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Jim Cox Report: November 2001

Dear Publisher Folk, Friends & Family:

Now that the "first of the month" deadlines have been met it's time for me to relax a bit this morning and compile another of my miscellaneous advice columns of tips, tricks and techniques -- along with bits of in-house gossip about what's been going on here at the Midwest Book Review in general, and with me in particular.

As always, October has been a busy, busy month. For openers, we launched our third online book review magazine that we are calling "Reviewer's Bookwatch Online". This is an electronic magazine (ezine) that is dedicated to showcasing the reviews of our now 59 volunteer reviewers. The debut October issue, if it were to be printed out in hard copy, would run 98 pages. It's interesting to note that the November issue which just went up on the MBR website four days ago would run 197 pages -- doubling in size in just one month!

Our other two online magazines ("Internet Bookwatch" and "Children's Bookwatch") also went up on schedule. All three of our online publications (along with "The Jim Cox Report") are available for individual subscription to anyone who would like to receive them directly, rather than by visiting the MBR website. Subscription is free; just send me your email address and note which of them (or all of them) you'd like to sign up for.

Still another addition to the "busy, busy" quality of October was my giving three workshops: one in Orlando to the Florida Publishers Association; one in Minneapolis to the Midwest Independent Publishers Association; and my first online workshop. The online workshop was sponsored by iUniverse and moderated by Kelly Milner, a very competent young lady who took all the anxiety and stress out of the process for me.

The two traditional workshops were as usual -- fly in; get put up in nice lodgings; eat; give presentations, speeches, consultations; fly home.

The online workshop was vastly simpler (and easier): sit in my office chair; speak into the phone; sip a little soda from the office mini-fridge.

There were 30+ online workshop participants. Kelly would read their questions off her computer screen and recite them to me over the phone; I would give her my answers/responses; she would type them into her computer. It was just that simple! If I had known it would be so easy on my end, I would have accepted these gigs months ago when they first started being offered to me! I'm not a computer person. I was drawn into the computer age kicking and screaming in helpless protest way back in 1980. Nowadays it's Bethany (my daughter and the MBR webmaster) who sees to the computerized end of our MBR affairs. So I approached my first online workshop engagement with the feelings of stress and mild panic that always seem engendered in the sub-basement of my psyche whenever I have to do something new involving computers. I even had Bethany be in correspondence with Kelly in setting up this event, then stand by while we fired this thing up --- just in case.

But it turned out to be fantastically easy (at least my part of it). So fun and simple that I had a rollicking good time, and have even offered to Kelly and iUniverse to do another such event, perhaps in January.

All of the participants for this one seemed to be new iUniverse published authors. iUniverse is a print on demand (POD) publisher, and the Midwest Book Review is one of the relatively few book reviews that happily accept POD titles from companies like iUniverse, 1st Books, Xlibris, and the others.

The subject of this particular one-hour online workshop was "How To Get Your Book Reviewed". The participants asked the usual kinds of questions that I get when giving traditional workshops -- with one exception. One lady asked me to describe my office! So I gave them a 180 degree (left to right, clockwise) running description of how my office is laid out. It's amazing, when I stop to think about it, just how much stuff is crammed into such a limited space!

Since the iUniverse workshop I've gotten a surge of review copies of iUniverse titles from their authors (I told them to identify themselves as having been iUniverse workshop participants), and along with the books have come notes of appreciation for both my presentation and for introducing them to the Midwest Book Review website -- their new best friend!

