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Jim Cox Report: June 2009
Dear Publisher Folk, Friends & Family:
I receive a lot of 'Thank You' notes every month from authors and publishers who are appreciative of what we try to accomplish in behalf of the small press community here at the Midwest Book Review. As an example, here's a letter that came in last week:
27 May 2009
James A. Cox, Editor-in-Chief
Midwest Book Review
278 Orchard Drive
Oregon, WI 53575
Dear Mr. Cox:
Thank you for sending us the tear sheet of the short review in "Small Press Bookwatch" of Eno's first book "Rain Gardening in the South". It was a nice surprise, coming from the Midwest, and has actually given us a little bump in sales from that region.
We are delighted to help support the Review's efforts by donating postage stamps. You're one of the few reviews that still makes the effort to notify publishers. We appreciate your work.
PO Box 158, Hillsborough, NC 27278
I've cited the above letter for a bit more than just stroking my own ego. Although, believe me, it's letters like this that make my day clear into the middle of next week! I share this letter with you because it touches upon a point I'd like to stress:
I'm sorry to say that a great many review publications and book reviewers do indeed neglect to notify the authors and/or publishers who have submitted complimentary copies of their books for review with any kind of tear sheet (copy of the review), or to send out publisher notification letters identifying where the review has been published and/or posted.
To me this neglect is a breach of the traditional publishing industry standard that it is the mutual obligation of reviewers and publishers that in exchange for a free copy of the book, assuming it makes the reviewer's final cut and is in fact reviewed, to provide the publisher with a copy of the review (be it negative or positive) which publisher is then at full and complete liberty to utilize in the promotion of the book in any manner the publisher deems useful. This liberty also includes not using the review at all if it is felt to be of no assistance in the publishers publicity/marketing campaign.
Reviews range from a one or two sentence 'blurb' pieces to a full-length literary analysis that can run any number of pages. I've got one reviewer on our roster who basically uses his review of a book as a kind of launching pad for an essay.
For a reviewer or a review publication to fail to provide the publisher with feedback in the form of a copy of the review and some kind of notification when the book has made the 'final cut' and been reviewed, is to breach that 'contractual' publishing industry standard.
A corollary of sorts to those publishing industry standards as applied to book reviews is that once the publisher is furnished with a copy of the review and a notification letter, it is then the publisher's incumbent responsibility to notify their authors, editors, illustrators, publicists, and anyone else they deem appropriate.
All too often (especially with POD publishers, but even with some of the big New York publishing houses!) the first time an author becomes aware that the Midwest Book Review has reviewed their book is when they check their book's web-page on the Amazon.com website and discovers it there. When a publisher fails to pass along a review to the author, that is also a breach of the traditional and 'contractual' publishing industry standard.
All this being said, I have on my desk at this very moment, four author/publisher notification letters send out in May but stamped and returned by the U.S. Post Office as being undeliverable.
In other words, the mailing address supplied along with the review copy is non-functional. This is not only a problem for me as a reviewer in trying to fulfill my 'contractual' responsibilities to the publisher, it is also a breach of the publisher's contractual responsibility to notify the author. Of course, with self-published books, the author and the publisher are the same person. So I guess that means they are breaching that contract with themselves.
Incidentally, our practice of trying to be religiously faithful in sending out those reviews and notification letters is not just good publishing industry etiquette, it's also very good business. It's how the Midwest Book Review has established and maintains its credibility within the publishing industry as a good place to send review books. It's what helps us keep in business and prosper these past 36 years. -- It's also why I haven't had to buy a postage stamp for the last decade!
Now for some Q&A from the Midwest Book Review email box:
In a message dated 7/5/2008 10:55:30 P.M. Central Daylight Time:
I am new at this, do you have a list of small, regional and specialty houses? Thanks,
Leo M. Bonaventura
On our Midwest Book Review website at http://www.midwestbookreview.com you will find a list of links to hundreds of small press publishers. Click on "Publishers" (which you will find at the bottom of the left hand column of our home page).
You can also find the Publisher Directory, an encyclopedic-style book listing thousands and thousands of publishers at your local community library. It's usually an 'in-house' reference for the library staff, but if you ask your reference librarian I'm certain they would let you have access to it -- although probably not allow you to check it out and take it home. But then that's what xerox machines are for.
Midwest Book Review
In a message dated 7/8/2008 8:40:34 P.M. Central Daylight Time:
As usual, thank you for your insights. I wasn't aware that some reviewers request review copies. I thought all submissions for reviews were unsolicited.
