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Jim Cox Report: May 2009
Dear Publisher Folk, Friends & Family:
To quote an ancient aphorism:"To the making of books there is no end." As both an enthusiastic bibliophile and a professional book reviewer I'm pleased to say that this old saying is holding up quite well -- even in these days of severe economic distress.
Most of us will be quite forgotten just three generations after we pass away from this life. There are a few individuals whose political or scientific or religious or academic or literary accomplishments will stretch out the memory of them for a few more generations than that -- and a tiny fraction of them that will still have their names known and recognized beyond even those.
For the vast and overwhelming majority of us, the only ones who will know and appreciate us, who will remember our names and perhaps our faces, will be those of our immediate friends, family members, and colleagues whose lives we impacted in some way -- for good or for ill.
Perhaps that's one of the reasons why so many books are being written and published by so many people. An attempt to mark a more indelible mark upon our times and perhaps times to come.
I think that's a good thing. It's something that helps to incrementally add to the growing cultural legacy that one generation passes onto the next -- and the next, and the next, and the next ad infinitum.
But it's also a bit like buying a lottery ticket seeking to become financially independent for the rest of your life, or like growing up in a small Midwestern town and arriving in Hollywood to become a movie star -- with about the same odds of success.
So it's a good thing that writing and publishing books has other rewards than literary immortality to bestow. There's the sense of accomplishment, perhaps a bit of income, and most assuredly that ego rush at seeing one's name in print!
For most authors that seems to be a sufficient incentive for all the hard work, high anxiety, and capital investment that writing and publishing involve.
Now for some Q&A from the Midwest Book Review email box:
I've deleted this persons name and identifying info because I wish to respect their anonymity. But the email I received asked me some truly excellent questions and posed some very reasonable philosophical objections for me to address. Here's our little discussion with my response paragraphs starting and ending with the *** symbol. I also wish to note that this person is an excellent writer and a skilled publisher. Here's our exchange:
I am responding to you via private email and not in the Pub Forum as my comments are to you and not Pub Forum members.
***I'm happy to keep any correspondence confidential -- just let me know as you did with this one that it is private and not meant for PubForum.***
Why use Amazon.com as your example? Why not Barnes & Nobel? One member asked you why MBR posts reviews to Amazon but not elsewhere on other retailer websites? Isn't that showing preference?
***We don't post on Barnes & Nobel because of a lack of staff resources to do so. It takes one of our staff about 5 days to post all 600 to 700 reviews we generate each month. We simply don't have the resources to do more than post to Amazon.com and alt.books.reviews. The other databases that feature our reviews (Book Review Index, Goliath, Lexus-Nexus, etc.) are posted by a contract we have with Cengage Learning. Barnes & Nobel is not one of their clients.***
***Perhaps I should ask for a volunteer to take on Barnes & Noble for us. But I've been reluctant to do so because it would take them a good four or five days a month and it's exceptionally tedious work.***
And if Amazon's rating system is so poor.. why promote it in the first place?
***I don't promote. I live with it as a necessary evil if I'm to utilize Amazon.com as a venue for bringing the reviews of small press titles to the public using the 800-pound Gorilla of online book marketing.***
POD is print on demand.. a printing method. all those businesses you listed in your post are vanity publishers. I am not a vanity publisher as are many in Pub Forum who publish a small number of books each year but are not vanity publishers.
***This is an "inside the beltway" distinction and unfortunately POD is a term that has come to mean both a printing method and a vanity press. Self published authors who use POD as a printing method for their own works are engaging in simply another variation of vanity publishing. Publishers using POD as a printing method to publish the works of others are not engaged in vanity publishing. But how do you easily distinguish in normal conversation either with the publishing community or the general public about the niceties of distinctions when using the POD term.***
Why should Amazon dictate to us where we do our printing? That is what Amazon is doing. It knows small publishing businesses, independent publishers and yes.. even those vanity published have few dollars for marketing campaigns so it has decided to bully the people it thinks least able to fight back.
