In Mr.
> Cox's case (MidWest Book Review), its completely non-commercial. They
> rely entirely on donations.

To which Jon Ward, Long Wind Publishing, in a larger response to Keith, very kindly noted:

> Jim Cox is obviously a
> caring and generous person, and it is reflected in his business practices.
> Some of the other review folks don't seem to be constrained by this kind of
> "old-fashioned" professionalism.

I've often wondered why my practice of automatically sending a tear sheet (or review script -- for the TV and radio commentary that I do) to publishers when featuring their books isn't an "industry standard practice" by reviewers and review publications.

Alas, it is not. I started doing this from the very beginning of our little operation because I had a lot of friends who were writers and a few who were publishers. In talking with them, I soon discovered that one of the facts-of-life in publishing is the sending out of review copies only to have them drop into a communications "black hole". Sometimes discovering (with the advent of the internet) that a few of them had actually achieved reviews -- but no word of that ever coming back to the publisher in a direct and timely fashion.

Since our mandate is to promote literacy, library usage, and small press publishing, I was fiercely determined to rectify that chronic omission -- at least where the Midwest Book Review is concerned.

That was my original motivation. And you know what they say about casting your bread upon the waters! Our simple little practice of routinely sending out tear sheets had two immediate and profound consequences:

1. It quickly established the credibility of the Midwest Book Review in the eyes of the publishing community.

2. It won the "hearts and minds" of publicists and marketing managers so that when (it is a very volatile job in the publishing industry) they moved from one publishing company to another, they always started to send Midwest Book Review the new titles from the new publisher -- expanding the number of publishers doing so. And behind them in their old offices, they would leave a file of our tear sheets for their replacements, so that those new folks would continue to send us review copies from the old publisher based on the tear sheets and good words about us left behind by their predecessors.

As for the postage costs (and stationery) involved -- that's the very effective and tangible grounds for one of our annual grants! That coupled with our policy against accepting financial contributions of any sort from writers or publishers in order to avoid conflict of interest issues.

All I can say is that our little policy has been chugging along quite nicely for about twenty-five years.

Now, I want to share something I wrote recently with anyone that might not have caught it the first time around. It was triggered by one of Al Canton's cogent observations:

Al Canton noted in a discussion about POD publishing that:

> Good agents do a good job in the fiction world as they act as gatekeepers...
> a first read as it were, for publishers who get inundated with mss.
> Everybody and their dog has a fictional ms. (and the ones by the dog is
> probably better!). Agents help in the winnowing process (but not always.)

I've been wanting to comment on this for awhile now.

iUniverse, Xlibris, Writer's Showcase, and 1st Books are very prominent POD publishers and/or imprints. I've just had a monthly clearing of the fiction shelves here at the Midwest Book Review. Something done regularly and routinely to make room for new fiction submissions by removing novels that have been on the shelf for a good many weeks (usually 8 to 10) with no takers among my volunteer reviewers.

Of the 22 titles I plucked, 8 of them were iUniverse, 2 Writer's Showcase, 3 Xlibris, and 2 1st Books.

I've taken two other iUniverse titles off that shelf and put them under my personal consideration for review. What separated these two from the other 8 (plus 2, plus 3, plus 2)?

Leslie McClure, an independent publicist whose "411 Video Information" company had been sending me videos to review for a number of years now, has just branched out to self-published authors with iUniverse. Leslie promised me to personally read every iUniverse title whose author she's handling, and only send me those that she personally thinks are written well enough to be worth my time.

This was the case in both of the iUniverse titles I've decided to spend this weekend with.

In other words, some iUniverse authors now have a "post-publication" gatekeeper willing to screen the jetsam and flotsam of this particular POD publisher (and I suppose the others as well) whose authors wish to avail themselves of her services as an agent/publicist.

I think this will be a sign of "things to come" with the present and increasing avalanche of POD titles being produced by authors who are publishing themselves.

Two of the rejected titles this time around were rejected because, while the author had included a personal attempt at a PR to accompany their submission, that attempt neglected key information elements such as contact phone numbers for ordering the book if it had gotten a favorable review, and in one case the price of the book itself, which was neither imprinted on the book nor noted in the accompanying letter.

If such a self-publisher and small-press friendly review house like the Midwest Book Review is giving preferential treatment to POD published authors who have obtained a freelance publicist to represent them and give assurance that a title is worth our time to consider for review, what do you think is happening to these same kinds of submissions to the larger book review publications and organizations with their well-established, neglectful attitudes toward the small press community?

