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Jim Cox Report: March 2008

Dear Publisher Folk, Friends & Family:

It's been a busy but gratifying month!

I've added two new and informative articles to the "Advice for Writers & Publishers" section of the Midwest Book Review website at One is called 'Blogs As A Book Marketing Tool' and the other is 'Publishers Judge Books By Their Covers'.

I've written a foreword to a new 'how to' book on the craft of book reviewing. It's to be called "The Slippery Art Of Book Reviewing", favorable cites either myself or the Midwest Book Review four times, and is due out about May from Twilight Times Books. I'll write more extensively about it when its published and available to folks who aspire to do what I do for a living.

I've also completed a rather extensive Q&A on book reviewing in general, and the Midwest Book Review in particular, for Behler Publications to use in one of their upcoming 'how to' titles for writers and authors that is tentatively titled "The Writer's Toolbox" and will be out later in the summer or early fall.

I'm also scheduled as an interview guest on a couple of up-coming Internet podcasts.

Here's my reply to an inquiry in response to my 65th birthday:

In a message dated 11/16/2007 8:47:01 P.M. Central Standard Time, writes:

Jim, please tell me now that you're 65, you aren't going to stop writing, are you? Happy birthday - please don't leave.

Tammy Moses

Dear Tammy:

Thank you for your very kind words -- they are much appreciated.

The good news is that based upon my family genetic history I expect to still be around for another 25 years or so.

And that's just about how long I intend to be carrying on as the editor-in-chief of the Midwest Book Review and writing my little monthly column of opinion and advice for the small press community.

Jim Cox
Midwest Book Review

It's nice to be so pleasantly noticed by one's peers in the publishing industry! Now on to reviews of four new 'how to' titles for authors and publishers:

The Writing/Publishing Shelf

Writing As A Small Business
Nash Black
Outskirts Press, Inc.
10940 South Parker Road, #515, Parker, CO 80134
9781432716257, $19.95 1-888-672-6657

Earning a living as a professional writer is a business. Writing freelance is the equivalent of being a self-employed small business owner and operator. As such, meticulous attention must be made to how that business is structured, operated, and kept track of. Failure to keep aware of the proverbial 'bottom line' can lead to financial and professional disaster. Enter Nash Black's 196-page instructional guide and reference "Writing As A Small Business" covers what every aspiring (and practicing) professional author needs to know about the financial side of their work including whether or not to incorporate or operate as a sole proprietorship, the keeping and storage of financial records, filling out state and federal tax forms, avoiding audits, handling advances with respect to royalties, grants and gratuities; safeguarding the computer from hackers and online viruses, and generally protecting the financial rights and aspects of a written work -- before and after publication. Enhanced with bibliographies of thematically appropriate informational resources on the subject of the economics of professional writing, a glossary of terms, and an index, "Writing As A Small Business" is a critically important, thoroughly 'user friendly', instructional guide that should be on the personal reference shelf of every aspiring writer seeking to financially support themselves and their loved ones through their writing regardless of the genre, category, or discipline they are writing in and for.

Good Writing for Journalists
Angela Phillips
Sage Publications
2455 Teller Road, Thousand Oaks, CA 91320-2218
9781412919173, $39.95 1-800-818-7243

Written by journalist and college teacher Angela Phillips, Good Writing for Journalists is a no-nonsense guide to improving the quality of one's nonfiction writing. Chapters cover genres ranging from profile writing and interviews to direct reporting, news analysis, investigation, sports writing, personal and opinion columns, "lifestyle" writing, and more. A large portion of Good Writing for Journalists is devoted to sample journalistic pieces that exemplify positive and memorable qualities, all the better to see Phillips' teachings in use. Enthusiastically recommended especially for journalism students and majors.

ACTS Of Teaching
Joyce Armstrong Carroll & Edward E. Wilson
Teacher Ideas Press
PO Box 6926, Portsmouth, NH 03802-6926
9781591585176, $45.00 1-800-225-5800

The art of writing is a learned skill honed through practice. Now in an extensively updated and significantly expanded second edition, "ACTS Of Teaching: How To Teach Writing" by academicians Joyce Armstrong Carroll and Edward E. Wilson (both of whom are Co-Directors of Abydos Learning International) is a 501-page compendium of instruction on all aspects of the art and craft of teaching aspiring authors how to write effectively regardless of the genre or discipline they are writing in or for. After an informed and informative introduction, "ACTS Of Teaching: How To Teach Writing" is dived into two primary sections dealing with 'Process' and 'The Theory and Pedagogy'. An overview of writing as a process beings with 'Prewriting: More Than the Beginning', continues on with 'Writing and Organizing', 'Writing as a Social Act', 'Grammar and Correcting', 'Grammar through Revision', Grammar through Reformulation', 'Postwriting and Publishing', and 'Assessment'. "ACTS Of Teaching: How To Teach Writing" continues with a major and detailed chapter on the way the brain works in the writing process, before going on to address such issues as 'Learning How to Learn', 'Early Literacy', 'Research', and 'Writing as a Mode of Learning. Enhanced with an extensive and extended bibliography, "ACTS Of Teaching: How To Teach Writing" also features nine highly relevant appendices (note especially the first one offering a List of Genres), and a comprehensive index. "ACTS Of Teaching: How To Teach Writing" is note only very highly recommended as an educational curriculum guide and supplement for the teaching of writing in a college or university level course, it is also invaluable reading for any aspiring writer seeking to become as effective as they can be within the demands of any scientific discipline, literary genre, or commercial enterprise they might find themselves working in.

