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Jim Cox Report: September 2010
Dear Publisher Folk, Friends & Family:
One of the perks of my job is receiving gestures and expressions of appreciation from the small press community for what we do here at the Midwest Book Review week after week, month after month, year after year, -- and now decade after decade (three of them!).
Here's an example:
Sent: 12/7/2009 6:33:30 P.M. Central Standard Time
Subj: Re: ears burning?
Sorry, I assumed you knew about Twitter.com even if you don't use it. It is becoming quite common for all sorts of businesses and organizations to participate in social media (Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn). I have an account with Twitter and the message with your quote went out to my followers (over 500) but I don't know how many people retweeted it (sent it out to their followers). It also went to the web pages for the two hashtags (#litchat and #books), so anyone who checks there might see it, too.
If all this sounds like gobbledy-gook to you, just know that it is a GOOD
THING. I was citing your wisdom and you as an expert. The only link I can
point you to is my RSS feed:
10725 Escobar Drive
San Diego CA 92124
A Writer's Edge http://www.writers-edge.info
Hancock Websites http://www.hancockwebsites.com
I also receive the occasional and appreciative comment from the general reading public:
Subject: Your review of in Amazon of "Victorian Approaches to Religion..."
Date: 1/23/2010 5:45:09 P.M. Central Standard Time
Dear Ladies & Gentlemen,
I discovered the Midwest Book review because of your comment to "Victorian Approaches to Religion As Reflected in the Art of the Pre-Raphaelites" (http://www.amazon.com/gp/product/9630580381/).
Victorian Approaches to Religion As Reflected in the Art of the Pre-Raphaelites helped me to understand Henry Holiday's illustrations to Lewis Carroll's "The Hunting of the Snark"
(http://www.amazon.com/gp/product/1904808360/). See also http://holiday.snrk.de/BeCurious.htm (direct file access: http://holiday.snrk.de/CheatSheet.htm)
With best regards from Munich
It's especially nice to note that the 'general reading public' for our reviews is global in nature!
Every day in the mail comes a letter or postcard from authors and publishers basically saying 'thank you'. Every morning's email finds a few folk (including freelance publicists) letting me know how pleased they are with how we treated them and their book(s).
Subject: thank you
Date: 12/3/2009 2:34:02 P.M. Central Standard Time
Dear Mr. Cox,
I'm just writing to thank you for the wealth of helpful information on your website for writers and independent publishers. After being asked to help promote and publicize a book for a self-published author, I found no single resource more valuable than the advice and articles from Midwest Book Review. I now make it a point to direct any writer I come across to your site and have put a link on my new blog.
I'll be submitting my client's book soon to Midwest for review consideration. Hopefully we'll make the cut, but in the meantime I just wanted to express my gratitude and ask you to keep the useful tidbits coming.
Mushroom In The Sand
Now that I've retired from being part of the paid staff and continue my duties as Midwest Book Review's editor-in-chief and book reviewer as an unpaid volunteer, I'm no longer in it 'for a paycheck', but will continue to be a kind of working 'editor emeritus' for as I feel that I'm making a positive impact in the lives and careers of authors, publishers, and my fellow bibliophiles.
I lead a very nice and personally fulfilling literary life indeed -- and will continue to do so for as long as my mind and body will allow!
Now on to reviews of a number of new titles on writing and publishing:
The Writing/Publishing Shelf
2011 Writer's Market
Robert Lee Brewster, Editor
Writer's Digest Books
4700 E. Galbraith Road, Cincinnati, OH 45236
9781582979459, $29.99, www.writersmarket.com
Continuing its history of publishing annual, winning references - a 90-year history - this provides over 3,000 updated listings key to any would-be writer's professional success. From book publishers to magazines, literary agents, newspapers and greeting card companies, this covers virtually anyone using a writer's output, juxtaposing listings detailing needs and acceptance routines with interviews and articles on basics such as what to charge for writing and how to produce a professional query letter. No library should be without this key reference!
Telling a Research Story
Christine B. Feak & John M. Swales
University of Michigan Press
839 Greene Street, Ann Arbor, MI 48104-3209
9780472033362, $16.00, www.press.umich.edu/esl/
TELLING A RESEARCH STORY: WRITING A LITERATURE REVIEW presents Volume 2 of the revised, expanded edition of ENGLISH IN TODAY'S RESEARCH WORLD, and covers the basics of writing a literature review. It's a revision of a work on writing abstracts that appeared in English in Today's Research World and presents a range of issues particular to the writing of literature reviews. College-level collections will find this a powerful addition!
