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Jim Cox Report: July 2001

Dear Publisher Folk, Friends & Family:

1. It's been another great month here at the Midwest Book Review. What follows is a general update for those interested regarding what goes on at one of the most small press publisher friendly book review operations in the country -- and in this age of the Internet, maybe the world!

The July issues of our online book review magazines "Children's Bookwatch" and "Internet Bookwatch" have been uploaded to our website, sent to our subscribers (including and, and mailed off in a computer disk to the Gale Research Company in Michigan for inclusion in an interactive CD-ROM. This CD-ROM is called "Book Review Index", and it goes out quarterly to corporate, academic, and public library systems around the country.

Subscription to either of our two magazines is free. Just send me an email request to receive one or both. They will arrive in the form of an ASCII text document attached to an email announcement. Subscribers have full permission to use any of our reviews to enrich the content of their own websites, organizational newsletters, internet discussion groups, etc. -- Just be sure to cite Midwest Book Review when doing so.

For those who are interested only in specific subject areas, (eg. Travel, Cookbooks, Parenting, Poetry, Metaphysics, etc., etc.) we can sign you up to receive only those columns you wish. Now that my daughter Bethany has joined the Midwest Book Review staff as our webmaster and "Managing Editor", she has expanded the "specific subject" subscribers to include virtually any column (e.g., The Military Shelf; The Literary Shelf; The Biography Shelf; The Railroading Shelf, etc., etc.) comprised in the monthly issues.

Our website has recently undergone a major, professional quality renovation courtesy of Williams Writing, Editing and Design ( They provided an excellent new layout, which Bethany continues to improve and "tweak" to make it more user-friendly. She has expanded our web site's size from 5 MB to 10 MB. Among other things, this means that the back issues available on our website, which had been restricted to four because of size restraints, is now at six -- which gives us half a year's worth of "Internet Bookwatch" and "Children's Bookwatch" issues (counting the current issue) on display.

That, combined with the Midwest Book Review website specific search engine Bethany installed, means that visitors can easily access more and more of the reviews generated by the Midwest Book Review -- and that they will be around longer and longer before they have to be removed for space considerations as new reviews are generated.

Another improvement (my kid is a computer whiz as ever there was one!) is the site map, and still another is an improved and detailed homepage listing and linking to specific subject areas. The section devoted to "Writing/Publishing" is now alphabetically listed as follows:

Advice For Publishers
Copyright Resources
Jim Cox Reports
Publicity & Promotion
Publisher Associations
Publisher Resources
Writer Resources

Bethany has also instituted another standard practice when adding resource links to our website on the various and thematically appropriate webpages and sections. She is now automatically sending the newly linked website a "notification" email announcing the linkage and inviting reciprocity. One of the very pleasant surprises has been the number of responses informing us that the newly linked website already had a link on it to our own Midwest Book Review!

This past month has seen Bethany add about 90 new links to our website. This month it looks like we have about 110 more links to add.

After she clears up the backlog of resource links waiting to be added, she will be adding more "how to" articles on writing and publishing for our "Advice To Publishers" section. There are about twenty of those backlogged.

Bethany is fast. Much faster than I am. It usually took me about 5 to 6 hours from start to finish to get both our CBW and IBW magazines up on our website, and another 3 to 4 hours to get them out to our subscribers. She did it all in about 4 hours -- roughly half the time it took me. She's just that good and that quick -- or I'm just that bad and that slow!

Incidently, Bethany has listed in her "things to do" the acquisition of a domain name for the Midwest Book Review website. I suspect that we will have one before the summer is over. She says that our current URL is a pitiful, complicated, obscure, user-hostile antique from the dawn of the World Wide Web.

Never the less, do visit our website at:

Then when you find it to be as interested, useful, and down right invaluable, just bookmark it! If the bookmark is ever lost, you can also find us by searching for "Midwest Book Review" on or most other popular search engines.

Bethany will spend the rest of this week posting the July individual reviews on Then it's back to expanding and tweaking the website!

2. Now on to some "tips, tricks & techniques" designed to improve a publisher's chances for profitability in a highly competitive marketplace, which is rapidly evolving both technologically and culturally.

One of the big discussion threads recently has been over the "Pay for Review" feature that Marti & Virginia at ForeWord Magazine has been trying to innovate.

Here's my initial response:

Dear Publisher Folk:

I just wanted to say that I found Marti's posting to be entertaining, informative, and downright fascinating.

As she has described it, ForeWord's "publisher pay" review financing is a worthy (and necessary) experiment. But my personal and rather negative views on "publisher paid for" reviews still hold.

