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Jim Cox Report: January 2006

Dear Publisher Folk, Friends & Family:

Another year has passed, and now I find my self in the opening days of 2006. When I was born back in 1942 the U.S. was actively embroiled in the first year of World War II -- and things hadn't gone well, from the sneak attack at Pearl Harbor to the fall of Bataan. Japanese-Americans were being rounded up for internment camps, American industry was feverishly trying to convert from making cars to making tanks. The Germans were violently rolling right over the French, the English, the Poles, and just about everybody else they came across.

But Americans had an overall sense of "we're all in this together" patriotism, even while just about everything you could think of was being rationed.

That now ancient war was to drive many a new invention in the fields of medicine, weaponry, communications, science, and industry. One of those inventions was the mass produced cheap "pocket-sized" paperback book that made huge quantities of diverse literature immediately available to ordinary folk on a budget. It was one of the factors that was to enhance our national literacy rates.

Now some fifty years later we are once again embroiled in a global conflict -- but missing is that same sense of collective patriotism. Present is that foreboding that what is being invented out of this current conflict may not be to the continued advantage of the human species -- or an American style democracy. That the judgement of our national political leadership is about on par with Colonel George Armstrong Custer at the battle of the Little Big Horn.

And in these past five decades of wars and the rumors of wars, our literacy rates are steadily dropping -- and the percentages of our population who read for simple pleasure are downright plummeting.

This despite the inventions of tools to make writing and publishing books easier and more accessible to ordinary folk than at any previous time in the whole of recorded human history.

If you want a healthy democracy you are going to need a literate and informed electorate. But that will cost money, effort and planning. So, just how much do you really want to live in a democracy? It's not enough to just write and publish -- you must also be willing to read what is being written and published by others as well, and then respond accordingly and appropriately.

Okay. I'll get off my "New Year's" soapbox and get onto to "tips, tricks, techniques, advise and resources" for writing and publishing:

PublishAmerica is one of first of the growing number of Print-On-Demand (POD) publishers. This information went out to a lot of PA authors last month and may become a trend among the other POD publishers -- at least I hope so:

Dear Author,

Every hour of every business day, bookstores nationwide order and stock a new PublishAmerica title. The store manager has decided to stock it because he believes that the book will sell. As a result, thousands of PublishAmerica books are sitting proudly on bookstore shelves all across the fruited plain.

And they do sell. They sell regardless of whether the bookstore can return unsold copies.

A bookstore's decision to stock a book is generally made by the manager. A bookstore typically stocks just one percent of the 190,000 new books that are published each year. For bookstores to stock all books published would mean adding 20 feet of new shelf space every day, seven days per week. Therefore bookstore managers must be selective on what books they choose.

Sometimes they base the decision on whether the book is returnable. If the book is not returnable, they sometimes choose not to stock it.

Many of our titles are already returnable. We have been running an experiment with an increasing number of our titles. It appears that once a bookstore has established a book's selling potential, and stocked the book, the store manager's decision is proven right: PublishAmerica books are competitive, high quality, reliably selling books.

Therefore, as of next month, we are making all of our books returnable!

Although many of our titles are currently stocked in stores, you may soon find even more bookstore managers inclined to order and stock your book now that there is zero risk involved for them.

Please bear with us as we must do this gradually, in order to enable our wholesaler Ingram to accurately activate the new status on roughly eleven thousand books that are currently in print, starting with the titles that are selling more than 40 copies in September (libraries and individuals who order more than 40 copies this month are receiving a 40 pct discount; phone orders only at 301 695 1707).

Also, there will be a few exceptions initially, such as full-color picture books, and for the time being this revolutionary experiment will be limited to U.S. bookstores only. We will review the results after a few months and see what, if any, adjustments must be made.

Congratulations on being part of this exciting and revolutionary adventure.

--PublishAmerica Author Support

Now the above may simply be temporary hype. But if PA follows through with this it will demolish one of the main obstacles POD published authors face when trying to market their titles through traditional bookstores -- the fear of being stuck with unsaleable titles.

I repeated the entire PA message with the intent of recommending to any author considering a POD approach to incorporate this kind of codicil into your POD contract whether you go with PA, Infinity, Trafford, iUniverse, or any of the dozens of others.