***Remember that there are all kinds and categories of reviewers. Most publication staff reviewers are provided their reviews by assignment from their editor(s). Freelance reviewers often solicit the books they want to review. The Midwest Book Review encompasses both categories of reviewers so some of the books are directly assigned and some are the result of particular requests by reviewers -- all of which is generally overseen by myself as the reviews are turned in for final editing and publication layout.***
Would you suggest even a small press like myself include a Review Request Check List form? What would it be comprised of?
***A "Reviewer Request Check List" is quite simply a list of new and forthcoming books that are offered for review. The reviewers just 'check off' those titles they are willing to consider for review. For a small press like yours it would probably only encompass a couple of pages, whereas a major publisher like Random House who produces hundreds of books each year have catalogs that resemble small telephone books and whose "Reviewer Request Check List" runs to several pages. The Reviewer Request Check List is framed out as follows:
The masthead with your publisher name and contact information -- including any specific person to whose attention the check list should be directed to upon completion.
Then the titles are listed either alphabetically or chronologically (publication dates: past, present and future). Each entry line begins with a box or a ___ to be checked.
Some publishers offer their books in either galley or finished copy formats. If so then the box or ___ will be in two horizontal side-by-side positions at the beginning of each entry so the reviewer can check either one or the other (and sometimes both).***
As far as the catalog, most of my titles have release dates set well into the future. I wasn't sure whether I should show them on the catalog. It sounds like you suggest we show every title we have currently, and those projected in the future as well.
***You should include every title you anticipate publishing along with your estimated release date (e.g. October, 2008, January 2008, etc.)***
Since the submittal I'm making is for a pre-teen fiction book, I wonder if I need to narrow the catalog down to just those titles that are similar, but that would only be a few titles. We also have non-fiction titles in the works, including self help books. And, I believe those are excluded from most pre-pub reviewer consideration.
***When creating your catalog you should include every title you have including your active backlist, your current list, and your anticipated future titles for whom you can establish approximate dates for publication.***
Are reviewers looking for a magic number of titles?
***Reviewer's don't care about the numbers of titles in a publisher's list. That's a concern more for wholesalers, distributors, and retailers.***
I have a total of 10, including current releases and future releases, fiction and non-fiction, but some of those release dates go into the middle of '09.
***That's just fine. Include them all in your Reviewer Request Checklist -- but keep computer records tracking the requests for future titles as those requests come in so that you can avoid any duplicated requests. If you receive duplicated requests from the same reviewer you should always inquire as to their reason. Sometimes its simply confusion at their end. Sometimes the originally requested title never arrived. Sometimes (with large review operations like mine) there might be a second reviewer requesting the title.***
It seems like a lot of distributors want to see 10 titles before they will consider carrying books from a certain publisher.
***I'm certain that there are some like that. What they are looking for is assurance that the publisher is a substantial one and not likely to fold up as a one title wonder.***
Do you think reviewers are looking for a minimum quantity?
***No. Legitimate reviewers are looking for books of interest that they can recommend to their audiences or readerships.***
Of course I'm wondering about LJ, SLJ, Kirkus, PW, etc.
***These are the 800-pound gorillas of book reviewing. Being able to accompany a review submission with a catalog helps to establish yourself as being worth their time and attention. They are also pre-publication reviews so are interested only in galleys of your forthcoming titles -- and not your current published list or your active back list.***
I don't recall MBR requiring a catalog. Maybe it would have helped me get through with my first book.
***We don't require a catalog -- but we enthusiastically recommend it being provided to us whenever possible -- even, as in the case of very small presses, and even if it would only amount to a few sheets of stapled together paper.***
I haven't prepared a catalog before. Would anyone be willing to share an image of a catalog you've sent to a reviewer, or for your own advertising?
***If you want to send me about $5 to cover the postage, I'd be happy to send you some Spring 2008 catalogs that are now obsolete because the publisher's Fall 2008 catalogs have arrived to replace them. Otherwise I'm sure that if you just contacted your local community library they would be able to show you several publisher catalogs and you could see just what they are like in all their variations. It also occurs to me that I could xerox off copies of some of the Reviewer Request Checklist forms I've got on hand (this is the season for getting them with respect to the fall titles) and include some of those as well along with the catalogs -- or just by themselves.***
Thanks again for everyone's insights.
