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Jim Cox Report: November 2003

Another month has passed. Crammed from first day to last with paperwork, deadlines, phone calls, snail-mail, email, book selections and assignments, staff and volunteer reviewer liaisons, bill payings and post office visits, slaving away at a computer keyboard while viewing (and reviewing) videos on my desktop tv, listening to audiobook cassettes and CDS on my desktop player systems, handing out editorial and reviewer assignments, discharging publisher correspondences and notification letters, surveying the new fall catalogs, filling out reviewer request forms and lists, ordering stationary and office supplies, replacing printer cartridges, paying bills, tracking expenses, balancing the company checkbook, laying out the November newsletters and magazines, and then during my spare time -- reviewing books.

Being the editor-in-chief of a multinational (we have reviewers now on virtually every continent in the world), multi-faceted (newsletters, magazines, radio, television, interactive CD-ROMs, and the Internet), multi-personnel (reviewers, senior reviewers, editors, senior editors), book review organization is a very busy, complex, sometimes complicated, job -- and one of the best in the world that I have any knowledge of!!

I turn 61 on November 6th and I've basically held this job since 1976. That's about a 33 year stint -- with (thankfully!) no end in sight. I've been here since the days of a electric typewriter and then at the helm as we plunged headlong into the computer age. From a beginning of 61 publishers to numbers that now exceed 12,000. From an average trickle of maybe a hundred books a month to a steady flood of 1500+ titles every 30 days. From a handful of reviewers all just starting out together and learning our trade from scratch (and each other) to a roster of 76 and climbing.

If longevity is any measure of success and solvency any criteria for accomplishment, if having the highest ration of books reviewed to books submitted, if the virtual weekly flow of fan mail and thank you notes from authors and publishers, are of any validity in documented success -- then the Midwest Book Review is one of the most successful book review operations in the history of the publishing community.

While I can justifiably claim a portion of the credit -- most of the reasons for this remarkable record don't really have much to do with me at all. They are those men and women who have volunteered their services as book reviewers and editors, who spend hours and hours every week reading, evaluating, and writing about the books produced by self-published authors, small press publishers, the academic and regional presses, as well as the major New York based houses.

It's thanks to the loyalty and enthusiasm of the small press community whose willingness to submit their titles for review make everything else possible.

So this particular issue of the Jim Cox Report is in fact a kind of birthday "thank you" letter to all of the publisher folk, and all of the MBR volunteers, friends and family members who have help me to create what the Midwest Book Review has in fact become now that we are approaching almost three decades of dedicated service to writers, publishers, librarians, Now here's some email based commentary on various aspect of writing and publishing:

Subj: Thought I would say thanks

James -

I have to say that your site is the best resource for publishing information I have ever seen. I have only been in the business for about four years, beginning at Jones and Bartlett Publishers in Sudbury, MA and now at Addison-Wesley in Boston, MA, however along the way your site has lent me guidance and suggestions.

Thanks again.

Nathan J. Schultz
Marketing Manager. Computing

I want to use Nathan's very kind comment to underscore that the Midwest book Review was (and continues to be) specifically designed to assist writers and publishers whether they are newbies and novices just finding out about ISBNs or experienced professional publishers needing new ideas (or to refresh themselves on ideas previously encountered) for fine tuning their marketing efforts. Whether it's a self-published "one title wonder" author -- or, like Nathan, an publisher employee for a major publishing firm -- the Midwest Book Review website means to be a continuingly invaluable (and free) informational, instructional, and advisory resource open 24/7.

Incidently, tomorrow (Sunday morning while my wife's at church) I'll be putting the finishing touches on a batch of new "how to" articles that will be going into the "Advice For Publishers" section -- especially one dealing specifically with the subject of "Peer Reviews". And I'm also taking an hour out of my schedule tomorrow to check out more than 225 new internet resources for publishers, writers, and readers (a list of URL addresses have been piling up for the past four months and I will just drop everything else until I'm caught up with these) and pass along the best of them to my webmaster daughter for adding to the Midwest Book Review.

Subj: Thanks, Jim!

Jim, thanks so much for the "enthusiastic" rec. for The Food Journal of Lewis & Clark! And, thanks for sending the hard copy! I'll forward it on to where it needs to go and many, many thanks!

Just got back from my first BEA-PMA U--good experience -- all the way around! Met quite a few listserve people and you are one of the resources mentioned regularly!!!!!

Again, my thanks. All the best!

