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Jim Cox Report: January 2002

Dear Publisher Folk:

Looking back, it's been quite a year -- personally, professionally, and for the nation as a whole.

The publishing/bookselling marketplace continues to be in a high state of flux, profoundly impacted by innovative technologies, corporate consolidations, an expanding internet, continuing sociological trends, as well as politics both domestic and international.

There are more publishers, publishing more books, for fewer readers, and at higher production/promotion/distribution costs than ever before in recorded human history.

As the editor-in-chief of the Midwest Book Review, I feel like I have a front row seat to one of the best literary shows since the invention of the printing press.

Self-published authors are the most rapidly expanding segment of the publishing industry, if judged by the percentages of self-published titles (I also include here such firms as Xlibris, iUniverse, and 1st Books) that make up the continuing average of 1500 books a month submitted to us for review consideration.

Even with a new high of 60 volunteer reviewers (in this past month we lost one to that great book review in the sky, and were joined by two new volunteers) the number of self-published authors submitting their titles (mostly fiction) simply cannot be kept up with.

Still, as it has often been said before, you may lose if you play, but if you don't play you are guaranteed not to win.

One of the principle reasons why self-published titles submitted for review consideration get passed over is that some have non-professional qualities in their accompanying cover letters and publicity releases. A little more than a third of self-published titles arrive with the cover letter written on plain typing stationery -- not on letterhead stationery. About a fourth of the self-published titles arrived with a print-out of their Amazon webpage substituted for a proper publicity release.

These books are in direct competition for a review assignment with all those books we get from the major New York houses that are accompanied by professionally standard PRs, cover letters, business cards, media kits, etc.

These books are in direct competition with small press, regional publishers, academic houses, and other self-published authors -- all of whom are presenting themselves with the symbols that denote professionalism, including such easily created items as a letterhead stationery, a publishing house name, a one-sheet publicity release, relevant ordering and contact information (phone numbers, website addresses, ISBN numbers, etc.).

In your cover letter, mention that they you are a member of SPAN, Pub-Forum, Publish-L, or PMA so that I can be sure to give your submission a bit of extra attention, and have it "bumped" to "the head of the line" for consideration. Then, even if you fall into the "amateur submission" category and haven't done things exactly right from a professional point of view, your submitted book will not be automatically discarded -- as it certainly would by most other book review publications. I will at least put your book on our shelves, and try to talk our volunteers into considering it for review.

Please carefully note that I am not guaranteeing a review. Only that your book will not be automatically discarded without a chance to be reviewed. It may still fail to be reviewed. But that failure will be the result of its being passed over in favor of something else -- not from having been summarily tossed before anyone could have a chance at being talked into considering it.

Inevitably, at the end of a 14 to 16 week stay on our shelves, I have to remove a dozen or so titles every month, for they were been chronically passed over in favor of other small press or self-published titles for which the author or the publisher did everything right.

Even then, for the ones who did everything right, there are simply not enough reviewers interested in the offered subjects (for example, there is a glut of first time contemporary fiction these days) to take them all on.

This topic came readily to my mind because, in the past few days, a very unhappy self-published author communicated severe disappointment to me because his book had been rejected for review. It had not made the sufficient grade to achieve a review assignment.

The first thing he did wrong was that he contacted me at the end of December about a book that he had submitted sometime "last spring".

That is a time span so long ago that the only way I was able to acknowledge that the book had arrived was by consulting the file entry I make for every publisher (and their titles) -- with a note of disposition. I purge that file in monthly installments so that, at any given point in time, I'm working with a database that is twelve months long.

Needless to say, I no longer remember anything about books submitted sometime "last spring". This author cited to me that he had followed my advice (since he was a fellow member of one of the publisher discussion groups) and noted in his cover letter that he was self-published and a fellow list member, in order to secure the advantage of being actively considered with a little bit of extra effort, since I feel a personal commitment to list folk.

His second error was in assuming that a commitment to consider a fellow list member's title for review was the same thing as a commitment to review it.

I'm pleased to report that what began as a rather pronounced disappointment, relaxed a bit when, in ensuing email communications I was able to more coherently explain the limitations imposed by the sheer volume of submissions, and that I was quite sincere about giving list folk a little extra attention -- like bumping them to the head of the line when trying to secure review assignments for their submissions.

I fully appreciate and empathize with the self-published author and the small press publisher's chronic, endemic frustration at the sometimes very convoluted book selling marketplace. Has anyone tried to contact a real live human being at lately? Or tried to get an unknown, self-published, first-time author of a work of fiction noticed in the review columns of professional book retailing journals and newspapers?

