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Jim Cox Report: November 2002

Dear Publisher Folk, Friends & Family:

It has been an eventful month here at the Midwest Book Review. I've discovered that not only is there some much needed maintenance work on the building we are now owners of, but that several of the trees on the property badly needed attention as well. There was a cluster of six White Oak trees around 150 years old that needed to have three removed (they were dying of root damage caused by a parking lot extension next door) so that the remaining three could survive.

Then there were a row of Box Elder trees along the back property line that needed thinning if the Lilac Bushes and some Evergreens were to prosper.

And then there was $400 worth of mulch that needed to replace nutrients that 23 years of raking up and hauling away leaves had robbed the soil that all of the trees needed to nourish themselves.

But now all that work is done and I can get back to what I do best (or at least, what I have the most fun doing!) -- reading what other people have written and passing judgement upon their literary souls. :-)

Our new domain name website has proved wildly popular with both staff and website visitors that we have renewed it for the next five years.

The next project I have in mind (if I can get together the funding and staff time it would take) is to organize a website where all the reviews generated for and by the Midwest Book Review could be organized thematically. That is, all the poetry books together, all the military books together, all the cookbooks together, all the biographies together, etc.

The current system is to have the monthly issues of the publications in which these books (sorted out by thematic columns or by the reviewer's by-lined columns) simply archived on our website.

The upside to this is that it is very easy to keep them up on our website for one year (or even longer). The downside is that anyone looking for the review of a particular book has to wade through months of back issues to find what they are seeking -- if it's still there at all.

I'll let you know how we progress with my latest "bright idea".

The following articles have been added to the "Advice For Publishers" section of the Midwest Book Review website at

1. "Publishing Cycles And Sending Review Copies", Jim Cox
2. "On The Use Of Press Releases In Book Reviews", Jim Cox
3. "Pricing POD Books", Jim Cox
4. "Copyright Notice vs. Publication Date", Mike Tribby
5. "Library Approval Plans", Fern Reiss & Mike Tribby
6. "Regarding Review Copies", Bev Harris
7. "Selling Lots Of Books", Virginia Brucker
8. "Fiction eBook Future Bright For Writers And Readers", Bob McElwain
9. "Never, Ever Release Any Of Your Rights To Anyone", Bob McElwain
10. "Small and Large Book Quantities", Steve Karris
11. "How To Spot A Word Processed Book", John Culleton
12. "Bookstore Returns", Peter Goodman

Then after my webmaster daughter finished posting some 400+ reviews to, she will commence to add about 120 new resource links to various sections of the Midwest Book Review.

And tomorrow (Monday, November 4th) I begin sending out hundreds (literally) of tear sheets and publisher notification letters for every one whose books made the final cut and were featured in the November issues of our four library newsletters and/or five on-line book review magazines.

Incidently, anyone can subscribe (for free) to any of our on-line publications (Children's Bookwatch; Internet Bookwatch; Reviewer's Bookwatch; MBR Bookwatch; Small Press Bookwatch). Or for that matter, receive "The Jim Cox Report" through free subscription as well. Just send me your email address and which one(s) you'd like to be signed up for.

Now on to some more of the advice, answers, and recommendations I've recently provided on various aspects of publishing and book marketing:

Jeff Potter writes:

> But what the heck is a REVIEW worrying about SELLING? I guess I need to
> ask: What are they reviewing anyway? I assume a Review is a content
> evaluator, but maybe this publication is FOR PUBLISHERS? Basically, it
> sounds like that's what it is: it's reviewing with business acumen in mind.
> As Jim C. said, he didn't even get to content yet. I just hadn't heard of
> that kind of review before. Useful within the trade, for sure. But is this
> what kind of review it is?
> Moreover, it seems like Jim's method is actually reviewing the publisher
> not the writing. A publisher who releases a lame book (by usual standards)
> probably handles much of their work similarly, so any given book of theirs
> is almost irrelevant when judging these matters. An author often has little
> influence on the layout of his book. Does design acumen say anything about
> the writing?

Jeff is asking a very important and very relevant set of questions here.
Questions that I think should be addressed in some detail. I'll begin with
the most basic question of them all: "What is the role and function of a book
reviewer?" -- and then go on with more direct responses to some of Jeff's
other inquiries and expectations.

Firstly, the book reviewer is usually charged with the responsibility of
assessing the literary merit of a book. This holds true for both fiction and
non-fiction. By literary merit I mean how well the book is crafted as a
written document to be read by others. In a work of fiction the primary
questions are: how well are the characters drawn and how good is the story at
keeping the reader's attention.