Inside the TV Writer's Room
Lawrence Meyers, Editor
Syracuse University Press
621 Skytop Road, Suite 110, Syracuse, NY 13244-5290
9780815632412, $24.95, www.amazon.com
INSIDE THE TV WRITER'S ROOM: PRACTICAL ADVICE FOR SUCCEEDING IN TELEVISION collects interviews with some of today's top episodic writers and explores the artists' keys to succeeding in the television writing world. From compromises on creative efforts to how to start writing and find a unique focus, this is packed with clear, winning instructions perfect for an aspiring TV writer or college-level libraries catering to them!
Essentials of Screenwriting
c/o Penguin Group, USA
375 Hudson Street, New York, NY 10014
9780452296275, $16.00, www.penguin.com
ESSENTIALS OF SCREENWRITING: THE ART, CRAFT AND BUSINESS OF FILM AND TELEVISION WRITING offers an updated book with new material blending lessons and principles from Screenwriting with material from Walter's companion book The Whole Picture, which follows the entire process from written word to screen. From writing effective dialogue to revising and obtaining an agent, this covers all the basics any screenwriter must know!
Writing Your Bestseller
L. Perry Wilbury
Piccadilly Books, Ltd.
PO Box 25203, Colorado Springs, CO 80936
9780941599818, $14.95, www.amazon.com
In "Writing Your Bestseller: Everything You Need to Know to Become A Successful Author", L. Perry Wilbur draws upon his personal experience and considerable expertise as the published author of 31 books to date -- especially the highly recommended and instructive titles "How To Write Articles That Sell" (Allworth Press, 9781581150148, $19.95) and "Money In Your Mailbox" (Wiley, 9780471573302, $16.95) which should be standard reference titles for all aspiring authors seeking to establish themselves in successful professional writing careers and including self-publishing -- for his latest instructional reference work "Writing Your Bestseller: Everything You Need to Know to Become A Successful Author". This 163-page compendium is packed cover to cover with cogent addresses to a whole series of germane issues including how to make money writing books, finding ideas to write about, dealing with writer's block, writing resources, improving what you write, the role of a literary agent, evaluating potential publishers, payment arrangements for published works, and the all important topic of marketing your published titles. Thoroughly 'user friendly', "Writing Your Bestseller: Everything You Need to Know to Become A Successful Author" is an invaluable and recommended read for the novice beginner, as well as having a great deal to offer by way of a refresher course for even the more experienced author.
The Best Little Grammar Book Ever!
PO Box 4483, Petaluma, CA 94955
9780984331604, $11.95, www.bigwords101.com
Articulation is an invaluable skill. "The Best Little Grammar Book Ever!: 101 Ways to Impress with Your Writing and Speaking" is a guide to being a better speaker and a better writer by avoiding the common pitfalls of the English language. How one speaks and writes is often the first impression one makes in communication, and "The Best Little Grammar Book Ever!" is a fine tool and a top resource for anyone who wants to avoid being a dunce in communication.
Trail Writer's Guide
Cinny Green, author
Maureen Burdock, illustrator
Western Edge Press
126 Candelario St., Santa Fe NM 87501
9781889921501, $16.95, www.westernedgepress.com
A handful of captivating, black-and-white illustrations by Maureen Burdock enhance Trail Writer's Guide, a simple book of tips, trips, and techniques for jotting down one's transitory instants of inspiration while experiencing the wilderness. Whether one is moved to write poetry, dialogue, description of discoveries, or simple journal entries, Trail Writer's Guide is both practical and motivational. Highly recommended. "Step back with pen and paper in hand. First write about being a witness, an observer in a place; step back even more and ascribe a special moment in that place when you became a participant. For example, observe the wind fluttering the tree branches (witness) and then feel it blow your hair back (participant). How have you shared the tree's experience?"
Grammar Essentials for Dummies
10475 Crosspoint Boulevard, Indianapolis, IN 46256
9780470618370, $9.99, www.wiley.com
Written by English teacher Geraldine Woods as part of the excellent "For Dummies" series of instructional books, Grammar Essentials for Dummies is a concise, easy-to-use guide to improving one's grammar whether for schoolwork, college application tests, resumes or business documents, or simply to communicate more effectively with friends, family and co-workers. Chapters explain grammar rules in plain terms, give examples of correct and incorrect usage, offer principles of punctuation, tips for common trouble issues and pitfalls, and more. Once again, the stellar "For Dummies" series goes beyond living up to its title - Grammar Essentials for Dummies is emphatically not just for "dummies", but also for writers of all skill and experience levels, whether they are novices seeking to improve their basic writing skills or professionals trying to apply just a little more polish to their final draft.
