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Jim Cox Report: May 2002

Dear Publisher Folk, Friends & Family:

1. April was another one of those "more things to do than time to do them in" kinds of months. Let's begin this "Jim Cox Report" for May with what's new here at the Midwest Book Review, then proceed on with a few "tips, tricks & techniques" for the small press community, and conclude with some "unsolicited testimonials" that will also serve to illuminate what I do and why I do it!

The big new announcement is the on May 1st, the Midwest Book Review has launched its fourth on-line book review magazine. Called the "Small Press Bookwatch", this monthly publication will showcase reviews of self-published, Print on Demand (POD) published, and small press published titles. This debut issue is now up on our website and available for free subscription as well.

This first issue runs 44 pages if printed out. The book reviews are arranged in thematic columns (The Poetry Shelf; The Fiction Shelf; The Social Issues Shelf, etc.). All the titles that don't fit neatly into a themed column are grouped together in a column called "Reviewer's Choice".

This latest publication had its origin in an online review of the Midwest Book Review done by the "Authors Write" website. We got a rather glowing review of our website as being a dominant resource for book reviews and writer/publisher resources. The one lone criticism was that our online book review magazines were so huge that it took a long time to scroll up and down them -- especially with our "Reviewer's Bookwatch", where the Subject Index Tabs weren't grouped by subject or theme, but by the individual reviewer's names (e.g., Kaveny's Bookshelf; Cindy's Bookshelf, Taylor's Bookshelf, etc.).

This observation was quite justified, so my webmaster daughter and I started thinking of how to address it and make our website as "user friendly" as possible. The answer we came up with was to start a fourth book review magazine.

That was coupled with the observation that, over this past year, there has been a dramatic upsurge in the volume of POD published and self-published titles being submitted to the Midwest Book Review. A very dramatic upsurge.

So, the theme for this latest publication was self-evident: It would serve as a forum dedicated to providing a "home" for reviews for self-published and POD published titles, in order that they wouldn't have to be bumped to keep our other magazines' page counts down to manageable proportions.

Sprinkle in other small press titles that I feel warrant and deserve to be brought to the attention of the reading public -- and the "Small Press Bookwatch" was born!

Incidently, like the reviews in our "Children's Bookwatch" and "Internet Bookwatch", the reviews in "Small Press Bookwatch" will also be posted to our on-line forums like,, specific column subscribers, etc.

The various volunteer reviewers whose work comprises the "Reviewer's Bookwatch" are responsible for posting their reviews on-line to Amazon and elsewhere.

2. It looks like has taken a marketing cue from Yahoo. They have installed that same $&%(#! system of automatically signing up their patrons to receive unsolicited advertisement emails unless you go into their website and specifically set your preference to not receiving all that junk from vendors who buy their e-mailing lists.

I fear that this may well be a wave of the future with these kinds of outfits -- there is money to be made from selling mailing lists of your customers. But I think once people start finding out why there email boxes are suddenly being jammed by advertiser spam there may well be a backlash!

My webmaster daughter (who is also the Midwest Book Review managing editor) brought this to my attention a week ago and changed our preference settings to not receive junk from Amazon. It's just like what she had to do with Yahoo -- and takes some doing to peel your way down through website pages to get to the right section.

At my request, Bethany is going to compose a "how to" email for the publishing community and I'll send it out. This will be just as soon as she gets through with our "first of the month" obligations for posting the new reviews to their various on-line destinations.

3. I was asked twice this past month why we have Literacy as part of our Midwest Book Review three-part mission statement. Simple! -- Reading allows us to build whole kingdoms in our minds, vicariously engage in great events, great ideas, great discoveries, and great adventures. Reading expands our social life to include the famous, the infamous, the eccentric, and the one-of-a-kind. Indeed, some of the best, most influential, and life-long friends I ever made were the fictional characters of books and the biographically introduced men and women from the real world -- some of whom are as old as recorded time (Gilgamesh) while others are as contemporary as the cops and firefighters of 9/11.

