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Jim Cox Report: November 2008

Dear Publisher Folk, Friends & Family:

Some people write and publish because they seek to make money at it. Others write and publish because they have a cause to promote. Personally, I've always felt that it was the best of all possible worlds if I could do what I wanted to do while improving the world a bit and supporting my family at the same time.

I'm turning 66 on November 6th and have now been at this business of being editor-in-chief of the Midwest Book Review for what amounts to half of my life time. Therefore I count myself among the truly fortunate in having been able to do something that I really have enjoyed doing on a daily basis for a living, and that this work is adequate to my creative and practical needs, and, judging from the responses of what now has cumulatively amounted to thousands of men and women over the last three decades of my life, has been generally perceived as being of genuine service to aspiring authors, novice publishers, conscientious librarians, struggling booksellers, and grateful members of the reading public.

I'm now semi-retired with my daughter and her two stalwart associate editors taking over more and more of the daily chores of running the Midwest Book Review. I've even received my first Social Security check this past month. Nevertheless, I will continue in my role as Editor-in-Chief for as many years as I have the health to permit it. It's clear to me now that I will always have the interest and the motivation to do so. I find that life as the editor-in-chief of the Midwest Book Review -- even in these troubled times -- is a good one.

But enough of my personal musings. You folk who read the "Jim Cox Report" are really looking for writing and publishing "tips, tricks & techniques" to help you accomplish your own literary and professional goals in the wonderful world of publishing.

I've followed a recent discussion thread about how to deal with malicious reviews when they are posted on with great interest. I have some very firm opinions about the Amazon review system. These opinions are based upon my being among the first to post reviews on Amazon back when Amazon originally made it possible to do so. The practice of posting reviews on Amazon now stretches over many years and includes tens of thousands of reviews from the Midwest Book Review and our freelance publicists.

Opinion #1: The five star system is completely arbitrary, and because it is, the value of such a system is both defective and dysfunctional. A quickie rating system, whether in the form of stars, thumbs up or down, or any of the other commonly employed symbols, actually serves as a disservice to authors and publishers because it acts as a kind of visual short-cut for the public so that they don't have to read through the reviews themselves to determine whether the reviewers are competently providing a positive or negative recommendation. Unfortunately Amazon requires their stars, therefore almost all of our reviews get five of them on the basis of the books in question being able to survive our selection process and receiving positive recommendations from their assigned reviewers.

Opinion #2: Posters of reviewers are not held to any kind of standard with respect to competence or civility. This is reflected in how so many positive reviews and so many negative reviews are presented without a foundation of cited justifications. All too often reviewers confuse nastiness with competency in panning a book, with others confusing platitudes with justifiable (and justified) praise. Therefore anyone who relies on reviews as part of their own book selection process should remember that reviewers, like authors and publishers, fall into three basic categories: The Good, The Bad, and The Mediocre.

Opinion #3: There simply are not enough places where authors and publishers operating with limited budgetary resources can present their books to large masses of the reading public -- especially in the sheer numbers that Amazon can turn out -- and therefore those authors and publishers of limited means must invest in time and effort what they lack in financial capital to take advantage of Amazon as a marketing tool to bring their titles to the attention of customers. Simply boycotting Amazon is ultimately self-defeating as a marketing strategy for most authors and publishers.

As to how to handle a truly nasty review? My advice is to drown it out with positive reviews. Take advantage of Amazon blogs, and all manner of other online guerrilla marketing strategies and techniques. Among those remember to include utilizing the "Other Reviewers" database housed and maintained on the Midwest Book Review website at

Incidentally, this "Other Reviewers" section of my website includes all of those MBR freelance and volunteer reviewers that have book review websites of their own and who utilize the Midwest Book Review as a secondary forum for the purpose of expanding the readership of their reviews.

Finally, I want to close with what I feel is the central and critically important role of the book reviewer. A book reviewer should have as his or her "mission statement" the task of helping writers to write better, publishers to publish more effectively, bookstores and libraries to stock their shelves more successfully, and readers to read with greater satisfaction.

