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Jim Cox Report: July 2014

Dear Publisher Folk, Friends & Family:

Amazon continues to be a dominate force in bookselling today. They have all the virtues and flaws of corporate life (corporations are people???) as they seek to maximize their profits -- all too often at the expense of authors, publishers, and even reviewers.

I'm asked about them from time to time because although it has been some 3 or 4 years since the Midwest Book Review posted reviews to Amazon directly, our name still pops up if you type it into the Amazon search engine bar -- as of this writing the current number of Amazon 'hits' for our reviews is 2,648.

Here are my thoughts on them in response to a recent inquiry about Amazon's 5 Star rating system:

Dear Diane:

This is a question that I first dealt with almost 40 years ago and have had to repeat from time to time -- especially when all the reviews from MBR that used to be posted on Amazon (many of which still remain) were all 5 star rated.

My response is that:

1. Flawed books were weeded out in the initial screening process that I did when they first arrived.

2. Reviewer's were encouraged to pass over flawed books that they could not recommend to their intended readership and select another title for review that they could recommend.

3. Amazon's 5 Star rating system was absolutely arbitrary and idiosyncratic. The qualities upon which the recommendation were based were given within the body of the review. That a quickie rating (wether it was 5 Stars, or a "Thumbs Up/Thumbs Down") without a universal framework were totally subjective and therefore an unnecessary short-hand. That I awarded a 5 Star rating because the book made it through my initial screening and won out over (literally) hundreds of competing titles seeking review.

4. I would not post on your web site reviews of books that could not be recommended. I would only post reviews of books that could be recommended in good conscience.

5. I would not segregate wholeheartedly recommended reviews from provisionally qualified recommended reviews, but let the review commentaries provide such information book by book, review by review.

Jim Cox
Midwest Book Review

Speaking of reviews in general:

In a message dated 1/6/2014 6:31:29 P.M. Central Standard Time, Lindsay Crane writes:

Dear Jim Cox,

A colleague at IBPA suggested I write to you. In response to a listserv request for opinions about paid reviews, I commented on the review MW gave my novel "The Lie-Catcher in the Primate House". Frankly, all the reviewer did was summarize my plot and add, "Should be hard to put down." Obviously, this was useless for publicity. Unclear if reviewer actually read it.

Anyway, the colleague praised your integrity and thought you would want to know.

Lindsay Crane

To which I replied:

Thank you for getting in touch.

As of January 1st I initiated a new policy that says anyone who submitted a book for review that passed our initial screening but failed to ultimately achieve a review because the Midwest Book Review receives far more books than it has reviewer resources to accommodate can provide a review from someone else (if they have that reviewer's permission to do so) and we would run it in their behalf and under that other reviewer's byline.

See the January 2014 "Jim Cox Report" for the full details and background at:

You've brought to my attention still another area of concern. As an unsatisfied author with the review they received from the Midwest Book Review, I think I'd like to make you that same offer as an experiment. If you've got what you feel is a better review of your book, and have the reviewer's permission to do so, send it to me and I'll run it in your behalf and under that reviewer's byline.

The whole purpose and function of the Midwest Book Review is to promote literacy, library usage, and small press publishing by whatever means and resources we have available. That intention is probably one of the reasons why we are generally thought so highly of within the publishing industry.

I hope this proves useful to you.

Jim Cox
Midwest Book Review

So, unlike the cavalier attitude the Amazon displays towards authors, publishers, and reviewers -- see the Beth Cox Report for June 2014 at: --
we here at the Midwest Book Review will try our best to be as fair and considerate of authors and those who publish them as we can.

That is and will always remain our goal -- even though (being mortal) I personally sometimes screw up or simply have a differing opinion.

Sometimes we actually succeed in meeting that goal:

From: Waimea Williams
Sent: 12/5/2013 10:43:36 P.M. Central Standard Time
Subj: Thanks to Diane Donovan

To Jim Cox, Editor-in-Chief,

I wrote to Diane Donovan, thanking her for a comprehensive review of my novel, “Aloha, Mozart,” from the independent press Luminis Books south of Chicago.

Being all the way out here in Hawaii it’s often not easy to get word out about new fiction, so I was very interested to learn about your site.

Both Diane and Midwest Book Review cover an impressive range of books, and have a high quality of criticism.

This is a pleasure to discover now that so many newspapers and professional reviewers have declined or disappeared.

It’s also a relief to know that a group of dedicated reader/reviewers is still active, and able to judge fiction according to traditional standards, meaning much more than the current “customer comments” style found on amazon.

Diane and your staff are the real thing.

All the best to Midwest Book Review and its efforts to support writing,

Waimea Williams

Here are recommended books of special interest to writers and publishers:

Saddle Up: A Cowboy Guide to Writing
Slim Randles
Foreword by Max Evans
Introduction by George Cornell
Rio Grande Books
925 Salamanca NW, Los Ranchos, NM 87107
9781936744312 $15.95

Journalist, outdoorsman, novelist, and award-winning author Saddle Up: A Cowboy Guide to Writing, a thoroughly accessible, no-nonsense guide for professional authors. The primary emphasis is upon getting one's work published for money, whether it's an article for a magazine (Randles emphasizes that many specialty-interest magazines are still alive and well, even though general-interest magazines have mostly gone out of business) or a fiction or nonfiction book for a publishing house. Tips, tricks, and techniques for the creative process are also included, but the topic of self-publishing is (more or less) left for other guides to cover. One of the most valuable lessons the reader will learn is the importance of sending a well-crafted query letter to publication editors, before pouring hours of time into creating an article or a book. "You should never 'shotgun' query letters... By that I mean changing only the editor's name and address on the query and sending it to every magazine that might be interested in the piece. This is a real temptation for beginning writers... It's actually something close to journalistic suicide." Saddle Up is an absolute "must-read" for aspiring professional writers; even those who pursue self-publishing as their primary path will find Randles' life-tested writing advice indispensable.