4. Thirteen new pieces have been added to the "Advice For Publishers" section of the Midwest Book Review website at

  1. Print On Demand (POD) Publishers, (Penny C. Sansevieri)
  2. Create A Low-Cost/No-Cost Media List, (Tara Calishain)
  3. Messing With The Bookstores, (Lori A. Kozey)
  4. How To Make The Media Fall In Love With You, (Paul J. Krupin)
  5. Media Preference Compared To What Works Best, (Paul J. Krupin)
  6. Pat Gundry's Universal Success Formula (Marketing and Otherwise)
  7. Getting Reviews For Self-Published Books, (Christopher J. Jarmick)
  8. TV Interview Tips For Authors
  9. Advice For Publishing Interns And Aspiring Editors, (Suzanne P. Thomas)
  10. Solution To "Out of Stock", (Suzanne P. Thomas)
  11. Authors Behaving Badly, (Mary P. Walker)
  12. Re-Selling Returned Books, (Steve Carlson)
  13. Procedures To Avoid Getting Skinned, (Francis Grimble)
In another week, there will also be about 130 new resource links added to various parts of the Midwest Book Review website. So you really want to bookmark our website and go back to visit it from time to time -- at least on a monthly basis -- if only to see what's new, useful, and will be of practical service in your efforts to successfully compete in the ever-competitive publishing marketplace.

5. Now, let's check the Midwest Book Review email bag and see what goodies I came up with by way of explanations, advice, and recommendations:

In a message dated 01-12-31 13:43:05 EST, I received the following from someone whose privacy I promised to protect. The individual in question represents an inquiry and viewpoint that should be addressed because it has enduring implications for other first-time, self-published authors. Incidently, in a subsequent email correspondence (after this initial dialogue) this person and I came to a quite amicable accord.

> Jim, not to get snippy with you, but this is bull. I sent my book to your
> company for review mostly because you said that being on the self-publishing
> loop from SPAN that THAT would get my book bumped to the "front of the line".
> All I had to do was mention it in the cover letter--which I did.

When folks mention that they are part of SPAN, Pub-Forum, Publish-L, or PMA in the cover letters that accompany their book submissions, it does indeed get them bumped to the head of the line for consideration -- that means that they will be seriously and individually considered for review. That I will actually pick the book up, look it over, and not summarily discard it from consideration simply because other books from the major houses might be a bit more flashy, or their authors somewhat more noted, or their media kits a bit more upscale.

It does not mean a guarantee that they will get reviewed. A great many self-published authors and small press published titles don't make it because of the overwhelming numbers submitted, or because they are in a subject area where we simply don't have enough reviewers willing or able to take them all on, or there is a serious flaw in their presentation (including cover art).

It also means that the book, having passe my initial scrutiny, will not automatically be discarded in a few days or a couple of weeks as having not landed a review assignment, but will have a full 12 to 16 weeks in which I will attempt to achieve a review assignment for them.

> I'm WELL AWARE of your "proceedures" and intake of books. I've been to your website
> numerous times. Midwest is very repected--obviously. But you also said--on
> the SPAN loop, that self-published authors have a harder time getting reviews
> which was why you were willing to help us out a bit by bumping us to the
> front. To my way of thinking as this point--you lied.

That is an unfortunate response. It would be a lie if I were to say "Send me your book as a self-published author (or small press publisher) and I GUARANTEE that it will get reviewed."

> I'm being treated like a self-published author dealing with a large corporation. No respect.
> That book I sent was very expensive to me. I sent review copies to only
> those who guarenteed me a review. Stupidly, I thought your offer to the SPAN
> loop was a guarantee.

There is the key and core to your disappointment. I wouldn't say it was stupid to make such an assumption. I simply would say that you misunderstood the nature of the commitment being offered to self-published authors and small press publishers by the Midwest Book Review.

> Right now, don't expect me to send my next book or
> recommend your company to anyone.

This is exactly the right response when disappointed by any reviewer or review publication. People should only recommend those whose services they are satisfied with or otherwise appreciative of.

Remembering the old adage about not being able to please everyone, I can only cite the many "thank you" posts I get every month from self-published authors and small press publishers. A few of those "thank you" posts are occasionally shared by their senders with SPAN and/or Pub-Forum and/or Publish-L. Every now and then I include a few in my monthly "Jim Cox Report" to document and demonstrate why I like working with the small presses so much.