***You've asked some very good questions and I'll be including this little Q&A in a future "Jim Cox Report" for the benefit of other fledgling publishers who are facing the same questions that you've raised. Let me know if I can be of any additional help.***
Midwest Book Review
Now for reviews of some 'how to' books on writing and publishing that have crossed my desk this past month:
The Writing/Publishing Shelf
Getting Started As A Freelance Writer
Robert W. Bly
1113 Spruce Street, Boulder, CO 80302
9781591810698, $19.95, www.amazon.com
The nice things about being a freelance writer include being your own boss, setting your own hours, picking out your own subject matter, seeing your name in print, and basically being in charge of what, when, where, why, and how you make money from your writing. The not-so-nice aspects of freelance writing include the massive competition you face when trying to solicit business, sell your work, and manage the business aspects of your do-it-yourself career. Now in a newly revised and significantly expanded edition, "Getting Started As A Freelance Writer" by Robert W. Bly (himself a professional writer with an average annual income of more than $600,00) who draws upon his more than 25 years of experience and expertise is an ideal instruction manual for anyone who aspires to a successful and profitable career as a freelance writer. Bly provides pertinent and reliable advice and instruction covering every aspect of freelance writing including where to find work, how to obtain paying assignments, how to negotiate fees and contracts to best effect, turning out saleable manuscripts, getting paid on time and in full, and so much more. Of special note and value are Bly's comments on getting started and avoiding common mistakes, writing and selling poetry, as well as the commercial sale of short stories, novels, and essays. "Getting Started As A Freelance Writer" is an ideal and invaluable 'how to' manual that should be considered mandatory reading for anyone who seeks to earn their living (full-time or part-time) through their writing.
MLA Handbook For Writers Of Research Papers
Modern Language Association
26 Broadway, 3rd fl., NY, NY 10004-1789
9781603290241, $22.00, www.mla.org
The Modern Language Association is the premier reference resource of the proprieties of written English. Now in an updated and expanded seventh edition, "MLA Handbook For Writers Of Research Papers" continues to be a comprehensive, current, and authoritative guide to research and writing in an online environment offering simplified guidelines for citing works published on the Internet, as well as citing works from other sources including digital files and graphic narratives. This new edition is enhanced with more than two hundred additional examples, several research project narratives, and research paper formats. Of special note is the chapter devoted to abbreviations. Absolutely indispensable, the "MLA Handbook For Writers Of Research Papers" is an essential addition to personal, professional, academic, and community library reference collections.
Basics Film-Making: Screenwriting
Robert Edgar-Hunt, et al.
Rue des Fontenailles 16, Case Postale, 1000 Lausanne 6, Switzerland
9782940373895, $29.95, firstname.lastname@example.org
Writing scripts for theatrical, film, and stage productions is a demanding and highly competitive occupation -- but also a potentially lucrative one for writers with talent, imagination, skill, and a thorough understanding of the key elements comprising script writing. The collaborative work of Robert Edgar-Hunt, John Marland, and James Richards, "Basics Film-Making: Screenwriting" is a basic introductory instruction manual addressing the complete spectrum of screenwriting issues including script forms, standard practices, idea creation, theories of storytelling, log lines, screen treatments, 'step treatment', the pitch to potential backers, character development, creating a fictional world, 'mise en scene', action, tone and genre, dialogue, critiquing and feedback, and more. A superbly illustrated compendium of information, examples, concepts, and more, aspiring screenwriters are taken through the complete process of producing a short screenplay especially written for this textbook covering the total process from initial draft to film pitch. "Basics Film-Making: Screenwriting" is an ideal and effective introduction that should be considered an invaluable instructional guide and continuing reference manual for anyone who aspires to write a professional quality screenplay, either alone or in collaboration.
Flogging The Quill
845 SE Spring St., Pullman, WA 99163
9780578009353, $19.95, www.ftqpress.com
No sector of the publishing industry is as competitive as that of fiction. The competition facing any aspiring novelist is intense and only the best, most imaginative, and technically skilled will succeed. That's why 'how to' books like Ray Rhamey's "Flogging The Quill: Crafting A Novel That Sells" is such important, practical, and recommended reading for anyone who is seeking to establish a profitable career writing fiction, regardless of the genre they choose to specialize in. Drawing upon his years of experience as an author and editor, and as the creator of the 'litblog' 'Flogging the Quill' where writers from around the world can explore the craft of storytelling, Ray Rhamey has organized his instruction manual into seven major sections: Storytelling; Description; Dialogue; Technique; Words; Workouts; and Computer Tips. An invaluable compendium that is as informed and informative as it is thoughtful and thought-provoking, "Flogging The Quill" will prove to be an invaluable 'workshop in a book' for anyone seeking to hone their storytelling skills and produce novels that will be able to successfully compete for publication and sales.