***I wasn't aware, before your contributions to the discussion that this was taking place. Your assertion is the first I've heard of Amazon refusing to register books by self-published authors whether they resorting to POD as a printing method or POD as a vanity publisher.***
***Amazon is a corporation dedicated to making a profit. If they are boycotting self-published books then I consider them to be once again engaging in ludicrous behavior. Any author so boycotted by Amazon would do well to incorporate that into their marketing campaign along the lines of "The Book That Amazon Doesn't Want You To Know About!"***
***Then go on to utilize all the other on-line bookseller sources for marketing the banned book. It might even be possible to engage the press in such a story.***
***It's been my observation that Amazon will stock any book that they can make money off of. Perhaps one way to change their corporate mind would be to submit a sales track record after exploiting the marketing advantages that their competitors would allow.***
The business tactics Amazon has tried to force into the book industry over the last few years stinks with a lack of integrity and fair business practices. Amazon doesn't want to just be the dominate retailer.. it wants to run all other POD printing companies out of business and be a monopoly either illegally if it can get away with it or by skirting the law, or using its bullying threats of dismantling the buy buttons on its website.
***It's the nature of corporations to strive towards monopolies. That is why Federal Anti-Trust Laws were enacted. If you think that's what's going on, then I would suggest that you bring it to the attention of your nearest Federal District Attorney and see if you can interest them in taking action.***
Just the threat of making the buy button on its site non functional has caused some vanity businesses to switch to Amazon for printing. It is disgusting to watch...and Midwest Book Review, PMA and other businesses and organizations that exist because of books published by small publishing/independents... aren't doing much to stand up.. speak out for us.
***PMA does not involve itself in the politics of publishing. There's no hope there and never has been. I'm afraid that Al Canton has accurately assessed them on that score. SPAN is a "For Profit" organization and thus not going to upset major players in the publishing industry like Amazon.***
***The Midwest Book Review is a book review. We review books on the political left and the political right. As to the politics of publishing -- I make my opinions public through the "Jim Cox Report" and my occasional contributions to PubForum; Publish-L, and SPAN. That's as much as I can do.***
***And as I've previously stated, I was unaware of this latest foible of Amazon. Trying to "corner the marketing" on POD as a publishing technique sounds as ludicrous to me as trying to sell reviews that can be easily accessed directly from the reviewer or the review publication from whence they originate.***
Your continued promotion to us to post reviews at Amazon is giving credibility and support to Amazon and I think you know this. Sometimes the ends do not justify the means.
***I also quite regularly note the other online bookseller databases where our reviews appear. So I don't understanding your reference to "ends not justify means". The reason why Amazon would leap out at you is perhaps because the are the 800-pound Gorilla of online booksellers, so a larger share of references to them would naturally occur.***
MBR could promote any number of other online retailers by NAME... even tell us you support doing this rather than to tolerate Amazon's bullying tactics...but I don't see this coming from you or any other organizations. Can Amazon hurt your business? If not why keep silent or continue promoting Amazon?
***We do not promote any retailer. It's our policy to provide as wide an audience for the reviews we do of books from the small press community as we possibly can within the limits of our resources. If I had another 50 hour a month volunteer who'd post our reviews on Barnes & Noble I'd do it in a heart beat. I understand that Borders is breaking away from Amazon. If that is so, then I'd dream of having still another 50 hour a month volunteer to post to them!***
The only real tool we have at our disposal is to band together so our No is loud enough for Amazon to hear and promoting B&N or other online retailers as review places, MBR actually posting its reviews to other locations, and stating why could hurt Amazon's bottom line if businesses like yours would give a voice and lend support... and enough of us stopped doing Amazon.
***Your trying to influence Amazon policies and practices through boycotting is a Quixote quest. They are too large and they simply don't need self-published authors and small presses to be massively profitable.***
That is a marketplace reality... you know this.