This came in as part of one of the online publisher discussion groups I monitor and occasionally contribute to. The subject was the infrequency with which reviewers and review publications notify authors and publishers when their titles are reviewed -- with a specific reference to the Midwest Book Review:

In a message dated 12/16/2005 10:28:54 A.M. Central Standard Time, writes:

We have gotten reviews twice from MidWest Book Review and never heard from them either. (And I send them stamps!) I found out both times because their reviews show up on Amazon...

To which I responded as follows:

All the reviews that I and our editorial staff turn out are automatically sent to the publishers.

But our volunteer reviewers (as well as the freelance reviewers) are responsible to send out their own publisher notification letters and copies of the reviews for the books they've reviewed.

Also, the reviews that our in-house staff produce are automatically posted on Amazon (assuming the book has a webpage on Amazon) because we are content providers for them.

But, again, our volunteer and freelance reviewers (who own all rights to their reviews) are responsible for posting their reviews on Amazon. Although a few of them refuse to do so because they have issues with Amazon. It's their prerogative and their choice.

There's still another reason that publishers don't receive our notification letters -- they get bounced back by the post office because of obsolete addresses. That happens three or four times every month. I've long considered it a chronic problem with self-published and small presses who don't register their change of addresses with us for the review copies they've sent out prior to changing their address.

Then there's one more problem that is specific to POD titles. While the POD companies like iUniverse, Infinity, Trafford, AuthorHouse, PublishAmerica, etc. have all committed themselves to forwarding our publisher notification letters to their author clients, some of them are rather haphazard about doing so.

My personal apology to Pam Schwagerl and all other authors and publishers who find their reviews on Amazon (or elsewhere on the Internet) but failed to receive a physical copy of their review accompanied by a publisher notification letter in their mailbox -- especially if they were kind enough to donate postage stamps which we use specifically for that purpose!

Should that situation ever occur to you, please feel free to send me an email inquiry and I can quickly find out which explanation for the lapse is applicable.

And if it was the fault of a volunteer or freelance reviewer (who we always encourage to notify publishers when they've reviewed a book), or a POD company failed to follow through, or an obsolete address was the culprit, (and never underestimate my own ability to simply screw up on occasion!) then I can at least make a hard copy of the review for you and send it to you myself.

I can make that offer with confidence because we now keep all reviews on the Midwest Book Review website for three years and I've got a dandy on-site search engine to help me out. Plus, folks have been very generous with their postage stamp donations!

Jim Cox
Midwest Book Review

That business of extending our capacity to retain book reviews on our website from two years to three years recently came about because of another generous grant that helped us to buy more space on the ISP we use -- and our webmaster constantly after me to provide her with what she needs to make the Midwest Book Review website as "user friendly' for visitors as possible.

We had 4,000+ visitors last month. Not bad for a website so specialized to writing and publisher and the needs of librarians and booksellers as is ours!

Then there was this:

Subject: [Self-Publishing] RE: Reviewers
Date: 11/16/2005 7:45:59 A.M. Central Standard Time

Yes, my clients have used Jim Cox's Midwest Book Reviews, and we were extremely happy with the reviews. I am very careful when recommending reviewers to my clients, because I am aware of the fact that many reviewers are not worth pursuing, and some can even cause harm. That's why I was curious about Book Pleasures.

Also, I appreciate your sense of organization. Since I am not a newbie, though I am relatively new to this list, I do keep folder and records of printers, publicists, agents, writers, reviewers, and so on. I only gave a short introduction in my previous email, but I neglected to say that I have been a working as a freelancer since the mid-1980s.

Thanks again for your replies.

All the best,

Sun Edit Write
Editing and Writing Services
Book Layout and Design Services

Here Jill (responding to a discussion thread on SPAN) refers to something she does that I would endorse and recommend for all authors and publishers who hope to succeed over the long run in this highly competitive, rapidly evolving, "its-as-much-as-who-you-know-as-what-you-know" business.

Make and maintain lists of resources and personnel for every aspect of the publishing process, from preparing your manuscript, to getting it printed & bound, to getting it priced, reviewed, marketed, distributed, -- and still be able to make a profit.

There is a specific value for utilize freelancers at any point in the process of publication. Just make certain that when you hire a freelancer that you first vette them to insure their competence; bid out your contract to insure you are getting the best price; and write your contract so as to include safeguards to insure the freelancer's compliance with the demands of the task -- including deadlines.

I routinely work with a host of freelance publicists. Almost always I have found them to be conscientious, dedicated, and capable. But every now and then (like in any other business) you come across one who is not worth what they are trying to charge. So "caveat emptor" and make sure you get it in writing.