I also wonder at the $295 price tag. How many books would you as a publisher have to sell to reclaim your capital investment? How would this practice differ from hiring a copy writer to produce an advertisement for your book and then just calling the thing a review?

I read an average of two books a day: one fiction, one non-fiction. I'm a rapid reader -- a very rapid reader. It takes me about ten minutes to compose my thoughts on paper. Writing (like reading) has always come rather easy to me. I can't remember how many years it has been since I was bothered by any kind of writer's block.

So at ForeWord's prices, if I did nothing else all day, then I could generate a couple thousand dollars a day. And if I went into a high-speed assembly line mode of churning out reviews (with a degree of quality to them), then I could generate quite an admirable revenue stream.

But something just feels wrong about this scenario. Could it be that I'm just hopelessly old fashioned and romantic about the nature of books and the "mission" of the reviewer? Or is it that I find the differences between hand-craftsmanship and assembly line production to be as applicable to the reviewing of books as it is to the production of furniture?

For this experiment of Mardi and Victoria's to work, it seems that publishers would have to receive two things to make the financial investment worthwhile:

1. Dynamite copy that could be exploited within the publisher's total marketing program. Judging from the quality and readability of Mardi's post, she clearly has the literary skills to pull that off. -- But for how many books in a given time period -- a working day, a week, a month? Same question for the reviewers she would have to contract, in order to keep up with the excess books received beyond what she can handle on her own.

2. Acceptance by the various forums to which she would post or otherwise present her reviews. I think that once word got out that, unlike the Midwest Book Review volunteer-created and non-publisher subsidized reviews, the "publisher paid for" ForeWord reviews wouldn't be found in the "reader reviews" section of a book's webpage, but would be placed in the "editorial reviews" section where the publisher is already permitted to write a descriptive post -- and where such reviews generated by the New York Times, Publisher's Weekly, and LJ reviews are sometimes to be found.

I will watch this experiment unfold with a great deal of interest and well-wishing. But in the long run, if I had to bet right now, I'd bet against it as a "wave of the future" in publishing trends.

As for Marti -- I'd read her laundry list if she were to post it. What a gifted writer and altogether interesting member of our publishing community!

Jim Cox
Midwest Book Review

3. Al Canton announced that his usual summer hiatus from writing his weekly Rants might be permanent. I hope not. What follows is a personal example of why not.

In a message dated 01-05-05 01:33:23 EDT, Al Canton writes:

> What the small press does not realize is that money talks. How many
> times do the editors of the large New York houses take reviewers to
> lunch, or invite them to lavish parties? Have you ever been to the
> Russian Tea Room on 57th Street? Have you ever had dinner at the
> Algonquin Hotel? If so, whom did you see at each place? Then tell me
> that reviews in the major media are "free."

Once again Al has written a totally engaging commentary that had me riveted from beginning to end -- particularly since it was principally on my particular part of the publishing industry -- book reviews.

From my own personal experience I can tell you that the large New York houses do indeed "wine and dine" reviewers and review publication editors. Back in about my 5th or 6th year in this business (it's been some twenty years ago and my memory is growing creakier with age) it was the old Van Nostrand Reinhold company that flew me out to a New York state retreat, wined & dined me, and paid me a $1000 speaking fee for a 50 minute talk and video presentation.

That's something that only the corporate publishing giants could afford to do -- then or now. And, being only human, it got their titles preferential consideration by me for a couple of years afterward.

Then I came to ponder just what the ethical implications arising from this incident in my professional career were, and how my own behavior as a reviewer and a review editor had been affected. That's when I came to the conclusion that never again would I accept a speaking fee for workshops, seminars, conferences, conventions, the PMA-U, or anything similar.

Transportation, lodging, meals -- okay. Mostly because I can't afford to front those bills myself. But never charging for my expertise, advice, consultations, speeches, diatribes, or professional words of wisdom. Because I need to have my professional work as a reviewer and as a review editor avoid even the appearance of any conflict of interest in the form of bought-and-paid-for favoritism. Unconscious or otherwise.

This need of mine arises from a burning determination to be taken seriously and trustingly by those whose books I do end up reviewing -- or assign out for review to my cadre of volunteer reviewers -- as well as by those who "consume" our reviews in order to make their bookstore ordering, library acquisition, or personal reading decisions.

Now, my own experience was back in the times before merger mania broke out and the bean counters took over the New York-based publisher biggies. Nowadays I suspect that such lavishness is more an exception than a rule. You don't hear much about $10,000 "coming out" parties for an author's new book anymore.

