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Jim Cox Report: July 2009
We are well into summer now. My gardens are flourishing because the steadily alternating days of rain and sunshine are making all the green growing things thrive and flower their little leafy heads off.
It's a shame that the economy isn't flourishing anything like my gardens. I'm pretty well known by the whole Madison, Wisconsin book community of publishers and booksellers. There's been a significant 'weeding out' of small independent bookstores over the past decade. Even the big chain stories like Borders and Barnes & Noble are having a hard time.
Yet there have been some bookstores able to not only survive, but thrive in these days of economic doldrums. In doing a bit of research as to why some folks thrive while others simply struggle to keep their doors open, I've noticed a few things that I thought authors and publishers might like to know with respect to the bookselling community.
No 'brick & mortar' bookstore can make it financially nowadays by relying on their local domestic marketplace alone. Everyone of the bookstores that are holding their own are doing so because their traditional revenue stream (in-store book sales) is being augmented by online book sales. In doing so, they are not relying on their own bookstore websites for online sales but are taking advantage of such online bookselling giants as Amacom and eBay, as well as also specialty websites like those surveying the antiquarian book community and other niche markets.
The 'brick & mortar' stores that are only dabbling in the online market are finding it a rough go because online bookselling is a labor intensive enterprise that takes a fair amount of expertise in its own right. There is so much competition out there in cyberspace! You mark you book at $9.99 and by the next morning some competitor has their copy of the same book marked down to $9.95. And down it goes into a kind of frenzied race to the bottom.
A lot of 'freelance' booksellers not associated with a 'brick & mortar' stores thought they'd make fast money (and a lot of it) by shopping garage sales, used bookstores, library sales, estate sales, etc. and buy great titles cheap that they could turn around and sell for significant profits online. But everybody quickly caught on to that strategy -- including the people who were running those garage sales, used bookstores, library sales, estate sales, etc.
So the pickings got slim. Still possible, but the 'freelancer' had to work longer and harder and get luckier than ever.
Same goes for the bookstore owners trying to augment their revenue streams by obtaining good inventory stock through such means.
If you ever contemplate starting up a used bookstore of your own, here's three cardinal principles that apply if you can reasonably hope to be successful -- because bookstores are just about ephemeral an enterprise as restaurants or book review publications:
1. Pay attention to location. Not just if the local population is 'book oriented', but will there be people 'walking through the door' with good books to sell you that you can then turn around and re-sell to others at a reasonable profit.
2. The balance or mix of titles in your inventory. Does it match the nature of the neighborhood or location you are planning to be in and the customer base you intend to be serving.
3. Online book sales. You need to know how to do it, when to do it, and have the time and/or staff to do it -- every single working day. That includes not just knowing how and where to register a book for sale online, but be prompt and reliable in fulfilling orders. Knowing how to deal with customer defaults and keeping up with our competitors in an inevitable price war.
One final piece of advice is that as with any other aspect of the publishing industry -- know what your budget is in great and meticulous detail. Then stick within it.
The only job that is harder and carries more financial risk than publishing a book, is selling one.
A bit of Midwest Book Review gossip to share before getting on to the Q&A. As of last week I now have a contract to provide book reviews to a Hong Kong-based bookselling website that will be servicing mainland China. I got my first 'royalty' payment yesterday. My webmaster set up a Midwest Book Review paypal account so that the people in Hong Kong could make online deposits with the Midwest Book Review and save the horrendous expense of sending a Hong Kong bank check to be cashed here in Wisconsin.
This isn't the first time my book reviews have been circulated in China. About ten years ago I did a 10 minute radio broadcast of reviews on books with an American theme (biographies, histories, social issues, etc.) that was broadcast by short-wave radio all over the world three times a day. One of those nations was mainland China. Now a decade or so later I'm back in China again -- this time via the internet.
China isn't the only part of the world where my reviews can end up. Here's an example of something that happens quite routinely around here:
Dear Jim Cox,
Mr. Majid Roshangar who writes reviews and does interviews for an Iranian literary magazine has requested your permission to reprint The Midwest Book Review's review of The Dawn of Saudi: In Search for Freedom in the English section of The Persian Book Review - a quarterly on arts and Literature. Please let me know if you approve or disapprove.
PO BOX 2325, Beverly Hills, CA 90213
I always give permission for such things in general, and did so here in particular. It's good PR for the Midwest Book Review and it's also one of the principle reasons why I'm still in this game after 39 years.
