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Jim Cox Report: September 2001

Dear Publisher Folk, Friends & Family:

Time for another monthly update of what's been going on here at the Midwest Book Review this past month -- and a busy month it's been!

After catching you up on some "office gossip", I'll move on to a litany of "tips, tricks and techniques" for small presses and self-published authors seeking to promote and market their books in a marketplace fairly choked with obsolete distribution and marketing practices, while simultaneously burgeoning with new presses and title submissions.

Our Gateway computer's tape backup system had a meltdown -- and it's the thunder and lightning storm season around here!

For three days, everything computer dependent came to a screeching halt while my computer repair guy took the system into the shop. After he replaced the four year old tape back up system with a new and "cutting edge" one -- it still didn't work. The next step was to replace the 12 year old video card with a new and improved (video gaming quality) video card -- still no working backup system. Next came a replacement of the 5MB hard drive with a 10MB hard drive -- no go. Then inspiration struck the fellow, and he replaced the Windows 98 with another Windows 98 (actually a slightly later version 2.0 or something of it) -- suddenly everything was working at a new and improved (and speedier) level, including the newly installed and up-to-date tape backup system.

This is an honest guy -- when the problem was finally found to be in Windows 98, he offered to put back in the obsolete tape drive, the old video card, and the small (and original) hard drive. But I saw all this as a kind of omen and told him to leave all the new parts in. So now we have what pretty much amounts to a rebuilt computer -- and a bill for $1200.

Ah well, this is the same computer that so many years ago I got for free as a kind of "review copy" from the Gateway folks.

Needless to say, my computer science daughter who is now the MBR webmaster thinks that this overhaul was long overdue in the rapidly evolving world of computers.

On another subject:

My travel plans are now confirmed for the Florida Publishers Association "Fall Ed-U Conference on October 5th & 6th. I'll be arriving in Orlando at 1:48 pm on Friday afternoon and be met by Mylinda Butterworth -- who, when she is not engaged with her Day to Day Enterprises "Creating Good Books for Today and Tomorrow", puts in her time as Secretary for the Florida Publishers Association.

If any of you Florida folk would like information about the FPA conference (and the workshops I'll be conducting, panels I'll be sitting on, speeches I'll be lulling the audience to sleep with) you can go to their website at

Or email Mylinda at

I'll be back home on the 8th -- only to ship out again for the Midwest Independent Publishers Association conference the next day (Tuesday, October 9th). At the MIPA conference I'll doing my workshop thing again on Wednesday, October 10) -- not the 16th as I had previously thought. So all you Minnesota folk please take note that I'll be there at the MIPA conference/workshop on October 9th & 10th to do my "free advice for all it's worth" consultations, workshop, and con-suite mingling.

A reminder for you Florida and Minnesota folk -- be sure to bring copies of your book(s), publicity releases and media kits. One of the major things I hope to do is to pile them all up on a table in front of me and show you in a practical, "hands on" demonstration of how I do my "literary triage" routine while remarking out loud the reasons why I put those titles and PRs into the "accept", "reject", or "think some more about it" categories.

I've also been invited to be an expert guest on the iUniverse Chat Forum on Tuesday, October 23rd (10:00pm EST). The topic I'll be addressing will be the best ways for independent authors to succeed in getting their book(s) reviewed in the pages of Midwest Book Review publications, as well as other print, online, and media review publications and programs.

The invitation was from Kelly Ilner Halls (iUniverse Special Events/Author Toolkit). I have accepted the invitation but sent Kelly an email saying that I would have to have someone walk me through how all this happens because I have never been in a Chat Forum before. I think I'll have (as a kind of safety net) my computer science and MBR webmaster daughter standing by to help her computer inept old dad and Editor-in-Chief, in case I get confused with the mechanics of the thing.

That's about all the current gossip, so on to the "free advice" portion of our program:

I've had a couple of folks ask me about signing up for individual book review columns for those particular topics they have an interest in, without having to wade through all the rest of our "Internet Bookwatch" -- which averages around 270 pages if it were to be printed out. It's really very easy and the following email exchange will demonstrate exactly how to go about it:

In a message dated 01-07-04 14:57:14 EDT, Connie Shaw writes:

> I read your recent post to pub-forum that said you can now subscribe people
> to receive reviews on books in particular subject areas. You mentioned
> "metaphysical" as one of those subject areas. Could you please send me
> reviews of metaphysical books, and I'd also be interested in reviews of
> books on education, health, science, social issues, and ecology, if those
> subject areas are available. Thanks.

Dear Connie:

You have been signed up for the following columns beginning in August:

The Metaphysical Studies Shelf
The Education Shelf
The Health/Medicine Shelf
The Science Shelf
The Social Issues Shelf
The Environmental Shelf

Not all of these columns appear every month -- it depends on what books have been reviewed. But most of them are monthly and when ever any of them are part of a given issue of "Internet Bookwatch" you will receive them.