Just some thoughts on PODs, self-publishing & agents, sparked by Al's insightful comment.

While we are on the subject of POD Publishers, this was a comment from Authors Den brought to my attention in a recent discussion of "Is There An Institutional Bias Against POD?":

> "Because many POD publishers charge a fee and have little or no editorial
> control over content, they are considered "vanity" presses, a term that
> carries a severe negative connotation. Authors who publish with POD's cannot
> join the Author's Guild, even though the Guild is in partnership with one of
> the biggest POD's iUniverse. Other writing organizations and associations
> exclude all self-published, "vanity" published, print-one-demand as well as
> ebook authors from their elite membership list. It's as if our hard work and
> effort isn't valid unless another elite group of traditional agents and
> publishing houses bestow their seal of approval upon the author.
> Major book reviewers such as the New York Times Book Review, won't even look
> at a POD novel and POD books are also ineligible for most major book
> competitions and awards.
> Distribution and sales are another problem. Because of their no-return
> policy, most major bookstore chains refuse to stock POD titles in their
> stores. And because most POD's only offer a 30% discount to stores instead of
> the 40% offered by traditional publishers, smaller independent bookstores
> won't even look at a POD book, let alone stock it on their shelves. "

One of my volunteer reviewers is Shelley Glodowski. She tends to specialize in mysteries and is one of the few that actually enjoys and looks for small press and self-published mysteries. You'll find her regular monthly column, "Shelley's Bookshelf", within our Internet Bookwatch. You can find the most recent issues of the Interent Bookwatch at

Shelley (like about half of our volunteer reviewers) is an aspiring author yearning to break into print. She has her first manuscript draft for a mystery novel done, and some friends and folks (including my computer science and writer daughter) are giving it a trial reading and offering feedback.

Shelley called me a couple of days ago and was all excited. She had received a solicitation letter from 1st Books, who was inviting her to submit her manuscript to them for publication. How they learned about her I do not know -- Shelley has reviewed a few 1st Books titles -- and I always send copies of the review to the POD publishers when featuring their books, like I do all other publishers.

I had to point out to Shelley that what she had been sent was a business solicitation. That she was being invited to essentially pay 1st Books to publish her book -- the very definition of a vanity press. And that like most POD publishers, there were no editorial screenings or standards. She would receive no significant marketing support (if any at all) and it would be her own, sole responsibility to market those books -- otherwise they would molder away in her garage or basement.

1st Books is an updated, computer age version of Vantage Press. A good publishing source for someone who:

1. does not expect or need to make a profit from what they write.
2. can afford the service
3. does not want to learn the skills necessary to traditionally publish
4. is simply looking to bestow their book upon friends, family, and their local library

As a reviewer I can firmly declare that over the past year, Xlibris and iUniverse produce nicer looking volumes in terms of cover art and graphics, than does 1st Books. I don't know anything about their comparative fee schedules.

Now, on to another topic:

This anonymous message (in the sense of there being only an email address but no name) came in and I thought I'd share my response for anyone else with the same question:

In a message dated 01-04-15 20:57:14 EDT, writeS:

> How does an author get on your recommended site for authors and websites?

By doing the following:

1. send me a review copy of the book(s) to assess how good a writer/publisher they are.

2. send me the URL so that I can see how good their website is.

That's it. All listings on our Midwest Book Review website are free. If the book(s) pass muster, then reviews are done for our publications and tear sheets sent to the publisher for their records.

Here's an inquiry and my response concerning e-book submissions to the Midwest Book Review:

In a message dated 01-04-03 10:19:22 EDT, Lois June Wickstrom writes:

> I'm an ebook author. Some of my books are also available in tree book form.
> Nessie and the Living Stone just won the Independent E-Book-Award for
> Children's Literature. Oliver, a Story About Adoption, won the 1999 Read
> America award sponsored by Reading is Fundamental. And Ladybugs for
> Loretta is just plain fun.
> Since all three books are available as e-books, I could send them to
> reviewers as PDF files attached to email. Would that be appropriate?

It depends on the reviewer. Always contact them first and request his or her specific format preferences for ebook submissions.

You can ask our ebook specialists Leann Arndt at or Jamie Engle at or Cindy Penn at

It's amazing to me that for this raw, new, and still rapidly evolving phenomena of the ebook, we now have so many of them reviewed in our pages! E-book reviews is the one area of exception regarding the sending of tear sheets. Instead of sending them myself to the ebook publishers, I request that our ebook specialists and reviewers assume the responsibility for sending them out (we provide both the print, audiobook, and ebook reviewers with hard copies of their reviews).