There are secondary questions that arise in this evaluation process such as:
how original is the story, how memorable are the characters, does the writer
"play fair" with the reader and produce a literary experience that is
sufficiently entertaining to be recommended.

For poetry, a reviewer can get into such underlying issues as the rhythm and
cadence of the verse, the quality and crafting of the images conjured up by
the words chosen; such things as meter and rhyme; subject and message.

For the essay the focus of analysis can also include evaluations of logic and
rationale, metaphor and oratory.

For non-fiction: literary merit means how well does the author present the
information, how well organized is the information, how retrievable or "user
friendly" is the information (and here we also address such issues as
indexes, glossaries, tables of content layout, author credentials,
bibliographies, etc.), and are the authors conclusions or recommendations
justified by the information presented,

I doubt that there would be any major disagreement among professional
reviewers with what I've written so far.

But now we must address the often overlooked fact that there are basically
two categories of reviewers:


Pre-publication reviewers pay little or no heed to the "packaging" of a book.
The quality of any cover art is a minimal consideration (if at all) because
galleys and uncorrected proofs often don't include cover art. Even advanced
reading copies (ARC) will have their cover art stamped over with such banner
notations as "Uncorrected Proof" or publication date announcements.

For the pre-publication reviewer what is most important is what's on the
inside of a book, and not what's on the outside. And by inside I mean the
writing that composes the book itself -- with maybe a nod to such interior
design considerations as type font, font size, paper stock, margin widths,

Now let's consider the other category of reviewer: the post-publication
reviewer such as is exemplified by myself here at the Midwest Book Review.

And, although they are not reviewers as such, the same considerations I'm
about to comment on would hold true for wholesalers, distributors, jobbers,
bookstore retailers, librarians, and the general reading public.

The cover is all important. It is the gateway decision that decides if a book
will be summarily rejected then and there, or if the reviewer will invest
additional time and energy into a further exploration of the book's
desirability for being reviewed.

The second most important element is the cover letter. This is the author
and/or publisher's best shot at persuading the reviewer to choose their book
rather than the 49 other titles that arrived that morning on the book
reviewer's desk.

The third most important element is the publicity release (sometimes called
the press release or media kit). This is the author/publisher's second best
shot at interesting the reviewer -- and not in small part, by providing
pertinent and essential information elements upon which to hang and/or
enhance the book reviewer's commentary.

The fourth most important element has to do with interior design
specifications. Mainly, is the print large enough, dark enough, and of a type
of font that can be read without eye strain.

Assuming that all four of these elements or aspects of the physical property
of the finished (published) book being acceptable, we now -- and only now --
get into the literary merits of the book, be it fiction or non-fiction.

Now let's address Jeff's specific questions:

> But what the heck is a REVIEW worrying about SELLING?

One of the elements a book reviewer (who is daily presented with a great many
more books than time and energy make allowance for), must take into
consideration is to somehow prioritize those submitted books in a manner that
would equitably utilize available time and energy to best effect for the
reviewer's audience or readership.

Think of it as going shopping in your favorite bookstore to buy an armload of
books as gifts for yourself, your friends, and your family. You want to pick
the books that you are going to provide as gifts which will be as appropriate
to the intended recipient, as attractive to the recipient, and as reflective
of your own good taste in the recipient's behalf, as possible.

That's why, for the post-publication book reviewer, one of the key selection
elements is how the book will "sell" to it's intended readership.

> I guess I need to
> ask: What are they reviewing anyway? I assume a Review is a content
> evaluator, but maybe this publication is FOR PUBLISHERS? Basically, it
> sounds like that's what it is: it's reviewing with business acumen in mind.

Post-publication reviewers do indeed review content -- once the book has
survived the early stages of literary triage, a process of elimination that
is compelled upon the reviewer by the sheer quantity and numbers of

I've never met a publisher yet that didn't want to hear back from a reviewer
(in whom the publisher had invested the provision of a free book plus
postage) concerning what the reviewer thought about the book.

My original post on trying to let the publishers with failed submissions know
why they hadn't made it through the initial triage process of selection was
so that they would have some idea of why (as is all to often with small
press, self-published authors, and POD published writers) they so often send
out complimentary review copies to whole rosters of reviewers, only to never
hear from them.

> As Jim C. said, he didn't even get to content yet. I just hadn't heard of
> that kind of review before. Useful within the trade, for sure. But is this
> what kind of review it is?

The literary triage selection process is not, in fact, a review. Rather it is
decision process on whether of not to accept or refuse the book for review.

