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Jim Cox Report: June 2004

Dear Publisher Folk, Friends & Family:

May was another busy month here at the Midwest Book Review.

I was written up again. This time in a very nice article in the "Independent Publisher" -- a trade publication put out by the Jenkins Group. Titled "For The Love Of Books: The Midwest Book Review Story" it featured my memorial tribute to the my book reviewing mentor, the late John Ohliger, and a bit more historical information and background on what we do here.

For those of you not familiar with the Jenkins Group I would recommend you visit there website at and just browse around. There are links to book awards, publishing industry informational updates, ideas about book selling, info on getting published, and more. The Jenkins Group is a "for profit" organization oriented towards book marketing and publicity -- but looking around their website is free.

A big thanks to the Curbstone Press folks (they were the first) and to so many others who wrote to let me know about my having been featured in the "Indpendent Publisher" (and even sent xeroxes of the article!).

Next week I'm scheduled to be interviewed by still another fellow writing a journal article about the publishing industry. When you've been around the publishing world as long as I have you inevitably end up on people's resource lists and contact databases. It seems to be a kind of perk that comes with sheer longevity.

Now on to why most of you read this little extended monolog of mine each month -- advice on publishing profitably:

1. Castlegate Press will never know about the very nice review that we did on their book "Welby And The Knobby King" for the April 2004 issue of our library newsletter "Children's Bookwatch" (page 2, column 2) -- and which was also run in that same month's issue of our online book review magazine which is also called "Children's Bookwatch.

The reason they will never know is that the publisher notification letter I send them on April 23rd and containing the usual tear sheet (copy of the review as it was published) was bounced back to me by the U.S. Post Office and stamped "Undeliverable As Addressed, No Forwarding Order On File". So it seems that the Castlegate Press address of PO Box 29151, Denver, CO 80229 that was on their accompanying paperwork at the time of submission was obsolete.

It is a rare month when at least one or two of these post office "bounce backs" don't happen. And they seem to always involve self-published authors and/or very small presses. And why is it a problem apart from and in addition to the publisher not being made aware of what we had done with their books?

In the case of kids' books, these reviews of are also sent to the"Cooperative Children's Book Center in the Helen C. White building on the University of Wisconsin - Madison campus for the benefit (and awareness) of all of Wisconsin's school and community children's librarians. These reviews, complete with all of the contact information which includes the snail mail address of the publisher (as are the adult book reviews we do) are also routinely sent to the Gale Research Company in Michigan for inclusion into their interactive CD-ROM series "Book Review Index" which is put out four times a year to corporate, academic, and public library systems.

And any librarian, teacher, or reader trying to acquire the book based on obsolete addresses will be disappointed -- and the reputation of small presses for being "dicey" will be reinforced to the deteriment of others.

The only positive note I can strike is that at least when we post these reviews with Amazon (we are a content provider for and have been for years and years) snail mail addresses are not an issue.

So the moral of the story is: Make certain that your snail mail address (and all other contact information like phone numbers, email addresses, and website URLs) are up to date -- and if you change your address, be absolutely certain that you send that change of address info out to what ever reviewers and review publications you have previously invested a review copy of your book to.

Otherwise, it's missed opportunities and missed sales. Now, and months, even years, from now.

2. Here's a new variation on the problem of misleading or inadequate contact information. And it just happened for the first time in my experience last month. My publisher notification letter of May 20th to Morris Publishing providing them with a copy of the review by Gary Roen (one of our volunteer reviewers) of their book "If You're Having A Crummy Day...Brush Off The Crumbs" and which ran in the May 2004 issue of our online book review publication "Reviewer's Bookwatch" was returned to me -- tear sheet and all -- by Morris Publishing. My notification letter and the tear sheet were accompanied with a Morris Publishing cover letter that reads as follows:

Date: May 14, 2004
To: The Midwest Book Review
From: Tammie Berck:

Morris Publishing is not handling order fulfillment for: If You're Having A Crummy Day...Brush Off The Crumbs ISBN: 0-971940002

Please contact the following for book orders:

Mims Cushing
Phone: 904-285-5781
Fax: 904-285-5781

Thanks You!

As with all good letter head stationary there was the Morris Publishing logo at the top, and their snail mail, 800 number, fax number, and email address along the bottom.

Please note that this was apparently one of those fill-in-the-blanks form business letters.

Now ask yourself this question: If Jim Cox and the Midwest Book Review were to ever receive another title submission from Morris Publishing, do you think we would be more like to:

A. Assign it out for review B. Pass on it in favor of some other small press title among the 50+ that hits our desk that day?