On another topic here is a "thank you" email I got from one of my recent guests on "Bookwatch", the television show I produce and host.

Incidently, Steve was a great guest! Articulate, amiable and just a tad eccentric -- exactly what an interviewer wants in a guest. What I want to point out is how this self-published author has framed his signature or closing paragraph to his email communications -- very nicely done and a worthy example for others to consider for their own publications:

> Subj: Apr 16 Bookwatch
> Date: 01-04-22 18:37:04 EDT
> From: (No Limits)
> To:
> Dear Jim --
> I would like to thank you once again for the fine job you and
> Rob did on my interview which aired April 16th. It was a
> pleasure to do the interview and I wasn't embarrassed (much)
> in watching it.
> I will continue to watch Bookwatch for its next 22 years -- this
> is a real service to the community.
> Thanks again!
> Steve Spoerl
> Here's a new project! Are you looking for a good read? Here's
> the complete text of a great new novel. You can read it online,
> or purchase a copy from Barnes & Noble or

Finally, I want to round out this edition of "The Jim Cox Report" with still more background information on what we do, how and why we do it. This little Q&A should prove quite informative, especially for those new to our publishing community and the Midwest Book Review:

In a message dated 01-04-30 13:12:32 EDT, Mike Alexander writes:

> I have a question about book reviewers. I understand that the idea
> of a review is a publisher or author sends a copy of a book to a
> person to read and then write a review. That's a lot of work. What
> does the reviewer get out of it? How does an outfit like Midwest
> Book Review make money? Do publishers/authors pay them a fee?

It is a lot of work. At times a lot of very hard work. That's why, for every seven people who approach me volunteering to do book reviews for The Midwest Book Review, only one will ultimately follow through. And for every five novice reviewers who start submitting reviews, by the end of a year, only one of those will still be reviewing.

Fortunately this statistical picture is countered by the fact that about ten out of the current group of 48 reviewers are true bookaholics and compulsive opinion makers, and easily account for about three-fourths of each month's review total.

All our reviewers are volunteers. Their only compensation is getting to keep the book they review and having their reviews provided with a forum. In the case of the Midwest Book Review, those forums consist of four library newsletters, two online book review magazines, the three largest online bookstores, the Midwest Book Review website, a weekly half-hour television show, a monthly shortwave radio broadcast, an interactive cd-rom for library systems, postings to thematically appropriate internet discussion groups, and our 400+ subscribers.

The Midwest Book Review, by policy, does not accept money from any author or publisher in order to avoid conflict of interest issues. Our operations are supported by two annual grants (one for our online activities, the other for our library newsletters); the liquidation of review copies; and my having married a woman who fancies having a "literary man" for a husband!

I know that newspapers or magazines have employees whose job it is to do book reviews. It seems to me that these reviewers will review all the bestsellers because they could get in trouble with their boss if they didn't. But they have no incentive to review a book by an unknown, especially if it's from an outfit like iUniverse.

That's a pretty accurate general statement. There are individual exceptions -- but they are both individual and exceptional. The large corporate publishers dominate the attention of the folks at PW, Library Journal, New York Times Book Review, etc.

There are small presses who have managed to break the barrier, but not often. For the identifiable self-publisher (and this includes the iUniverse, Xlibris, and 1st Books imprints) the barriers of prejudice are even higher, wider, and stronger.

But unknowns do get reviewed sometimes. Why does this happen and who pays for it?

It happens because the quality or novelty of the book in the eyes of the reviewer (or the reviewer's editor) is simply so outstanding that it will not be denied.

Staff reviewers for legitimate publications get paid a wage for what they do by the company that employs them. The company usually gets its money from advertising and/or subscriber revenues -- and the sale of review copies.

Freelance reviewers get paid for the reviews they can sell to publications willing to purchase reviews from freelancers. Plus freelancers also rely on the sale of review copies.

Respecting any truly legitimate reviewer (freelancer or publication staffer), no money would be accepted from an author or a publisher to have their book reviewed -- or even considered for review.

Any time any reviewer wants a "reading fee" from an author or a publisher, it is the sure and telling sign of a scam. Any time a review publication's marketing rep wants an "ad" taken out on the promise of a pending review, it is a sure and telling sign of a scam.

I would recommend that those new to publishing and the curious eccentricities of book marketing carefully read through the "Advice For Publishers" section of the "Writing/Publisher Resources" webpage on the Midwest Book Review website at:

Jim Cox
Midwest Book Review

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

Copyright ©2001

Site design by Williams Writing, Editing & Design