The Guide to Writing Fantasy and Science Fiction
Adams Media Corporation
57 Littlefield Street, 2nd floor, Avon, MA 02322
9781440501456, $14.95, www.adamsmedia.com 1-800-872-5627
Featuring an introduction and an illustrative original story by acclaimed and popular fantasy writer R. A. Salvatore, The Guide to Writing Fantasy and Science Fiction is a solid, user-friendly guide to creating vivid, enjoyable novels filled with lifelike characters and immersive worlds. Chapters offer tips, tricks, and techniques for smooth storytelling, constructing characters with internally consistent motives, world-building, overseeing details, narrative tone, and more. Of particular interest is the chapter with advice for those who are considering writing for a living: "If you want to be rich in a hurry, sell insurance... as far as being a novelist is concerned, you'll find that money comes slowly, rarely, and in small doses. Do this for everything but the money. Only if you're writing for the love of the game will you ever end up with a book that people respond to, and pay for." A pull-no-punches combination tutorial and source of inspiration, The Guide to Writing Fantasy and Science Fiction is an absolute "must-have" for any aspiring writer - even those with interest in other genres will find a great deal of valuable advice!
How to Write & Sell Simple Information for Fun and Profit
Robert W. Bly with Fred Gleeck
Quill Driver Books
2006 South Mary, Fresno, CA 93721
9781884995606, $15.95, www.quilldriverbooks.com
How to Write & Sell Simple Information for Fun and Profit is a straightforward, career-minded guide to creating and publishing saleable how-to books, articles, reports, seminars, or even online content. Chapters cover how to efficiently and effectively conduct research, build a reputation in one's field, avoid common pitfalls, and earn a solid living. "One of the biggest challenges for the how-to writer running his own membership site is retaining members. There is really only one strategy that can prevent your members from leaving: continually posting fresh content on the site." Making money through the creation of audio CDs, DVDs, and even selling software is also covered, in this hands-on practical guide that absolutely anyone interested in nonfiction writing as a career must have.
Now here are some Q&A's on writing and publishing:
In a message dated 11/26/2009 5:35:34 A.M. Central Standard Time, firstname.lastname@example.org writes:
Subject: Re: Review copies
I found this statement on your website at:
That the book is part of the reviewer's compensation (and in the case of free lance or volunteer reviewers, their only compensation) for reviewing the book and has become their personal property to keep or to sell or to give away.
Could you tell me if that means that a publisher does not expect the review copy to be kept secret until a specific day? That question seems silly now that I ask, but does a publisher not care if the review copy is shared with others who are interested in the book? Also, can I ethically send the review copy and/or copies of pages of the copy to anyone who wants to read it?
Linda Theil Communications
Although a publisher can request any form of restrictions on the use or disposition of review copies, and can request restrictions regarding the timing of the release of reviews, it is the reviewer's prerogative as to whether or not to adhere to or comply with any requested restrictions.
A review copy submitted to a reviewer becomes that reviewer's property to deal with as they deem appropriate. The publisher's control is on providing or refusing to provide a review copy to a particular reviewer or review publication.
Publishers often care very deeply about the disposal or dispersal of their review copies. But ethically, reviewers are entitled to share their review copies and reviews any way they deem desirable.
The questions you raise are common ones (especially for those new to the publishing industry and the standards that apply to review copies) that I periodically address. Therefore I will be sharing our correspondence in one of my monthly "Jim Cox Report" columns that I write for the benefit of the small press community and those new to publishing.
Midwest Book Review
A self-published author who did not wanted his name mentioned wrote the following concerning an interview I'd given to Mayra Calvani for her blog:
I recently Googled up your story on blogcritics.org, "Interview with James A. Cox, Editor-in-Chief, The Midwest Book Review". Though you ask a number of questions about negative reviews and feedback from authors about negative reviews and Mr. Cox answers as if negative reviews were routine, when warranted, I've noticed that the vast majority (if not all; I haven't looked through all 50k+, but every one I've seen is a 5-star review) of the Midwest Book Review's reviews on Amazon.com are five-star reviews.
