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Jim Cox Report: June 2013

Dear Publisher Folk, Friends & Family:

Half way through the month of May my computer hard drive suddenly up and died. While some of my files were backed up on a lap top, most were not – including recently submitted book reviews, our financial records, the reviewer contact roster, and so much more.

Alas, I had gotten complacent about back up my files and now I'm paying the price. It cost me $595 to have a company called Gillware Inc. to successfully retrieve my files from my deceased hard drive.

Needless to say I'm instituting new protocols to see to it that files are routinely and regularly backed up in a methodical manner from now on!

So if any good can come from this snafu – please let it be that you are now motivated by the example of my disaster to avoid one of your own. Back up your files!!!

On a happier note, the Midwest Book Review (massive as it is) has added still another section that should prove of value to the small press community and the general reading public. There is now a section called "Book Blogs" which you will find at:

Some of these folks might be good for getting quality reviews -- and they all offer up lively commentary on and about books!

Now here is something special that I got permission to share with you:

"Being a good book reviewer is like walking through a mine field; you have to be very careful where you step. You must diplomatically tell the prospective customer the truth, while being very kind to the author." - Ed Porter/Editor/The Lone Star Book Review

Why You Should Review–and Shouldn't

Written by John

Book reviewing done well is a fine art: one must humbly submit oneself to the mind of the author, to the shape and direction of the book, and to the outlook of the intended audience, while maintaining all the while a robust independence, a gimlet eye, an appreciative heart, and a poised mind.

Book reviewing is also a tremendous service, aiding readers longing for great, or even just good, reading amid a bewildering welter of alternatives flogged by unscrupulous, vulgar, and often ignorant publicists. (Such contradictions in terms as "An Instant Classic!" tell you all you need to know about such people.) And as magazines and newspapers cut back on pages devoted to book reviews and on payment to book reviewers (not long ago, although it seems like it was part of the Renaissance, editors paid reviewers enough that some writers eked out a living writing such things), book reviewing of all sorts in all media becomes the more valuable. As a reader and as an author, I applaud those who bring energy, insight, and eloquence to reviewing. If you're inclined, please take it up.

If you aspire to publication, furthermore, book reviewing is a good way to begin. As I lamented, book review editors frequently pay little or nothing, but that also means they are often looking for capable reviewers. Attach a couple of sample reviews to your e-mail of inquiry and indicate the kinds of books you would like to review, while you also list your credentials, and you might well get an assignment. (Don't bother asking to review a book already getting attention: Any good review editor has already assigned it from the advanced notices he or she received as a matter of course.) And, as I mentioned, I have found book reviewing to be a fine discipline for a nascent writer, forcing me in such a small space to think structurally in order to express myself concisely, fairly, intelligently and, I have hoped, interestingly, too.

So why shouldn't you review a book? Because it might cost you, and dearly.

It's a small world after all, and most authors don't forget negative reviews. Worse, some authors don't forget any reviews that are anything other than glowing. And you cannot predict with certainty what author will respond in what way.

For every writer who responds graciously to a critical review of his masterpiece (such as the case of Nathan Hatch and his marvelous The Democratization of American Religion) and who even writes a kind note to a callow reviewer such as I was, there might be a professor such as the one who, during a job interview in which I was the young department head and he the job-seeker in my department, could not help but mention, in the first hour of our meeting, that he was unhappy with the review I gave a book of his two years before.

Worse, for every magisterial author who refuses to let a less-than-stellar review interrupt an ongoing friendship, there might be another well-known author, who purported to be a friend, yet who walked around a professional conference with me for an hour telling everyone who stopped to commend him on his new book that "Well, he didn't like it!" with a jerked thumb in my direction, since I had given it a "B+" sort of review, and that clearly wasn't good enough. I did indeed like it, but I didn't like everything about it. I said so and—ah! that was the mistake. Only flattery, laid on thick and sweet, would do.

Worst, for every author with whom I have had a running public argument about this or that, such as I have had with the distinguished sociologist Reg Bibby about his interpretation of Canadian religion and whom I count as a special professional friend, there might be someone like another long-time friend, whose books I generally have admired and recommended, getting so upset about a more critical review that only laborious fence-mending kept him from terminating our years-long relationship.

And even such a case is maybe not "worst." For you likely will never know, as I don't, what speaking engagements were never offered, fellowships not awarded, scholarly collaborations not extended, and jobs not mentioned because So-and-So couldn't handle a non-wonderful review of his or her work. Alas, you run a serious risk for offering honest appraisal of work that is other than fabulous or foul. Not everyone will hold it against you, thank God. But you cannot, it seems to me, confidently predict who will.