> You serve your masters (Harlequin and big named authors) well.

My "masters" don't include any publishing companies, large or small. The reason that the Midwest Book Review refuses any financial compensation from authors or publishers for our services is to avoid just exactly that kind of conflict of interest situation.

When totaling up the numbers of publishers appearing in our publications each month, my estimated average is roughly one-quarter to one-third being self-published, small press, regional press, and academic houses.

> AND if I should get a review from your company, I'll
> think seriously before posting it. I don't support those who don't support me.

If one of our volunteer reviewers should ever submit a review for your book (which by now they would have obtained from other sources) I would cheerfully run it, and send you a tear sheet. What you would choose to do with it would be entirely up to you.

My duty is to the reviewer and to the reading public. It is because I'm so keenly aware of how little feedback authors and publishers get from review copy mailings that I long ago installed a policy of automatically sending tear sheets, so that they could have some inkling of how their book was being thought of.

> Oh, and be careful what you say on the SPAN loop from now on. If I
> catch you lying again to the listees, I will call you on the carpet for it,
> and tell one and all my unfortunate experience with you.

I would like your permission to post this to SPAN so that you could have your disappointment aired, along with my response. Of course, if you wish me not to I won't -- this began as private correspondence and will be so honored unless you grant otherwise.

I also fear that you might indeed be misconstrued as having been unable to avoid being "snippy". It is never my desire to embarrass anyone, anywhere, for any reason.

As it is, I prefer to putting it all down to your quite genuine disappointment, inexperience in book promotion and publicity, as well as having simply misunderstood the nature of the commitment of the Midwest Book Review in general, and Jim Cox in particular, to the small press community and self-published authors like yourself.

When you only have 59 volunteer reviewers and are trying to deal with an average of 1500 titles a month coming in from first-time self-published authors to the New York conglomerates, the best you can do is simply the best you can do -- with a fair number of very good folk with quite good titles simply remaining unrequited because the best you can do is never enough given the need.

Incidently, I'm pleased to learn that you are familiar with the Midwest Book Review website. You might want to check out the section called "Other Reviewers" on the "Book Lover Resources" webpage -- perhaps you might have better luck with one of them.

Jim Cox
Midwest Book Review

6. In a message dated 02-01-03 13:47:46 EST, Judy Yero writes:

> 1. When you send review copies, how do you ship them?...Should I send
> the "important" review copies out by Priority Mail and the "would be nice"
> copies out media mail??? or ????

U.S. Postal mail has an unfortunate and seemingly unavoidable percentage of package damage due to packages being sorted by machinery and conveyer belts through huge processing center in New Jersey and Chicago. Even though it is a bit more expensive, I recommend the use of UPS or one of the other specialty carriers. If you simply must use the U.S. Post Office, then pre-emptive quality protective packaging is a "must" to insure a safe, damage-free delivery.

Incidently, the Midwest Book Review requires the finished book and will not consider galleys, uncorrected proofs, or pre-publication manuscripts. Plus, the book must be accompanied by a publicity release and a cover letter.

> 2. I know that it's a no-no to offer a discount that undercuts bookstores,
> but I wondered what you feel is acceptable when you want to reward a person
> for buying directly from your website.

There are several ways to reward a customer who buys directly from your website without having to directly discount your book. Free shipping and/or a discount coupon for a future purchase come immediately to mind.

Jim Cox
Midwest Book Review

7. Print vs. Ebook review submissions:

> I'm planning to send a copy of our latest title for review. One question:
> is it appropriate to submit reviews for both print and ebook version of the
> same title? All of our titles are available in both formats.
> Thanks again,
> Patton McGinley

A review done for a print version will aptly serve for an ebook version (and vice versa). It is becoming quite commonplace among our volunteer reviewers to cite paperback and hardcover ISBNs (and prices), and to also note ebook formats and prices all in the heading of the review for a given book appearing in those various editions.

When sending me a book, please send the print edition -- but in your publicity release you should also note its availability as an ebook as well.

