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Jim Cox Report: April 2022
Dear Publisher Folk, Friends & Family:
As happens every couple of years I get interviewed on the subject of the art and science of book reviewing. Last month I was interviewed on the subject of book reviews by professional book publicist (aka The Book Shepard) Judith Briles for her podcast. It was originally scheduled for one hour, but at the end there was still so much to cover that we did a second hour on the subject of book reviews and reviewing one week later.
Here is a link to the Judith Briles/Jim Cox podcast interview:
Judith's website, "The Book Shepherd", offers a wealth of useful, practical information and insights into every aspect of self-publishing -- along with a impressive series of invaluable and thematically relevant podcasts and resources for authors by various publishing industry experts and insiders. Here is a link to her website:
Of special note is her web page specifically devoted to book reviews & reviewing:
I really do have one of the best jobs in the publishing industry. As the Editor-in-Chief of the Midwest Book Review I not only get to read pretty much any book I want, I'm also treated to a variety of interesting essays and articles by others with respect to writing, publishing, marketing, and in the following example by Janis Butler Holm -- book reviewing.
On Not Reviewing Bad Books
An editor who likes your work has asked you to review a book for her publication. Unfortunately, the book is by an author whose work you don't respect, and you doubt that this new book is likely to change your mind. Do you accept the assignment?
The answer is, easily, "No". Life is too short for reading bad books, and a negative review, unless it is written with great tact and skill, can make the reviewer look as bad as the book that he or she is addressing. Bad books tempt us to anger. Their failure to deliver is annoying, and we resent having to read them to the finish. How dare this author put such stuff before us, when we ourselves, the hard-working and deserving, take so much trouble to produce good work?
Bad books may also tempt us to malice. Rare is the writer who has not, at some time or another, enjoyed being witty, perhaps dazzlingly witty, at someone else's expense. But though this kind of nastiness can be enormously entertaining (as in Dorothy Parker or Oscar Wilde), in the hands of the sub-brilliant it can seem merely petty, mean-spirited. And even brilliant nastiness is still nasty -- its purveyors seem not to care that there are thinking, feeling human beings behind the work they so cleverly disparage.
In her classic essay "The Making of a Reviewer", novelist Lynne Sharon Schwartz offers some succinct advice: "If you believe that what a specific author has set out to do is not worth doing, better to pass up that book and choose another. The book deserves a fighting chance, and you as critic deserve a more worthwhile application of your talents" (in Book Reviewing, ed. Sylvia E. Kamerman [Boston: The Writer, 1978], p. 39).
If you are assigned a book that you find grossly inadequate, remember that your editor most likely has other titles more deserving of attention, and don't hesitate to ask whether you might review one of those. Reading and reviewing bad work is a waste of time, energy, and ability. Save yourself for those books that have something to offer.
Janis Butler Holm
Editorial Note #1: Janis Butler Holm served as Associate Editor for Wide Angle, the film journal, and currently works as a writer and editor in sunny Los Angeles. Her prose, poems, and performance pieces have appeared in small-press, national, and international magazines. Her plays have been produced in the U.S., Canada, Russia, and the U.K.
Editorial Note #2: As a professional book reviewer and the Editor-in-Chief of the Midwest Book Review for the last 46+ years, I fully endorse everything Janis Holm's has written in her article. She has fully articulated what has been the policy for myself and the advice given by me on the subject to every volunteer reviewer who has ever asked me the question "Do I have to review a book that I cannot recommend to its intended readership?".
Here is a poem by Lloyd Jacobs (a supporter of the Midwest Book Review) that I just want to share with all of you who are fellow bibliophiles.
For John Dewey
My memory is a great library
like the one at old Alexandria
where Plotinus pored
every niche, foyer and staircase
lined with faded spines
only the ancient docent can read.
There is an alcove of newer volumes
each sacred to a dead friend
or lover or business associate
classified by the Dewey system
new accessions received daily
shelved as the collection grows.
Lloyd Jacobs -- poet
Now here is a review of a new book of interest to writers:
A Sense of Dread
Neal Marshall Stevens
Michael Wiese Productions
12400 Ventura Blvd., #1111, Studio City, CA 91604
9781615933334, $26.95, PB, 194pp
Synopsis: "A Sense of Dread: Getting Under the Skin of Horror Screenwriting" by veteran horror film writer and editor Neal Marshall Stevens features three main sections.