Now for some Q&A from the Midwest Book Review email box:
In a message dated 8/8/2008 8:09:45 A.M. Central Daylight Time, SaberComic writes:
You have a long list of book review organizations that Midwest Review recommends. Could you please advise which one you would send galley copies for review----one that won't chuck them into a landfill.
We look forward to the day we can send you hard covered books for your review....I think you will like them.
With warm regards,
Richard de Montebello
You have a bit of a learning curve to master here -- and it's fairly easy to do, although it does require some research time.
I would recommend that you begin with going to our website at www.midwestbookreview.com and clicking on the section called "Advice for Writers & Publishers".
Then read the 'how to' articles I've written on book reviewing, the book review process, the differences between pre-publication and post-publication reviewers.
Having done that, then click on the section called "Other Reviewers". This extensive database of links to freelance reviewers, book review publications, book review websites etc. have all been vetted by me and are legitimate. But some are specialized (e.g. poetry, science fiction, women's issues, etc." others are not.
The trick is to go down the list and when you see one that seems promising, click on it and you'll be zapped to their website. Read through their website and you'll be able to determine if they
1. are a good fit for your particular title
2. are a pre-publication review requiring a galley
3. or a post-publication review requiring a finished book
4. and any other submission requirements they may have.
Midwest Book Review
[Pub-forum] The Art & Science of the Publicity Release
Date: 8/11/2008 10:40:52 A.M. Central Daylight Time
Reply To: firstname.lastname@example.org
Dear PubForum Folk:
I'd gotten a little behind on my email and in catching up this morning read the extended discussion thread launched by Al's latest communique.
I routinely direct newbie publishers, self-published authors, and authors of even the major New York houses who suddenly find themselves having to shoulder most of the burden for promoting and publicizing their books to two distinct entries in the "Advice for Writers & Publishers" informational and instructional archive on the Midwest Book Review website at www.midwestbookreview.com
1. Writing An Effective Cover Letter
2. Writing An Effective Publicity Release
I specifically designed these two brief instructionals to help folk understand the differences between what cover letters do and what publicity releases are for. Not just when sending books to reviewers, but also when submitting books to the attention of wholesalers, distributors, bookstores (online as well as brick & board), librarians, and forums accessible to the general reading public.
I designed these two articles (especially the Publicity Release how-to) so that anyone can use them as a model to easily and quickly produce professional quality documents of just the right informational content and just the right physical length to do the job intended -- interest the recipient of these documents into accepting a particular book for review and/or for purchase.
It takes all of about five minutes (tops!) to read both articles and to bang out effective copy.
Incidentally, I whole-heartedly agree with Fran about the pitfalls of assuming that just because somebody has a reputation and is going to charge you a fee that they will come through with value for the money spent.
It underscores the necessity for vetting all vendors, getting competitive bids, and getting detailed contracts as to what is expected, the standards that will be used to ascertain acceptability, and the penalties for failure to live up to the terms of the contract.
I also whole-heartedly agree with those folks who pointed out that not everyone is good at everything. Sometimes it's actually cost effective and/or time necessitated to hire some kinds of work out -- so you can concentrate on doing what you happen to be best (and most profitable) at.
I also whole-heartedly agree with Al that it is best if the aspiring publisher is able, or learns how, to do an acceptable job at every aspect of book marketing (including the creation of publicity releases).
On my website I also provide a roster of freelance publicists that I've vetted through my experiences with them by being on the receiving end of their publicity releases and review copy submissions -- including follow-ups on their part, with me, in behalf of their clients.
The chief and primary value of a freelance publicist is in their knowledge base of who they know and can persuade to look at their client's title(s) whether it be for review, for distributing and/or selling, and for media time and attention.
That's the first basis on which to pass a professional judgement. The second criteria should be in the form of their track record with other and previous clients -- including their written work in the area of cover letters, publicity releases, news events, etc.
Then the third consideration is that of cost. Hence my recommendation of getting competitive bids based on written contract conditions. If you don't get what you pay for -- then there should be build in provisos to cut your losses. Sometimes in the form of a down payment and then segmented follow-up payments as the various work tasks are done (as scheduled) and pass your approval.
Every now and then, as even someone as experienced, knowledgeable, and supremely capable as Fran is as a publisher will still be "taken". So do what Fran has done and learn from the experience -- then pass that learning along for the benefit of others whenever the opportunity (such as membership on a discussion group like this one) presents itself.