Do you have any idea why this might be? You asked explicitly if Midwest Book Review is funded by the books' publishers, to which Cox said that they weren't, so the connection between the exceptionally large number of positive reviews and those receiving them isn't immediately obvious. Still, as a PhD student in the humanities and with a background in English literature, I feel confident saying that less than exceptional books are easy enough to find! Something seems afoot.
Thank you for your article and time, and any insight that you might be
able to provide would be greatly appreciated.
Mayra forwarded the inquiry to me and asked that I reply to this individual. So I did.
Yours is a question that comes up from time to time. The reason why all reviews posted on Amazon.com by the Midwest Book Review are give 5 Star ratings is quite simple:
1. Only books that make it through my personal screening are made available for review. This is about three books out of five. the two out of five that fail do so because I deemed them substandard with respect to such issues as the physical appearance (think dust jack or cover art); problems with binding and/or printing; technical flaws (such as font size too small for the intended readership); and obvious grammar or stylistic problems in a few pages selected at random.
2. Only those books that successfully compete for a review assignment within a 14 to 16 week availability window are reviewed. When you consider that we receive an average of 2300 titles a month and have 76 reviewers to deal with those kinds of numbers you'll see what the odds tend to be for that review assignment.
3. Only reviews of books that our reviewers can in good conscience give a positive recommendation to those book's intended readerships are published are published in one or more of our nine monthly book review magazines.
4. Only reviews from those publications are posted to Amazon.com which requires as part of such postings that a 5 Star rating system be included.
That rating system is totally arbitrary and subjective. There are no standardized criteria for these ratings. So we automatically give them all the highest rating possible because the reviews have deemed their books are worthy of their intended readership's time and money.
The fact that the bulk of the reviews we do are for self-published authors, small presses, niche publishers, and academic presses which tend not to have the marketing budgets that the big New York publishing houses is also a factor.
Midwest Book Review
Then Mr. XXX responded further:
Thank you for your reply. If you would, do not publish my email to Ms. Calvani in your Cox Report, as I did not expect her to forward it to you. No big deal, I'm happy for you to publish your answer if you're so inclined and you don't publish my name nor email, and, again, I do appreciate your response.
If you don't mind a private response...
I understand that the Amazon conventions are just that -- conventions -- but I do wonder about the potential to mislead Amazon users. I'll admit that I had a similar reaction to Jordan Lapp, whose emails I found in the Cox Report after my email to Ms. Calvani. The review from MBR that "alerted" me to your existence sounded not like a thoughtful, critical engagement with the book I was considering, but more like a publisher's puff. The style by itself made me suspicious enough to check out more of MBR's reviews, and in my limited spot-checking, the review I initially read seemed like a fair representation of MBR's reviews on Amazon.
This leads me to believe that there is a disconnect between the traditionally expected genre of book reviews on Amazon and those published by MBR on the site, both in terms of style and in terms of the star system. If the goal of the reviews isn't to help people like Mr. Lapp and myself -- after reading, I couldn't feel any more sure whether the book I was considering was a good one than I did when I started -- to what degree are MBR reviews more about marketing "self-published authors, small presses, niche publishers, and academic presses" than providing critical, though potentially quite positive, subjective opinions? What is the advantage afforded to your reviews' readers by MBR's choosing to, at best, gloss over Amazon's conventions?
Though I realize I'm putting words into their mouths, MBR's practices seem to have made Mr. Lapp, Olivia (from a Cox report in an earlier year), and myself (and, therefore, likely a number who haven't emailed) feel like we were potential marks in a con game rather than potential readers treated with respect.
I'll have no particular ill will if you'd prefer not to reply, and I do appreciate your printing Jordan and Olivia's emails in the Cox Report. That said, with 50k 5-star reviews and counting on Amazon, many of which do not include thoughtful, sustained, engaged treatments of the books reviewed, I, as a thoughtful reader myself, am troubled by MBR's practices.
I enjoy conversations about the policies and practices of the Midwest Book Review. And Mr. XXX's concerns are ones that I encounter from time to time. Here's how I responded to his follow-up communique:
Dear Mr. XXX:
No offense taken. Everyone has their own perspectives and expectations. Different strokes for different folks.
An additional bit of info might help you understand why I routinely assign 5 Stars for any and all of our reviews that make it to the Amazon.com web site carrying a positive recommendation for intended readers of a particular book:
1. Our volunteer reviewers range from novice amateurs to seasoned professional freelancers. So you can imagine that presents a wide range and breadth of reviewing styles and levels of sophistication. The one thing they all have in common is that their opinions are truly theirs -- and not mine.
