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Jim Cox Report: February 2010
Dear Publisher Folk, Friends & Family:
Every now and then I receive reminders of how highly the Midwest Book Review is regarded within the publishing community. These reminders usually arrive in the form of letters, emails, and phone calls offering thanks for what we do here, comments and ideas on how we might improve our services to authors, publishers and the general public, and occasionally something like the following:
Sent: 9/21/2008 1:52:47 P.M. Central Daylight Time
Subj: I've visited your website http://www.midwestbookreview.com/rbw/jan_03.htm
We've seen your website at http://www.midwestbookreview.com/rbw/jan_03.htm
and we love it!
We see that your traffic rank is 405443 and your link popularity is 402. Also, you have been online since 12/24/2001.
With that kind of traffic, we will pay you up to $4,800/month to advertise our links on your website.
If you're interested, read our terms from this page: http://www.contactthem.com
The ContactThem Network
These kinds of offers come in every couple of months. Just yesterday I received a phone call from a grateful self-published author who was worried that the Midwest Book Review might go away if I were to retire as its editor-in-chief and suggested that we start charging $20 for reviews as a means of continuing the company after I'm gone.
So why don't I make some money (especially in these particularly grim economic times) by accepting advertizing on our website; or Amazon linkage on individual reviews for 'pass through' fees generating through such sales; or charge for reviewing books.
My answer is as follows:
1. These kinds of revenue streams are fraught with potential conflicts of interest.
2. They are not needed as revenue generators to meet our monthly expenses. We get by quite nicely on foundation grants and the liquidation of books that do not make the final cut and get reviewed by our roster of volunteer and freelance reviewers.
3. Even at the age of 67, I'm not planning to retire for at least another twenty years. If and when I must step down, my daughter (currently serving as our web master and Managing Editor) will smoothly take over and keep the Midwest Book Review going. She's already in charge of a great many of the routine day-to-day functions.
Another frequently asked question is about how the Midwest Book Review works with respect to choosing which self-published and small press titles will ultimately get review assignments, and why those that don't -- don't.
The Midwest Book Review has a well earned (even if I do say so myself) reputation for trying to give consistent priority to self-published authors. The result is that every month I see hundreds of self-published titles -- including those from POD companies (as a particular pervasive form of self-publishing) like PublishAmerican, Xlibris, and the dozens of others. I even accept for review books from such infamous and long established "pay for play" vanity publishers as Vantage Press.
Each morning, Monday through Saturday, I screen the new self-published submissions and their accompanying paperwork.
I can tell you why so many are rejected from review consideration by such a sympathetic forum as the Midwest Book Review. I also can tell you how many that pass my initial screening yet ultimately fail to secure a review assignment in the following 3 or 4 months and must be removed from our shelves to make physical space for new influxes of self-published titles.
The first and most prevalent reason for rejection is that the submitted self-published book is not commercially viable because of its physical appearance.
The second most prevalent reason for rejection is that the self-published book comes in without the requisite paperwork (a cover letter and some form of publicity release).
The third most prevalent reason for rejection is that the self-published title submitted for review consideration is a galley, or an uncorrected proof, or an ARC, when what we require finished copies -- or is so badly defaced by "Review Copy - Not For Resale" stamping that none of our volunteer reviewers will accept it because there are so many clean, pristine titles from other publishers (including self-publishers) available to them.
You'll notice that I haven't even opened the submitted self-published book to comment on the quality of the writing. That's because it is not a judgement I make as part of my initial screening process. That particular judgement is the role of the assigned reviewer.
I advise my reviewers that if, as a result of their review process, they ultimately cannot recommend that self-published title to its intended readership they should discard it and select another.
I roughly estimate that while about one out of four self-published titles fails to make it through the initial screening process. Only about two out of those original four, having passed my original screening and therefor made eligible for a review assignment ultimately achieve being assied. About one out of three of those assigned for review self-published titles fail to have a positive review and are therefore ultimately discarded in favor of another.
The principle reasons given to me by my reviewers for ultimately rejecting a book they've accepted as a review assignment has to do with those usual considerations of editing, character development, plot development, typos, and substandard writing in general.
Just this morning I rejected a book that I had assigned to myself for review. The reason was that the font-size was tiny. I don't just mean small -- I mean get out the magnifying glass itty-bitty. It was a book of philosophical quotations meant to be read by adults -- and older adults at that. The self-published author had selected the smallest type font he could (this is my guess) in order to have the fewest pages of paper comprising the book -- attempting to thereby save money on the cost of publishing.
This is not an uncommon short-sightedness among self-published authors.
Also just this morning I reviewed two books of self-published poetry. One from Vantage Press and the other will have to be cited as "Privately Published" in the review because the author didn't even come up with a publishing name for his own self-published book.
Both bodies of poetry were worth while reading for those of us who appreciate that rhythmic form of human expression achieved by the written word. And I doubt that either book will be reviewed by any other professional book review publication. Although it would be so very nice if they were.
So there you go. Out of three self-published titles today (and which I had assigned to myself for review), one was rejected, two were accepted and recommended -- and will see their reviews published in my book review column I call "The Poetry Shelf".