I feel that this information is useful to the trade up front. Not as a
critique of the literary content, but as an assessment of the book's
viability as a book in the competitive context of the book selling marketplace!

And useful to my general readership audiences as well, in knowing that when they read my book review columns, listen to my on air book review commentaries, subscribe to my book review publications, or visit my book review website in order to find suggestions and recommendations for what they should buy/read/acquire -- they will not have to wade through negative reviews denouncing books for whatever
flaws they had, but instead, be presented with positive reviews because, having made it all the way through the selection process, the books were then moved on to the traditional reviewing rigors of having to do with how well the book was written, and if it can be recommended for someone's reading list or library collection.

Now on to Jeff's other significant and important question:

> Moreover, it seems like Jim's method is actually reviewing the publisher
> not the writing. A publisher who releases a lame book (by usual standards)
> probably handles much of their work similarly, so any given book of theirs
> is almost irrelevant when judging these matters. An author often has little
> influence on the layout of his book. Does design acumen say anything about
> the writing?

It is indeed passing judgement (or reviewing) the book-as-product and the
publisher as that product's producer. The most common and pervasive problem
exemplified by the self-published author is that their lack of expertise as
publishers so often dooms their work to commercial failure simply and
essentially because of the book's flawed or uncompetitive packaging and

Having said that, I also note with self-published authors that when they turn
their manuscripts over to PODs, the lack of editorial standards or rigorous
editing requirements in order to see print is as common as dandelions in the
spring -- and just as noticeable.

With the major publishing houses and with a good many (but not, I think, a
majority) of established small presses, the author is indeed held hostage to
the whims and preferences and budgetary limitations of the publisher.

I have a friend who is an excellent science fiction author, he has a wall
full of awards and a bibliography full of superb titles. One of his best
novels was brought out by a major New York publisher (I want to say Random
House, but it's been so long I truly don't remember) with one of the most
world-class hideous covers I've ever encountered. Someone in the publisher's art department had decided to plaster the cover with hordes of flying lips. Dozens of big red lips with wings! There was nothing Mike could do. He was stuck and stuck
hard. It wasn't until a few years later when another edition of his book came
out that he was able to have a decent cover -- and that's when sales of what
had once been his poorest performing title climbed up to the level of his
other books.

The great wonderfulness of being a self-published author, or published by a
very small press, is that the author, if they so wish, can have enormous
input into the packaging of the book. (Total control if it's self-published).

I had a response from one of those six authors whose book I turned down
yesterday because of amateurish cover art. He was unhappy with me. Even to
the point of exclaiming that perhaps what he should have done instead of
investing his time and money into writing the best novel he could, would have
been to invest his time and money into the making of a spectacular cover --
and then just banged out a mediocre quickly to go inside.

That sort of response misses the point.

Having a wonderful packaging for your written work is only how you cross the
reviewer's threshold. How you are treated once inside depends entirely on how
well you write and how well what you've written comes across in the subjective evaluation of the reviewer. A variation of that old adage of "Beauty is in the eye of the beholder".

So in conclusion: A "literary triage selection process rejection" is not a
negative review of your literary work inside the book. But it is most
definitely a negative review on your (or your publisher's) work with respect
to the outside of your book.

When it comes to the viability of your book in competition with all the other
books clamoring for the attention of a reviewer or a reader, what is on the
outside is just as important and every bit as vital as what is on the inside.

Jim Cox
Midwest Book Review

Diane Sigman, University of California, Berkeley, writes:

> So the sole indicator of literary merit is how well drawn a book cover
> is? What a sad day for literature.

The most important indicator of being able to survive the literary triage
selection process and quality for a review assignment in order to determine a
book's literary merit is how well the book cover has been done.

The second most important elements are the accompanying cover letter and the
accompanying publicity release.

If/when it survives this literary triage and achieves a review assignment,
then that's when a book's literary merit comes to be assessed, judged, and
reported on.

And you are right about the sadness for literature that arises from suspecting
that so many possibly promising works of high literary merit remain in
unrecognized and unread anonymity when they were turned down for review
because of poor cover art, or flawed cover letters, or substandard publicity

Jim Cox
Midwest Book Review

Barbara Hubbard writes:

> Would it be heretical to suggest that reviewers read the first
> sentence (or even paragraph) of a book?

Not at all. But the real world situation in a book review publication that
receives, on average, 1500 submissions a month (that's an average of 50
titles a day, Monday through Saturday) is that those books with flawed or
substandard appearances are simply outnumbered by books with acceptable to
outstanding covers.