Jim Cox
Midwest Book Review

Subscriptions to Internet Bookwatch; Children's Bookwatch: individual book review columns, or The Jim Cox Report is free -- just send me your email address and note what you want to be signed up for.

I sometimes get requests by aspiring authors to read their unpublished work and provide feedback as to whether its viable (publishable) or not. Here is pretty much my standard response:

Francis G. Hunter wrote:

> Hi! I am new at the whole idea of getting a book published, but I would like
> to have someone review my book and tell me if there is any chance at me
> getting it published. I would greatly appreciate your help.

If I understand you correctly, you have finished a manuscript and are now seeking to get it published. You would like some "third party" opinions as to if your manuscript is publishable.

That is a very valid thing to do. You have three options:

1. Have family and friends read it and forcefully assert that you are not looking for compliments but critiques.

2. Purchase a professional reader's services to provide a critique.

3. Join a writer's group (there are several online) and offer to exchange some else's reading of your manuscript for your reading of theirs. Or post segments (perhaps chapters) of your manuscript to the group for feedback.

Unfortunately, as the Midwest Book Review's Editor-in-Chief I simply don't have time to read unpublished manuscripts -- or even galleys and uncorrected proofs.

I wish you well in your endeavor. While getting published is always fraught with hard work and frustration, it can also be highly rewarding -- personally if not financially.

Jim Cox
Midwest Book Review

Reviewers are a varied lot -- in background, talent, and intent. I am as prone to give advice to reviewers as I am to authors and publishers!

In a message dated 01-06-29 06:05:49 EDT, Cheryl writes:

> I was recently asked to review two books (very small press) that were awful.
> The characters are paper-dolls, the story is cliche' and the writing
> carelessly edited -- they were painful to muddle through.
> If I tell the truth, I'm going to hurt a lot of feelings. To make matters
> worse, these reviews will be posted on a website which to date has *only*
> glowing reviews. It was implied that I should do likewise.
> If it were your book, what would you want me to do? Focus only on the rare
> good points? Or be honest?

It's our policy here at the Midwest Book Review that reviewers simply decline flawed books submitted for their consideration. There are so many worthwhile books and so little time to review them that we've never experienced a lack of sufficient numbers of reviews to fill the pages of our publication with titles that the reviewers could wholeheartedly recommended for their intended readerships.

In both the short and long runs, honest opinions are the most effective opinions. But there is no need to be hurtful or antagonistic or belligerent in expressing them.

So if you are compelled to review a flawed book, it is quite possible to do so fairly and accurately without using language that would be unnecessarily cruel or demeaning.

Authors and publishers of flawed books deserve an honest and accurate appraisal just as much as the reading public does.

Jim Cox Midwest Book Review

Incidently, there is a whole section of the Midwest Book Review website devoted to dozens and dozens of links to "Other Reviewers". Some are specialty reviewers, others are generalists. Some are print, others online, still others media (radio/television).

You'll find "Other Reviewers" at

One of the most overlooked, under utilized, and invaluable-yet-free resources available writers and publishers in marketing their books is the local community library. Here's just one example of what I mean:

In a message dated 01-07-07 16:25:48 EDT, W.L.(Bill) Warner writes:

> How would I go about obtaining a copy of "College Marketing Guide" which one
> author insists that I need very badly?

You can request that your local community library obtain one for you through their free Interlibrary Loan Service. Then read it and determine whether or not you need to have a copy for your own publisher's reference shelf.

Jim Cox
Midwest Book Review

Somewhere, someone (and often several someones!) has written a "how to" book addressing any and every aspect of book publishing, marketing, promotion, advertising, and selling. A great resource for learning about those books is the section "Publisher's Bookshelf" on the Midwest Book Review website

Scroll down that particular MBR webpage and you'll see a wealth of titles -- complete with reviews and all manner of contact information. Then spotting one or more that are relevant to you, just jot down the title and author (and ISBN number too), then go to your local library and ask them to get it for you. Quite often just being able to "preview" a book in this manner leads folks to the realization that they should have it in their own personal reference collection so that it can be marked up, post-it posted, and referred to again and again and again.

And the beauty of the InterLibrary Loan Service is that it is free. All you need is a library card and you are set to go!

When it comes to beguiling a reviewer to decide on picking your book instead of one of the other several dozen titles to arrive at his or her desk that morning, the most important thing is the physical properties of the book -- beginning with the cover.

The second most important thing is the accompanying publicity release.

In a message dated 01-07-10 15:02:26 EDT, Thomas Naporano writes:

> What exactly constitutes a publicity release? How long a release to
> you recommend? I have various post cards and papers that I have been
> sending out but I really do not know what an honest to god publicity release
> looks like.

A publicity release is your "pitch" to a reviewer, distributor, book retailer, or librarian on why they should review, stock, sell, or buy your book. It is an essential document and a part of any truly effective marketing plan.