I hope that my few remarks provides some insight into how the authors of self-published titles must also take into consideration the preferences, biases, realities, and requirements of book reviewers.
Now for reviews of some 'how to' books on writing and publishing that have crossed my desk this past month:
The Writing/Publishing Shelf
Is Life Like That?
W. W. Norton & Company
500 Fifth Avenue, New York, NY 10110
9780393065411, $26.95, www.amazon.com
Most people who sit down in front of a typewriter or their computer intending to write the next 'Great American Novel' never finish the project. What such aspiring authors need is to give a careful reading to John Dufresne's "Is Life Like This?: A Guide to Writing Your First Novel in Six Months". This is a 314-page compendium of sage observation, sound advice, practical realities, and chronologically organized schedule of how to go about crafting a publishable novel in six months time -- all laid out in 26 weeks of step-by-step progress from beginning to end. Of special note is a most effective and interestingly presented bibliography comprising the final chapter -- 'What I Was Reading While I Was Writing'. Thoroughly informed and informative, "Is Life Like This?: A Guide to Writing Your First Novel in Six Months" will prove to be invaluable for the novice beginner, and hold a great deal of interest for experienced authors in non-fiction categories who feel they, too, have a novel to write.
How to Write and Publish a Successful Children's Book
Atlantic Publishing Group, Inc.
1405 S.W. 6th Avenue, Ocala, FL 34471
9781601384072 $24.95 www.atlantic-pub.com 1-800-814-1132
How to Write and Publish a Successful Children's Book: Everything You Need to Know Explained Simply literally lives up to its title. Chapters give an introduction and overview of the different branches of the children's book publishing industry (the better to understand the specific audience for one's book - both in terms of readership and prospective publishers), how to develop a story and writing style that keeps children's interest from beginning to end, tips and tricks for children's books illustrators, crash-courses in both professionally submitting one's work to publishers and self-publishing, networking suggestions, and much more. An absolute "must-read" for anyone interested in writing children's books. "Your projected cost for [self-publishing] a paperback edition falls in the $11,300 to $13,600 range. It will cost more if you want to publish a hardcover edition. This may sound like a lot of gloom and doom, but it is important that you are aware of the pitfalls, drawbacks, and benefits of each path to publication before committing your time and energy to any of them."
Dollars and Sense for Writers
Finish Off Press Ltd.
824 S. Milwaukee Ave. #134, Libertyville, IL 60048
9780615273068 $14.95, www.amazon.com
Dollars and Sense for Writers: A Guide to Managing Your Writing Business is a solid, no-nonsense guide to the business side of writing - from working with agents to keeping proper financial records and registering one's business, to marketing, year-end business review and more. Peppered with helpful checklists, Dollars and Sense for Writers is an easy-to-understand and useful guide to anyone interested in making money from their writing - whether as an occasional hobby or full-time career. Highly recommended, especially for anyone just breaking into the business.
Now here are some Q&A's on writing and publishing:
In a message dated 12/29/2008 5:01:33 A.M. Central Standard Time, firstname.lastname@example.org writes:
Dear Jim Cox,
I want to personally thank you for all the information that I have learned from your web site. I am still on the learning curve, but I am trying to learn all that I can as fast as I can. I wish you had a definition list of some of the terms that are some times used. What is the difference between a trade paperback and a paperback? What do you see that I could do better in my reviews?
I am very disabled and I am living on SS disability so I don't have much in life. I am unable to go to a fax machine at a copy store to send out a fax to Simon & Schuster for a review copy when requested by my readers. Do you perchance have a name of a person in publicity and their e-mail address at Simon & Schuster that you could share with me?
Thank you Jim for your time and your shared knowledge about the review process.
Lone Star Book Review
Paperbacks are grouped into two major classifications:
Mass market paperbacks -- which are the size you see in paperback racks and are fairly standard at about 6 1/2 inches tall and about 4 inches wide. Thickness depends on the number of pages and can go from slim to fat.
Trade paperbacks -- these are the ones that are larger than mass market paperbacks and range from the dimensions of an average hardcover novel to as large as a magazine.
At the bottom of this email I'm going to send you my "Reviewer Guidelines" and you can see what I look for and recommend in a book review.
It is my policy, if a book doesn't cut the basic requirements, then I just won't review it. If I can't say anything nice then; I don't waste my time. I think it is unprofessional to simply "run down" of otherwise denigrate a publisher or author in print. "Treat others as you want to be treated."
This is precisely the policy of the Midwest Book Review. There are so many worthwhile books available for review that if a particular book is simply too flawed or substandard to be recommended in good conscience to its intended readership I tell my reviewers to discard it and reach for another.
Don't use a fax to communicate with publishers. Use letter head stationary.
Here is the Simon & Schuster publicity/marketing department info:
Simon and Schuster
1230 Avenue of the Americas, 14th fl., New York, NY 10020
Simon & Schuster is such a large conglomerate publisher that they have dozens of publicists. Each of their various imprints will have an assigned publicist. Even different titles under the same imprint will often have different publicists assigned to them. But if you address your requests to the above address, your request will be appropriately routed to the right publicist for a given title.