***The marketplace reality is one of supply and demand. There's not enough demand for them to bother with threats to diminish the supply of small press titles.***
So I just wanted you to know that I don't approve of your continued promotion of Amazon and your failure to raise your voice publically in protest.
***I accept your right to disapprove. More than that, I would be disappointed with anyone who had strong feelings and were reluctant to share them in civil discourse. You see a need and I don't share your perception or sense of urgency. If I did, I'd probably join my voice with yours. But I don't, so I won't. But I do encourage you to continue to express your views in the civil manner that you've done. ***
You already know there is a pending law suit and others have spoken out so don't use the "tell me who Amazon has done this to".... baloney. Amazon's threat has been enough to make some vanity businesses fold and move their printing to Amazon.
***I'm not aware of any pending law suit. As I remarked earlier, until your comment I was unaware that Amazon was trying to edge out POD as a publishing technology created books from their website. Can you direct me to a website where this law suit is presented so that I can read it?***
Google has tried its "Opt Out" policy to deconstruct Copyright law.... and gotten away with quite a lot... so Amazon is next up to the plate...and the Orphan Works Act is readying to do more harm to publishers and authors....the businesses in our industry who can speak out for the "little people" remain silent. Why? Only you can answer that.
***The Google issue is familiar to me. Any copyright infringements should be addressed through legal action in a court of law. That's why we have Copyright Law to begin with. What in the world is the "Orphan Works Act"?***
***As to remaining silent? If you give me permission to do so, I'd cheerfully put this entire email into the next "Jim Cox Report". That way your comments and position would go out to more than 30,000 subscribers and be permanently archived on the Midwest Book Review website.***
Midwest Book Review
Note: I don't have record of receiving permission -- and it's been a few months now. So that's why I deleted any identifying information for the above email discussion.
Now here's a more standard email that I receive from time to time by those new to the publishing industry:
In a message dated 6/16/2008 10:19:39 A.M. Central Daylight Time,
As you see they call it both a book review and an article. Since it was a review, and I sent them a book, could I take something like that and post it on other sites? I have a feeling that they would be pretty unhappy and I would be violating copyright.
Because the publisher in question furnished Curriculum Review with a complimentary copy of his book for their review, the publisher (or author) has the right to utilize the review in any manner and any where they wished to do so as part of their marketing campaign -- while always citing Curriculum Review as the originator of the review.
There is no copyright infringement in doing so because it is standard publishing industry practice to automatically provide the author and/or publisher with a copy of the review to do with as they deem appropriate in exchange for accepting the complementary review copy provided by the
Midwest Book Review
Now for reviews of some 'how to' books on writing and publishing that have crossed my desk this past month:
The Writing/Publishing Shelf
101 Best Beginnings Every Written
Quill Driver Books
c/o Linden Publishing
2006 South Mary, Fresno, CA 93721-9875
9781884956867, $15.95, www.amazon.com
One of the little known facts about professional book reviewers is that if they are any good at all, they receive hundreds books every month requesting reviews -- far more than they could ever hope to cope with. That compels them to practice a kind of literary triage -- whittling down the numbers of submissions to what they can actually handle given their time and resources. A major part of that sifting process (especially with fiction) is to open the book and read the first page or two. If it's good enough to 'hook' them, then that book will make it into the acceptance pile. If it's not -- then that book will be discarded from consideration. Because booksellers and librarians (and often, the general reading public) take their cues from book reviewers, that's why how a book begins is so vitally important as to whether or not it will be deemed a critical or commercial success. That's also why "101 Best Beginnings Every Written: A Romp Through Literary Openings For Writers And Readers" by Barnaby Conrad (a published author of more than 30 titles) is so valuable as an instructively useful guide which is enhanced with informed and informative commentary, annotations, and insights. To put it succinctly, every aspiring author seeking to perfect their craft would be well served to give a careful reading to "101 Best Beginnings Every Written: A Romp Through Literary Openings For Writers And Readers".
