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Jim Cox Report: September 2008
Dear Publisher Folk, Friends & Family:
Why do people write books? Why do people publish books? Why do people read books?
Very basic questions -- the answers to which have shaped the contents of personal reading lists, created the publishing industry as we know it today, influenced and effected how and where books are sold, as well as the contents of academic, and community library collections.
These are questions that aspiring writers, publishing houses of any size or orientation, and anyone interested in such social issues as literacy, democracy, personal freedom, the advancement of the sciences and the humanities, the maintenance of generational improvement to our standards of living need to be cognizant of as they select, produce and provide books for the reading public.
That most certainly also includes the literary critics and reviewers who pass judgement on what is written, published, and offered to the public.
People write books because of any combination of factors that range from a simple compulsion to express themselves; a desire for recognition and fame (and possible immortality of the literary kind); a need and/or desire to make money; in support of a cause, an ideology, a life style, a belief system; a genuine desire to improve the world; a means to some personal end, to pass the time, or because they are paid to do so (think 'ghost writers') by someone else for that person's own particular reasons.
People publish books for pretty much these same sets of reasons -- with perhaps a bit more emphasis on the making of money or in service to a cause.
People read books in order to pass the time, learn something they are interested in or need to find out about, pass themselves of as one of the intelligentsia, and/or simply for the sheer pleasure to be derived from the written word when well crafted.
The motives of reviewers can include a genuine desire to help writers to write better, publishers to publish more successfully, readers to spend their time with worthwhile books and save themselves the expense and the time of dealing with books not-so-worthwhile.
Reviewers also are as susceptible to an ego trip, incompetence, and/or prejudicial blind spots as are authors, publishers, and readers -- maybe even more so. That tendency to "delusions of grandeur" pops up all to often in the world of professional (and not-so-professional) critics of everything from books to movies to restaurants.
All of these rationales and reasons should be firmly kept in mind when aspiring writers seek publication of their work; publishers engage in the selection and presentation of books in a volatile, competitive, and evolving marketplace; and readers make choices of what to spend their time and money when authors and their publishers are offering them more than 26,000 titles a year.
It will make everyone's life a little calmer, a little more realistic, and a lot more intelligible.
The article "Publication Within Copyright Law" has been added to the advice for publishers section of our website at http://www.midwestbookreview.com/bookbiz/advice/copyrightlaw.htm It is well worth the couple of minutes it will take to read it.
Now here are my opinions and assessments with respect to the new 'how to' titles for authors and publishers to have crossed my desk this past month.
The Writing/Publishing Shelf
Don't Sabotage Your Submission
PO Box 4251, 1060 Ragin Lane, Rock Hill, SC 29732
9781933523316, $17.95, www.bellarosabooks.com
There are a number of factors that can doom the commercial success of a book, regardless of the quality of the writing. "Don't Sabotage Your Submission: Save Your Manuscript From Turning Up D.O.A." is an invaluable and thoroughly 'user friendly' guide for aspiring writers trying to get their work published. With sage and sound advice from someone who has been on the other side of the editorial table for years, Chris Roerden draws from his experience and expertise to point out what writers have to avoid when sending out their manuscripts to publishers. His purpose is to give novice authors the best chance possible, by relying on the skill instead of random technicalities to turn their manuscripts and proposals into published works available to a reading public. The tips are practical, plentiful, and 'real-world' based, which makes "Don't Sabotage Your Submission" a must for anyone who seeks to become a published author.
Fiction Writer's Workshop
Story Press/Writer's Digest Press
c/o F&W Publications, Inc.
700 East State Street, Iola, WI 54990
9781582975368, $16.99, www.fwpublications.com, 1-800-726-9966
The primary purpose and goal of a writer's workshop is to help writers improve their writing. Simply stated, but often quite difficulty to accomplish because like most things in life, writer workshops can be classified into one of three categories -- the good, the bad, and the mediocre. Now in an updated and expanded second edition, award-winning writer and teacher Josip Novakovich's "Fiction Writer's Workshop" is clearly one of the good ones in the form of a comprehensive instructional that covers every aspect of the art of fiction while providing aspiring and practicing writers with all the tools and techniques useful to developing the consistent, day-to-day discipline so fundamentally necessary for becoming a success professional at the literary craft. Offering more than one hundred writing exercises, with each exercise including a specific statement of purpose to guide the aspiring author through every step of the creative process, "Fiction Writer's Workshop" also provides self-critique questions with each exercise for assessing written works with an eye toward identifying weaknesses and strengths before moving on to the next lesson. Enhanced with the full text of eight acclaimed short stories complete with analysis and exercises suitable for modeling and the reinforcement of 'lessons learned', "Fiction Writer's Workshop" is appropriate for all fiction writers regardless of personal writing styles. Especially recommended for those aspiring to write publishable works of fiction, the "Fiction Writer's Workshop" should be considered indispensable reading for anyone who has every considered or attempted writing the kind of novels and short stories that would attract the attention of academia, the general populace, and generations of future readers yet unborn.