Now here are some reviews of the latest 'how to' books for writers and publishers to have recently crossed my desk:

The Writing/Publishing Shelf

A Book Inside
Carol Denbow
Plain & Simple Books
PO Box 1506, North Bend, OR 97459
9780615199245, $18.95,

It seems that every season there are more and more 'how to' books being published for aspiring writers yearning to be published. One of the latest is also one of the best. "A Book Inside: How To Write, Publish, And Sell Your Story" is a succinct 104-page compendium packed from cover to cover with practical, real-world information, strategies and techniques dealing with the necessity for completing a saleable manuscript, compiling its pages into book form, identifying and selecting an appropriate publishing option, selling the book in traditional and non-traditional markets, and publicizing, promoting, and marketing the book without significant capital expense. Carol Denbow writes with a particular, experienced-based expertise as the author of three books and the editor of nine websites including 'A Book Inside' online. Especially appropriate for, and recommended to, the novice author needing to master the 'learning curve' for become a successfully published author in today's highly competitive marketplace, "A Book Inside" is a welcome and highly recommended addition to personal and professional Writing/Publishing reference shelves.

Writer's Block Busters
Velina Hasu Houston
Smith & Kraus, Inc.
PO Box 127, Lyme NH 03768
9781575255972, $17.95,

'Writer's Block' is the term used to describe the condition of being unable to come up with any ideas -- and well articulated ideas are the core source of any professional writer's livelihood! Drawing upon her many years of experience and expertise, Velina Hasu Houston (author of more than 20 plays, and who is the Professor of Theatre, Director of Dramatic Writing, Resident Playwright, and Associate Dean of Faculty at the University of Southern California School of Theatre) offers "Writer's Block Busters: 101 Exercises To Clear The Deadwood And Make Room For Flights Of Fancy". This compendium of succinct 'things to do' will break through this often encountered author's nemesis and trigger the flow of creative ideas. Superbly organized and thoroughly 'user friendly' in form and format, "Writer's Block Busters" should be considered a high priority addition to the reference shelf of anyone seeking to make their living through the written word.

Time To Write
Frank Milligan
Quill Driver Books
1254 Commerce Avenue, Sanger, CA 93657
9781884956768, $16.95,

As we grow older, one of the best ways to create an enduring legacy for future generations is to record in writing our own life stories, our experiences, observations, values, the products of our imaginations and our perspectives. Frank Milligan draws upon his experience and expertise in publishing fiction and nonfiction, as well as teaching creative writing and business writing in "Time To Write: Discovering The Writer Within After 50", a comprehensive and 'user friendly' instruction guide that will take aspiring older writers with an initial concept or idea and walk them through each stage to crating a finished, ready-to-publish manuscript. "Time To Write" is a 304-page compendium of practical tips, techniques, insights and shortcuts that will enable the reader's writing, talent, desire and drive to crate a written document with a minimum of distraction. Although specifically intended for older readers, "Time To Write" has a great deal of value for younger writers seeking to put their own ideas and stories down in a publishable form.

Maralyn D. Hill & Brenda C. Hill
1094 New Dehaven Street, #100, West Conshohocken, PA 19428-2713
0741448483, $14.95,

It isn't necessary reinvent any wheels when it comes to the writing and publishing of books. Not when there are so many experts in the field who have produced so many notable, practical, informative, reality-based instructional guides for aspiring authors seeking to be published, and novice publishers seeking to produce commercially viable works in the highly competitive marketplace. Expertly co-authored by Maralyn and Brenda Hill "Success: Your Path To A Successful Book" is a combination seminary and do-it-yourself workshop that covers cogent information on writing, marketing, and publishing. Of special note setting "Success: Your Path To A Successful Book" apart from other instruction manuals are the sections concerning journaling, writing in tandem, and understanding target markets with respect to book sales. The section focusing specifically on publishing covers agents, traditional publishing, print-on-demand options, ebooks, and the 'vanity presses'. Enhanced for beginners with additional material dealing with contact information and experience based tips by Maralyn and Brenda, "Success: Your Path To A Successful Book" features workbook pages for notes and notations by the reader. "Success: Your Path To A Successful Book" is a thoroughly 'user friendly' and strongly recommended addition to personal and community library Writing/Publishing reference collections and supplemental reading lists.