I also got two follow-up emails from Kelly:

> Hi Jim,
> I'm writing an article on the new face of POD for the Denver Post. My editor
> knows I do chats for iUniverse, but he also knows I'm a journalist first and
> the piece is hopeful but balanced, focused on iUniverse and 1stBook.
> I was hoping I could quote you from these two paragraphs on your website...
> With the advent of desktop publishing in general, and POD publishers in
> particular, the dreck continues to be wearing away at the "name brand" value
> of POD publishers, just as it did with Vantage Press and its ilk of an
> earlier publishing era.
> Therefore, when Xlibris, 1st Books, iUniverse and other POD titles cross my
> desk, I make sure to look at them. Not out of regard for these publishers --
> but out of regard for the authors. So many of whom would have benefited
> greatly from some editorial input. Yet I find some of them to be "naturals"
> and whose books are as good as anybody's and deserving as wide a
> readership as can be mustered in their behalf.
> Obviously, I'll credit you with the quote and with being Editor-in-Chief at
> the Midwest Book Review. And I'll make sure your web address is included in
> the article.
> Would that be okay? Please let me know. I was hoping to submit tomorrow. I'll send
> you a tear sheet as soon as I get my copies, if you agree, and a link to the online
> version of the article, of course.
> Thanks either way.
> Kelly

Of course I gave my permission -- anyone has permission to use any of my writings, commentaries, opinions, diatribes, pontifications, etc. -- just add the usual attribution credits when doing so.

Then Kelly sent me another in response to receiving my permission:

> Thank you SO much for your generosity, Jim. I'm thrilled you don't mind my
> quoting you. Yours was exactly the voice and the comment I was looking for to
> keep my piece balanced. So I am not sure what I would have done, had you
> declined my request. I appreciate the fact that you didn' much.
> I am so glad you had a good time at the chat event. Feel free to tell my
> bosses. [grin] Sometimes I think they consider me expendable. And YES, I would
> love to have you back again, perhaps in January if that time suits you. And
> I'm very eager to see the November column you mentioned, but not just because
> I'm in it (thank you, though [g]). I think anything you'd write would be
> fascinating. So if there is a way I can subscribe to receive it regularly, or
> a link where I can go myself each month, please let me know.
> Incidentally, my "bosses" were so pleased with your chat, they've asked me to
> cull key comments from it for a feature article in the Author Toolkit. I will
> do it, of course, eagerly. I couldn't agree more.
> Last point...we talked briefly about my doing reviews for you. I thought you
> might like a couple of samples of what I've done in the past. I'd LOVE to be
> your YA book "authority" if you don't already have one. I have a special
> passion for young adult literature. But I review almost everything from time
> to time.
> Thanks again, Jim...for all you've done.

The "November column" referred to is The Jim Cox Report you are reading now. When I found out that Kelly was not only working for iUniverse but also as a journalist and book reviewer, I had extended an offer for her to join our merry band of volunteer reviewers -- and that's how the number jumped in October from 58 to 59.

Incidently, the topic I've suggested for a possible January workshop is "Promoting The POD Title In Today's Marketplace".

What follows now is my advice, observations, and contributions to email Q&A drawn from my participation in three online small press publisher discussion groups (SPAN; Publish-L; PubForum); as well as off-list correspondences:

Channing F. Hayden, Jr. wrote:

> Thank you for publishing such a wonderful review of my novel, Magdalenes.
> John Jurek said a lot of nice things about the book, which I will quote often.

John is a small press author and publisher who knows first hand how tough it is to get your book out to the general reading public.

> I'm wondering how to take full advantage of the opportunity that a terrific
> review from such a prestigious source affords me. For example, as MBR is
> an Acquisitions Consultant for Dane County Library Services, how might I
> approach MBR to recommend that my novel be added to the collections of
> these library systems? Are there any other opportunities you see or other
> avenues I might explore? You comments would be valued and greatly
> appreciated.

The Good News: Since I am the acquisitions consultant for Dane County Library Services that is one venue that you already have covered. Think of it as a Midwest Book Review serendipity.

The Bad News: There are no short cuts. You are going to have to do a lot of reading and study. Begin with the articles you will find on the "Advice For Publishers" section of the Midwest Book Review website at

Then move on to the "Publishers Bookshelf", browse through those reviewed titles, and select the "how to" ones on book marketing. Then go to your local library and obtain them through the free "InterLibrary Loan Service" program.

