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Jim Cox Report: October 2009
Dear Publisher Folk, Friends & Family:
I've had the pleasure of being one of the annual Audies Award judges for a good number of years now. But this year there was a new twist -- most of the award categories were being offered to we judges as computer downloads instead of our assigned category audio book CDs arriving in the mails.
I don't have a laptop computer that I can sit back in an easy chair with to listen to hours upon hours of audio book recordings. Neither am I familiar with iPods or whatever it is that is sticking out of the ears of so many young people these days. What I usually do is listen to the audio books I review (including those that I once-a-year annually rank and pass judgement upon) while I'm working at my desk, driving around in my car, taking long walks, or retiring to bed in the evening.
So this year I passed upon most of the categories and volunteered for one that I'd never had before. Ranking and judging audio book submissions entirely upon how they looked.
Here's the email I was sent upon acceptance of my new assignment:
You have been selected to judge the First round of the 2010 Audies. Your judging category will be PACKAGE DESIGN.
You will receive a partial shipment of the titles for your category by September 25. If you do not receive your package by this date please contact APA at email@example.com. The titles included in this shipment will be listed on a letter in the package you receive. Please be sure to check that all of the titles were received as soon as you get your package. The balance of titles will be sent to you in November.
Also enclosed in the package will be the evaluation guidelines that detail the criteria you should consider while listening to each entry.
Please note that judging scores for this round are due on January 4, 2010 and that this is a firm deadline.
Your participation in this process ensures the success of The Audies competition. Thanks again for your participation.
JoAnna M. Laskas
191 Clarksville Road, Princeton Junction, NJ 08550
Ph: 609.799.6327; Fax: 609.799.7032; firstname.lastname@example.org; www.audiopub.org
APA stands for Audio Publishers Association and the first batch arrived on time. I took an hour to go over them carefully and make preliminary notes on the pros & cons of their respective packaging. Quite a change from assessing their contents!
But it did prompt me to reflect on how important packaging is when it comes to the commercial viability of a book -- any book, any genre, any category, any format -- and any author!
Simply stated, people judge books by their covers. And by people, I mean far more than the general reading public browsing through a bookstore or a library trying to decide what they'd like to choose from all that is being offered them. I also mean book reviewers, wholesalers, distributers, retailers, and librarians who are faced with the same decision.
How very often I've seen a lot of an author's labor go into the writing of a book only to have a poorly chosen cover or badly executed packaging design crush any chance at commercial success.
Authors getting published by the major conglomerates have very little say in what the art departments of a Random House or a Simon & Schuster determine the 'packaging' of their book will look like. Self-published authors have the sole say for what their book will look like. Between those two extreme points on the decision making scale are most of the small press published authors. So if you as an author are being published by a small or independent press, get involved in the decision making process to assure that your book will not be handicapped in the market place by flawed artistic concepts, inferior execution of design, or slip-shod attention to the thematic relevance of what the artwork will be with respect to the content of the book being packaged with it.
When it comes to books, the two reasons for a badly designed or poorly executed packing I most often encounter is that the author and/or publisher didn't have the capital to invest to produce a professionally competitive cover, or that they had some friend or relative that dabbled in art and they felt obligated to oblige.
Please believe me -- if you as an author or a publisher find the book packaging to be distasteful, or substandard the chances are that your otherwise prospective buyers will too.
Bottom line -- Spend as much time an energy on the outside of your book as you did on the inside.
Now for reviews of some 'how to' books on writing and publishing that have crossed my desk this past month:
The Writing/Publishing Shelf
Show & Tell 6: Writers on Writing
The Publishing Laboratory
University of North Carolina Wilmington
601 South College Road, Wilmington, NC 28403
9780982338209 $19.95 www.uncw.edu/writers
Show, don't tell is one of the proverbs many amateur writers hear when trying to hone their craft. In a newly revised and expanded edition, "Show & Tell 6: Writers on Writing" is a collection of essays on the subject of writing from the minds at the University of North Carolina at Wilmington. These minds offer different perspectives on the many vehicles of writing, prose, poetry, novels, and more. From brainstorming to the extensive editing process, "Show & Tell 6" is a must read for any writer trying to strengthen their craft and their habits.