Writer's Block Busters
Velina Hasu Houston
Smith & Kraus, Inc.
PO Box 127, Lyme NH 03768
9781575255972, $17.95, www.smithandkraus.com, 1-888-282-2881
Sooner or later, every author will encounter the dreaded condition called 'writer's block'. This is when no ideas occur to the writer who may well sit and stair at a blank page in the typewriter or a blinking cursor on the computer screen for hours, days, weeks, and longer. For just such inevitable occasions, and drawing upon her many years of experience and expertise writing more than 30 plays (including fourteen of which were commissioned assignments complete with deadlines), Velina Hasu Houston has compiled a series of 'user friendly' and real-world productive activities and actions in "Writer's Block Busters: 101 Exercises To Clear The Deadwood And Make Room For Flights Of Fancy". Each exercise occupied a single page and is succinctly presented in one paragraph. Occasionally enhanced with quotable quotes, each exercise is designed to prompt the blocked writer to start composing on the spot. Here's an illustrative example: Homecoming: Character A has suffered torture, enslavement, insults, and disrespect in order to return to the side of a loved one. He or she returns home only to find that his or her loved one is gone. Place that sense of rupture and loss in your protagonist. Write. "Writer's Block Busters" should be on the ready reference shelf of every aspiring or seasoned author -- because no matter how gifted or inspired you may be in the pursuit of your craft, sooner or later that dreaded condition known as 'writer's block' will strike. That's when you will reach for your copy of "Writer's Block Busters" and be glad you have it handy!
The Half-Known World
2402 University Avenue, Suite 203, Saint Paul, MN 55114
9781555975043, $15.00, www.graywolfpress.org
Robert Boswell is the author of five novels and teaches creative writing at New Mexico State University, the University of Houston, and in the Warren Wilson MFA program. Therefore he brings to "The Half-Known World: On Writing Fiction" as very special expertise in his examination of the workings of fiction that will prove enormously useful to aspiring writers seeking to master their craft, as well as offering fascinating insights to academia and non-specialist general readers with respect to the issues facing literary writers from Leo Tolstoy to Alice Munro. Occasionally drawing upon his own experiences as a creative writer, Boswell provides details and examples of what it means for writers to experience what he describes as the 'half-known world' of fiction where the best fiction converges surprise and meaning for the benefit of the reader. Presenting an engaging series of essays that address a range of issues from Process and Paradigm; to Narrative Spandrels; Urban Legends, Pornography, and Literary Fiction; to Politics and Art in the Novel, and so much more, "The Half-Known World" is highly recommended reading, especially for anyone seeking to write their own 'Great American Novel'.
MLA Style Manual
Modern Language Association
26 Broadway, New York, NY, 10004-1784
9780873522977, $32.50, www.mla.org
The Modern Language Association is referenced throughout academia and the publishing industry as the standard setter for matters of grammar and other aspects of writing. Now available in a newly updated and expanded third edition, the "MLA Style Manual: And Guide to Scholarly Publishing" is their thoroughly comprehensive and 'user friendly' guide for publishing a useful reference that will be especially appreciated by those new to publishing and an indispensable reference for anyone needing a reference work on publishing standards. The newly expanded and updated third edition offers invaluable and practical advice on a broad spectrum of publishing issues ranging from stating sources and electronic submission, to new information on copyright and fair use practices. "MLA Style Manual" is an essential and indispensable reference work for any publishing company or self-published author looking for the best way to make their books viable in today's volatile and competitive marketplace.
Crafting Fiction, Poetry, & Memoir
Matthew Leone, editor
Colgate University Press
c/o Syracuse University Press
1600 Jamesville Avenue, Syracuse, NY 13210
0912568194, $19.95, 1-800-365-8929
The writer conferences, seminars, and workshops are all useful forums for aspiring writers and practicing authors to hone their technical skills, acquire insights into their craft, and take away inspiration to pursue with renewed vigor their chosen profession. Compiled and edited by Matthew Leone (Director of the Annual Colgate Writer's Conference at Colgate University in Hamilton, New York), "Crafting Fiction, Poetry, & Memoir: Talks From The Colgate Writers' Conference" is a collection of fifteen informed and informative presentations on various aspects of creative writing ranging from creative nonfiction, to the rhythms of poetic expression, to issues of author-narrator-character dynamics, to getting published. The next best thing to having actually been in attendance and sitting on the front row, "Crafting Fiction, Poetry, & Memoir" is highly recommended reading for anyone who aspires to excel in the writing of successful novels and short stories, memorable and well-crafted poetry, as well as engaging works of nonfiction including biographies, memoirs, and more.