Another piece of advice to is join the free online small press publisher discussion groups Publish-L; PubForum; and SPAN. You will find links to them in the "Publisher Association" section.

And don't forget to browse through the "Publisher Resources" section to familiarize yourself with the resources that I've rounded up for folks just like you.

> In closing, let me thank you for giving small press and self-published
> writers a place to receive a creditable review of their work. No need to
> tell you how tough the publishing business is for an unknown writer.
> Midwest Book Review makes it a little easier.

Thank you for your very kind words. They are much appreciated.

Jim Cox
Midwest Book Review

Every now and then I am moved to initiate a bit of advice for the novice publisher, from my perspective as a book reviewer and a book review editor:

Subj: When pitching your book by phone

Dear Publisher Folk:

Yesterday afternoon I had yet another call from a well-meaning but ill-prepared author who was trying to ask me to consider her book for review -- especially in this time of national distress.

Every month I field about three or four such phone calls from authors and small press publishers/publicists trying to pitch their books. I'd like to share some thoughts with you so that you won't make the same mistakes so many of these folks do.

Before you pick up the phone to call a reviewer or an editor to request that your book be reviewed, or that your book would be a good resource for an article, please do the following:

Write down your presentation on paper. Put your pitch down in a concrete, written form so that you can then read what you want to say. This has several essential benefits:

1. When people try to "wing it" in a verbal pitch they often come across as disorganized or inarticulate. This is especially true when they have no formal training or experience in marketing.

2. When you put your pitch down on paper it gives you a chance to hone your arguments, delete redundancies, organize your points into their most persuasive order, and ensure that all the points that need to be in the pitch are there.

3. Having written your pitch, time your delivery. See how long it takes you to recite your pitch using a normal voice. Often a kind of "performance anxiety" creeps into the speaker's mindset, and results in him or her speaking too fast, unwittingly talking in a whine or argumentative tone, or becoming confused by subjective time distortion (you think you pitch was 30 seconds when you were actually two minutes).

4. In your pitch, be very certain you have down specifically not just why your book is thematically appropriate, but also why it would be in that reviewer or editor's interest to pick your book over others in the same field, genre, category, or subject area.

5. For the first several times (until you are so comfortable with reciting what you've written that it becomes almost second nature to you), read from your script aloud. Do this until you can go through it easily, naturally, and without hesitation. If you are not a experienced script reader, then practice, practice, practice (on friends, into a tape recorder, to family members) until you are.

6. Having done all the above, it is time to make that phone call -- and read from your script! And if the reviewer/editor indicates that they don't want to hear your pitch -- stop making it, say "thank you for your time", and hang up.

I'm one of the most author/small press publisher friendly folk you will ever find in the reviewer's section of our publishing industry. And I tell you truthfully that a writer or publisher who calls me up and sounds disorganized, incoherent, ill-prepared, or pushy will negate any hope for a positive response to their request for consideration.

You can imagine the reaction of reviewers and editors who harbor prejudice against self-published authors and small press publishers, when they are on the receiving end of such phone calls.

Jim Cox
Midwest Book Review

Here's what I had to say on another discussion thread:

Subject: A different kind of press kit?

Sharlene Baker writes:

> I've found where I can buy "business-card sized" CD-ROMs for .65 each.

Sharlene has come up with a truly innovative idea well worth thinking about.

My own first impression/response is that the additional and adaptive labor of popping in CD-ROMs and clicking through their contents would be more time-consuming than just opening the traditional media kit folder and leafing through the contents.

But then, I'm 58 and not completely at ease in this newfangled computerized world.

My 28 year old computer science & MBR webmaster daughter didn't blink an eye at the concept but thought it as natural as rain falling from the sky.

She also plays a couple of hours a day on an online fantasy/adventure computer game with three friends scattered all over the country.