So do we therefore stop reviewing unless we have no professional aspirations? Or unless we either totally love a book or are glad to distance ourselves from it and its author?

Yes. That's pretty much what I've been doing the last decade or so. To be sure, I had friends tell me in my earlier professional years to maybe not write so many book reviews and write more of my own books. I hope they now don't rue that advice. But generally I have avoided reviewing because of these very bad experiences of peers reacting with what to me seemed disproportionate rage, however modulated, over reviews that, I swear, were mostly positive.

Beware, then, the perils of offending in your review. Either go for broke because you are determined to boost or demolish, or phrase things very, very carefully. Indeed, it is a good practice to imagine the author reading what you are writing as you are writing it, and especially before you hit "SEND" and it leaves your computer for the vast beyond. I wish I could simply say, "Review and let the chips fall where they may," but the chips might fall on your head, and some reviewers, at least, ought to think about that before they criticize another person's work in public. Of all people, graduate students and junior scholars especially must keep a tight rein on their newly developing critical capacities and think twice, thrice, and more times before they decide to take Professor Big Shot down a peg or two. Professor Big Shot is just that, and spitting into the wind of his fury might not be worth the satisfaction of assessing his book judiciously in the out-of-the-way journal that one of his acolytes noticed and brought to his attention….

Still, I'm starting what is, actuarially speaking, the second half of my career. I haven't written the kinds of books that will likely get me job offers anywhere else, so I don't need to worry any longer about displeasing the academic gods. There are advantages of middle age, not to mention tenure, and maybe I'll exploit them with some reviewing over the next while.

First, though, I've got to get this epistemology book done for my patient publisher—which I hope you will review kindly in due course…

(And you'd better.)

Here are reviews of some new books of special interest to writers and publishers:

The Writing/Publishing Shelf

Kicking In The Wall
Barbara Abercrombie
New World Library
14 Pamaron Way, Novato, CA 94949
9781608681563, $15.95,

Sooner or later any serious author will encounter that most dreaded of all literary dilemmas -- writer's block. Starring at a blank sheet of paper or computer screen and not being able to think of anything to put down on it. That's why "Kicking In the Wall: A Year of Writing Exercises, Prompts, and Quotes to Help You Break Through Your Blocks and Reach Your Writing Goals" by Barbara Abercrombie (author of "A Year of Writing Dangerously") will prove to be such an invaluable resource and reference for anyone having to write for their living. This 248 page paperback compendium is packed from cover to cover with practical, applicable, and thoroughly 'user friendly' tools for overcoming writer's block. Expertly organized into a major section offering specific 'things to do', "Kicking In The Wall" also include a section called 'What They Wrote' which offers real world examples by writers on having overcome this particular obstacle. If you can only afford a single 'how to' writer's reference book for your personal resource shelf, then make it Barbara Abercrombie's "Kicking In The Wall"!

A Quick Guide to Screenwriting
Ray Morton
Limelight Editions
c/o Hal Leonard Performing Arts Publishing Group
19 West 21st Street, Suite 201, NY, NY 10010
9780879108045, $12.99,

Screenwriting is a very specialized form of writing in that it must combine story telling with cinematic technologies and techniques. Screen writing comes with its own 'tips, tricks & techniques' that must be mastered by the aspiring screenwriter. That's why "A Quick Guide to Screenwriting" by screenplay analyst and script consultant Ray Morton will prove to be an invaluable introduction to the craft. This 120 page compendium provides a succinct history of screenwriting; delineates between commercial and personal writing; and explains the three basic types of screenplays and the seven basic steps to writing a screenplay. "A Quick Guide to Screenwriting" offers ways to develop ideas, structure a story, screen play styles and formatting. Of special note is what "A Quick Guide to Screenwriting" reveals about the techniques of cinematic storytelling, screenwriting 'do's & don'ts' and getting useable feedback to improve a screenplay. Very well organized and thoroughly 'user friendly', "A Quick Guide to Screenwriting" should be considered mandatory reading by anyone considering creating a screenplay and would prove an enduringly valued addition to professional screenwriting instructional guide reference collections.

The Science Writer's Handbook
Thomas Hayden & Michelle Nijhuis
Da Capo Press
c/o Perseus Books Group
11 Cambridge Center
Cambridge, MA 02142
9780738216560, $17.50,

Science writing requires a certain hand of talent to make it work for people. "The Science Writer's Handbook: Everything You Need to Know to Pitch, Publish, and Prosper in the Digital Age" is an invaluable reference for those who seek to succeed and prosper with their writing skills in the world of science, the importance of selling your ideas with narratives, finding contracts, making what your worth, coping with rejection, and the power of networking. "The Science Writer's Handbook" is an invaluable tool for writers in the field of science, highly recommended.