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
The Playwright's Workout
Michael Bigelow Dixon & Liz Engelman
Smith and Kraus
PO Box 127, Lyme, NH 03768
9781575256177, $19.95, www.smithandkraus.com
Writing is a skill, and like any skill, it needs to be practiced. "The Playwright's Workout: Exercises for the Dramatic Imagination from Professional Playwrights" is a collection of writing and thought exercises for aspiring playwrights who want to hone their craft further. Drawing advice from over thirty acclaimed playwrights, "The Playwright's Workout" offers much wisdom to feast upon. "The Playwright's Workout" is well worth the investment for the playwrights and prose writers alike.
2402 University Avenue, Suite 203, Saint Paul, MN 55114
Graywolf Press is a premier and consistent publisher of poetry and prose with distinctive and enduring literary qualities and values. Now they have newly published two titles that will prove to be of immense and practical value to all aspiring writers regardless of the genre they are working in. "The Art Of Syntax: Rhythm Of Thought, Rhythm Of Song" (9781555975319, $12.00) by accomplished poet and essayist Ellen Bryant Voigt focuses upon the poetic language and examines signature musical scoring to reveal the basics and embellishments of the writer's craft as applied to fiction and non-fiction alike, but especially to the creation of verse. "The Art Of Time In Fiction: As Long As It Takes" (9781555975302, $12.00) by academician and author Joan Silber addresses five key ways in which time unfolds in fiction and the major task confronting all novelists -- determining the duration of their plots. Illustrated with examples drawn from such signatory authors as F. Scott Fitzgerald, Chinua Achebe, and Arundhati Roy, Silber's commentary is as insightful as it is informative. Both "The Art Of Syntax" and "The Art Of Time In Fiction" should be considered mandatory reading for any writer who wants to not only produce award-winning quality work, but to be able to interest whole new generations of readers in that work.
Write Like Hemingway
R. Andrew Wilson
Adams Media Corporation
57 Littlefield St, 2nd fl, Avon, MA 02322
9781598698961, $16.95, www.amazon.com
Ernest Hemingway was one of those rare authors whose literary contributions where to shape and influence American literature well beyond his own life time. His writing style was direct, laconic, and as a pioneer of modern romanticism, his novels were a significant departure from the literary styles of storytelling that preceded him and became a model for a great many novelists that came after him. In "Write Like Hemingway: Writing Lessons You Can Learn From The Master", by academician R. Andrew Wilson (an expert in composition, creative writing, and American literature) provides aspiring writers with cogent insights into just what made Hemingway's writing style so effective, how he was able to make his characters distinctively memorable, his storylines so complex even when his storytelling techniques were so succinct. But "Write Like Hemingway" is much more than just another 'how-to' writing guide based on the work of an accomplished author, Professor Wilson's informed and informative text will also be of immense interest and value to scholars and students of Hemingway's work, as well as the non-specialist general reader to whom Hemingway's novels and stories have had an enduring impact.
Sue William Silverman
University of Georgia Press
330 Research Dr., Athens, GA, 30602-4901
9780820331669, $19.95, www.amazon.com
A memoir or autobiography is the story of your life as told by you (although many a celebrity and politician have been known to employ 'ghost writers' to polish up their life story manuscript). In "Fearless Confessions: A Writer's Guide To Memoir", Sue William Silverman (faculty advisor at the Vermont College of Fine Arts and the associate editor of the literary journal 'Fourth Genre: Explorations in Nonfiction') provides an extraordinary 'how to' instructional compendium providing practical advice and illustrative examples that will enable the reader to effectively write down their own life stories either in the form of a manuscript to be published or a website to be visited. Of special note is Sue Silverman's commentary on the ethics involved with creating a memoir, a writer's 'voice' in presenting a life story, and the realities of marketing an autobiography. Informed and informative, "Fearless Confessions" is replete with appendices laying out an impressive and extensive roster of relevant books of particular interest to aspiring writers seeking to tell their life story in a variety of forms and formats. Anyone considering writing their memoirs for publication or just for the benefit of their posterity would be well advised to secure a copy of "Fearless Confessions" before starting their autobiographical project.
Dannelle D. Stevens & Joanne E. Cooper
Stylus Publishing, Inc.