The moral of this story: If you are a self-published author or a very small press, and not doing order fulfilment on your own books (which is perfectly okay, by the way) then be absolutely certain that your fulfilment order information is a prominent part of your publicity release materials so that assigned reviewers don't have to use some kind of telepathy or intuition to ferret it out.

The librarians, bookstore retailers, book wholesalers/distributors, and the general reading public who avail themselves of our reviews and, on the basis of the review, will not have the patience to continue trying to order your book if the contact information results in a form letter announcing that they will have to go elsewhere to buy a copy.

3. Some thoughts on the relationship of media hype to "best seller" status:

Is being a "best seller" simply a byproduct of mass media hype?

No. Although that's certainly one of the causes in the "cause/effect" basis for why some titles find their way onto best seller lists. Media hype dose not automatically (and sometimes never) insures "best seller" status for any book.

Here's other things to consider on the "best seller" issue:

90% of everything is crap. This idea isn't original with me, I'm citing an opinion -- or maybe it's just an attitude -- that's older than I am. But which seems to be all too often born out by my personal life experiences and professional observations.

One man's trash is another man's treasure. -- Remember all those "trashy" comics or paperbacks or magazines that your mother threw out when you were a kid, or when you went off to college? And how they'd make you fabulously wealthy (or at least fiscally comfortable) today if you'd just hung on to them? -- And for those of us who try to recreate our childhood by reassembling those long ago and yesteryear collections of childhood memories and memorabilia find ourselves spending a bloody fortune on eBay or in the local used bookstores!

The only thing that never changes is that things are always changing. That goes for the fads and fancies of pop culture, clothing fashions, our spouses, as well as our bank accounts and the life styles that are supported or perverted by them.

And let's never overlook pure and simple ego. The author's ego (my book is literature!); the publisher's ego (my judgement is impeccable!); the reviewer's ego (my evaluation is Alpha & Omega); the purchasing reader (my judgement is what ever I choose it to be at the moment!).

Then there's the sociology of it all. Like it or lump it -- we live in a capitalist society where money is the measure of winners and losers (short term). And only the echoing halls of generational time will tell which of those financial losers simply needed the attention of some future generation to emerge as a finally acknowledged and rightfully appreciated work of genuine and enduring literary art.

If you want to write/publish a best seller -- either get an original idea that will move the masses -- or expertly copy one that does.

4. What's the distinction (if any) between self-publishing and vanity publishing?

A vanity publisher is someone you pay all costs associated with brining your book into print. Some vanity publishers are like Vantage where you must order a print run of a certain minimum size/number.

Others are Print On Demand (POD) where you don't have to order a minimum print run -- but you have to pay all the costs for producing a template from which one or a 1001 copies can be made. Then you are charged a per copy fee as the orders for it come in. Examples of this kind of publisher a numerous and range from 1st Books Library to iUniverse to Trafford to Xulon to Infinity -- and beyond!!

And in all fairness, I must also report that a number of self-published authors, doing all the work to create their own publishing company to publish their works, must also be declared "vanity" as well.

Being a vanity title is not an intrinsically bad thing. It's simply a reflection on the fact the authors are paying the price for publishing their books. But this practice has acquired the (so-often well deserved) reputation as being decidedly flawed or inferior because of the lack of good editorial screening that in traditional publishing houses (in theory) served to weed out the bad in favor of the good.

A subsidy publisher is one where the costs of production are shared between the author and the publisher.

And a non-vanity, non-subsidy publisher is the traditional publishing house where the publisher is financially responsible for all aspects of the publishing process from manuscript acquisition to marketing the published work.

5. Here's a quick tip on contacting particular reviewers (or authors, editors, illustrators, publishers, publicists, and pretty much anyone else connected to the publishing industry):

Do a google search on their names. You will often find that a great many of them have their own websites -- which will also include their email addresses. If they are associated with a major publishing house (all of whom have rather elaborate websites) or a review publication, you can track them down and contact them that way.

6. If you are just starting out to publicize/market a book and need reviews, there is a database of freelance reviewers, specialty review publications, general review publications, online review resources, etc. that I've collected down through the years and made into a kind of hyperlink database. You'll find it on the Midwest Book Review website at in the "Book Lover Resources" section. It's called "Other Reviewers".

People ask me from time to time why I provide this service to the publishing community. Why do I make available my competition? Publishers only have so many titles that can invest in review copies, so why promote other book review resources?

Here are my stock responses:

A. The Midwest Book Review has a three part mission statement: Promote literacy, library usage, and small press publishing. We are basically an educational organization whose mandate is to do what ever we can to help authors and publishers write and publish books that people would want to read. One of the informational components we offer is to connected a published book with the reading public. And they means to accomplish this is to get that book reviewed and the review made available to potential readers. Because most novice publishers don't know the wealth (and hazards) of book review resources available to them, we made a kind of database to provide the beginning (and even the seasoned) publisher with a place to start.