So there is no need or compelling circumstance for the review publication to spend their necessarily limited time and energy and resources on the substandardly presented book hoping for a true literary gem within, when there are so many others which are attractively packaged and seek the reviewer's attention as well.

> As a child I was a voracious reader; the books in the library didn't
> have colorful covers, so I actually flipped them open and read a few
> lines to decide which ones to take home.

I grew up in community libraries and know exactly what you mean. But even as
a kid, the books with attractive covers always caught me eye first -- and it was
only after I had read them that I went back to the plain ones (in a library
that usual meant the ones whose dust jackets had been removed or lost) for
something else to read.

> I don't mean to excuse sloppy covers, and I am aware (although
> perhaps not sufficiently) of the demands on reviewers' time. But I
> think there is some merit to the argument that a reviewer should be
> reviewing - at least in part - the words written by the author.

The merit arises from a romantic notion that it's the content that counts,
not the packaging. But in a real world scenario of deadlines and
supply/demand imperatives, it's the well presented book whose also well
written content will get the available attention, leaving the poorly
presented book (even with equally well written content) languishing for

Writers (and their publishers) must realize that in the competitive
marketplace that is our capitalist oriented book world, it's not enough to
just write well -- you must also market well what you've written. If you
don't, you will reduce (if not eliminate altogether) your access to an
intended readership.

Jim Cox
Midwest Book Review

Lauren Virshup writes:

> I'd appreciate hearing list members' thoughts on whether to send books
> a) only to book reviewers; b) only to the music specialists/reviewers;
> or c) both. Thanks!

If the book is meant for a speciality niche (professionals and/or academicians and/or afficiandos) then send review copies only the music specialist columnists, editors, or reviewers.

If the book is meant for the general public (non-specialist general readers)
then ordinary book reviewers would do.

Jim Cox
Midwest Book Review

Request Permission for Use of Quote/"Dakota Epic" from April, 2002 Review
From: (Bill & Liz Markley)

Dear Mr. Cox,

I would like to request your permission to use your name and quote for my
book, Dakota Epic, Experiences of a Reenactor During the Filming of Dances With Wolves.

"Sometimes humorous, sometimes poignant, always fascinating ...." James Cox,
Editor-in-Chief of the Midwest Book Review

I would like to use this in promotional material for the book including advertisements such as an upcoming August edition of Camp Chase Gazette which is a Civil War reenactor magazine. Thanks again for your review and your help with promoting my


Bill Markley
803 Bridgeview, Pierre, South Dakota 57501

With respect to the Midwest Book Review, all publishers, writers, and publicists have full, complete, and automatic permission to utilize our book reviews in what ever manner they deem appropriate in their marketing and promotion efforts for the book in question.

This is actually a standard publishing industry norm and applies to all reviewers, review publications, and review organizations. The quid pro quo is that the publisher furnishes a copy of the book to the reviewer gratis (for free) and in exchange, can then utilize any review that results from this offering as the publisher deems useful when marketing the book to the reading public either indirectly (through booksellers and librarians) or directly (through handselling, mail order, websites, etc.).

Jim Cox
Midwest Book Review

Jeff Potter writes:

> So many times I see how much of a hard-sell books are. It must be the
> stubbornness in me that wants to succeed in such a lame market. Just about
> anything sells 10X as easy and 10X as much.

This is because, as so many have pointed out over the last couple of decades, ours is not a book-based culture. America is a television-based culture. Electronic pastimes and the electronic media form the dominant basis of American popular culture for the masses.

The bulk of leisure time for most American men, women, and children is not
spent with the reading of books. It is expended upon music, movies, games, and the balance is pretty much swallowed up by television.

Books are the "poor red-headed stepchildren" of American popular culture. A
majority of people, upon leaving high school, never voluntarily read a book
for personal pleasure again in the course of their remaining lifetime.

Fortunately for the publishing industry and aspiring authors everywhere, a
small minority of Americans do read for fun. And a tiny percentage of them
tend to read voraciously.

That's why it is ten times easier to make a living doing just about anything
else associated with American popular culture than the writing and publishing
of a book.

Jim Cox
Midwest Book Review

An pseudo-email allegedly from Jim Cox

Dear Publisher Folk:

I hate that evil Klexus virus. I have two email addresses that I use. And that vile virus has gotten hold of both of them to try to fool people into opening a virus booby-trapped email by thinking that it is an emailed attachment being sent to them from the Midwest Book Review.

If you ever receive an ordinary email with an attachment and want to open it because the sending address is or -- DON'T! -- Please delete it without opening that damnable virus laden attachment.

