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Jim Cox Report: March 2004

Dear Publisher Folk, Friends & Family:

Aspiring authors yearning to break into print should remember that there are two major options available for them:

1. Persuade somebody else to publish your manuscript.
2. Publish your manuscript yourself.

There are pros and cons to both options. Whether you chose option 1 or option 2 -- that choice should be an informed one. That means:

1. Read every "how to" book about publishing that you can get your hands on.
2. Talk with other authors and publishers about your project.
3. Keep your options open.

If you choose Option 1: Have all the agreements between you and your publisher written down in a contract that you are both signatory to. Make certain you understand all of the ramifications of what you are obligating yourself to -- and what the publisher's responsibilities are to you as the author in complete detail. You should run that contract past an experienced contract lawyer (preferably one with previous experience with publishing contracts) in order to make certain that you haven't overlooked anything.

If you choose Option 2: Create a detailed business plan for your publishing project. Be sure to address how much capital will be required to not only publish your manuscript (and in what quantity), but also how much to dedicate to publicity/promotion; distribution; discount schedules; attrition; storage; returns; other formats (audiobook, video, journal articles), etc. Know what your financial bottom line is with respect to unit costs (production costs per book); what your sales need to be in order to break even; prospects for ancillary rights sales; specific operational factors such as insurance, office supplies, postage, packaging, personnel, licences, taxes, etc.

The largest single factor responsible for publisher bankruptcy is undercapitalization.

The next most import factor is the lack of a focused business plan to promote and sell the book.

The third most common set of factors: an unattractive and/o badly written and/or poorly produced book.

Here's another factor that applies equally to self-published and small-press published authors alike (even mid-list authors for the large conglomerate publishing houses). The authors are going to bear the principle burden for promoting, publicizing, pitching, and selling their books.

That is true even if there is a professional publicist on the payroll. It's the author that is going to have to do the interviews, make the contacts, follow-up on leads, supervise the efforts of the publicist, and ultimately pass judgement on that publicist's effectiveness.

There was a glorious yesteryear many decades past when publishing was a "gentleman's game", an exercise in the lofty ethics of the literati, a private club to which only the monied classes were members. It was an era when only those few elite who owned the presses had the opportunity to exercise Freedom of the Press.

Then came the phenomena of the desktop computer and the democratization of publishing to the point where anyone could (and seemingly does) put out a book anytime they wished on what ever subject pleased them.

When I began as a professional reviewer almost 30 years ago, my publisher lists were dominated by the New York houses, the university presses, and a scattering of literary small presses with elite and prestigious reputations.

Three decades later I am swamped daily with books whose authors took no care or concern with the necessities of professional publishing. Who spent their time and treasure on writing their magnum opus -- and then try to interest me in a book published on the cheap, with flawed or absent paperwork, with decidedly inferior cover "art", with typos and a host of other problems crying out for a copy editor's attention.

I daily receive phone calls from self-published authors who didn't write a professional quality cover letter, who have no idea as to how to create an effective publicity release, who are amazed and appalled when I tell them the kind of competition and prejudice they are up against with respect to reviewers, distributors, wholesalers, retailers, librarians, and the general reading public.

So here is my advice to anyone who wants to publish and sell a book -- whether it be their own or someone else's:

1. Read several "how to" books on the subject of operating a small business and creating a business plan.

2. Write a business plan for your book.

3. Vette your business plan in conversation with other publishers using such resources as a local publishers association; on-line publisher discussion groups; PMA University conferences; as well as subscribing to SPAN and/or PMA newsletters.

4. Read several "how-to" titles specific to marketing, promoting, publicizing, advertizing, and selling books. Even once you have mastered the basics of book selling, keep reading on a regular schedule because more "how to" books are published every year and often will have one or two new "tricks of the trade" that you can apply and profit from.

Publishing a book is every bit as much time consuming hard work as is the writing of the book itself. Publishing a book has its own set of skills and expertise that must be mastered if you are to be successful. Ably writing the Great American Novel is all well and good. But if anyone is going to read it (let alone buy it!), if you are going to be commercially successful with it, then you need to just as ably publish and market that book with as much effort and labor as it took you to write it.

Too many people seem to approach book publishing as if it were a kind of literary lottery. That winning (getting a best seller -- or a break-even seller!) was a matter of luck instead of hard work.

There are no short cuts to success. If you want to be a successful publisher then you are going to have to pay your dues, pay attention to your capital investment, and learn what you will need to know to compete against the tens of thousands of others who are your direct competition in a volatile, overcrowded marketplace selling their wares to a steadily dwindling customer base.

Fortunately, the novice publisher need not reinvent any new wheels. All the information you need to succeed is at your finger tips through such resources as the Midwest Book Review website, your local public library, online publisher discussion groups, and a roster local and national publisher associations.

Now on to some other stuff!