22883 Quicksilver Dr., Sterling, VA 20166-2012
978579222161, $24.95, www.styluspub.com
There are many purposes for keeping a daily diary or personal journal. Making a written record of our lives, experiences, and thoughts often helps us to understand them better, provide an emotional relief, memorialize accomplishments, benefit our posterity, and establish the only kind of immortality that most of us can hope for. That's why "Journal Keeping: How To Use Reflective Writing For Learning, Teaching, Professional Insight, And Positive Change" by Dannelle D. Stevens and Joanne E. Cooper is such an invaluable and highly recommended instructional manual for aspiring diarists and journalists. "Journal Keeping" identifies and explains the uses of keep a journal for personal and/or professional development, how journal writing helps to organize, prioritize, and clarify creative thinking and problem-solving skills. Of special note is what the co-authors have to say about journal keeping in this era of the personal computer as a means to enhance and educator or administrator's management abilities, as well as decreasing the stress of their responsibilities. With its illustrative case studies, "Journal Keeping" is also of immense value as an instructional resource for aspiring writers seeking to hone their own creative abilities with respect to the written word. "Journal Keeping" is a highly recommended addition to personal, professional, academic, and community library reference collections and supplemental reading lists.
The Complete Idiot's Guide to Getting Published
Sheree Bykofsky & Jennifer Basye Sander
c/o Penguin Publishing Group
375 Hudson St., NY, NY 10014-3658
1592575188, $19.95, www.penguin.com
Although it has never been easier to publish a book (or harder to sell one) than now, it always helps the uninitiated to have a competent 'how to' manual to walk them through each consecutive step of the process. Now in a newly updated and expanded fourth edition, "The Complete Idiot's Guide to Getting Published" by the team of Sheree Bykofsky and Jennifer Basye Sander provide just such step-by-step assistance for the aspiring author wanting to become published, and the novice publisher wanting to successfully market their titles. Enhanced with the inclusion of a CD-ROM providing dozens of document templates, lists of agents, writer's conferences, and more, "The Complete Idiot's Guide to Getting Published" covers every aspect of the publishing process from beginning to end. Of special note is the advice and commentary on preparing a manuscript for publication, keeping track of publishing industry trends, and specific marketing strategies to successfully compete with other authors, publishers, and titles. Very highly recommended for personal and professional reference shelves and reading lists, "The Complete Idiot's Guide to Getting Published" will enable the reader to avoid common mistakes, utilize traditional bookstores as well as the online booksellers, understand the finer points of publishing contracts, and conduct a commercially successful publishing enterprise.
c/o Dufour Editions, Inc.
PO Box 7, Chester Springs, PA 19425
9780956128751, $25.95, www.amazon.com
Just as there is an art to writing poetry, so there is an art to the publishing of it. That's why "Poetry: Reading It, Writing It, Publishing It" by Jessie Lendennie (co-founder and managing director of Salmon Poetry) is such a useful compendium of practical information and useable insight drawn from poets and publishers in such diverse literary cultures as Ireland, Britain, America, Canada, Australia, and even Zimbabwe. The twenty-nine contributed essays are grouped thematically into three major sections: Reading It; Writing It; Publishing It. For anyone who aspires to write verse and have their poems published, Jessie Lendennie's "Poetry: Reading It, Writing It, Publishing It" is very strongly recommended and very useful reading.
Writer Watchdog Self-Publishing Directory, 2009 edition
New Vision Media
823-8 Burch Avenue, Durham, NC 27701
9780982267493, $19.99, www.amazon.com
Now in a newly released 2009 edition, New Vision Media's "Writer Watchdog Self-Publishing Directory" is one of the most valuable references any aspiring (or well experienced) self-published author could hope to include on the professional reference shelf. The word 'useful' is a profound understatement when it comes to describing the value of its more than two hundred resource listings, expert advice and commentary drawn from a variety of notable contacts from the publishing industry, and its listings of discounts for many services from many service providers with respect to the self-publishing process. In fairness, it should be clearly noted that the Midwest Book Review is well identified as one of those 'useful' entries in the chapter dedicated to 'Book Review Resources'. Of special note is the inclusion of a series of informed and informative articles from 'Using a Book Printer or a Self-Publishing Service', to 'The Cost of Editing and Not Editing', to 'Selling Books without Bookstores', to (my personal favorite) 'Why You Need Book Reviews', and so many more practical and applicable self-publishing specific contributions. Simply stated, anyone contemplating the prospect and possibility of self-publishing should begin with a careful perusal of the "Writer Watchdog Self-Publishing Directory".
