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Jim Cox Report: November 2011
Dear Publisher Folk, Friends & Family:
As I type this it is Sunday, November 6th -- my birthday. Having been born in 1942 that makes me 69 years of age. I'm also a veteran in the book review business for some 35 years.
I thought I share some tips with authors, publishers, and the rest of the publishing industry based on how the Midwest Book Review and I have been able to weather the ups and downs of the last three and a half decades in this volatile industry.
Back in the years before 1976 and the founding of what was to become the Midwest Book Review (and for a good many years after that time), the reviewing of books was the province of an intellectual elite. I really don't have anything against intellectuals -- being one myself. But there was a dominance of a kind of literary 'ivory tower' based in and around New York and a handful of universities.
So here enters the Midwest Book Review and yours truly, following some elementary dictates of operating a successful enterprise:
1. Find a need and fill it.
At that time (back in 1976) the two principle (and very expensive) book review publications in the country were Publishers Weekly and The Library Journal. The third most important book review publication was arguably The New York Times Book Review. All three of these publications were very expensive and mandatory subscriptions for community libraries pretty much everywhere in the country.
Then in 1980 Ronald Regan got elected president and in collaboration with conservative Republicans and Blue Dog Democrats the federal funding of public libraries was gutted. So were federal funds for special education in public schools.
I was laid off as the Developmental Disabilities Director for Wisconsin's Broadhead School District in a time when most small and mid-sized community libraries had to give up their expensive subscriptions to PW, LJ, and NYTBR.
So I took my part-time hobby of reviewing books for fun for a local radio station and became a full time professional book reviewer. The first thing I did was borrow $1,000 from my father-in-law and launched "The Bookwatch", an 12-page book review newsletter that I distributed for free to small and mid-sized libraries (as well as some of the large urban libraries) to take the place of their missing subscriptions to the established book review publications.
I had found a need and I had filled it. -- The rest is book review history.
Being a very small operation on a very limited (almost non-existent) budget I had to be deftly organized and methodical. Good record keeping was essential. Keeping track of publisher contacts, review copy requests, book review assignments, publication deadlines, etc. was the heart and core of why the Midwest Book Review has succeeded when so many other attempts at local and regional book reviews have failed.
Good communication with publishers, with authors, with librarians, with booksellers, with volunteer reviewers, and with the general reading public was also essential to success. All the communication tools were employed ranging from the telephone, to form letters, to a web site, to databases, to our monthly book review publications, all this and more were employed. As technology marched on, so did the Midwest Book Review's adaptations of that evolving technology in service to the core mission -- obtain books from publishers and authors, review as many of the best of them as was possible, then distribute those reviews to as wide a series of audiences as possible.
While the best things in life are free -- lunch is not one of them. Careful accounting practices were and remain a "must". Expenses must never exceed revenues. Grant application deadlines, monthly payrolls, remaindering unreviewed inventory, maximum utilization of equipment and office space, all this and more must be employed, periodically reviewed, and adapted to needs both current and projected.
So that's it in a very small nutshell. The 'secret' to the success of the Midwest Book Review which is now entering it's 36th year of operation. Last month the Midwest Book Review was cited in two newly published 'how to' books for fledgling publishers: "The Frugal Book Promoter" and "Sell More Books!". Our fiscal year just ended on October 31st and we are in the black -- just barely, but in the black nonetheless! No negligible accomplishment given the wretched state of the country's economy these days.
So here is the formula for success as I would extrapolate it to aspiring authors and novice publishers:
Find a need (be it information or entertainment) with respect to your writing and publishing. Organize how you go about your craft and profession. Take constant advantage of what our evolving technology and accessible resources have to offer you in your work. Keep careful track of your expenses and how they balance out with your revenues from whatever sources they are derived.
I was once asked in a genealogy class as to who my most famous or illustrious ancestor was. My reply was simple. "I would rather be a great ancestor than have one."
Now that I'm semi-retired and have turned over much of the day-to-day reins of running the Midwest Book Review to my Managing Editor of a daughter and her two seasoned assistant editors, I am rather inclined to think that I'm nicely on my way to achieve that genealogical goal as well.
Now on to some reviews of new "how to" books on writing and/or publishing:
The Writing/Publishing Shelf
Sell More Books!
J. Steve Miller & Cherie K. Miller
Wisdom Creek Press
5814 Sailboat Pointe, NW, Acworth, GA 30101
9780981875637, $14.95, www.amazon.com
One of the things that every author must know and which is rarely (if ever) taught in a college creative writing class or one of those 'writer retreat' seminars is that once their book is published it will be mostly (if not entirely) incumbent upon the author to make potential readers aware of the book and want to buy it. Now that we have entered the era of digital publishing, that truism about becoming a successful writer by having an actual audience of readers is even more important than ever! That's why "Sell More Books!: Book Marketing and Publishing for Low Profile and Debut Authors Rethinking Book Publicity after the Digital Revolutions" should be considered mandatory reading for all aspiring authors and fledgling self-publishers. The collaborative work of Cherie Miller (President of the Georgia Writers Association) and her husband Steve (President of Legacy Educational Resources), "Sell More Books!" is a 344-page instructional textbook filled with 'tips, tricks and techniques' for selling a book; literally hundreds of 'real world' strategies for authors tasked with the necessity of selling books their own work; as well as figuring out which methods work best for selling what kinds or categories of books. Of special note is the wealth of practical, immediately implementable ideas for 'shoestring' and even 'no-string' marketing budgets. It should also be noted that the Midwest Book Review is cited twice as a marketing and publicity resource for authors. Exceptionally well organized, "Sell More Books!" should be on the personal and professional reference shelf of every author hoping to be commercially successful in their chosen (and highly competitive) career.