The Call of the Writer's Craft
57 Littlefield Street, Avon, MA 02322
9781598698541, $12.95, www.adamsmedia.com
You could be the most talented writer in the world, but with no business sense, you might as well be a hack. "The Call of the Writer's Craft: Writing and Selling the Book Within" is a guide to writing a book and getting it published in an industry where editors are encouraged to look for reasons to reject books. Offering a roadmap to the publishing world, author Tom Bird presents his own method to help writers attain the treasured title of 'published author'. "The Call of the Writer's Craft" is a strong pick to any trying to get published.
One of the major pleasures of my office is helping authors and publishers with their professional questions, problems, and issues. Here's a Q&A sampling specific to the topic of reviewing books:
In a message dated 9/21/2008 7:42:52 P.M. Central Daylight Time, email@example.com writes:
Hi Mr. Cox .. Wow, I'm really sorry. I didn't know you were a reviewer! My email must have been just one more thing for you to do!
Sir, please tell me...How much compensation do reviewers normally receive from large publishers? And, should the check be included with the cover letter and galley?
I totally see the point of this. Why should they devote hours reading a book "for free"? Please tell me what is a good offer. Thank you again for your valued time. sk.
Pay-for-Play reviewers and review publications have different and differing fee schedules. You need to go on a pay-for-play reviewer or review publication's website and see what they charge -- as well as how and when they expect to be compensated for their review.
Some Pay-for-Play reviews like Foreword Magazine are quite legitimate. Some others are more dubious. That's why it is always a good idea to vette such reviewers and/or review publications through online publisher discussion groups like PubForum, Publish-L, and SPAN.
The Midwest Book Review does not charge for reviewing books. In fact, we have a bylaw prohibiting authors and publishers from contributing financially to the Midwest Book Review in order that we may avoid any conflict of interest issues.
The most we will let authors and publishers do is to donate postage stamps as a gesture of appreciation for what we try to accomplish in behalf of the small press publisher and self-published author. But such donations to "support the cause" are not obligatory or mandatory or any other kind of 'tory'.
The Midwest Book Review, as an educational operation whose three-part mission statement is to promote literacy, library usage and small press publishing, is funded by two annual foundation grants and the disposal of review copies.
Midwest Book Review
Subject: Cindy Iker
Date: 11/6/2008 11:09:40 A.M. Central Standard Time
Your review copy submission for "Instant Replay" by Tony Verna arrived safely but is failing to achieve review assignment for a very specific reason that I thought you should become aware of.
It's been rejected in the initial screening process because the cover has been defaced by the application of a large white label giving "info block" information.
I want to direct you to an article I wrote on the subject of defacing review copies because I think it will prove of practical value to you. The extended URL for the article is http://www.midwestbookreview.com/bookbiz/advice/deface.htm
What small publishers and self-published authors are up against with respect to the Midwest Book Review is the inescapable fact of our receiving more than 2300 titles a month and having only 76 reviewers to deal with these kinds of submission numbers. Uniformly, reviewers are neglecting defaced review copies in favor of pristine books from other publishers.
I just didn't want to see you waste any more review copy submissions in your laudable efforts to promote and publicize your books.
Please feel free to ask any questions or make any comments with respect to my article on the subject in general -- or this particular submission in particular.
Midwest Book Review
In a message dated 11/18/2008 4:48:08 P.M. Central Standard Time, firstname.lastname@example.org writes:
How can one value your reviews if all of them are 5 stars? Can every book you review be great?
This is an often asked question. We receive more than 2300 titles a month. Out of that our 76 reviewers generate between 600 and 700 reviews.
In our initial screening process we weed out those books which cannot be positively recommended to their intended readerships.
Those that pass the screening and receive positive reviews (and which are to be found to be listed with Amazon) are automatically posted to Amazon.
Amazon requires a 1 to 5 star rating system. That system is arbitrary and mandatory. That is why I direct our webmaster to uniformly ascribe 5 stars to reviews whose reviewer's have given them a positive recommendation.
People should ignore short-hand ratings like stars, thumbs up or down, etc. They should read the reviews themselves and see what the reviewers have recommended -- be it positive or negative.
So to directly answer your question, the books that pass our initial screening, and are found to be positively recommended by our reviewers, are indeed classified as being "great" enough reads to be recommended to a potential reader with a five star rating.
Incidentally, you can visit the Midwest Book Review website at www.midwestbookreview.com and in the "Advice for Writers & Publishers" subsection find many explanatory articles on book reviewing, book reviewers, and the book review process which may help to explain these things in much greater detail.