The Autobiographer's Handbook
Jennifer Traig
Holt Paperbacks
175 Fifth Avenue, New York, NY 10010
9780805087130, $15.00,

It has been said that everyone has one good book in them. "The Autobiographer's Handbook: The 826 National Guide to Writing Your Memoir" is a collection of tips and advice from masterful writers on putting down one's life story onto paper, and in a format that would be appealing to read for your audiences. A basic writing course with a focus on memoirs, "The Autobiographer's Handbook" is a must for someone who wants the world to read their story.

The Art of The Personal Letter
Margaret Shepherd
Broadway Books
1745 Broadway, New York, NY 10019
9780767928274, $16.00,

The personal letter is a lost art in this day of quick e-mails and instant messaging. "The Art of the Personal Letter: A Guide to the Connecting Through the Written Word" is a guide to bringing back this lost skill and putting it to its best use, and doing what the internet can't do, provide personality and feeling through the words. With advice and tips to making one's letter something to be cherished and loved, "The Art of the Personal Letter" shows that snail mail isn't dead yet
and still has quite the value in the world of fast communication.

Now for some Q&A from the Midwest Book Review email box:

In a message dated 2/12/2008 11:33:13 P.M. Central Standard Time, BOBFOOT writes:

I'm writing a book about my early life. It's not really meant for the general public, although I think many might find it entertaining. I am writing it for my family. It won't be a big book, I have about 50 vignettes, I expect it will be about 100 short pages long (if you will). I'm writing it in MS Publisher, so making it look precisely how I want it to look, but I want the finished product to be bound - to look like a book. I know about vanity publishing and it's reputation, and have bitched about it in the past, and strongly warned against it to others who were more serious about their work, but it, in this particular case is what I'm looking for, I suppose. In googling vantage publishing I got your email address. I hope you don't mind my intrusion, but I'd like your opinion as to what direction I might head. I'm an artist, and considered binding a book myself, but I will want to do more than one, and the proposition makes for a project that is a bit more overwhelming than I'm prepared to undertake.

Thanks, Bob Lange

Dear Bob:

Publishing your memoirs for the benefit of family, friends, plus a few libraries such as those at the schools you attended and the communities in which you lived and the State Historical Societies in the states in which you resided during the course of your life is a laudable and recommended thing to do in my opinion.

Once you have your manuscript finished and in hand I would recommend that you do the following:

1. Go to the Midwest Book Review website at

2. Click on 'Publisher Resources'

3. Click on 'Self-Publishing Resources'

4. Read the applicable informational articles you will find there.

5. Click on 'Publishers'

6. Click on 'Print-On-Demand Publishers'

7. Visit each of the POD publishers websites you will find links for.

8. Read through their websites and determine which one would be most appropriate for you.

Jim Cox
Midwest Book Review

In a message dated 2/13/2008 6:30:42 A.M. Central Standard Time, writes:

I think there could be a copyright issue here. Amazon say they own the reviews....well, I've haven't found where they say that. I think they took that part off their site recently. I can see them saying they own the ones that are posted on the site by John Doe, however, pulling off reviews and selling them could be infringing on some rights???? They well could have rescinded that claim. I haven't really looked at their site lately. All the postings of our reviews are done by my webmaster. -- Irene

Dear Irene:

I hold that the reviewer owns all rights to their review unless:

1. They were paid for them.

2. The did them on 'company time' for a magazine, journal, newspaper, or website that employed them for a salary.

3. They voluntarily gave up their ownership rights.

In the case of our own in-house reviews, we automatically give up any rights and make them available for free to anyone who wants them -- including authors, publishers, publications, and websites.