The Frugal Book Promoter, second edition
9781463743291, $17.95, www.amazon.com
Carolyn Howard-Johnson draws upon her many years of experience and expertise as a professional book publicist and marketing specialist to author "The Frugal Book Promoter". The 416-page compendium of commentary, advice, tips, tricks and 'real world' techniques on how to authors can obtain nearly free publicity on your own or by partnering with their publishers will prove to be an invaluable, practical, profitable, and thoroughly 'user friendly' instructional reference. It should be noted that the Midwest Book Review is cited four times. Of special note in this newly expanded and completely updated second edition are the sample letters query letters, media releases, blog entries, trade show invitations, phone pitch scripts, email auto-signatures, and tip sheets. Simply stated, "The Frugal Book Promoter" is the single most valuable addition any aspiring author or novice small press publishers can add to their personal and professional book marketing reference shelves -- and has a great deal of enduring value for even the more experienced publisher marketing directors and publicists.
The Plot Whisperer
Adams Media Corporation
57 Littlefield Street, 2nd floor, Avon, MA 02322
9781440525889, $14.95, www.amazon.com
Few things are as difficult for the novice author (or even seasoned professional writers) as developing an effectively engaging plot for their readers. In "The Plot Whisperer: Secrets of Story Structure Any Writer Can Master", Martha Alderson draws upon her more than fifteen years of experience and expertise working with hundreds of writers in writer workshops, retreats, and plot consultations to compile a 256-page compendium of commentary, advice, and instruction on creating plot lines and subplots, scene trackers, character development and transformation, and all the other elements that go into good story telling from beginning to end. Thorough, comprehensive, and thoroughly 'user friendly', "The Plot Whisperer" is a highly recommended instruction manual that will prove to be of enduring value for aspiring authors regardless of what literary genre they find themselves working in.
Books, Crooks, and Counselors
Quill Driver Books
c/o Linden Publishing
2006 South Mary, Fresno, CA 93721
9781610350198, $14.95, www.quilldriverbooks.com
Courtroom drama has been a favorite genre for quite some time, "Books, Crooks, and Counselors: How to Write Accurately About Criminal Law and Courtroom Procedure" is a style writing guide for those who want to write crime thrillers from the crime scene to the court room procedure. From the characters to avoiding stumbling over the fallacies of writing these scenes and how to blend realism with drama, "Books, Crooks, and Counselors" is a fine pick for anyone who wants to create a mystery that is true to life yet still hard to put down, recommended.
Columbia University Press
61 West 62nd Street, New York, NY 10023-7015
9780231149914 $22.50 http://cup.columbia.edu
Author and "uncreative writing" teacher of the University of Pennsylvania Kenneth Goldsmith presents Uncreative Writing: Managing Language in the Digital Age, a thoughtful examination of how writing techniques traditionally thought to be separate from those of creating literature, such as cutting and pasting, databasing, identity ciphering, and programming, can provide authors new inspiration for rethinking how they use language and creativity. From using Internet searches to craft poetry, to applying courtroom testimony, to generating poetry through use of artificial intelligence, Uncreative Writing connects the most unorthodox of methods to practices employed by famous writers and artists including Walter Benjamin, Gertrude Stein, James Joyce, and Andy Warhol. The result is an invigoratingly different style of writing guide, that reveals how jump-starts to one's imagination can be achieved through what seems (at first glance) to be the unlikeliest of means. "If we think of words as both carriers of semantic meaning and as material objects, it becomes clear that we need a way to manage it all, an ecosystem that can encompass language in its myriad forms."
Relaxing the Writer
2451 Beech Blvd., Camp Verde, AZ 86322
9781463727055 $11.99 www.relaxingthewriter.com
Yoga teacher, librarian, and novel writer Amber Polo presents Relaxing the Writer: Guidebook to the Writer's High, a guide to putting oneself in the best possible mood to write. Chapters cover everything from ergonomics to easy-to-use stretches, aromatherapy, massage, meditation, using music or sound to one's benefit, tai chi, weight training, and even "apps to relax" that can be found on iPhones, iPods, or iPads. An easy-to-follow resource for improving the quality of surroundings outside the writer, the better to coax out the writer's internal creativity, Relaxing the Writer is highly recommended.