It seems that the Midwest Book Review has garnered another accolade:

Date: 2/12/04 10:33:24 AM Central Standard Time

It will come as no surprise to you that MBR made a prestigious list for reviewers. Here's the URL:

It appeared in Writers Weekly. Another author sent it to me. -- Laurel

Assembled by Angela Hoy, this is a list that includes the Midwest Book Review along with such powerhouse review operations as Publishers Weekly; Kirkus Reviews; Library Journal; Los Angeles Times Book Review; and one I'd not known about previously -- Hollywood Inside Syndicate.

Angela has made it so that a visitor to this webpage can click on each of these review resources and be informed as to their submission guidelines.

Incidently, this is how I usually learn about the diverse and various honors garnered by the Midwest Book Review. One of our volunteer reviewers stumbles across them and then zaps me a little email bringing it to my attention. Thanks Laurel!

I usually get email requests like this a couple of times a month:

Subj: permission to quote

Dear Mr. Cox:

I am preparing a workshop on self-publishing and ran across a quote attributed to you and Midwest Book Review, but without further source. It is a definition of a self-publisher as someone who fulfills many roles: writer, editor, designer/artist, compositor/typesetter, etc.

Could you give me a reference citation for this quote and permission to use it in a power-point presentation titled "Self-Publishing"? The quote would be attributed to you, with reference to Midwest Book Review, and the full reference would be cited in the reference list. Thank you for your consideration.

John Wakefield
Text and Academic Authors

To which I replied:

The source was me. Permission granted. The appropriate credit citation should be:

James A. Cox
Midwest Book Review

It would also be nice if you could also include our website address:

Jim Cox
Midwest Book Review

Giving permission for folks to put your stuff on their website should be encouraged because:

1. It's good advertising for you. It gets your name out, raising your professional profile.

2. It's a helpful thing to do -- especially if you are in this game for more than just the money.

3. You never know what serendipities will accrue to your own benefit and betterment down the line.

Here's an example of what I'm talking about:

Subj: Jim Cox Report

Please sign me up for the monthly Jim Cox reports. When convenient, please send me a copy of the January report as recommended by Shel Horowitz on the smallpub-civil list.


Lida E. Quillen, Publisher
Twilight Times Books

Shel Horowitz is a cyberspace pen-pal of mine. We are members of the same online publisher discussion groups and he's an all-around nice guy. He uses two of my book review columns to enhance his website. I've benefited greatly from his advice and observations about publishing issues for lo these many years now. He liked one of my recent "Jim Cox Reports" and told other folk about it on one of the discussion groups that I'm not on (and in fact, hadn't even known existed). His kind recommendation resulted in about 19 or 20 folks like Lida Quillen to sign up for the "Jim Cox Report". This is the kind of karma that comes back to bless you when you are generous with your own stuff.

Incidently, subscribing to the "Jim Cox Report" is free. Just email me at and ask to be signed up.

On the subject of using stickers on books:

Dear Jim:

I have suggested that publishers put a small notice (sticker or rubber stamp) inside the front cover or on the half-title page: (Review Copy -- no credit allowed by the publisher for return of this book.) The point is not to deface the book, but to simply point out to the booksellers and/or wholesalers who may innocently come into possession of the book that it was a complementary copy and may not be returned for credit.

Do you have any thoughts on this --- or suggestions how to better accomplish the goal?


To which I replied:

The above is completely appropriate. What I was referring to in my email to that particular publisher was that he had produced a very nice looking book and had pasted one of those 3 inch by 4 inch white stickers (the kind used for address printouts using computerized mailing lists) smack dab in the middle of his cover.

As to suggestions -- I wrote a couple of specific articles just on this subject. You'll find them in the "Advice For Publishers" section of the MBR website. And I agree completely with the observation that the rather larcenous practice some bookstores have of sending in review copies (and second hand copies traded in) to wholesales/distributors, and then those less-than-August bodies sending them back to the publishers requesting wholesale discount reimbursements is atrocious. Discretely marking review copies as such in order to circumvent wholesalers/distributors from this bit of con artistry is completely fair in order to protect the self-published author and the small press publisher.

So mark review copies as such -- but always remember that marked books are in steady and consistent competition with unmarked books when they land on a reviewer's desk.

Jim Cox
Midwest Book Review

February turned out to be a very active month for authors and publishers wanting to show their support for the Midwest Book Review and what we try to accomplish in behalf of the small press community. Here are new names to add to our "Postage Donator Honor List". My heartfelt thanks to:

Pam Adams
Judith Fabris
William J. Neven - "The Final Phase"
Mary M. Nyman - "When The Leaves Fall"
Darsay Luadzers - "Virgin Sex"
Andra Medea - PivotPoint Press
Madelene Towne - Green Mansion Press
Fern - Peanut Butter and Jelly Press
Gary Worthington - TimeBridges Publishers
Sue Freeman - Footprint Press
Deborah Robson - Nomad Press
Dale Carlson - Bick Publishing House

This is about all I've got time for. There is a huge stack of tear sheets showcasing March book reviewers on my desk and they are silently insisting that I crank out publisher notification letters for them.

If you'd like to send books for review or simply donate some postage stamps for "the cause", then direct them to my attention. 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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