Publish Your First Magazine
PO Box 105603, Atlanta, GA 30348-5603
9780982276501, $19.95, www.amazon.com
In "Publish Your First Magazine: A Practical Guide For Wannabe Publishers", author Lorraine Phillips draws upon her many years of experience and expertise as the former publisher of the magazine 'SisterPower' to provide other aspiring magazine publishers with a comprehensive, step-by-step guide to magazine publication. "Publish Your First Magazine" intelligibly lays out all of the fundamental basics of publishing a magazine from setting it up, to design and branding, to advertisement rates and selling ads, to layout and content, to setting up a web site for the magazine, to recruiting and working with a printer, to magazine distribution, and more. As a kind of comprehensive workshop in a single 'user friendly' volume, "Publish Your First Magazine" is an absolutely essential instructional reference and guide for everyone and anyone contemplating producing a magazine in today's highly volatile and competitive marketplace.
101 Best Beginnings Ever Written
2006 South Mary, Fresno, CA 93721
9781884956867, $15.95 www.quilldriverbooks.com
The first line of any story is often the difference between making or breaking a tale, and author Barnaby Conrad here explores twelve types of beginnings, providing examples of eye-catching openings and discussing options. Any library catering to writers will find the approach offers a blend of strong literary openings and analysis of what makes them strong.
Best Little Books Of Short Story Ideas
Edward C. Jones III
1663 Liberty Drive, Suite 200, Bloomington, IN 47403-5161
9781438953243, $12.99, www.amazon.com
Originally designed to help students in highschool and college needing ideas for their English literature and creative writing classes, Edward Jones' "Best Little Books Of Short Story Ideas" will also provide valuable assistance for writers afflicted with 'writer's block' and needing help getting their creative intellects and imaginations active again. A compilation of basic, unedited plot ideas derived from older short stories (published prior to 1989), these fifty-five entries will help aspiring writers to begin hammering out their own unique tales whether for an English class writing assignment or a professional quality story intended for commercial publication. "Best Little Books Of Short Story Ideas" is a very handy, 'user friendly', and recommended addition to a writer's reference shelf.
The Legal Forms Toolkit
Nova Publishing Company
1103 W. College St., Carbondale, IL 62901
9781892949486, $39.95, www.amazon.com
Every incorporated American business must have a legal framework of permits and bylaws to operate. Every parent should have a will and/or trust to insure their assets will be entrusted properly allocated upon their passing. Every citizen at some point in their life will need to know about such legal issues and concepts as a power of attorney, deeds and leases, prenuptial agreements, and other commonly encountered legal situation. Frequently legal issues will be unique and not amenable to 'boiler plate' paperwork. All too often the high cost of an attorney precludes ordinary people from doing what they can do for themselves under U.S. laws, both state and federal. That's why "The Legal Forms Toolkit: The Ultimate Guide To Creating Custom Legal Forms" by attorney-at-law Daniel Sitarz is so timely and useful a resource. Enhanced with an accompany CD-Rom featuring hundreds of legal forms that can be readily printed out, "The Legal Forms Toolkit" is an ideal instruction and information manual that is superbly organized and thoroughly 'user friendly' by the non-specialist citizen needing to craft and create any kind of legal contract that would be in accordance with state and federal laws and guidelines. "The Legal Forms Toolkit" is very highly recommended for personal, professional, and community library reference collections.
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:
Peter E. Roller
Mary Kaye -- "Music Box"
Mary Allen -- "Confessions Of A Teacher"
Adlai e. Stevenson III -- "The Black Book"
Cheryl Carpinello -- "Guinevere: On The Even Of Legend"
Jill Spiegel -- "How To Talk To Anyone About Anything"
Sheila & Letty Sustrin -- "The Teacher Who Would Not Retire"
Temple Beth Am
A & N Publishing
The Straube Foundation
Erkki Kanto -- Atophill Publishing
Sharyn Pak Withers -- On Air Video Inc.
Don Arends -- Mission Manuscripts Inc.
William Boik -- DBM Press LLC
Lani Brown -- The Beacon Bridge LLC
Diamond Valley Company Publishers
Tim Schaffner -- Schaffner Press
Cheryl Orefice -- Senior Fitness Inc.
Harriett Ruderman -- Illusion Press
Lorikeet Express Publications
Tom Tolnay -- Birch Brook Press
Larry McCabe -- Red Dog Music Books
Julius A. Williams III -- Authentic Publishing LLC
Jeffrey Hayes -- Glenmoor Publishing
Debi Pugliese -- Clearstone Publishing
Cynthia McCabe -- Shenanigan Books
Jacqueline H. Hacsi -- Champagne Press
Cassandra Mack -- Strategies for Empowered Living Inc.
Beth Blenz-Clucas Publicity
Elzabeth 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, 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
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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