Mary Gunderson
"The Food Journal of Lewis & Clark: Recipes for an Expedition"

Mary's nice little note (from last June) give me an opportunity to point out the importance of paper trails when doing business. The reason I send a "hard copy" of the review (accompanied by a publisher notification letter -- which is also a form of "hard copy") is to establish a tangible record for the publishers (and through them, the authors, editors, illustrators, etc.) of just what happened to the book they entrusted to the Midwest Book Review when that book manages to make the final cut and get featured in one or more of our publications. When books are featured in my radio show I send a copy of the script. When they are included into the library CD-ROM "Book Review Index" -- a notice to that effect is added as a part of the publisher notification letter process.

The policy of always sending publishers copies of the reviews of their book and a cover letter explaining where that review is going to appear may be the single most important contributing factor to the enduring success and popularity of the Midwest Book Review within the publishing community. And I including the Penguin-Putnam and Random Houses of the industry right along with the POD published little guys struggle to just break even on their expenses.

I'm personally appalled by how many of my book reviewer colleagues in this industry are so lax on this point that many a publisher feels the necessity for subscribing to a clipping service in hopes of keeping track of reviews for their titles.

Record keeping (read "paper trails") are indispensable for authors and publishers for many other reasons as well. IRS deductibility documentation; contract dispute resolution; and constructive measurement of publishing success/failure just to name three.

Keep your records simply, accurate, timely, and complete. It could (quite literally) be the difference between success and bankruptcy.

There is already a sufficiency of confusion in most of our personal lives -- good record keeping will help keep it minimal in our professional dealings.

Subj: Life In The Last Lane

Dear Mr. Cox,

I just received the review of my book, Life In The Last Lane and I want to thank you very much for taking the time to review it. Now I see it online on Bookwatch and it is give me encouragement to continue with my several writing projects. Thank you and your reviewers.

Barbara L. Mahoney

Barbara's thank you note give me an opening to explain why I feel so passionately about passing along to reviewers the author and/or publisher comments that I receive. Reviewer's appreciate feedback as much as any author or publisher. It helps the reviewer to become aware of the impact their reviews (and reviewing styles) have upon real people in the real world. One of the most lamentable things I routinely seem to encounter is sitting through a review of a book or a movie where the reviewer is simply using their moment of limelight as a platform upon which to show off a caustic vindictiveness unnecessary to the literary analysis of a given work. My second biggest pet peeve is when the reviewer apparently is reviewing the book or movie he (or she) thinks should have been written or filmed -- rather than the one that is directly before them and awaiting comment.

What truly pleases me is when a reviewer (as in the case of Barbar's "Life In The Last Lane") does a professional quality assessment which the writer (and/or publisher) take to heart and finds truly helpful. In this case, providing encouragement to keep at it. Writing and publishing are a lot like piano playing -- the more you practice the better you get. Slack off for a while and you begin to lose your edge.

Incidently -- this also holds true for book reviewing!

Subj: RE: Unable to Open Reviewers Bookwatch Sep03

>We have triple-checked our website and have no problems opening our website or the September 2003 Reviewers' Bookwatch. It works just fine in Netscape and in AOL, 28k dial-up connection.

Thanks, B.

Just tried to access again. This time, instead of 'page not found,' the page opened properly. Must have been HEAVY traffic on your site at the same time. (Good for you.)

Robert Brenner
Brenner Information Group

This email reminds me to note that sometimes (depending on your computer, your ISP, the time of day, and the gremlins inhabiting Internet cyberspace) access to the Midwest Book Review website can develop glitches. When notified of that seeming possibility (as Richard did in his original email of which the above was basically our follow-up and his subsequent response) I always forward the communique to our webmaster. She then checks it out. Almost always it has been a problem at the other end. But once or twice it was something at ours -- and readily fixed. I truly don't understand such things -- I'm a reviewer not a computer expert! My point is that I always welcome inquiries when things don't seem to working as they should -- and that's good advice for publishers! Always respond to your customer base, your vendors, your website visitors. You never can tell but what that particular inquiry might be an early warning tripwire that something has gone wrong on your end and should be fixed so as to not impede doing profitable business!

And if the problem is on the other end -- it wins you points of appreciation for being a "consumer oriented" and/or "vendor friendly" professional quality operation.

And then there is this:

Subj: Joel Hochman
Date: 9/13/03 10:43:28 AM Central Daylight Time

Dear Mr. Hochman:

This is to inform you that the review copy of "The Last Call" by Darryl Johnson and published by TFG Press has arrived safely.

Unfortunately it doesn't have a prayer of being accepted for a review assignment. The problem is the big "Review Copy - Not For Resale - Review Only" sticker plastered directly in the middle of the front cover.