Jim Cox
Midwest Book Review

8. In a message dated 02-01-19 23:50:53 EST, Shel Horowitz writes:

> As for 1stBooks--I've always felt they were the best of the Big Three
> POD aggregators, even before they became a client. However, like the
> other companies, they are not ideal for everyone. They'll supply an
> ISBN, a cover, printing (as needed) and some of the other services
> that would be much more expensive if you bought them on your own.
> With any of these companies, they take the hassle of publishing away,
> but it can be very hard to make money. If you plan to do five or more
> books, it probably makes sense to learn the ropes, get your own ISBN
> block, and do the whole thing yourself. if you have one or two books
> in you, or if you have no desire to become a publisher, 1stBooks will
> be much more economical.

I routinely review 1st Books, iUniverse, Xlibris titles, and other Print-on-Demand (POD) publishers. I've also given an online seminar sponsored by iUniverse for its author clients (and it looks like I'll be doing a second seminar in the near future). On the basis of my observations of how all three of these "POD Aggregator" companies work, Shel's advice is right on target, not only for 1st Books but for iUniverse, Xlibris, and the others as well.

> And things you should know up-front:
> * they don't edit--so pay for a professional editor (one whose
> references you've checked and work you've examined) before you turn in
> the MS--otherwise, your book will be an embarrassment to you and to
> them

I can't tell you what a heartbreaking disappointment it is for me to win over one of my volunteer reviewers into accepting a POD title for review, only to have him or her inform me a bit later that they just couldn't recommend the assigned title because of the glaring need for editorial work that was sorely needed for such simple things as grammar and syntax -- let alone character development and plot line anomalies.

I'm to the point where I think that authors are just too close to their own manuscripts to be trusted to judge whether or not further editing is required. The major houses (and most of the minor houses) have some sort of editorial standards for manuscript acceptance, and editorial services to enhance manuscripts after their initial acceptance. POD Aggregators are simply "publishers for hire". They will turn whatever you submit to them into a book, but do nothing to enhance the quality of your manuscript, or correct even the most obvious errors in your manuscript.

> * the publicity services they include are scant and not always very
> well done--factor in the cost of doing this on your own

Publicity services for all three of the major POD aggregators are truly pathetic. Especially when judged by the standards of what the New York houses, and what the experienced Independent Publishers provide when they submit titles to my attention.

Just this week I got two Xlibris, one iUniverse, and one 1st Books title where the Publicity Release was in fact an webpage print out. -- The sure mark of a self-defeating amateur presentation.

> * bookstores simply will not do business with any of these companies
> unless they have a damned good reason, because the terms (20% off, no
> returns) are at complete odds with the rest of the industry

This is the consensus of the local bookstores in Madison, Wisconsin. Both the independent bookstores like Frugal Muse Books, and the chain stores like Borders and B&N.

> * you will have to buy your own book at a decent but not great discount

I cannot speak directly to this. But I do note that the when these POD Aggregator titles come in, they are almost always sent in to me by the authors. I can only surmise that the cost of those review copies are coming straight out of the author's personal pocket.

If you are thinking of being a self-published author and considering the economics of doing your own publishing, or hiring 1st Books, iUniverse, or Xlibris to do your publishing for you, then go back and carefully re-read Shel's first paragraph, and then sit down and compose an entire business plan for your book, detailing every line item expense involved with producing (including editing), marketing (including review copies), distributing (including shipping costs and unsold/damaged returnable status), and selling your book (directly off your website and handselling at events, as well as through third parties, including brick & mortar and online retailers).

You may well decide that a POD Aggregator is right for you. You may well decide to bite the bullet and learn how to publish on your own. Either way, you will at least have made an "eyes-wide-open", informed decision, and not be blindsided by unrealistic expectations or hamstrung by undercapitalization.

Jim Cox
Midwest Book Review

9. In a message dated 02-01-18 11:45:15 EST, Gene Latimer writes:

> What's the best way to view the industry publishing cycles now? Spring & Fall?

This is a very important question, one that goes right to the heart of the problem facing the small press or self-published author when competing for attention with the New York "corporate conglomerates", whose submissions tend to dominate the primary (and many of the secondary) review publications.

The Midwest Book Review receives, on average, about 1,500 titles a month submitted to us for possible review. That sounds like a lot! But Publishers Weekly, Library Journal, and The New York Review of Books receive a monthly average of 2,500 to 3,500 titles!