We all hear about fabulous success stories, and think that maybe we have a shot at being the next "Harry Potter" author to go from rags to riches. But those stories, while true, are such a very tiny percentage of aspiring authors and small press publishers who seek to make a commercial success out of their efforts. Less than one percent, by my reckoning.

What this all boils down to, by way of my New Year's advice to the publishing community, is:

  1. Don't go into publishing expecting to make a great deal of money. You'll have to work long, hard, and hungry to make any money at all.

  2. Don't go into publishing until you've read enough, studied enough, and planned enough to present yourself within the norms of professional publishing standards.

  3. Publishing is like the old Fuller Brush man selling his bristly wares door to door. You will have to knock a seemingly endless series of doors to find the few that will open to you.

  4. Publishing is like playing the piano. The more you practice, the better you get. And you must never stop practicing -- no matter what the critics may say about the quality of your performance.

  5. Reviewers, like authors and publishers, basically come in three categories: The Good, The Bad, and The Mediocre. Categorical judgements about how to classify a given reviewer belong not the reviewers, but to the authors, publishers, and the general reading public.
As they used to say on Monty Python: Now for something a completely different!

I've long knocked PMA for having dismal mailings to bookstores and review resources -- especially noting that never in their history have mailings been sent to the Midwest Book Review.

Now I must, in all fairness, cite a welcome improvement. For the first time, the Publishers Marketing Association has sent me a cookbook flyer and reviewer request checklist.

Fourteen cookbooks, one each from fourteen different small press PMA members, are very nicely presented on a single, legal-sized glossy paper. Each cookbook cover presented in full color. Each entry has a very nice single-paragraph write up.

This flyer was clearly and effectively designed to appeal to both booksellers and librarians. The fact that is also does just fine for reviewers is a bit of frosting on this well prepared cake.

As it turns out, I had already received and reviewed 7 of the 14 titles. Which means this single mailing has brought another 7 small press publisher cookbook titles to my attention, for the very first time.

I checked them off the mail-in reviewer request card, and I look forward to having them land on my desk. Judging just by the one-paragraph write-ups and the qualities of the cover art, I suspect that all 7 of them will end up being featured in my monthly column "The Cookbook Shelf".

This flyer ends with a PMA descriptive promo, providing the recipient bookstore or librarian with full contact information, including discount schedules and returns info.

This PMA cookbook flyer is simply excellent, as is the letterhead envelope it came in.

Incidently, I think I have Mary Westheimer to thank for this -- after hearing me endlessly complain about PMA's mailings, she offered to contact them in my behalf and have the Midwest Book Review added to their mailing lists for such things.

Jim Cox
Midwest Book Review

Since writing the above, I've received a second outstanding PMA reviewer mailing, this time for reference books. I'd already known about (and reviewed) two of them, but the others were all new to me. The PMA has finally hit upon a consistently excellent mailing formula and presentational strategy with these reviewer-oriented publicity mailings on behalf of their PMA membership.

In a message dated 01-11-08 10:40:28 EST, Laurie writes:

> Just wondering how people think about this: is it necessary to start my own
> business in order to self-publish my book? In other words, for it to have a
> chance to be accepted by a library or a book store, do I have to be a
> publishing company, or can I just have my copyright, ISBN and other info,
> plus an address where books can be ordered?

You've got to be a publishing firm with a publisher name. I get self-published books in here two or three times a month, where the author has simply gone out, had their manuscripts printed up, and tried to market them.

They have no serious chance of selling their books to libraries or through bookstores. And they usually don't make it through the review selection process either.

Jim Cox
Midwest Book Review

Every now and then the subject of book returns from places like Ingram and B&T come up for online discussions. This was my response to the latest batch of postings on the subject:

On the subject of returns -- this is what I tell folks in my workshops and seminars:

The best way to bankruptcy for small press publishers is undercapitalization combined with the lack of an effective business plan.

The second best way to bankruptcy is to sign a standard Ingram contract with its "returns" policy.

Jim Cox
Midwest Book Review

In a message dated 01-11-26 00:53:36 EST, Robert Halmo writes:

> I have a couple questions for the group, and/or Mr. Cox, should he happen to
> read this. If a book is reviewed by MBR, does that automatically mean that
> the review gets posted on Also, does a tearsheet get sent in
> every instance?

When a book is reviewed by the Midwest Book Review the following automatically happens:

  1. the publisher is sent a tear sheet or review script for their records.

  2. the independent publicist (if any) is sent a tear sheet for their records.

  3. the distributor (if any) is sent a tear sheet for their records.