What Writers Need To Know About Publishing
Jerry D. Simmons
Author Marketing Experts (publicity)
PO Box 421156, San Diego, CA 92142
9780978924706, $19.99, email@example.com
Because of the huge number of excellent instructional books available to the aspiring writer, there is very little need to 'reinvent the wheel' when it comes to the point where authors are ready for their manuscripts to be published and made available to the reading public. Drawing upon his twenty-five years of experience and expertise as a New York publishing executive, Jerry D. Simmons has written an excellent general introduction with "What Writers Need To Know About Publishing". A great deal of basic information is provided with respect to the publishing industry and the publishing process from acquisition to marketing -- precisely the kinds of background info that every author needs to know when dealing with a publisher. As good as it is (and it is very good indeed), in laying out and informed and informative presentation of the general basics that should be a part of every writer's understanding of the role of publishers and what writer's can (and should) expect as part of the process of being published, "What Writers Need To Know About Publishing" does not provide information on the role that reviews and review publications play in book marketing. But there are several excellent titles available to fill that gap. A detailed 'Contents' list makes up for the absence of an Index. Simply stated, "What Writers Need To Know About Publishing" is an excellent general introduction, an informative and well presented read, and an valuable addition to any writer's supplemental reading list on getting published in today's highly competitive publishing industry.
Now for some Q&A from the Midwest Book Review email box:
In a message dated 3/3/2008 11:26:15 A.M. Central Standard Time, firstname.lastname@example.org writes:
Do you have any advice for someone such as myself who is doing everything she can think of to publicize the book? I paid my publisher to do an extensive mailing to book reviewers and so far have gotten some very good responses and reviews. I've not had one negative comment about the book.
Our goal is to reach out to other parents to try to spare them our heartbreak (losing a child to a drug overdose) and the book was not written for profit (which is a good thing since I've haven't made a profit yet!). It would be nice though to bring in more money to help offset the cost of publishing and mailings, plus free book giveaways, etc.
I would appreciate any advice you can give me if you would be so kind.
Sheryl Letzgus McGinnis (I go by Sherry)
You have a substantial learning curve to master in the art and science of book marketing. Here's what I suggest you do:
1. Go to the Midwest Book Review website at http://www.midwestbookreview -- this is going to be your new best friend for awhile.
2. Read all of the articles archived in "Advice for Writers & Publishers".
3. Then click on "Publisher's Bookshelf" and read the reviews of all the 'how to' books on book marketing, publicity and promotion. Jot down the titles, authors, and ISBNs for those that look worthwhile. Then go down to your local library and have them get these books for you (for free) through the InterLibrary Loan Service.
4. Read them and take notes.
5. Use those notes to build yourself a marketing plan of strategies and techniques within whatever budget you have. Especially those that are commonly referred to as 'Guerrilla Marketing' and take little or no financial investment.
6. Go back to the MBR website and click on "Other Reviewers". This is a roster of freelance book reviewers, review magazines and publications, book review websites etc. I've vetted them all so they are all legitimate. Some of them will not be appropriate because they specialize in poetry or science fiction, or women's issues. But others would be thematically appropriate. Go down the roster and when you see one that looks promising, click on it and you'll be zapped to their particular website. Read through their website and you'll be able to determine if they would be a good fit for your particular book.
7. Continue reading the "Jim Cox Report" -- every now and then you might stumble across a usable idea.
Midwest Book Review
In a message dated 3/6/2008 7:28:31 P.M. Central Standard Time, email@example.com writes:
Hello. I was just on Amazon.com trying to figure out which gun book would best help me decide what my father's guns are worth (recently he had to be placed in a dementia care facility, and now I have to dispose of his firearms).
I saw your review for Shooters Bible and I don't know why but I decided to click on "See all my reviews". Where I then saw a zillion reviews for all different kinds of books, and all of the reviewed books received 5 stars. Kinda weird doncha think? Is there a robot there that randomly selects titles then assigns each one...5 stars?
I guess you are on the publishers or authors payroll??? Because once I saw that every single one of your reviews gets 5 stars, I decided that you knew diddly about gun books.