So, in addition to the physical appearance of the book, the content of the book, and the quality of the Publicity Release and/or Media Kit, the very timing of submissions has a great deal to do with how the small presses can successfully compete with large publishers for a reviewer's attention.

The peak months in terms of submissions tend to be October and November (aiming for the December/Christmas season when bookstores make up to half or more of their entire annual sales figures). Therefore, October and November are the two worst months for a small press to send out review copies. The sheer size of the incoming book flow is an awesome thing to behold when you are on the receiving end!

The second worth months are April and May. This is because they are the "hump months" for the Spring Season releases for the big guys who have distinct Spring and Fall Seasons to their marketing, complete with Spring Catalogs and Fall Catalogs, preprinted reviewer request forms, and all the other tie-ins dedicated to capturing a reviewer's attention.

The best months for submissions (because they are the "slump months" for the major houses in terms of their publishing schedules) are January and February for the Spring Season, and July and August for the Fall Season.

March and June are relatively quiet, and the third best months to submit. September is fairly brisk, and December is fairly dormant.

Now a word about "days of the week" - yes, it can actually make a difference as to what day of the week your book arrives on the reviewer's desk!

Monday is consistently the heaviest intake day for review copies. This is because UPS does not deliver on Saturday, and neither the UPS or the Post Office deliver on Sunday. So the books that are in the UPS and Post Office pipelines over the weekend all show up added to the normal Monday intake.

As the week progresses, the flow of books tends to die down a little, with Saturday (and only the Post Office delivering) tending to have the least number of books arriving. But countering that low Saturday figure is that while the book bags will be opened, it's fairly frequent that the books themselves will simply be stacked and added to the Monday piles, before starting the process of examination to determine their status with respect to the review selection routine.

So, the two best days to have your book arrive for inspection are Thursday and Friday. Those are the days when the competition of other books arriving simultaneously with yours is the least - say, 30 other titles instead of the 80+ that a Monday would see, and the 50 a day that Tuesday or Wednesday averages.

With respect to Post Office deliveries, I have no idea how you can fine-tune a delivery date to the preferred day of the week. It is possible with UPS because they have a book tracing component and can give a fairly accurate estimate for time of delivery, in terms of how many days between receiving the book and its final destination delivery.

The patterns as I have described them are consistent and arise out of my years of experience with The Midwest Book Review. Past conversations with my peers in other review publications and organizations echo these experiences and observations - even when they are at PW or LJ and dealing with twice to three times as much book traffic.

Jim Cox
The Midwest Book Review

10. In a message dated 02-02-05 11:15:15 EST, Dolores Hiskes writes:

> I always read everything you write--your sane, sensible, and
> lucid thoughts are extremely well received.
> (I would love to send you a copy of Phonics Pathways, but for
> me the stumbling block has been writing a press release--I've
> never had time to that in my life. And since I am now writing
> two requested articles for other major organizations don't know
> when I can....sigghhhh....)

It's easy when you learn the trick of it. Here's what you do:

Take your letterhead stationary (it will already have a number of these PR info bits in your printed letterhead) and including the following:

Then write a one paragraph description of the book.

Then write a one paragraph author bio (noting any special credentials).

And there you have it. Keep it to one side of a single page.

Jim Cox
Midwest Book Review

11. In a message dated 02-02-04 15:50:52 EST, Helma Clark wanted my advice on the reasons for the short shelf-life of books in book retailing:

The reasons for the relatively short shelf-life of books in the retail marketplace arise from the history of the publishing industry, the deficiencies of the book distribution systems, the physical limitations of retail shelf space (and spinners with respect to mass market paperbacks), and changes in inventory tax laws.

Plus the basic law of supply and demand. The supply of books is enormous and far outstrips the demand for them.

> And is there a way to get around it?

Not with traditional retail markets -- and many have tried all manner of enticements trying to extend the shelf-life of their titles. But outside traditional retail (read bookstores and magazine stands) outlets, these draconian curtailments of shelf-life don't apply. Non-traditional retail outlets include books themed to a store's orientation (for example, books on sewing and quilting placed with a fabric store) tend to have a much, much longer shelf life. Books bought outright rather than "on consignment" mean that the publisher doesn't have to deal with shelf-life issues at all.