  4. the review is posted on

  5. the review is posted on the Midwest Book Review website for 6 months

  6. the review is incorporated into the interactive cd-rom "Book Review Index" which is sent to corporate, academic, and community library systems.
The exception is the review of an ebook. The responsibility for notifying publishers of ebooks lies with the volunteer reviewer to send a copy of their review to the ebook publisher.

When the publisher is iUniverse, 1st Books, Xlibris, or some other POD house (even though the author is really the one in need of a tear sheet for their own promotional purposes and may have been the one directly submitting the book to our attention) the tear sheet and our accompanying "publisher notification letter" is sent to the POD publisher, and it is the POD publisher's responsibility to inform the author, editor, illustrator, publicist, or anyone else they deem appropriate.

It seems that the POD publishers rarely, in fact, notify the authors. Sometimes the first time an author becomes aware of our review is when they stumble across it at!

Beginning with the December issues of our publication, I've made a special notation file of author names and addresses (tied to the title of their book) in a special "POD Publisher" file, and I will try to send a tear sheet to those folks, in addition to the POD publishers themselves.

If it works out okay, without taking up too much time and attention, I think this practice will be adopted here as a standard one.

If you have a book you'd like to submit for review consideration, the guidelines are simple: Send us the finished book (no galleys, uncorrected proofs, or pre-publication manuscripts), accompanied by a publicity release, and directed to the attention of:

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

I'll finish out this month's "Report" with a few more unsolicited testimonials -- just in case some of my "Report" commentary has gotten you self-published authors and small press publishers too discouraged.

In a message dated 10/08/2001 10:51:12 AM Jennifer Leese writes:

I'll have you know that when I announced these reviews to some of my writer's groups, quite a few people wrote me to tell me that your site is fantastic and that it's "big news" to get reviews posted on your website. I look forward to sending you many more reviews. Thank you for such a wonderful opportunity.

Jennifer LB Leese,

Subj: [pub-forum] Jim Cox
Date: 01-10-11 11:32:25 EDT

Jim was the guest speaker at the MIPA (Midwest Independent Publishers Assoc.) last night. If you ever have a chance to sit and listen to him, and to visit a bit, take advantage of the opportunity. He is truly dedicated to what he does, and you can believe what he says.

Dorothy Molstad
Waldman House Press

Subj: thanks
Date: 01-10-11 15:01:20 EDT
From: (nilisachs)

Dear James,

Re: Yesterday's MIPA meeting. (I am a new member)

Thank you for the intimate view on the life and mind of those who review all these books.

I had no idea.

Your lecture was fascinating and I am looking forward to the challenge of publishing and promoting my manuscripts.

One day soon, my book too will land on your desk. Left pile please.

Thanks again and best wishes,

Nili Sachs Ph.D.
Author of: "Booby Trapped" The first relationship guide to your breasts, for women and the men who love them.

Subj: A book review
Date: 01-11-16 21:20:25 EST
From: (Ryan Wynn)

I am not sure if you take thank you notes or not, but I recently read a book "The Air Traveler's Survival Guide" by A. Frank Steward after reading your review and loved it. I picked it up on the way to a flight and enjoyed my flight immensely and all because of that book. Which is a bit odd because I normally hate flying, especially these days. Thank you for bringing it to my attention and keep up the good work

R Wynn

Subj: Re: Jim Cox Report: November 2001
Date: 01-11-25 04:09:27 EST
From: (Gingerbread House)
To: mwbookrevw@AOL.COM (James Cox)

Dear Jim,

Here I have been for hours already, while many sleep, just trying to catch up on email, prep the files of our three upcoming titles for a designer, etc, when it occurs to me that in this time of giving thanks, I should let you know how very much

I appreciate your posts to the lists, your work behind the scenes, your advice and help offered so generously so that the likes of us can benefit.

Just wanted you to know!


What Joi won't know until she reads this (or until she gets the tear sheets in a few days) is that her latest three Gingerbread House titles are being featured in the January 2002 issue of our "Reviewer's Bookwatch".

And here's a final "book marketing tip" for this Report:

"The fact is, award stickers help to convince buyers to purchase. I've seen this happen with librarians -- when faced with two competing titles and a limited acquisition budget, the librarians will take the one that won an award, any award, over the title that doesn't have an award to its credit. I'm confident that this same phenomena works for bookstore patrons browsing the shelves as well." -- Jim Cox, Midwest Book Review

One quick note on a bit of MBR housekeeping:

Thanks to my MBR webmaster daughter, we now have a domain name for the Midwest Book Review website. It's:

Until next time!

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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