Jim Cox
Midwest Book Review

Barbara Hubbard writes:

> Are there smart (and not too expensive) ways of getting names and
> addresses of other libraries likely to buy my book? (I don't want to
> do a blanket, and very expensive, mailing to all university and
> college libraries. I'm talking about a pretty esoteric book.) Also,
> I'd like to use e-mail as well as regular mail.

The Midwest Book Review website at has a
section devoted to "Libraries & Universities" where you will find a wealth of links to university and scholarly library systems that would be appropriate to your publishing project.

Jim Cox
Midwest book Review

Subj: How to Teach the Novel... book review
Date: 02-06-26 12:00:54 EDT

Mr. Jim Cox

Dear Jim:

We were very pleased to receive the tear sheet of your quick and insightful
review. We can only say--admittedly with some prejudice--that the reviewer
was sharp enough to fully grasp the essence and value of our manual to
teachers. We plan to quote and credit your words extensively.

We'd also like to take you up immediately on your "Unabashed Invitation."
Our Web site address is It's quite thorough
and it would provide thorough information, lesson samples and purchase
directions to librarians, booksellers, and, of course the ultimate users:
teachers, school administrators, college professors, and college education

Please let us know the results of your site review. And, again, thank you.

Barbara and Les Rendelstein
Teacher Adventure

I'm always happy to have writers and publishers inform me of their websites -- especially with respect to the possibly having a link to them established on the Midwest Book Review website.

The process is simple. As email inquires like the one from Barbara and Les Rendelstein come in, I take the URL and add it to a list I keep. Then once a month I sit down for a couple of hours and just visit them all, one after another.

Those that seem to have something of special or enduring value to offer within the context of reading, writing, and publishing, I then make up into a list that I forward to my webmaster daughter to include into our Midwest Book Review website in whatever the thematically appropriate section might be.

To qualify, the proffered website must be more than just the on-line equivalent of a four-color brochure about a book. There must be some form of informational database being offered, some reason that would draw an interested website visitor back again and again. The informational content must be more than just about a given book per se. There must be some educational or entertainment (or both!) resources being offered such as articles, links, archival material, etc.

One of the best ways to learn about what constitutes a well organized and informational enriching website looks like is to simply spend some time on the Midwest Book Review website "Book Lover Resources" page clicking on the links to other writer, publisher, reader oriented websites you will find links to.

Then if you think your's measures up -- send it in. And if it makes the cut and a link is established, we send you a congratulatory email notice accordingly. Incidently, like virtually all the other things we do here at the Midwest Book Review, this service is free and without charge as part of our mandate to promote literacy, library usage, and small press publishing.

Jim Cox
Midwest Book Review

And now for some of those "Unsolicited Testimonials"!!!

Public Thank You to Jim Cox & Midwest Book Review

Hello, List Members.

Imagine my pleasure when I checked my mailbox last Thursday and found an
envelope from Jim Cox and the Midwest Book Review! In it was an excellent
review in the July "The Fantasy/Science Fiction Shelf" for our latest
release, "Prelude to a Journey," by Dr. William H. Venable. The review read:

"William H. Venable's superbly crafted novel, 'Prelude to a Journey,' offers
a vision of the Earth in the near future, one in which the Earth faces great
peril from global warming. The narrator and his intelligent burro companion
step in to observe human behavior and what changes will need to be made if
the planet is to endure. An ecologically thoughtful, engaging narrative,
'Prelude to a Journey' is quite possible as prophetic as it is

The timing of this was doubly important. I spoke with Dr. Venable on Friday
and read him the review. Needless to say, he, too, was delighted. I received
an e-mail from Nancy Venable, his wife, on Sunday morning. She wrote that
Dr. Venable had died suddenly on Saturday morning of an apparent heart
attack or stroke. I was floored!

On reflection, I realized that in one sense at least, this is why I love
being an independent publisher: We are able to publish quality books that
might never see the light of day through traditional publishing channels; we
are able to make an author's publishing dreams come true--just in time to
make all the difference in the world to at least one person.

Thank you, Jim Cox, for all you do for us independent publishers.


Leland F. Raymond
Co-Author "Orion the Skateboard Kid"
CyPress Publications

Now while I again bask in the glow of such a gracious "thank you" note, I will conclude this issue of "The Jim Cox Report".

It is now a sunny, lovely, Sunday afternoon. My wife and I had our 33rd anniversary just three days ago -- but both she and I were too busy at the time to do our celebrating any real justice. So having completed my last chore for the day I intend on taking her out to lunch and explaining yet again just how lucky I got those three decades and three years ago when she became such an inseparable and indispensable part of my life -- and I of hers.

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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