I'm not the only one here at the Midwest Book Review with an interest in "how to" books on writing and publishing. Here are two reviews from Diane Donovan, our west coast editor for Midwest Book Review:

My Guide: How to Write a Novel
Rebecca Richmond and Claire Pickering
Richmond Pickering Ltd.
9780957237209, $8.35,

My Guide: How to Write a Novel is the first place a writer should turn to uncover the basics of not just writing a novel, but publishing it. In a nutshell: yes, what you get here, under one cover, is information covered elsewhere … but in expensive seminars that will far exceed the price of this primer, making My Guide a bargain in comparison. So if you want to write a novel but have no idea where to begin … begin here.

What, exactly, is covered?

First of all, the basics of inspiration are considered in depth; from an introductory history of the book format to the fundamentals of cultivating a book idea from nugget to germination. Nothing is left to assumption: there's no prior knowledge base taken for granted, and so those who have never written a novel before (but who do have a dream or idea) will receive encouragement that doesn't presume previous experience in either writing or publishing.

First, a caveat: for all its accessibility and lively manner, My Guide: How to Write a Novel is no light treatment of its subject: it packs in eleven chapters, includes a bibliography and an index, and assumes its reader is passionate about the idea of writing, publishing and marketing a novel. So don't expect a 'quick and dirty' overview: chapters move logically and quickly to cover the nuts and bolts, offering specifics and details novel writers must know to see their book in print and develop a readership.

One of the best features of My Guide: How to Write a Novel: its ability to link the writing process to exercises reinforcing basic grammar, punctuation, plot development, characterization, and beyond. This all sounds dry, but it's not: producing a novel that captivates readers is all about providing sequences of events that are alluring and readable; and if grammar is poor, punctuation is off, or action lacking, one's novel will (ultimately) fail.

Chapters move in quick sequence from how to turn initial inspiration into a logical storyline to handling subplots, foreshadowing (providing clues to future events), creating consistent, believable protagonists, and understanding which elements create a page-turner versus a mundane read.

Examples and quotes from successful writings are provided at each step of the process, while concluding chapter exercises encourage readers to produce their own dialogue, scenes and characters reflecting the principles of what they've just learned. These exercises do more than reinforce chapter teachings: they succeed in setting the stage for the next lesson, offering inspiration and successful outcomes to fuel a novice writer's passion for the written word.

What is presented here is a logical system of sequential events that need to take place to produce a successful result - but it's a system couched in creative, inspirational choices rather than dry rote learning.

And by focusing on novel production rather than general writing, Rebecca Richmond and Claire Pickering are able to be specific about the novel's particular elements of (and requirements for) success.

You won't get as much depth and instruction from anything other than a seminar, which not only costs much more than this book, but often packs too much material into a limited time frame.

The advantage of My Guide: How to Write a Novel is that it's available to consult time and again, making it an encouraging, inspirational 'must have' recommendation for any would-be writer who would create their first novel and make it a high-quality achievement.

Market and Sell Books: A My Guide
Rebecca Richmond
Richmond Pickering Ltd.
9781910141014, $15.00 (PB), $1.65 (Kindle),

Market and Sell Books: A My Guide is the next phase of 'how to write a novel': perhaps the most important one, as writers who neglect to market their book (or who fail to understand the process) will only see their title fade into obscurity.

From the first chapter, writers receive specifics that distinguish this guide from more general 'how to market a book' titles. These specifics differentiate the processes of marketing novels versus non-fiction, identifying the successes and pitfalls of social media and online marketing efforts and proffering a specific set of strategies for identifying one's readership and then marketing and selling books to that audience.

No prior marketing experience is assumed; which is perfect, given that book writers generally know little about the marketing end of the publishing business. Chapters thus offer all the basics; from preparing a press release and sending it to the right audience to developing publicity goals, understanding distribution markets, and creating different kinds of accounts for these efforts.

All this is provided in user-friendly chapters that break down the marketing process into a logical sequence of events and enable writers (who are not intrinsically marketers) to enter the world of publicity.

Why is this important? Because there are many more opportunities for self-publishing than in the past, and because self-published authors need to take charge of something usually outside their comfort zone: the selling process.

While Market and Sell Books: A My Guide is most likely to appeal to writers who already have a book in print, it shouldn't be neglected by those who are at the beginning stage of writing a book, whether it is in the idea development stage or nearly done. Writers will find plenty of specifics on how to determine if their book is marketable in the first place and, if not, how to tailor their book for success: invaluable information for those not yet in the publication phase.

Perhaps this is the best audience for Market and Sell Books: A My Guide: pre-publication, while there's still room for change and tweaking. In reading about the marketing and sales process, writers can quickly determine the best approach for creating a marketable result from their efforts, and will learn how to avoid common pitfalls along the way.

Market and Sell Books: A My Guide is perhaps the most important place to begin learning about the process, and is a highly recommended pick for any who would go beyond publishing a book to insure it's ultimately a success. In fact, it's not a bad idea to begin here, even before the 'how to write' book is absorbed. The guidelines provided in Market and Sell Books are intrinsic to the process of creating not just a published novel, but a success.

Here is "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 Turnbull
Reg Down -- "Adam's Alphabet"
Violet J. Niggl -- "Angel In Disguise"
Donald W. Kruse -- "Jasper Has Returned!"
Epic Publishing
Monica Strasavich -- Jackpot Press
Jerome & Paul Tiller -- ArtWrite Productions
John R. Guevin -- Biographical Publishing Company
Alison Thomsen -- Concierge Marketing
Elizabeth Waldman Frazier -- Waldmania!

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]

(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 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!

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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