B. The Midwest Book Review has never lost out on a book submission because we offered this service to the publishing community. Indeed, quite the opposite. I receive many a "thank you" from publishers when they first discover this unique resource -- and they tell their friends, neighbors, and colleagues about us. Result: A very high and very positive profile in the small press community resulting in even more submissions as more folk learn what we have to offer.

The moral of this story: Never pass up the opportunity to do a service to the broader publishing community when you can -- it's bound to rebound to your credit, your prestige, and even your bottom line -- somewhere down the line.

7. Fern Reiss is a very successful, very canny, very independent publisher, and one of my "cyberspace pen-pals" of long standing within the small press publishing community. In response to a topic thread about review copies on one of online publisher discussion groups Fern had the following to say regarding the temptation to send a review copy to any reviewer you happen to come across or (as we called it in the reviewer trade) blind mailings of review copies:

"Honestly, I don't know how this idea started, but I can't even imagine a book that would warrant 300 review copies, unless you're going to BEA with a spot on the main floor (i.e., not the small press section in Siberia) and have a compelling title. And then at least you wouldn't waste the money on mailing them."

To which I added my 2 cents:

Fern is absolutely correct on this. Blind review copy mailings are the sign of an inexperienced publisher -- or one that has more cents than sense.

You must vet and screen all potential reviewers and send review copies only to those that are:

a. thematically appropriate for the nature of your book
b. have established a documentable track record
c. have a sufficient audience for their reviews so as to make it worth your while.

Now we come to my favorite part of these little monthly monologs: Unsolicited Testimonials!

Subj: Thanks!

Dear MBW,

I just saw you posted a very nice review of my book "The Boy Who Looked Like Lincoln". It was on your site and on Amazon. Thank you very much! There is very little PR in kids' lit, and any success comes from word-of-mouth, and organizations like yours taking the initiative. Your work is much appreciated. Mik Reiss

The Midwest Book Review gives priority consideration to self-published authors and small press publishers whenever we can because all to often they are in the same position as Mik -- not much capital to invest in promotion and a great book if only the intended readership could be made aware of it.

Subj: Thank You!

Dear James,

I wanted to send you a note expressing my appreciation for such a timely and positive review of SETS Teaching Children How To Connect with God. As I mentioned in previous conversations, we are a relatively new publishing company and it is amazing how "laid-back" this industry can be. Thank you for responding so quickly, it was quite refreshing. I look forward to doing more business with you in the future. Thank you again, -- Shauna

Shauna Lea, Marketing Director
Muse Imagery

If there is any particular "secret to our success" here at the Midwest Book Review it is a dedicated insistence on publisher notification when their books are successful and make the final cut to be reviewed. And that competition for review is prolific. Out of an average of 1500 titles a month being submitted for review, only about 600 to 700 of them make the cut. When that happens, it's a very big deal -- especially for the small press community who are up against the publishing corporate giants and their mega-buck promotional and distribution resources. That's why it is so important to get a copy of the review and a notification letter out to the publishers as quickly and routinely as possible. That in turn requires systematic organization complete with weekly and monthly deadlines and routines. Without good internal structure, all would be chaos and confusion. And I hate chaos! I prefer the orderly life that comes from quotas and deadlines and systematic ways of doing things.

Speaking of which -- I've now got to turn my attention to sending out tear sheets and publisher notification letters for our June reviews. So I'll conclude with our monthly "Postage Stamp Donation Honor Roll" and the folks who donated stamps for us in May -- with a big, big thank you for their wonderful and timely gestures of support for what we try to do here in behalf of the small press community:

Dixon-Price Publishing
Carolyn Harris - Marble Mountain Press
Paul Carleton - Carleton House Publisher
Anne Bissell - Cleopatra International Publications
Jonathan Pearce - Balona Books
Anne-Therese Macdonald - Gardenia Press
Celeste Bailey - Science2Discover

Our bylaws prohibit our accepting financial donations from authors and publishers in order to avoid conflict of interest issues. But anyone who simply wants to show their support and approval for our efforts in behalf of authors and publishers can always donate postage stamps "for the cause". I use them on those publisher notification letters I send out every month.

Also for those new to the Jim Cox Report, back issues of the Report are archived on our website, as are all of our online book review publications -- plus a wealth of information and resources for authors and publishers. If you'd like to get the Jim Cox Report directly, (or any of our online publications) just send me an email and ask to be signed up. Everything we do is free and in support of our three-part mandate of support for literacy, libraries, and the publishing community.

Until next time!

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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