The Elements of Narrative Nonfiction
Quill Driver Books
c/o Linden Publishing
2006 South Mary, Fresno, CA 93721
There are better ways to relate true events than simply stating the facts. "The Elements of Narrative Nonfiction: How to Write & Sell the Novel of True Events" is an exploration of narrative nonfiction, also sometimes called creative nonfiction. Numerous huge hit books in recent years have simply been creatively relayed true stories told in an entrancing way. "The Elements of Narrative Nonfiction" is a must read for those who want to adapt life's true stories into novel form, or who yearn to be more accessible to a wider audience.
W. W. Norton & Company
500 Fifth Avenue, New York, NY 10110
9780393732962, $31.50, www.wwnorton.com
The publishing industry has been experiencing rapid changes in both technology and the marketplace these past few years. Now in a newly updated and significantly expanded third edition, "Bookmaking: Editing/Design/Production" continues to be the premiere instruction manual and reference for the publishing of books. Of special value for those new to publishing or who aspire to become publishers, "Bookmaking" covers every aspect of manuscript editing, book design, and the printing/binding processes of book production in extensive and thoroughly 'user friendly' detail. Of special note is the information provided on computer-centered methods of publishing -- including the growing phenomena of electronic books (popularly known as ebooks). Also critically valuable is the information concerning the distribution of books. The author, Marshall Lee, draws upon his more than fifty years of professional experience and expertise in the field of publishing to provide a sound manual that continues to be considered the 'bible' of the industry and an invaluable, recommended addition to professional, academic, and community library reference collections.
MLA Handbook For Writers Of Research Papers, seventh edition
Modern Language Association
26 Broadway, 3rd fl., NY, NY 10004-1789
9781603290241, $22.00, www.mla.org
The Modern Language Association is the premier reference resource of the proprieties of written English. Now in an updated and expanded seventh edition, "MLA Handbook For Writers Of Research Papers" continues to be a comprehensive, current, and authoritative guide to research and writing in an online environment offering simplified guidelines for citing works published on the Internet, as well as citing works from other sources including digital files and graphic narratives. This new edition is enhanced with more than two hundred additional examples, several research project narratives, and research paper formats. Of special note is the chapter devoted to abbreviations. Absolutely indispensable, the "MLA Handbook For Writers Of Research Papers" is an essential addition to personal, professional, academic, and community library reference collections.
Getting Started As A Freelance Writer, expanded edition
Robert W. Bly
1113 Spruce Street, Boulder, CO 80302
9781591810698, $19.95, www.amazon.com
The nice things about being a freelance writer include being your own boss, setting your own hours, picking out your own subject matter, seeing your name in print, and basically being in charge of what, when, where, why, and how you make money from your writing. The not-so-nice aspects of freelance writing include the massive competition you face when trying to solicit business, sell your work, and manage the business aspects of your do-it-yourself career. Now in a newly revised and significantly expanded edition, "Getting Started As A Freelance Writer" by Robert W. Bly (himself a professional writer with an average annual income of more than $600,00) who draws upon his more than 25 years of experience and expertise is an ideal instruction manual for anyone who aspires to a successful and profitable career as a freelance writer. Bly provides pertinent and reliable advice and instruction covering every aspect of freelance writing including where to find work, how to obtain paying assignments, how to negotiate fees and contracts to best effect, turning out saleable manuscripts, getting paid on time and in full, and so much more. Of special note and value are Bly's comments on getting started and avoiding common mistakes, writing and selling poetry, as well as the commercial sale of short stories, novels, and essays. "Getting Started As A Freelance Writer" is an ideal and invaluable 'how to' manual that should be considered mandatory reading for anyone who seeks to earn their living (full-time or part-time) through their writing.