Boom! Manufacturing Memoir for the Popular Market
Julie Rak
Wilfrid Laurier University Press
Wilfrid Laurier University
Waterloo, Ontario, Canada, N2L 3C5
9781554589395, $29.99,

How does one make the story of life so enticing and riveting? "Boom! Manufacturing Memoir for the Popular Market" analyzes the memoir as a product that is produced like any other work, Julie Rak dissects many popular memoirs and tries to gain a more comprehensive understanding of why some memoirs capture the imagination of the public when their stories often aren't that unlike our own. "Boom!" is a fine bit of analysis for those who want to understand the memoir whether for creating one's own story or simply a fascination with the trends.

Writing the Science Fiction Film
Robert Grant
Michael Wiese Productions
12400 Ventura Blvd., #1111
Studio City, CA 91604
9781615931361, $26.95,

Any collection strong in screenwriting, performing arts and film will find this a solid addition, offering insights into how to write science fiction for the genre. Classic and cult science fiction films from Star Wars to Aliens are used to show how the genre has changed, what makes it compelling to modern viewers, and how writers can adjust their science fiction writing to lend to a film production. From changing a cliche plot to turn it into something fresh and different to handling new technology and its jargon in the film environment, Writing the Science Fiction Film is packed with insights perfect for aspiring genre writers and film producers alike, and is a pick for film and literary collections.

Forty-One False Starts
Janet Malcolm
Farrar, Straus, and Giroux
18 West 18th Street, New York, NY 10011
9780374157692, $27.00,

The ignition to a tale can often not be what we expect. "Forty-One False Starts: Essays on Artists and Writers" discusses the figures behind the artist, the creative mind, as Janet Malcolm presents her serious of writings on these abstract thinkers. Discussing a wide array of figures such as Salinger, Stein, and countless others, Malcolm offers some very real wisdom about the world and shouldn't be overlooked. "Forty-One False Starts" is a must for collections studying artists and writers in the past hundred years.

Word Up!
Marcia Riefer Johnston
Northwest Brainstorms Publishing
2924 NE 27th Avenue, Portland, OR 97212
MindBuck Media Book Publicity
9780985820305, $21.99,

When Marcia Riefer Johnston was twelve years old she wrote an eight paragraph story which she submitted to 'American Girl' magazine who published it and paid her $15.00 -- it is clear that she was destined to be a writer! In "Word Up! How to Write Powerful Sentences and Paragraphs (And Everything You Build from Them)" Marcia draws from her many years of experience and expertise in writing everything from family letters to journal articles to provide other aspiring writers with a 270 page instruction manual on writing more effectively for any purposed communications be they blog posts, emails, digital books, business summaries, e-zine articles, lab reports, novels, poems, scripts, speeches, web pages, term papers, or letters home. Methodically organized into three major sections (Up with Words; Up with Sentences and Paragraphs; Up with Writing), "Word Up!" is thoroughly 'user friendly' as Marcia writes with clarity, wit and wisdom. Of special note is the inclusion of the appendix article 'Up with Human-Crafted Indexes'. Of immense and practical value for novice writers, "Word Up!" is also very highly recommended for even experienced writers as a refresher course on using the written word to engage, entertain, and inform.

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:

Donald W. Kruse
Jerry Labriola -- "Deadly Politics"
Cheryl Eckl -- "A Beautiful Grief"
Blair Seitz -- "Turn The World Around"
Mary Chamberlin -- "The Traveling Soup Pot"
Laura J. Merrill -- "Secret Voices From The Forest"
Kirt Manecke -- "Smile: Sell More Through Amazing Customer Service"
Tintinatic Publishing House
Ahmet G. Idil -- Tughra Books
Betsy Sampe -- Rainbow Books
Tom Tolnay -- Birch Book Press
Dennis Martz -- Northbrae Books
Katelyn Curran -- Rose Publishing
Barbara C. Wall -- The Barrett Company
Lareesa Plyakova -- Leo Publishing LLC
Joseph Gindele –
John R. Guevin -- Biographical Publishing Company
Beverly Newton -- International Jewelry Publications
Elizabeth Waldman Frazier -- Waldmania!

In lieu of (or in addition to!) postage stamp donations, we also accept PayPal gifts of support 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. 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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