I understand this was in an attempt by TFG Press to prevent an unscrupulous reviewer from selling a review copy to some used bookstore.

But as a strategy to secure a review is was self defeating.

The reason is that we have only 76 reviewers to cope with an average of 1500 titles a month being submitted for review consideration. That means an average of 50 books a day (Monday thru Saturday) crossing my desk.

All of our reviewers are unpaid volunteers. That means that their only compensation is that they get to keep the books they review. And that means that almost inevitably a reviewer will pass over defaced review copies in favor of a book that has not been marred, marked, or rendered otherwise unpleasant by stickers, marker pens, etc.

The Midwest Book Review is one of the most "small press friendly" book reviews in the country. I thought I'd better alert you as to how your book was received and evaluated. If your oversized stickering dismissed it from our consideration -- can you imagine the reception by one of the major review publications who historically are not nearly (if at all!) so appreciative of the small press community?

Publishers make a significant capital investment in each copy of their print run. It's a shame for any of them to be a wasted effort because of deliberate defacement.

The way to insure clean copies are not simply scammed and dumped is to screen ahead of time the various and diverse reviewers and review publications to whom they are to be sent.

Incidently, your rejected copy will join other similar rejects, galleys, uncorrected proofs, and pre-publication manuscripts in the paper recycling bin.

Incidently #2: Your accompanying publicity release material was excellent.

James A. Cox
Midwest Book Review
278 Orchard Drive, Oregon, WI 53575

Self-published authors and small press publishers must simply be aware that they are in direct competition with literally thousands of other authors and publishers. The great New York houses never deface their review copies. The university and academic houses never deface their review copies. In deed, most of the established and successful regional and specialty publishers never deface their review copies. The ones who do are almost invariable those from self-published authors and novice small press publishers. The motivating factor seems to be a fear of losing money through being cheated by the reviewer or review publication -- of losing not only their capital investment in the production and mailing of a review copy -- but the additional financial harm of losing a sale in the market place to an underpriced review copy in competition with their commercially "for sale" copies.

And to a very real point that can and does happen.

The answer is not to deface review copies -- but to screen those to whom you send a review copy. It's part of a strictly business commercial transaction. You are gambling. You are waging the cost of that book against the value of increased sales that the resultant the publicity, promotion, and marketing of a positive review can do for your financial bottom line.

Usually I'm not moved to take the time to point this out on a title by title, case by case basis. This particular time it was just so egregious and disqualified a title that would otherwise have been almost guaranteed a review because of its content and a particular reviewer on my staff that would have picked it up as an assignment in a heart beat.

So when you are having to count your pennies (as do we all) and simply can't afford to have a review copy go astray -- then do your homework before sending it out! Otherwise all of your hard work and invested expense are at risk -- and your stickered, marked, defaced review copy would probably end up in a used book store anyway!

Here's some November MBR statistics for you:

36 reviewers have contributed reviews of books, videos, cd music, and audiobooks for our November review publications.

Seven of them contributed one review apiece. The rest anywhere from 2 to 30 and more (can you imagine having the time and luxury of reading a book a day!).

And here's a bit of personal news: I have an article "How Do You Stack Up?" published in the December 2003 issue (page 42 and 43) of "Write & Publishing" which is a magazine published by Writer's Yearbook. They sent me a very nice check which I contributed to the Midwest Book Review postage fund.

Speaking of the postage fund -- Here is a list of those wonderful and appreciated folk who contributed stamps during October as expressions of support for what the Midwest Book Review strives to accomplish in behalf of the small press community:

Afton Ridge Publishing
Chamion Press
Latitude 21 Press
Trish Ross - Big Bean Publishing
Robert D. Miles - "Safespace"
George L. Bilbe - Sine Wave Press
Lois Center-Shabazz - CenNet Systems Publishing
Suzette Buhr - "Dictionary Plus for Women"
Bob Levin - "The Pirates and the Movies"
Mary Ilorio - Vocalis Ltd.
Jan Axelson - Lakeview Research
Priscilla Wegars - "Polly Bemes: A Chinese American Pioneer"
Paulette B. Maggiolo - "The Guilty Teacher"

My personal thanks and heart-felt appreciation to each and every one of you! Although our policy prohibits authors or publishers from making financial contributions to the Midwest Book Review (in order to avoid any conflict of interest issues), anyone who simply wishes to make a greatly cherished gesture of support for our work and effort is invited to send us postage stamps which will be used when we send out tear sheets and publisher notification letters.

Well that's all for now! 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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