Dan Poynter's Self-Publishing Manual: Volume 2
PO Box 8206, Santa Barbara, CA 93118-8206
9781568601465, $14.95, www.parapublishing.com
Dan Poynter is a living legend in the publishing industry. Originally published in 1979, his 'The Self-Publishing Manual' is in its 16th revised edition and 22nd printing. Now a second volume has been written with the specific focus of writing, printing, and selling the self-published book by utilizing cutting edge technologies and the latest up-to-date techniques. This is an indispensable instruction manual and reference for everything from copy writing a book; to print runs and inventories, to putting out downloadable, CD and eBook editions through 'Virtual Book Publishing'; to creating additional revenue streams though audios, videos, magazine excerpts, foreign language sales; employing short-run book printers; setting up a publishing company (including tax breaks); as well as low-cost/no-cost book promotion and marketing. Also available in a Large Print Edition (9781568601472) and an eBook edition (9781568601489), no aspiring or practicing self-published author should be without their very own copy of "Dan Poynter's Self-Publishing Manual: Volume 2" sitting side-by-side on their reference shelve with the latest edition of what is now "The Self-Publishing Manual: Volume 1"!
The Creative Writing MFA Handbook
80 Maiden Lane, New York, NY 10038
9780826428868, $19.95, www.continuum-books.com
Everyone can put a pen to paper and write. What makes you so special? "The Creative Writing MFA Handbook" is a guide to the world of higher education and writing degrees, drawing from the wisdom and experience of countless writers and professors of writing as they reflect on the process of acquiring a degree in writing, and what to do with such a degree after college. "The Creative Writing MFA Handbook" is a must read for anyone going into higher education to improve their craft of writing.
A Syllable of Water
Emilie Griffin, editor
PO Box 1568, Orleans, MA 02653
9781557255662, $20.00, www.paracletepress.com
How does faith play into the writing of a Christian? "A Syllable of Water: Twenty Writers of Faith Reflect on Their Art" draws on how religion and faith intertwine with the creative process of crafting prose and the world of fiction. The twenty writers offer advice that is not purely Christian and useful to writers that are secular or belong to other faiths, but they do speak on how their faith has impacted them and their work. A fine guide for the amateur writer of faith, "A Syllable of Water" is a strong choice.
As usual, I'm going to conclude this issue of the "Jim Cox Report" with "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:
Joseph E. Murphy
Anomymouse 1 (stamps found floating orphans in the mail room)
Anonymous 2. (stamps arrived in a plain unmarked envelope)
Cheryl Carpinello -- "Guinevere: On the Eve of Legend"
Thomas F. Erickson -- "Operation Snowshoe"
Bill 'Henry' Hoffman -- "Flaherty's Run"
Gary Taylor -- "Luggage by Kroger"
Vil Mirazyanov -- "State Secrets"
Rhonda Y. C. Johnson -- "Pretty Inside Out"
Julie Bigg Veazey -- "Reckless Indifference"
Barbara Gardner Gruhl -- "A Mother's Book of Love"
Patricia Luce Chapman -- "Survivor's Guide to Grief"
E. M. Schorb -- "Time and Fevers"
R M Communications
Max Publication Inc.
Magical Child Books
Permanent Productions Inc.
Jody Banks -- Axios Press
Tom Poirer -- Saint Ansgar Press
Larry McCabe -- Red Dog Music Books
GayLinda Gardner -- Denim Books
Bob Kneisley -- Technical Financial Publishing
Len Cushman -- Demand Publications
Vanita Oelschlager -- Vanita Books
Linda Myers -- Linbrook Press
Petty Ridgway -- Los Angles Flower Market History Project
Mosetta M. Penick Phillips-Cermak -- PM Moon Publishers
Peg Booth -- Booth Media Group
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!
Midwest Book Review
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James A. Cox
Midwest Book Review
278 Orchard Drive
Oregon, WI 53575-1129
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