I have been reading publications on the American Civil War for forty-nine years. I can quickly tell if a book will be good, mediocre, or a total waste of a good tree. I see it as my duty to write as descriptive a review as I can for the author, publisher, and the prospective customer. I try to carefully match the publication to the audience that it was written for. I try to review only the publications that I think are superior and worth the asking price set by the publisher.
That's a very good rule of thumb. As a book reviewer or the editor of a book review publications, you will never go wrong following it.
As for your appreciation of what I do in behalf of authors and publishers like yourself, you are quite welcome. I see myself as not only a book reviewer and the head of a book review organization, but also as a teacher or instructor of sorts in the various and varied aspects of publishing in general, and this specialized field of book reviewing in particular.
About one third of our volunteer reviewers use the Midwest Book Review as a secondary forum for their reviews. In addition to their primary forum (a newspaper column, a book review publication, a book review website, etc.) they send me their reviews (with their byline) in order to expand the readership or audience for their reviews.
Letting them do so is just all part of our three part mandate to promote literacy, library usage, and small press publishing. It's only these freelance reviews that form the content for two of our nine monthly book review publications (Reviewer's Bookwatch & MBR Bookwatch), as well as a number of the reviewers being included (at their request) into the online databases for librarians such as Goliath and Book Review Index along with those generated by myself and my in-house staff.
I would invite you to do the same. Incidentally, I'll be including this email into a future issue of the "Jim Cox Report" for the benefit of others who are considering trying their hand at reviewing books on a professional level. Please feel free to ask me any question or ask for help with your own efforts to establish yourself as a book reviewer and a book review editor.
One last piece of advise -- if you haven't done so already, create a website for "The Lone Star Book Review". It is an indispensable necessity in this day and age. If you've created one, then send me the website address so that I can evaluate it and add it to the book review resource database on the Midwest Book Review website called "Other Reviewers".
Now here are my "Reviewer Guidelines" -- feel free to adopt them to the needs of your own "Lone Star Book Review".
Thank you for your inquiry. All of our reviewers are volunteers who retain all rights to their reviews. Reviews are submitted by email. Just type it (or "copy & paste" it) into the body of an email message. Never send it as an email attachment. Reviewers submitting one review in a given month are clustered together in the column "Reviewer's Choice". Reviewers submitting two or more reviews in a given month are provided their own bylined column (e.g. "Klausner's Bookshelf", "Cindy's Bookshelf", "Taylor's Bookshelf", etc.) Reviewers are notified by email when their reviews are published in one of our book review magazines.
The following should be a part of every review submitted:
Publisher Phone Number (especially an 800 or 888 if they have one)
Publisher Website Address (if they have one)
Here are some guidelines that may be of help in creating an engaging review:
1. Why did you select this particular book for review? Perhaps it relates to your work, hobby, avocation, a particular area of interest, your expertise, or just for fun.
2. How well does the author write, use language, illustrate his/her points, develops characters, clarity of instruction, aptness of examples? Use brief quotations from the book itself to illustrate your observations, opinions, and comments. When doing poetry reviews include a poem, with cookbooks include a recipe.
3. Who is the book intended for? Scholarly reference, non-specialist general reader, devotees of the genre, wide ranging readership, specialized audience, age range, economic or political orientation, etc.
4. Does the book succeed in what the author is trying to accomplish? Entertain, instruct, persuade, inform, train, teach, alarm, etc. Are there suggestions you'd offer the author for his/her next time around in print?
5. What is the author's background or credentials? What other titles does the author have?
6. Are their related or relevant titles that a reader might be interested in?
7. Type your reviews in single spaced paragraphs with double spacing between the paragraphs. The review can be a few paragraphs or a few pages -- take as much space as you feel is necessary to say whatever you want to say.
8. Above all else, have a good time putting your thoughts and opinions down. The best reviews are those that you yourself would like to listen to while driving along in your car or chatting with friends over lunch. If a book is badly written or not worth while -- don't bother with it. Select another one that you think deserves the publicity that your review as showcased by the Midwest Book Review would afford it.
James A. Cox
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:
John J. Parrino
Diane N. Klammer
Patricia Forman -- "City Chicks"
John Harrison -- "A Woman Alone"
Peggy Krause -- "Finding My Molly"
Stacy Juba -- "Twenty-Five Years Ago Today"
Jeremy Gorman -- "Ramblings of an Outdated Old Coot"
Jo Curran -- Calliope Press
Andre Dupont -- DuPont Group
Nicholas Terlecky -- Paiboon Publishing
Jill Tradwell Svendsen -- Huckle Berry House
Lorraine Miller -- Divine WebWeaver Publishing
James B. Bergstad -- Woodside Publishing Group
Carol Jones -- Fraser Davis Press
Katie Hogan -- Network 3000 Publishing
Joe & Judy Herzanek -- Changing Lives Foundation
Claire Boudreaux Bateman -- Claire Bateman Books
Molly Best Tinsley & Karetta Hubbard -- Fuze Publishing
John Hastings -- Draw 3 Lines Publishing
Scott Paul Frush -- Marshall Rand Publishing
Elizabeth Waldman Frazier -- Waldmania!
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 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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