The Author's Guide To Publishing And Marketing
Tim Ward & John Hunt
c/o National Book Network
4270 Boston Way, Suite 200, Lanham, MD 20706
9781846941665, $19.95, www.nbnbooks.com
John Hunt is a publisher. Tim Ward is an author. Together they have drawn upon their many years of experience and expertise to collaborate in creating "The Author's Guide To Publishing And Marketing", a comprehensive introduction to the highly competitive and evolving process of transforming manuscripts into books -- and then selling those books to create a profitable business for the publisher and a lucrative income for the author. It should be noted for the novice American writer and aspiring American publisher that the compendium of information, insight, advice is a British publication so some of the specific resources cited are not readily available here -- but their counterparts most certainly are. Organized into four major sections (Getting Published; Marketing the Book; Using the Internet; and Working with the Media), "The Author's Guide To Publishing And Marketing" offers a highly recommended compendium of useable, practical, explanatory information that will be of immense and immediate usefulness to anyone seeking to earn a living by the writing of books and/or establish a profitable business publishing them.
What You Need To Know To Be A Pro
Medusa's Muse Press
9780979715235, $10.00, www.medusamuse.com
When it comes to establishing a publishing enterprise, whether for single title self-published authors, or publishers aspiring to create a stable of authors under one imprint, there is no need to re-invent the wheel. Not when Terena Scott has written "What You Need To Know To Be A Pro: The Business Start-Up Guide For Publishers", a comprehensive but thoroughly accessible instruction manual covering all the elements of launching a publishing enterprise from choosing a name, to structuring the fledgling business enterprise, to creating a business plan, to such issues as licenses, financing, office space, and publishing project evaluation on a case by case basis. "What You Need To Know To Be A Pro" addresses working with authors from contracts to editing; the actual publishing of a book from editing to ISBN, to pricing. "What You Need To Know To Be A Pro" also has invaluable, 'real world' advice on launching a book; keeping track of inventory, royalties and taxes; and establishing how many book titles can be managed by the resources available to the publisher. Of special note are the insertions of practical advice from professional in the publishing industry -- including commentary by James A. Cox, the editor-in-chief of the Midwest Book Review and the author of this review. Enhanced with the inclusion of lists of 'Helpful Resources' including a list of 'how to' books, recommended publisher organizations, publisher oriented websites, "What You Need To Know To Be A Pro: The Business Start-Up Guide For Publishers" is particularly recommended to those new to the publishing field and will prove to be as practical and invaluable, as it is insightful and instructional.
As is customary, I'm 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 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:
Yuri Z. Spilny
Robin K. Johnson
Anne Patrice Brown
Katie Willmarth Green
Lori Davis -- "Second Wind"
Joseph Crew -- "Abraham's Burden"
Jack L. Parker -- "Tibetan Adventure"
Richard R. Draude -- "The Adam Eradication"
Catherine Ritch Guess -- "I Know Who Holds Tomorrow"
Tamam Tracy Moncur -- "Diary of an Inner City Teacher"
John Fridrich -- "Just Enuf to Get By"
John B. Browning -- "R.I.P., USF&G"
Robert O. Boyinton -- "Your Daddy Ain't Rich"
Valerie Storey -- "The Great Scarab Scam"
John J. Kuczma Jr. -- "Comparative Value House Buying"
Anne Paluszny -- "Getting to the Heart of Complimenting"
Grigor Fedan -- "The Templars, Two Kings and a Pope"
Lawrence John Cipolla -- "360-Degree Assessments"
Elizabeth Woodman -- Eno Publishers
Sven Eberlein -- Tuber Creations
Sundance Burke -- Awake Spirit Publishing
Heidi Lampieth -- Red Jack Books
Sharyn Pak Withers -- On Air Video Inc.
Jane Stanfield -- Where Is She Heading
Tom Poirier -- Saint Ansgar Press
Stephen Zeoli -- The Safer Society Press
David Jerome -- SnackBooks.com
Karina Braun -- Get In Touch
Sarah W. Purser -- CRM Books
Darryll Sherman -- Dog Ear Publishing
Janice Phelps -- Luck Press
Marta Felber -- LifeWords Publishing
Kristi Glavin -- Chicken Soup for the Soul
Elizabeth Waldman Frazier -- Waldmania!
Andrea Blain Public Relations Inc.
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, uncorrected proofs, or Advanced 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!
Midwest Book Review
278 Orchard Drive, Oregon, WI, 53575
James A. Cox
Midwest Book Review
278 Orchard Drive
Oregon, WI 53575-1129
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