With respect to Al's suggestions about the desirability of paying reviewers as a means for insuring that you get reviewed, and then parlaying that purchased review into getting a good return on your investment through including it in a marketing campaign:

1. Any reviewer or review publication that would accept money for a review would quickly debase its reputation among those that read or otherwise utilize their reviews (I speak here of bookstore personnel and librarians, not just the general reading public).

2. The same prejudices that are (justifiably) present with respect to vanity press titles would soon envelope any magazine or periodical when word got out that a review was done for money.

3. Publishers would make themselves even more vulnerable to exploitation by the unscrupulous reviewer (and review publication marketing departments) than they already are.

Now a word as to the publishing community -- as a community -- trying to do something to make reading once again fashionable as leisure time activity:

1. The dumbing down of America has passed the point of no return -- at least in what's left of my lifetime.

2. There are even more inventions on the horizon (HDTV, Virtual Reality Gaming, Tivo, etc.) that will compete with reading as a leisure time activity with the younger generations.

3. The economic and technological realities that mark the gradual but continuing replacement of print-on-paper style books with electron-printing-on-a-screen style as the cultural norm in the fields of education, business, lifestyle issues (which range from how-to home repair through how-to relationship development) will expand and intensify over the next couple of decades.

Reading as a problem solving tool is alive and well.
Reading as a leisure time activity is sickly and diminishing.

Books as paper products will fade from the commonplace to being a novelty.
Books as electronic texts will dominate and diversify.

Fortunately, at the age of 58, I expect not to live long enough to see my predictions come to pass. -- But my grandchildren will.

Jim Cox
Midwest Book Review

4. It's all well and good that a book receives a positive review from a respected source, but if that review doesn't have a forum sufficient to bring it to the attention of the intended readership then it is, at best, an exercise in futility made all the more poignant because it is so positive. I came into the book review business feeling that way and have never had cause to doubt my initial impression on the matter.

That's why I took to the internet so early in its development, and became the first reviewer to offer my reviews to American Online to enrich their then fledgling information content for the "online community" they were trying to build.

And why I approached when it was first struggling to impress itself upon the awareness of the public. (Borders and BarnesAndNoble came to me, largely on the strength of what they saw us doing with Amazon.)

This is a little of that history that I provided, in response to a discussion thread about the Midwest Book Review and our review posting activities:

In a message dated 01-05-18 15:28:24 EDT, Harry S. Pariser writes:

> What Jim says about his reviews on Amazon is true. He is the only one
> who does that! And there is no easy way, as far as I can see, for
> publishers to add reviews.

The Midwest Book Review does hold a kind of privileged position in this regard because, years ago when Amazon was first starting up, I cut a deal with them and became a volunteer "content provider". (I did the same thing with Steve Case and his then fledgling America Online -- but that's another story.) That status was eventually duplicated by Borders and BarnesAndNoble. In fact, it was a staffer at Borders who approached me to request that I do the same for them as I was doing for Amazon. The B&A folk got on the little Midwest Book Review bandwagon just a few weeks after that. And we've been rolling right along ever since.

My now graduated computer science daughter is currently in charge of doing the Amazon posts. In June I'm going to show her how to send the reviews to the Borders and B&A folk, where their respective staffers do the individual postings. We just send our magazine contents to them (and she is very grateful for that)!

> What he fails to mention is that his book review also is read by
> librarians who use it to consider which books to order. This is also
> a plus!

In fact, every now and then I have a librarian get confused and call the Midwest Book Review to order a book we've reviewed! When that happens I cheerfully redirect them to the appropriate publisher. Those kinds of calls have diminished notably over the past couple of years -- I attribute it to more and more librarians moving from the reviews printed in our newsletters to the same reviews being featured at Amazon.

And woe betide me if I misspell a word!! The local librarians I meet and assist in my role as Acquisition Consultant through the auspices of the Dane Count Library Services (DCLS) organization -- who all get our newsletters -- are not at all hesitant about ribbing me when a typo gets through undetected!!

Jim Cox
Midwest Book Review

The above is an example of why, in addition to the local radio show (1976) that I began with, I gradually expanded our book review distribution forums to include television (1978); library newsletters (1980); the internet (1985); interactive library CD-ROMs (1992); and short-wave radio (1998).

Before we leave the subject of, here are two more parts of the online discussion:

In a message dated 01-06-13 11:56:21 EDT, Charles Halliman writes:

> I have a question concerning the effect of reviews.
> Will a four star review with a positive recommendation to buy the book
> be viewed as a lot less than a five star review, therefore actually
> causing some people, who might have bought the book, not to buy the
> book?