Off the Page
Carole Burns, editor
W.W. Norton & Company, Inc.
500 Fifth Avenue, New York, NY 10110
9780393339885, $14.95

Off the Page: Writers Talk About Beginnings, Ending, and Everything in Between is an anthology of interviews with a diversity of authors describing the creation process of a literary work. Joyce Carol Oates begins and ends her writing process creating and reworking the beginning of a book; A.S. Byatt assembles a novel from "blocks of color"; and E.L. Doctorow crafts a story from a specific and compelling image that often springs to mind without context. From the intersection of sex, love, and literature (Martin Amis insists that good sex is impossible to write about!) to the reader's part in the creative process (or at least, the effect that readers' imagined reaction has on the mind of the author), Off the Page runs the gamut of influences and effects upon the evolution of a book. Originally typed directly on interviewer Carole Burns' computer as she listened to the interviewees and posted in real-time on the Web, Off the Page is undeniably authentic in his honest portrayal of the authors' mission to write literature worth reading.

Now for some Q&A from the Midwest Book Review email box:

In a message dated 11/19/2007 2:59:37 P.M. Central Standard Time, writes:

Jim, I'm curious. :-) I note the reviews you post on amazon don't acknowledge the actual reviewer. Is there a reason why not?

You also mention in the guidelines you always give 5 stars. Curious on that one too. I notice some of the reviews we've done, as well as you have, our reviewers give low stars - even as low as 1 or 3. This is usually due to poor editing, grammar issues, no character development, etc. Basically, those books that are self-published and the author just didn't do any more with it than run it through the spell-check.

I'm still in the learning mode on all this.

Irene Watson

Dear Irene:

The reviews we generate 'in-house' with our staff members are only given the citation of Midwest Book Review on Amazon. The tear sheets we furnish the publishers (along with their notification letters) will have a more detailed citation as to which of our nine publications the review appears in.

The freelance and volunteer reviewers (like yourself and those you represent) are responsible for posting their own reviews to Amazon. Including their own judgement as to how many stars to award. This is because some of them don't wish to post on Amazon, while others are quite happy to.

With respect to the 5 Star notation for our in-house reviews for Amazon, it is because any book deemed defective is rejected for review in our initial screening process. Then any book deemed by the reviewer to be too flawed to be recommended to its intended readership is also rejected for inclusion into our publications.

I've always felt that a 5 Star point system is so subjective as to be meaningless. One person's 3 is another person's four, and a third person's 5. If I had my way, there would be no such point system, but the reader would discover in the course of reading the review whether or not the reviewer was recommending the book as worth the prospective reader's time.

However, Amazon requires a rating be assigned to any review posted with them. Therefore any book that makes it through our initial screening process when it is competing with more than 2,000 titles a month being submitted for review consideration by making the final cut and receive a review assignment, and the staff reviewer feels is recommendable to the intended readership for that particular book, is automatically awarded a 5 Star rating when posted on Amazon. Each review will always have a line or two specifically recommending it to what he or she has deemed to be its intended or desired readership. That's the 'failsafe' against "5-Starring" flawed or substandard books in the Midwest Book Review process.

Because we are content providers for Amazon (as well as several other online book review databases) we are obliged to post all of the in-house generated reviews that make it into the pages of The Bookwatch; The California Bookwatch; The Children's Bookwatch; The Internet Bookwatch; The Library Bookwatch; The Small Press Bookwatch; and The Wisconsin Bookwatch.

The MBR Bookwatch and Reviewer's Bookwatch are the two publications set aside for the volunteers and freelancers. It's up to the individual reviewers (who own all rights to their reviews and for whom we merely serve as a forum) to decide if they will post their reviews on Amazon, and if so, what rating to assign them.

For a select number of our volunteer reviewers (including those that you represent) who want us to (because it will expands the readership for their reviews) we also make their reviews available along with our own in-house reviewers available to such databases as Lexus-Nexus, Book Review Index, Goliath, and others aimed at academic, corporate, governmental, and public libraries and librarians.