> (And as an aside, do you think that reviewers are less likely to review
> the mass market size?)

It depends on the reviewer. Two of my 60 volunteer reviewers account for 90% of the mass market paperbacks we review. And those two gals must go through 2 or 3 titles a day, judging from the numbers of reviews for mass market titles that they submit each month. I also note that in both cases they are reviewing genre fiction (Romance and SciFi)

> Thanks for the input.

Anytime. That's what I'm here for.

Jim Cox
Midwest Book Review

12. On the subject of "Measuring Success" I wrote the following:

I've been following the discussion on "Measuring Success" with my usual interest in all things publishing. This particular thread got me to thinking and I thought I'd share a few of my reflections with you.

My own career, which is so intimately intertwined with publishing, is not just successful, it has been and continues to be rather dramatically successful as defined by the following standards:

  1. It has afforded me a superb platform from which to observe and comment on the publishing industry, publishing issues, books, and literary controversies. All these are aspects that for some reason simply fascinate and engage me.

  2. It has provided me with a wealth of books that I could never otherwise afford and quite often would never have otherwise even heard of! From about the age of 4 when I first learned to read, I've been a dedicated bookworm, with bookstores and libraries being my habitat of choice. Before becoming a reviewer I used to spend about 1/3 of my take-home wages on books and magazines. Now my wages are derived from books and magazines!

  3. Which leads me to the most commonly used measuring stick for "success" in our consumer oriented, capitalist culture: Money. I have actually been able to earn a living from reviewing books and operating a multi-media book review (print, radio, television, internet).

  4. But there is one more measuring stick for success. One that, as important and fundamental as the previous three, so far outweigh them that if they were to suddenly disappear overnight, I would still continue to be a book reviewer and operate a forum through which those reviews could be made available to the reading public. -- The thanks and appreciation of authors, publishers, publicists, librarians, and readers.
Writers and publishers are almost uniformly grateful when their book makes the cut and gets reviewed. And, from time to time, a great many of them express their appreciation through cards, letters, emails, phone calls, and (when I'm at a seminar or workshop) in person.

Some of these expressions of appreciation for what I do and the way in which it gets done spills over into the pages of "how to" books on publishing -- and there's a special "kick" when someone I've never heard of notes in a cover letter accompanying their book submission that they came across me in one of those growing number of publications.

In other words -- When I see my name or "Midwest Book Review" in the index or mentioned in the text, I get the same thrill as an author who see's their name on the dust jacket, or a publisher who views their company name on the title page.

And that thrill never grows old or commonplace. Nor does the daily influx of brand new books. Nor does the "thank you" messages that I find in the mail or on my computer several times a month.

Then there is the lift to my spirits when I see one of our reviews show up on the back of a book, in a publisher catalog, or a publicity mailing. Seeing what we've done in print is still another very special measure of success.

And here's a final measure -- When what you do simply doesn't feel like work! When it is so fun, so fulfilling, so challenging that it leaves you tired but flushed with the feeling of accomplishment, makes you eager to be at your desk the next morning, -- that is a measure of success that is worth any amount of effort, energy, and time.

Jim Cox
Midwest Book Review

13. Unsolicited Testimonials!

Subj: Thanks for Review Copy
Date: 02-03-18 11:47:12 EST

I have received your copy of the review of Noel Griese's new book, "Working with Angry People." Thanks for passing it along. Many reviewers are not so gracious, and your thoughtfulness is much appreciated.

Lee Xavier, editor-in-chief, Anvil Publishers

Date: 02-03-27 14:28:45 EST
From: (kay reilly)

Dear Jim Cox:

Just wanted to thank you once again for all of your "labor of love" endeavors. Xlibris did forward a copy of your letter and the tear sheet of The Bottlewasher review. And a huge special thanks to Carol Volk! She wrote a great review, and I'm very grateful.

Best wishes,

Kay T. Reilly

That's all for now!

Jim Cox, Editor-in-Chief
Midwest Book Review
278 Orchard Drive
Oregon, WI 53575-1129

James A. Cox
Midwest Book Review
278 Orchard Drive
Oregon, WI 53575-1129
phone: 1-608-835-7937

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