You'll find a wealth of information about creating and implementing a publicity release in the "Advice For Publishers" section of the Midwest Book Review website. One of my recent monthly "Jim Cox Reports" also included an entire publicity release sample from a publisher that had been sent to the Midwest Book Review and which I felt was an outstanding template for any small press publisher to emulate.

In brief, a publicity release is a one-page document on your letterhead stationary with the following information regarding your book:

Publisher address
Publisher phone number
Toll-Free number (if any)
Website URL (if any)
Email address (if any)
One paragraph summary of book's contents
One paragraph author's biography

Jim Cox
Midwest Book Review

Assuming that you've got a great cover and a persuasive Publicity Release -- what happens next with respect to small press titles with respect to contact information for anyone reading or hearing the review?

In a message dated 01-07-10 21:27:39 EDT, Nanette Levin writes:

> featuring books from small presses. My concern is, if
> we print reviews for books that aren't available
> through the major houses, how do we ensure that
> readers can find a hard copy in bookstores throughout
> the circulation area? Is this a reasonable,
> conditional expectation to put on the publishers? If
> so, how can we confirm availability? If not, how can
> we encourage stocking of the featured book and/or
> provide easy access to the book for the publication
> readers?

What we do here at the Midwest Book Review is to include direct contact information as a part of the published review of small press titles. That direct contact information includes the publisher's address and either a phone number (800 if they have one, regular if they don't) or website address (if they have one).

This allows librarians and the general reading public to be able to acquire the book if it is not readily available in a local book store or through a major distributor.

Jim Cox
Midwest Book Review

Here's still another aspect of reviewing small press and self-published titles to be considered:

In a message dated 01-07-10 16:10:05 EDT, Jamie Walker writes:

After pointing out her basic agreement with my thoughts on the vital necessity for iUniverse & Xlibris authors to prepare and implement a marketing plan for their books (and that John Kremer is in agreement with me), Jamie asks:

> My question to you is, are there any guidelines that
> an author/publicist must adhere to when submitting a
> book for review? Guidelines as set by the Midwest Book
> Review? Are they perhaps on the website?
> Also, to whom might one direct their "query" or letter
> to?

The submission guidelines are quite simple here at the Midwest Book Review. We require that the finished book (no galleys, uncorrected proofs, or pre-publication manuscripts), accompanied by a publicity release, be sent to the to the attention of:

James A. Cox
Midwest Book Review
278 Orchard Drive
Oregon, WI 53575-1129

As a "post publication" review (as opposed to a pre-publication review like Publishers Weekly or Library Journal), we pay no attention to publishing dates, as long as the book is in print and available to the reading public it is eligible for review.

If/when a book makes the cut and is featured we automatically send the publisher a tear sheet accompanied by a "publisher notification" letter.

When sending a book to a reviewer it is usually a good idea for a small press publisher to follow-up after ten working days to insure that the book arrived safely.

I recommended the follow-up take place in the form of either a phone call or (preferably) email and asks the following three questions:

1. This is (your name) from (your publishing house). I'm calling to confirm that our book (your title here) arrived safely.

2. What is the current status of (your title here) with respect to your review process.

3. Is there any further assistance or information I can provide.

Then say goodbye and hang up. Don't pitch your book -- that's what your publicity release is for. The above questions are specifically framed to be non-aggressive and non-argumentative. I invented them and they are now an "industry standard" and found in half a dozen "how to" books for aspiring publishers. They work.

You can always go to the Midwest Book Review website at:

to find our submission guidelines. We have several articles in our "Advice For Publishers" section that elaborate describe the reviewing process here and elsewhere, along with a wealth of "tips, tricks & techniques" for getting reviewed -- and what to do with a review once you have it.

Jim Cox
Midwest Book Review

You'll note that I haven't been the least bit shy of touting the Midwest Book Review website as a "must" resource for aspiring authors and practicing publishers. Every once in a while we get feedback from the writing and publishing community about the MBR website and the advice, information, and resources it offers. This one is pretty much typical:

>Dear Mr. Cox:

> I have been sitting here, on a Sunday afternoon, totally engrossed in your
> website for the past few hours. I can't begin to explain how informative it
> is and how much I appreciate all the advice and suggestions you have
> provided (best of all, for free...:)

> For new, independent authors/self-publishers there is so much to learn and I
> have been looking for ways to improve and expand the promotion of our new
> book without having a background in publishing or PR. For authors with
> little resources and an excellent book, it is a frustrating and often
> disheartening process.

> I just want to thank you for providing us with such a valuable source of
> information. I plan to forward a copy of Dr. Mastria's book, The Habit of
> Living for review by Midwest Book Review as soon as possible.

> Annette C. Dailey
> EMT Publishing

So in summary, all I can say to you as a writer and/or publisher is --

Go thou and do likewise!

Jim Cox
Midwest Book Review
278 Orchard Drive, Oregon, WI 53575-1129

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

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