The "star" system of rating is purely subjective and selected by the reviewer in the process of posting their review on Amazon. Modeled after the movie's star ratings (and occasional thumbs up or down) the ratings are to give the site visitor a quick and symbolic idea of whether the review pans or praises.

The difference between a 4 and a 5 star rating is negligible and relatively unimportant from the author and/or publisher's perspective, because both of these rating levels fall into the 'recommended' category. A 5 star rating doesn't mean the book is flawless. It simply reflects the reviewer's recommendation that the book is very much worthwhile for its intended readership.

Jim Cox
Midwest Book Review

In a message dated 01-06-16 09:22:47 EDT, Darren Ingram writes:

> I saw the Midwest Book Review's reviews and found it an interesting one.
> Reading more I noticed that every review from MBR, even the just over three
> line ones (i.e. Dumpy La Rue) get five stars.. How is that? What is the
> criteria?

Simple. 5 stars means that the book is recommended to its intended readership by our reviewers. We only post reviews for those books that are recommended. Flawed, substandard, or mediocre books (Stars 1, 2 & 3) don't get reviewed.

I suppose 4 stars does mean its a good book, an above average book and therefore worth the reader's time -- but I personally think an extra point (star) should be added on the basis of the book being any of the following: a small press title, a new author trying to make it in a highly competitive field, a nice approach to an otherwise routine subject matter, or I'm feeling kindly disposed to folks trying to write, publish, and attract a readership.

And, of course, 5 stars is always awarded to the "must read" book category -- even if it comes from a major New York house with their built-in marketing departments and big name authors -- with publishing contracts to match.

Jim Cox
Midwest Book Review

5. Reviews and how to get them is a standard subject for discussion among small press publishers -- especially if they are new to the field. What follows is my response to just such an inquiry:

In a message dated 01-06-06 21:03:29 EDT, writes:

> How does one know what reviewer to contact, and how does one contact a
> particular reviewer. One of your reviewers suggested reading several of the
> reviews to see if there was one whose likes seemed compatible with my novel.
> There wasn't, really. Though in the course of reading through, I found some
> books I want to read.

It's always a good idea to read reviews of books similar to your own and note which reviewers seem to do a competent job -- then send your book and publicity release to their attention. Sources for such reviews can range from, to such publisher magazines as PW and LBJ, to specialized trade magazines.

> My novel, The Phoenix, is a historical, set in the late 1800's, and includes
> some American theatrical history. The two main characters are gay men, one
> the survivor of a horrible childhood in the London slums, the other the son
> of a devout but unbending Christian country doctor. So there's social
> history, and religious conflict, also.
> Would I just send the book to you and it would be assigned blindly by
> someone?

At the Midwest Book Review the process of selection and assignment works this

I see all incoming books and do an initial screening into three piles. 1) books guaranteed to be featured; 2) books dismissed outright; and 3) books that are worthwhile and will depend on my being able to persuade one of our volunteer reviewers to take on the assignment.

Category #1 is pretty much what I want to do personally, or are so good and attractive that I will serve as the "fail safe" reviewer if I can't persuade one of my staff to take it on.

Category #2 are those titles that are poorly produced (read mediocre cover art, no accompanying publicity release, etc.), or it's a major publishing house book and I'm already trying to get a small press title of the same category, subject matter, or topic assigned and reviewed.

Category #3 are those titles that are decently packaged, the publicity release is just fine, and it looks as if the book could garner a positive review from one or more of my current troop of volunteer reviewers. These books have a 12 to 14 week "window of opportunity" in which to be successfully assigned out.

> It's a really great site for writers and small publishers. Keep up the good
> work. Thank you for any info you can give me.

Thank you for your very kind words about our newly reorganized Midwest Book Review website. Be sure to read all the articles in the section "Advice For Publishers". You will find them informative, practical, and well worth your time as you try to market and promote you novel.

Jim Cox
Midwest Book Review

6. Another recent bombshell to explode upon the small press publishing scene was Ingram's announcement restricting their acceptance of titles from the small press community. Here's my response:

Dear Publisher Folk:

I've been following the discussion about Ingram's new policy of refusing to work directly with small press publishers of fewer than ten titles. There have been a couple of interesting suggestions on a possible alternative to enlisting in one of their approved distributors. I'd like to offer one more.

There are several publishers who have formed coalitions with other publishers to market their titles. These publisher coalitions produce a catalog with everyone's individual titles, the sponsoring publisher has an 800 number and can take orders for any of the coalition members represented in the catalog. I offer as an effective example that of Texas A&M University Press.