Writer's Digest Books
c/o F+W Media
4700 East Galbraith Road, Cincinnati, OH 45236
The 2012 Novel & Short Story Writer's Market (1599632284, $29.99) provides a fine writing reference packing in resources for novelists and short story writers, and packs in over 1,500 listings and articles from industry insiders. From identifying markets to getting paid, this revamps all contact and listing details and so each revision remains an essential acquisition, not something to 'fudge' on. The 2012 Photographer's Market (1440314195, $34.99) does the same for photographers seeking market for their work, updating marketing listings, covering a wide range of opportunities from magazines to stock agencies and ad firms, and including a free 1-year subscription to ArtistMarketOnline.com with the latest industry news. These are required, key acquisitions for any general lending library and any serious novelist or photographer who wants the latest industry trends and contacts at their fingertips.
2012 Guide to Literary Agents
Chuck Sambuchino, Editor
Writer's Digest Books
c/o F+W Media
4700 East Galbraith Road, Cincinnati, OH 45236
1599632292, $29.99, www.writersmarket.com
2012 Guide to Literary Agents offers a fine resource for locating a literary agent and has completely updated contact and submission information for agents seeking new clients. Advice accompanying these listings comes from top agents - some forty - and accompany articles on the entire process, from making a query and crafting a proposal to protecting works. Representations, terms, and member agents are include with each literary listing making for a powerful reference highly recommended for any collection appealing to would-be writers.
Now for some Q&A commentaries:
Even though I've been 35 years in the business, I still occasionally encounter a really good questions never asked of me before. Here is a timely example:
In a message dated 7/6/2011 12:49:09 P.M. Central Daylight Time, firstname.lastname@example.org writes:
I wanted to ask you one more thing and I promise to leave you alone after that. You seem the best source to take this question too and it was something I’ve thought about in the past. I’m sure you’ve had some experiences with it in the past as well. When it comes to quoting reviews, are there any sources on ethical treatments of the review? Rarely do publishers quote entire reviews and often I will even see single words used from the review. Sometimes I wonder in what context the single word was actually used and while I know I am free to go searching, I don’t think many readers necessarily would.
An example would be Midwest has a line in their review, “From first glance this looked like it was going to be a compelling read. It wasn’t.” The publisher follows with a line on the cover, “Midwest Book Review – ‘… a compelling read.’” I think the majority, if not all, the people seeing that would assume “…a compelling read” was meant favorably from Midwest because it’s taken completely out of context. Now, don’t get me wrong, I’m not trying to follow in that practice, I’m just a pretty cynical person sometimes and can’t help but think that when I see some of those single word quotes on the front of books. So I was just wondering if there were ethics sources available and if you faced any of this in the past.
Notes on an Orange Burial
You pose an extraordinarily germane question. As far as I know there is no codified ethical standard for how publishers are to utilize reviews. It's pretty much up to a reviewer to object in as wide a forum as possible if a publisher should deliberately misrepresent the review as in the hypothetical case of the illustration you've posed. That's pretty much the only remedy I can think of.
Otherwise publishers can excerpt words, phrases, or run a review in toto as they deem most useful in their promotional and marketing efforts. But whatever they do, such quotes should always be accompanied by an accurate attribution.
This is the first time in the past 35 years I've ever been asked that question. I will include our little exchange in one of my "Jim Cox Report" columns because I'd very much like to hear other people's input on the issue.
You've asked a very good question indeed!!
Midwest Book Review
Finally we have "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:
Joanne B. Conrad
Barbara Ebel -- "Outcome"
Charlsie Russell -- "River's Bend"
Henry Hoffman -- "Flaherty's Run"
Stacia Garland -- "Shattered Colors"
Lorraine Maita -- "Vibrance for Life"
Patti Dimiceli -- "Embrace The Angel"
Julia Esprey -- "If I Were Your Daddy"
Robert Noonan -- "Orphan Train Trilogy"
Alex Carrick -- "Four Scoops Is Over The Top"
David Kherdian -- "Finding Theodore Czebotar"
Simon Haynes -- "Hal Junior: The Secret Signal"
Lela Gillow Buchanan -- "Finding Redemption in Everyday Life"
Get Out Books
Torrey House Press
Perfecting Parenting Press
Felix Alba-Jeuz, Publisher
World Tech Communications
Trudy Cook -- Eyrie Press
Eugene Lin -- Ellipsis Press
Kay Plumb -- WorldView Press
Steve roman -- Starwarp Concepts
Jeff Young -- Universal Publishers
Carol Francois -- New Vision Works
Barbara Wall -- The Barrett Company
Elizabeth Woodman -- Eno Publishers
David Smitherman -- Palari Publishing
Katherine Holmes -- Couchgrass Books
Jayne Ruf Cloutier -- World Class Press
Eileen Haavik McIntire -- Summit Crossroads Press
Maryglenn McCombs -- MM Book Publicity
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 Advance 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
278 Orchard Drive, Oregon, WI, 53575
James A. Cox
Midwest Book Review
278 Orchard Drive
Oregon, WI 53575-1129
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