"A Sense of Dread" provides a detailed examination of the biological, psychological, and cultural bases of fear. What fears do we share with animals? What fears are uniquely human? What fears have we learned from our culture? From our families? From our experiences growing up? And what, exactly, is the difference between fear and dread?
"A Sense of Dread" then combines these ideas to explore the roots of human fear and apply them to storytelling for the screen. "The Toolbox of Dread" outlines the techniques for creating terror on the page. A wide array of horror subgenres are also explored, including why they exist, and what challenges each presents to the horror screenwriter.
"A Sense of Dread" also puts Theory into Practice, using examples from his own work to demonstrate how to apply his "toolbox" and the principles of "Dread" to put real scares into the pages of a screenplay.
Critique: A veritable 'how to' manual and textbook for aspiring and practicing screenwriters in the horror film genre, "A Sense of Dread: Getting Under the Skin of Horror Screenwriting" is an authoritative guide by one of the most experienced and successful screen writers in the genre. Comprehensive and thoroughly 'user friendly' in content, organization and presentation, "A Sense of Dread: Getting Under the Skin of Horror Screenwriting" is an essential and core addition to professional, community, film school, college, and university library Theatre/Cinema/TV instructional reference collections.
Editorial Note: Neal Marshall Stevens has been a working professional in the entertainment industry for over thirty years. He began his career at Laurel Entertainment, where he wrote multiple episodes of the anthology series Monsters. Neal worked as senior story editor for Laurel's productions of several miniseries (Stephen King's The Stand, Stephen King's The Langoliers, and Stephen King's The Golden Years), and made-for-TV movies (Precious Victims, The Vernon Johns Story, and several others).
He then worked for Charles Band's Full Moon Entertainment, specializing in direct-to-video productions. Over the course of his association with Full Moon, he worked on over 50 produced motion pictures, including six entries in the popular Puppetmaster series. He also wrote and directed the feature Stitches, and has worked with Charles Band to produce several recent web series, including Trophy Heads and Ravenwolf Towers. Among other projects, Neal sold his original screenplay Deader to Dimension Pictures, which was subsequently produced as Hellraiser: Deader, and wrote the screenplay for Dark Castle's feature remake of Thirteen Ghosts.
"The Midwest Book Review Postage Stamp Hall Of Fame & Appreciation" is a monthly 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 to our postage stamp fund this past month:
Julie Scolnik -- "Paris Blue"
Harriet Cannon -- "Exiled South"
Estelle G. Watts -- "Meanderings"
David Elkind -- "Treble Damages"
Stephanie Cotsirilos -- "My Xanthi"
Lida Sideris -- "Gambling with Murder"
Ernst Fischer -- "Pioneers and Refugees"
Birke Duncan -- "The Hanger On Drops In"
Lynne Henderson -- "The Shyness Workbook"
Candace Steele -- "Get Your Career in SHAPE"
Mark Reutlinger -- "Murder with Strings Attached"
Jon Meyer -- "Clouds: Love Poems From Above The Fray"
Ruth Lopez-Yanez -- "I Had a Dream: Songs of an Immigrant!"
Jason Merchey -- "Wisdom: A Very Valuable Virtue That Cannot Be Bought"
Kyle Branche -- "Rock n' Roll Puzzlers: 70 Word Search Super Challenger Puzzles +7"
Stafford House Books
David Stern -- Neptune Press
Tikva Koolyk -- Compass Books
Charles Levin -- Munn Avenue Press
Sneed Collard -- Bucking Horse Books
Ed Mitchell -- BooksByEdMitchell.com
Linda S. Yoshida -- Creative Edge Publishing
Elizabeth Waldman Frazier -- Waldmania PR
In lieu of (or in addition to!) postage stamp donations, we also accept PayPal gifts of support to our postage stamp fund for what we try to accomplish in behalf of the small press community. Simply log onto your PayPal account and direct your kindness (in any amount and at your discretion) to the Midwest Book Review at:
SupportMBR [at] aol.com
(The @ is replaced by "[at]" in the above email address, in an attempt to avoid email-harvesting spambots.)
If you have postage stamps to donate, or if you have a book you'd like considered for review, then send those postage stamps (always appreciated, never required), or a published copy of that book (no galleys, uncorrected proofs, or Advance 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 at www.midwestbookreview.com/bookbiz/jimcox.htm. 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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