2. The primary 'market' for our reviews are academic and community libraries -- hopefully the benefit of their students and patrons. Posting them on Amazon.com and other on-line book review databases for the benefit of the rest of the general reading public is important, but always has been viewed as secondary.
3. Our tertiary 'market' are the authors and publishers of the reviewed titles. Basically furnishing them with material they can draw from for their own marketing/promotion activities, assuming their work has been found to have enough merit in the opinions of our reviewers to be recommendable to the public.
Book reviewers, much like authors and publishers, come in three categories: The Good; The Bad; and The Mediocre.
I've written much more in detail about this and a great many other aspects of book reviewing, the book review process, and even "How To Spot A Phony Book Reviewer". You'll find these articles archived and available on the Midwest Book Review web site at www.midwestbookreview.com/bookbiz/advice/
One final note that may have some bearing on our discussion:
It is our policy (and a bylaw) to not permit authors and publishers to contribute to financially to the Midwest Book Review in order to avoid any potential conflict of interest issues. We are funded by two annual foundation grants and the disposal of review copies that weren't able to make the final cut for review assignments.
The most our board of directors will permit is that authors, publishers, and the public wanting to show their appreciation and support for what the Midwest Book Review tries to accomplish in behalf of the publishing community is to donate postage stamps. We use them in sending our copies of the reviews and notification letters to the publishers. While postage stamp donations are always appreciated, they are never required. Our directors decided long ago that my integrity as an editor and a reviewer wasn't going to be compromised by postage stamps. I wasn't going to stuff my pockets full of stamps and abscond to Argentina!
At your request, when I include this discussion in one of my "Jim Cox Reports" I'll remove your name in order to protect your privacy. Usually I note people's names and emails in order to document that these are genuine Q&A exchanges with real people. But this policy of mine with respect to Amazon and its 5 Star rating system pops up a couple of times a year, so folks that are regular subscribers to my Report will undoubtedly realize that I'm just not making you up in order to create a platform on which to advance my point of view with respect to the essentially valueless non-criteria 'short hand' rating systems like that of Amazon. It's the reviewers expressed opinions that a potential reader ought to use in determining whether or not they might want to read the book that was reviewed by someone else.
It also serves to underscore for folks like yourself who are not all that familiar with either myself or the Midwest Book Review that I and the Midwest Book Review really do operate fully 'in the light' for everyone to see. That kind of openness and candor is antithetical to those con artists that show up from time to time pretending to be legitimate book reviews for the purpose of scamming publishers -- or the public.
Please always feel free to share your ideas and perspectives with me. I truly do not take umbrage just because they might differ from those of my own.
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:
Jennifer N. Kirby
Wendy Jane Carrel
Beth Hodder -- The Ghost of Schafer Meadows"
Christopher G. Fichtner -- "Cannabinomics"
Randall Smith -- "The Reckoning Room"
Donald Himelstein -- "Above Honor"
John Royce -- "Eclipsed By Shadow"
M. Juanita Taylor -- "Cogslea Revisited"
James Pylant -- Sins of the Pioneers: Crimes & Scandals in a Small Texas Town"
Nancy Lelewer Sonnabend -- "The Lelewer Legacy: Traditions of a Loving Family"
Vikki Stark -- "Runaway Husbands: The Abandoned Wife's Guide to Recovery and Renewal"
Paul -- "Independent Film Producing"
Robert T. Spalding Jr. -- "How To Live Homeless In Style"
On Air Video Inc.
Luna Bella Press
New Chapter Press
Susan Russell Publications
Georgiann Baldino -- Pearl Editions LLC
John Cebuhar -- Murphy Publishing
Calvin Hill -- Hillcrest Publishers
Greg Sabatino -- Actuation Press
Mike Mihalik -- October Mist Publishing
Russell G. Rodrigue -- Rodrigue & Sons Co.
Elizabeth Gauthier -- Gauthier Publications
Steven M. Ulmen -- Eagle Entertainment USA
Paul Battista -- Mind Fusion Law
Jonathan Pearce -- Balona Books
Janice Phelps Williams -- Lucky Press
Shawn Sprague -- Innovative Publishing LLC
Marie Winkler -- Winkler Media
Maryglen McCombs -- MM Book Publicity
Elizabeth Waldman Frazier -- Waldmania!
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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