Midwest Book Review
In a message dated 11/25/2008 4:47:19 P.M. Central Standard Time, email@example.com writes:
My first question is that I am a little unclear about the difference between a wholesaler and a distributor and there correlation with each other.
Secondly, why and when would I need to store and send out books directly? Is this for buyers who purchase on my website on over the phone?
#1 A wholesaler is someone who obtains books directly from a publisher at a discount and then resells them to its own customers (which could be bookstores, libraries, or individuals) for more than it cost them to acquire them from the publisher.
A distributor is someone who is paid by the publisher to provide customers with their books, who fills a purchase order by a customer for a publisher's books rather than the publisher filling that order directly.
#2 Self-published authors and small presses usually make a better profit margin if they solicit and fill customer orders directly. Using a third party for that task (such as a wholesaler and/or a distributor) means that the publisher won't make as much money off a sale due to the cut of the sale that the wholesaler and/or distributor will require as compensation for their work.
It's always a good idea for an author or publisher to have books on hand so that when they encounter selling opportunities such as speeches or workshops or signings, they can 'hand sell' copies directly to their audiences. All authors and publishers should also have a website with the capacity to take orders, which they can then fill themselves for maximum profitability.
Midwest Book Review
In a message dated 11/25/2008 3:42:58 P.M. Central Standard Time, firstname.lastname@example.org writes:
Hi Jim. First off, I want to tell you how wonder MBR's website is. As a newly published author, I was extremely impressed with the abundant resources, links, articles, etc. Wish I had seen it first; it would have saved me a lot of time, energy and angst.
I'm hoping you can also clarify something for me. Your contributing writer, Chris Jarmick, in his article titled "Getting Reviews for Self-Published Books", states that one can skip over letting a book reviewer know that a book is self-published. He writes: "However, you don't have to come right out at tell them it is a self-published book and if you have been reviewed in Publisher's Weekly, Kirkus, Library Journal etc.. and the book looks as if it was published by a quality small press, then omitting that detail will give you a chance of getting a review."
Since all the submission guidelines I've so far seen explicitly request the publisher's name, how does one follow Chris' advice??????? Many thanks for your time and help and Happy Thanksgiving! Marina
The key to cloaking the fact of being a self-published author (and there is a very real prejudice among reviewers and booksellers toward's self-published titles) is to pick a publishing name for your operation that does not readily reflect that the publisher is you.
So instead of "Cox Publications", or "Cox & Associates" I'd pick a publisher name for my self-published titles like "Wisconsin Press" or "Houseman International" or "Frugal Muse Books".
That's how you get by having to cite explicitly who the publisher is without giving away that it's you.
Midwest Book Review
As is customary, 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:
Sally O. Lee -- "No, Never!"
K. A. Shott -- "Bridal Mysticism"
Franz Grueter -- "King Max of America"
Deborah Chamberlain -- "Orange Picnic"
Jackie Christie -- "Proud To Be A Black Girl"
Grant J. Hallstrom -- "Emotional Black Holes"
May Sinclair -- "Just How Do Affirmations Work?"
Jack & Donnie MacDonald -- "Obeying The Voice Of God"
John A. Novobilski -- "Life of a Greatest Generation Survivor"
Noel Vietmeyer -- Bracing Books
Eric Black -- MAAT Press
Charles Jacobs -- Caros Books
Kara Lynn Dunn -- Seaway Trail Inc.
Linda Aschbrenner -- Marsh River Editions
Judy Sanders -- The Nature Conservancy
Joseph S. Spence Jr. -- Trilogy Poetry
Elizabeth Woodman -- Eno Publishers
Santanya Fahie -- WebLinks Publishing
Joan Liffring-Zug Bourret -- Penfield Books
Mina Sam -- Good Magic Works
Jim Parco -- Enso Books
Tyler Larsson -- Thriller Press
Jeanne Gehret -- Verbal images Press
Anna Pope -- Book Publishing Company
Stephanie Johnston -- EX Gift Shopping/Littluns
Karen Thomas -- Thomas Public Relations
Milton Kahn -- Milton Kahn Associates Inc.
Donaldson Media & Marketing Services, LLC
Cherie Hughes -- Blessingway Authors' Services
Barry & Donna Padgett -- Buffalo Nickel Publishing
Elizabeth Waldman Frazier -- Waldmania! (twice!!)
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
278 Orchard Drive, Oregon, WI, 53575
James A. Cox
Midwest Book Review
278 Orchard Drive
Oregon, WI 53575-1129
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