One of the reasons that I still monitor the online discussion groups after all these years in the business is that I still continue to discover ways to expand and improve the Midwest Book Review. Here's a case in point:

Subject: [Self-Publishing] Book Reviews
Date: 12/6/2005 6:29:23 P.M. Central Standard Time

Agape Cove, an online Christian bookstore is looking for book reviews with a Christian perspective to add to our blog. All genres will be considered. We can not pay for your review, but the reviewer will get full credit.

Kathi Dameron

I contacted Kathi and now we are routinely sending copies of the reviews we generate for "The Christian Bookshelf" and "The Religion/Spirituality Bookshelf" review columns -- along with the reviews generated by a couple of our staff reviewers who specialize in Christian publishing.

There are quite a few of these specialized book review forum opportunities. A lot of them are listed in the "Other Reviewers" section of the "Book Lover Resources" part of the Midwest Book Review at

Here are four more "how to" books for writers and/or publishers:

The Writing/Publishing Shelf

Write Tight
William Brohaugh
ISI Books
Box 4431, Wilmington, DE 19807-0431
1882926889 $14.95 1-800-526-7022,

Former editor of "Writer's Digest" magazine William Brohaugh presents Write Tight: How To Keep Your Prose Sharp, Focused And Concise, a practical guide to focusing one's message with grace, simplicity, and power, especially in today's attention-span deprived world of sound bites and distractions. From removing unnecessary syllables to excising gratuitous chapters, Write Tight identifies sixteen types of "flabby" writing (which says too little with too much verbage), offers "verbal aerobics" to hone one's skills, and even offers nonverbal devices such as sidebars and checklists to streamline one's manuscripts. Write Tight is a supremely valuable, "must-have" for aspiring writers in all fields from prose to nonfiction, journalistic copy, screenwriting and so much more.

Writer's Breakthrough
Grace LaJoy Henderson, PhD.
Inspirations by Grace LaJoy
PO Box 181, Raymore, MO 64083
0974758310 $15.99

Writer's Breakthrough: Steps To Copyright And Publish Your Own Book is a guide written especially for aspiring writers who know absolutely nothing about book publishing. Though Writer's Breakthrough is especially addressed to gifted Christian writers, its advice is solid and practical for writers of all faiths, as are its sample forms. Roughly half of Writer's Breakthrough is devoted to a simplified, step-by-step walkthrough to publishing a book, with bonus tips concerning marketing and distribution; the other half is filled with examples and forms, from a suggested format for a copyright page to a sample copyright application. Writer's Breakthrough is an excellent, practical, easy-to-understand resource for novice writers and aspiring self-publishers.

Heavy Words Lightly Thrown
Chris Roberts
Gotham Books/Penguin Putnam
375 Hudson Street, NY, NY 10014
1592401309 $20.00

Was Jack Horner a squatter? Why was Mary so contrary? And what made Gorgy Porgy run? The history beyond common nursery rhymes is covered in a lively survey of rhyme meaning and origins in Heavy Words Lightly Thrown: The Reason Behind The Rhyme. Here are quirky tales and realities: once you read Heavy Words, you'll never look at Mother Goose quite the same way!

Comma Sense
Richard Lederer & John Shore
St. Martin's Press
175 - 5th Avenue, New York NY 10010
0312342543 $22.95

Not just another book on punctuation! What can Comma Sense: A Fundamental Guide To Punctuation hold over its many competitors? 'Fun' is the operative word here, as Richard Lederer and John Shore poke fun at the misuse of punctuation and how choices in punctuation can have very different results. Plenty of examples come couched in this humor, which makes Comma Sense quite easy to learn. Just consider that here the exclamation point is the 'titan of tingle, the prince of palpitation' and you have some idea of the allure of Comma Sense - and its potential of educating those who traditionally wouldn't touch grammar books with a ten-foot pole.

Well that will pretty much do it for this January episode of the "Jim Cox Report". If you would like to receive the Report directly (and for free), simply send me an email asking to be signed up for it.

If you have a book you'd like to have considered for review, send a published copy (no galleys or uncorrected proofs) accompanied by a cover letter and a publicity release to my attention at the address below.

So until February rolls around, I bid you Goodbye, Good Luck, and Good Reading!

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

James A. Cox
Midwest Book Review
278 Orchard Drive
Oregon, WI 53575-1129
phone: 1-608-835-7937

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