Your questions are good ones and come up once or twice every year from either new publishers or visitors to the Amazon website. Therefore I'll be including this little Q&A in one of my "Jim Cox Report" columns for the small press community.

I recently went up on the Amazon website and found that there are currently more than 34,000 reviews from the Midwest Book Review posted there. That's a rather impressive number when you think that it does not reflect our individual reviewers such as Harriet Klausner who post their reviews on Amazon independently of us, or those Midwest Book Review reviews that were deleted from Amazon when the books went out of print and were otherwise dropped from Amazon.

Jim Cox
Midwest Book Review

In a follow-up inquiry, Irene asked a further question about Midwest Book Review operations:

In a message dated 11/20/2007 10:04:52 A.M. Central Standard Time, writes:

Thanks Jim for being so patient with my questions. Now the "big" Being you give free reviews, where does the money come from to pay your editorial staff? I want to know the secret!


Dear Irene:

Here is the closely guarded secret to becoming a financially successful book reviewer.

Marry rich!

Otherwise you'll have to depend on getting foundation grants based on a mission statement mandating the purpose of promoting literacy, library usage, and small press publishing -- and in the case of the Midwest Book Review -- then getting those grants renewed every year for the past 31 years.

Plus the selling of review books to libraries and bookstores, as well as giving them away to charities.

Owning the building which houses the Midwest Book Review and having staff members who work for minimum wage plus their room & board is also a big help (that's me as editor-in-chief, my daughter Bethany as managing editor and webmaster, my wife Nancy and a young man named Jason as assistant editors). While everyone else on the editorial staff volunteers their time and labor for the sheer love of literature.

Especially those among them who never aspired to writing the great American novel, but modestly enjoy the power of life and death over those who do!

By the way, I've covered this subject of how the Midwest Book Review is funded on a more serious note from time to time in my monthly "Jim Cox Report". They are all archived on the Midwest Book Review website, and subscription to the "Jim Cox Report" is available for free via email upon request. If you don't get them already, you might want to sign up for them because I talk about the inner workings of the Midwest Book Review now and then.

Jim Cox
Midwest Book Review

I'd also like to note that Irene Watson now utilizes two of our monthly book review publications for the columns of reviews and reviewers that she edits:

Her 'Reader Views' column is part of our "MBR Bookwatch" and started a couple of months ago.

And debuting in our March 2008 issue of "Reviewer's Bookwatch" will be found her review column 'RebeccasReads'.

Here's another inquiry that comes in every so often.

In a message dated 12/3/2007 4:08:09 P.M. Central Standard Time, RDAVIDH218 writes:

I'm in need of a book distributor, and someone to market the book; the publisher doesn't provide this service

-- David Hughes

Dear David:

Go to the Midwest Book Review website at

Click on Publisher Resources

You will find a subsection dedicated to distributors and wholesalers. You'll also find a list of freelance book publicists and marketeers. One of them might be appropriate for you.

Jim Cox
Midwest Book Review

The Midwest Book Review is designed to be of specific and practical use to writers, publishers, booksellers, librarians, and the general reading public. If you've got a question or a need concerning writing, publishing, or book marketing, then you'll most likely be able to find the answer and/or a resource to help you out. If not, I'm as near as your computer keyboard -- email me any time and I'll do my best to help.

I'm now going to conclude this issue of the "Jim Cox Report" with "The Midwest Book Review Postage Stamp Hall Of Fame & Appreciation" roster of well-wishers and supporters. These generous folk decided to say thank you and 'support the cause' that is the Midwest Book Review by donating postage stamps this past month:

Staci Robinson
Orrin Michael Carpenter
Kathryn Tristan -- "Anxiety Rescue"
Ellaraine Lockie -- "Blue Ribbon at the County Fair"
Lizann Bassham -- "Barefoot"
Jane Gardner Birch -- "They Flew Proud"
Georgiann Baldino -- "Following Lincoln as He Followed Douglas"
Morgan Bradley Publishing
Robin Eldredge -- Bumble Bee Productions
Don Bracken -- History Publishing Company
Laurie -- Don Monopoli Productions
Dave -- Marquette Books
Philip M. Cole -- Colecraft Industries
Susan Ray -- Moment Point Press
Beatrice Cook -- Travel America Books
Todd Hoff -- Posibility Outpost Inc.
Chad Long -- Long Stories LLC
Terry Noble -- Foggy River Books
Patrice Turner Custard -- Black Plume Books
Daphne Nowell -- Business Angel Press
Mary-Kathryne Steele -- World Wisdom
Dia L. Michels -- Platypus Media
Barbara Storper -- Foodplay Productions
Charles Jacobs -- Caros Books
Elizabeth Waldman Frazier -- Waldmania!

If you have postage to donate, or if you have a book you'd like considered for review, then send those stamps (always appreciated, never required), or a published copy of that book (no galleys or uncorrected proofs), 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!

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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