Here are the publishers featured in the Spring 2001 Texas A&M University Press catalog:

Baylor University Press
McWhiney Foundation Press
Southern Methodist University Press
Texas A&M University Press
Texas Christian University Press
Texas Review Press
Texas State Historical Association
University of North Texas Press
Winedale Publishing

These are all small press publishers -- some of them very small indeed. Yet they have formed a cooperative coalition to take advantage of some of the economies of scale (such as a very nice and presentable catalog) to market their titles.

Incidently, novels, poetry and short story collections are among the titles offered by these coalition members -- not just academic non-fiction.

Such coalitions also have the virtue of being able to break that newly installed Ingram barrier requiring publishers to either have more than ten books or join up with their very small list of approved distributors.

If any of you are Texas-based publishers and look like you are about to be refused Ingram's services, then you might want to get in touch with Texas A&M University Press and find out what their criteria are to join their coalition. The contact information I have for them is:

Publicity/Marketing Department
Texas A&M University Press
Drawer C, College Station, TX 77843-4354

For you non-Texas folk, you might try looking to university presses in your state which have formed similar coalitions, as well as non-university affiliated publishers who have opened their catalogs to other small presses.

Jim Cox
Midwest Book Review

It looks to me like coalition building among single title self-published authors and less-than-five-titles small presses is the best way to break into Ingram's databases.

That, and developing (through a dynamite promotional campaign) such a huge demand for their book(s) that Ingram comes to them, hat-in-hand, asking for permission to carry the book(s).

6. In a message dated 01-06-12 06:26:25 EDT, Shel quoted from Greg Godek's key note speech at this year's PMA-U -- and what especially caught my eye was:

> I don't send press kits anymore, I just send books; they're cheaper.
> With brilliantly written cover letters.

I realized that Greg Godek is quite correct in his observation. A great cover letter (publicity release) is second only to a great cover in persuading one of my reviewers to accept a title for review. Press kits don't enter in to it. Not even the ones with lots of quotable quotes from other reviewers.

The place for the press kit is not with review copies sent to reviewers. It is to the radio and television media outlets looking for all the visuals and testimonials they can get to decide if the author/book is right for their show.

> I turn vacations into media trips.

Every author, every small press publisher, should have a case of their books in the trunk of their car at all times. You never know when and where an opportunity will arise to market your book. And if you can tie a media interview or bookstore signing into your vacation schedule you can even write a portion of your trip off on your taxes!

That other thing implicit (and explicit) in what Greg had to say was about the practical virtue of giving away review copies with a liberal hand. The least expensive, most effective promotional tool you have to market your book is the book itself!

The second least expensive, most effective promotional tool you have to market your book is a well-crafted publicity release.

When you combine the book with a publicity release, you have the best and most cost-effective basis for any promotional or marketing campaign available to an individual author or small press publisher.

Jim Cox
Midwest Book Review

7. With our revised and much improved website has come two interesting side-effects. There has been an increase of 6 new volunteer reviewers, and a discernable increase in small presses sending their books to our attention in hope of being reviewed.

And we've been getting email responses like the following from Julianna Joyce Perkins:

> I came upon your website immediately bookmarked it immediately!! What a
> great resource. Thank you.

Our pleasure! Every month we have an "updating" session and add more articles, links, and information of interest to writers, publishers, and the general reading public. That also includes the section dedicated to newspapers, magazines, periodicals, and newsletters.

> I wondered if you have information on who to contact to become a syndicated
> columnist. About three years ago there was a web site that listed people
> who connected columnists with newspapers and they listed various topics that
> were in current demand. Of course that was about three crashed hard drives
> ago, and none of my searches has turned anything up. Any help you can give
> me would be greatly appreciated.

Not specifically. What I recommend to aspiring writers seeking to become syndicated columnists is the following "game plan":

1. Write columns for your local paper. Don't overlook weeklies, shoppers, even organizational newsletters as possible outlets for your columns.

2. Go to your local library and get the names of the syndicates that run columnists in the newspapers and news magazines. Then do a search for their address and contact information on the internet and/or through the assistance of the librarian (there are some excellent "media reference" sources that can help).

3. Contact the syndication companies and ask for the appropriate contact person in charge of evaluating applicants for syndication columnists with their organization.

4. Craft a dynamite contact letter and include several examples of your previously published columns (that's why you want to get your material into local papers, newsletters, etc. -- to establish a track record and document that your material is publishable).

> Again, thanks for your web site. What a valuable service you are doing!
> Julianna Joyce Perkins

Thank you for your very kind words. They are much appreciated!

And that's enough for this month -- until next time!!

Jim Cox
Midwest Book Review

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

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