And after watching her dear addlepated father trying to hook up a DVD player to his Satellite TV/VCR for more than a half-hour last night, only to give up in total frustration, she made me sit in my easy chair and read the paper while she: 1) read the instruction manual, 2) hooked up the cables, and 3) discovered what the "I Select" button on the VCR remote control was for (it seems to be "Input Select", the one that activates the VCR channel that accepts a signal from the DVD player).

Now I have a working DVD/VCR/TV system -- and a painful reminder of how non-technological I truly am.

I wouldn't rule out Sharlene's idea out-of-hand. But I do think that there might be a "generation gap" phenomena in how readily it would be accepted from the reviewer's end.

I note that some publishers are beginning to phase out traditional paper catalogs and are replacing them with online, website-based catalogs for their new and back list titles.

I find myself with an extreme reluctance (and less time) to visit such websites to inform myself of what publishers have to offer for review.

Publishers are also beginning to offer an email announcement alternative to traditional snail-mail PRs for their new releases.

I find my email load already quite voluminous, and dread the day when new PR announcements from the publishing community will double, then double again my number of incoming emails, ad infinitum.

The world is a changing -- and sometimes it is such a pain to have to change with it!

Still, it will be innovative thinking like Sharlene's that will enable the small press community to thrive in the coming decades of the 21st Century, amidst the rapid evolutions of the literary marketplace.

Jim "One of the Finest Minds of the 19th Century" Cox
Midwest Book Review

Here's a perennial publisher question and my standard response:

Tammie Gibbs writes:

> Still enjoying all of your contributions to the list(s) that I belong to. A
> benefit of which is knowing that it will be hard for me to miss any of your
> valuable expertise.
> "Recipes for Romance," is finally available for me to send to you.
> Regarding accompanying Media Kits- Do you mind sharing with me what you
> consider to be a well executed package? This would not only be helpful when
> I'm sending to you - but also when I send to other "reviewers".

Reviewer Media Kits should include the following:

1. A one page publicity release on the company's stationery

2. A copy of the book

3. An extended author bio including the listing of any honors, awards, relevant professional background or experience, and any other books published.

4. If it's a media (television) reviewer, include a photograph of the author.

5. Your publicist's (or your publishing company's) business card

6. A cover letter introducing you and your publishing company, and explaining why the media kit (and review copy) are being sent to the recipient.

Incidently, the above list is identical with my recommended Media Kit for librarians and booksellers -- but in their case you want to also add copies and references to all the positive reviews you can get your hands on.

Jim Cox
Midwest Book Review

From time to time I get asked why I do what I do -- coordinate volunteer reviewers (a process similar to herding cats); spending so much time and energy on contributing to the publisher discussion groups; providing my services to publisher organizations while refusing speaker fees and honorariums; answering my own phone and talking to novice publishers (who all too often have not read my famous "3 Questions" for book review submission follow-ups); and impart so freely (and profusely) of what passes for my wit and wisdom on all things small press.

Here's why:

> THANKS for the Jim Cox Report 10/01 and all the other tidbits you send out.
> As a new member of the self-publishing group at yahoo, my favorite part is
> seeing the letters "MWBOOKREVW" follow "FROM:" - - - because it's a sure
> sign something interesting is about to follow. The time and care you take in
> your communications really shines through and makes them a joy to read.
> This aspiring publisher appreciates the insight and reason you bring to bear
> on topics as diverse as war, religion, and publishing. Perhaps, someday, if
> I stay on track, my publishing and writing life will mature to a place that
> finds my book on your desk. When it does -- whatever your verdict -- I
> suspect it will be a positive learning experience for me.
> Best Wishes,

> PO Box 2350, Stow, OH 44224

Now if that doesn't qualify as a solid validation that what we do here at the Midwest Book Review, in service to promoting literacy, library usage, and small press publishing -- I don't know what would!

Until next time!!

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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