Thank you for your inquiry. It's one that we get a couple of times each month and I'm always willing to explain the Midwest Book Review policy regarding Amazon's star rating system.
We receive an average of about 2300 titles a month being submitted to us for review. I've got 76 reviewers to try to cope with it all.
Each incoming title is provided with an initial screening. About one-third of each day's incoming 70 or 80 titles is rejected outright. The remaining titles are given a 12 to 14 week 'window of opportunity' in which to secure a review. If they ultimately fail within that time frame they are removed from consideration in order to make room on our shelves for new incoming titles.
When a book is assigned to a reviewer that reviewer has 30 days in which to review it and turn in their review which I provide a final edit in the layout process of publishing our nine monthly book review magazines.
All of our reviewers are instructed to reject any book they find so flawed or substandard that they cannot in good conscience recommend it to its intended or targeted readership. They are to simply stop wasting time on a book that cannot be recommended and move on to reviewing one that they can feel good about recommending.
We are content providers for Amazon.com (as well as other online databases such as Lexus-Nexus, Golaith, Book Review Index, alt.books.review, etc.). Only Amazon requires that all reviews posted on their website be given a 1 through 5 star rating.
These ratings are arbitrary and subjective with no standardized criteria. Therefore I long ago established the policy of giving every title that survives our screening process and succeeds against formidable odds to secure a positive review and is recommendable to its particular audience being assigned a 5 star recommendation as being worth the prospective reader's time (and money!).
We also have a bylaw in our charter banning financial contributions by authors or publishers to the Midwest Book Review so that we may avoid any conflict of interest issues.
It is our mission statement to support literacy, library usage, and small press publishing. It is our aim to help writers to write better, publishers to publish more effectively, readers to read with satisfaction, for librarians to acquire and for booksellers to offer the best books available to them.
By the way, those 'zillions' of reviews on Amazon cited as being from the Midwest Book Review do not include the additional tens of thousands that are posted there under their freelance reviewer's name (such as those from Harriet Klausner) instead of ours, but comprise the contents of two of the nine of our monthly book review publications: "Reviewer's Bookwatch" and "MBR Bookwatch".
Between our staff reviewers, the freelance reviewers, and our volunteer reviewers, we probably generate an average of somewhere between 600 to 700 reviews a month. Incidentally, the fellow who reviewed that gun book you looked up on Amazon is an avid sportsman and an experienced gun collector.
Another reason for the enormous number of reviews from us that you'll find on Amazon is that we were founded in 1976 and have been content providers for Amazon.com starting about six months after they first began to operate on the Internet.
You might find our website at http://www.midwestbookreview.com of interest. If you ever have any other questions or comments, please feel free to correspond anytime.
I write a monthly column of advice and commentary called the "Jim Cox Report" for the publishing community. I'm going to include this email in one of them because, as mentioned above, yours is a question that we rather regularly encounter.
James A. 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:
John E. Nolan
E. Robert Fussell
L. L. -- St. Laurent, France
Stacey Gabel -- "The New Blue Tractor"
LeRoy A. Battle Sr. -- "And The Beat Goes On"
Richard Lory -- "The Lonely Crosses"
Timothy John Vaulato -- "A Lifetime in Time"
Linda Settles -- "Quest for the Other Kingdom"
Diana S. Zimmerman -- "Kandide and the Secret of the Mists"
Elizabeth Weinstein -- "Shakespeare with Children"
Niki behrikis Shanahan -- "Who Says Animals Go To Heaven?"
Carol Sue Gershman -- "The Black Man, The Jewish Lady, and the Road Trip"
T 'n' T Classic Books
Jean Sheldon -- Bast Press
Carol Chapman -- Sun Topaz
A. Delany Walker -- Argo & Cole Publishers
Jeff Anderson -- Energy Psychology Press
Babs Ryan -- Sparks Worldwide
Nancy Curtis -- High Plains Press
Krista L. Tibbs -- Friction Publishing
Jack H. Bender -- InnerWork Publications
Victoria Waks -- Gohen, Pivo & Company
Georgia Weithie -- Reflections Press
Julie Murkette -- Satya House Publications
Don Bracken -- History Publishing Company
Sandy Powell -- Wordclay
Gordon Inkeles -- Arcata Arts
Michelle Zimmerman -- Rainbow Star Books
Ted Simendinger -- Airplane Reader Publishing
Melanie Roth -- Wisconsin Historical Society Press
Charles Barrett -- The Barrett Company Communications
Elizabeth Waldman Frazier -- Waldmania!
Maryglenn McCombs -- MM Book Publicity
People Speak: Concepts & Communications Consulting
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!
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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