The reviews done by our volunteer reviewers (which includes you and yours) belong to the volunteers and unless we have their permission we don't pass them along further than our MBR Bookwatch and Reviewer Bookwatch subscribers and archiving of them on the Midwest Book Review website.

For those (and there are a couple of dozen like yourself) who want me to, I add them to the MBR reviews we forward to Cengage Learning (formally Thomson-Gale) for inclusion into such online databases for journalists, academicians, and librarians as Lexus-Nexus, Goliath, and Book Review Index. This service is provided upon request to our volunteer reviewers so that they can expand the audience for their reviews -- and maybe garner a bit more prestige in the eyes of the publishing community from whom they solicit review copies.

As to what Amazon tries to pull with the selling of reviews (they call them 'articles') I think it a waste of their time and website space for the reasons I've listed before -- and unless they have the permission of the reviewers to do so, I can also see how there might be an ethical dimension as well.

But life is to short and my time to limited to worry about what Amazon is up to with our reviews. I just want them posted there so as to receive the largest readership as possible for them. I suppose that putting up with Amazon's nonsense on the matter is just part of the price of doing business -- so to speak.

Jim Cox
Midwest Book Review

In a message dated 2/15/2008 8:28:23 A.M. Central Standard Time, sfrasier66 writes:

Good morning James,

I appreciate your taking the time to list the benefits of selling books on! Today I finally signed up to sell my used books, and now I'm pretty exited about it (the way it is for any new thing, with me!).

Several of the advantages you listed -- why, I'd never even considered them. Fantastic!

Do you think it would be worthwhile to spend a day or two buying up old books at antique shops and listing them on Amazon?

Thanks - and have a fantastic day,


Dear Stephen:

There are actually folks who make a living going to flea markets, garage sales, Goodwill stores, used bookstores, etc. to find books they can turn around and sell on Amazon, Ebay, and other online marketing venues.

The trick is to be expert in knowing what has value and what does not. For most folk it takes years of trial and error -- and a very good memory -- to be able to do it profitable and consistently.

Good luck!

Jim Cox
Midwest Book Review

I'm now 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:

Angela Mattox
Marilyn Peake
Maralyn D. Hill
Dana Milligan -- "When Dragons Died"
M. Crum -- "Evil, Anger, and God"
C. J. S. Hayward -- "The Sign of the Grail"
Lindy McClean -- "Senior Smart Puzzles"
Angus R. Munro -- "A Full House - But Empty!"
Bernard Schatz -- "Chronic Pain Self-Treatment"
Georgette O'Conner -- "The Girl From Over There"
Papoose Publishing
Bay Tree Publishing
Mnemosyne Press
Terra Sancta Press
TM Books & Video
Dark Sky Publishing
Full Moon Publishing
New Knowledge Library
Todd Snow -- Maren Green
Yossi Leverton -- Hachai Publishing
Thomas McGeady -- Serious Ink Press
Dale Carlson -- Bick Publishing House
Robert Luedke -- Head Press Publishing
Kylea Taylor -- Hanford Mead Publishers
John Longenecker -- Contrast Media Press
Gini Coover -- Sun and Shade Publications
Sue Jaspers -- Citlembik/Nettleberry LLC
Beverly Newton -- International Jewelry Publications
Robert Hartwell Fiske -- The Vocabula Review
Brickman Marketing
Steve Rohr -- Lexicon PR
Elizabeth Waldman Frazier -- Waldmania!
Maryglenn McCombs -- MM Book Publicity
Maria Fotopoulos -- TurboDog Communications
Patrick W. Miller -- Patrick W. Miller & Associates

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 or uncorrected proofs), 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!

Jim Cox
Midwest Book Review
278 Orchard Drive, Oregon, WI, 53575

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

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