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Jim Cox Report: May 2010
Dear Publisher Folk, Friends & Family:
I want to make a few observations and comments about why it is so difficult for self-published authors to successfully attract the attention of book reviewers, distributors, wholesalers, and retail booksellers. -- And then some suggestions on what to do about it.
As well as authors that set up their own publishing company to produce their books, I include in the category of self-published authors those that utilize POD companies like iUniverse, AuthorHouse, Trafford, Infinity, Booksurge, Outskirts, PublishAmerica, Lulu, Vantage, Tate, and the dozens of other companies who, for a price, will take any author's manuscript and turn it into a book.
It is very well known (or should be) that the Midwest Book Review has championed self-published authors from our very beginning in 1976 down to the present day. And will continue to do so for as long as I remain it's editor-in-chief.
Our current book review publications for May 2010 feature reviews for 47 POD published titles and reviews for 6 books whose self-published authors didn't even bother to create a publishing company name for themselves and so were identified in the 'info block' that is a part of all our reviews as being 'Privately Published'.
There's about a half-dozen reviews for self-published books that didn't even have snail-mail addresses available for their 'info blocks' -- only email ones.
Those self-published authors who did make up their own company names (complete with intact address contact information), the number of reviews runs to somewhere around a hundred or so.
Therefore my comments on why self-published authors tend to labor under a prejudice within the publishing industry are well-meant by a truly sympathetic observer.
Here they are:
1. Substandard covers which render a book to be uncompetitive on esthetic grounds to the casual bookstore browser. You can have pure literary gold inside, but if the outside screams 'amateur' or is otherwise repellent, it will get passed over as it's competition on the shelf proves more attractive in seducing the buyer's attention. This lack of competitive appeal also applies to reviewers, bookstore managers, and everyone else in the between the publisher and the reader, when consider to accept or reject a title.
2. Interior flaws that run the gamut from excessive typos, to grammatical errors, to exasperating font selection.
3. Content categories that are flooded in the marketplace with competition and/or have limited mainstream audience appeal. The market for poetry is minuscule. The demand for personal memoirs of overcoming medical, psychological, or flawed upbringing adversities is even smaller. Because of the ease of desk-top publishing, each year sees works of general fiction increasingly flooding a marketplace where each of those years sees a smaller percentage of people spending their leisure time reading general fiction.
4. Ignorance and/or naivety in dealing with the various elements of the publishing industry and therefore coming across as non-professionals. With respect to reviewers, this is often displayed by inadequate review copy submissions where the requirements were not met. With respect to booksellers it is very much the same.
5. When it comes to reviewers, the single most grievous thing a few (and in my experience, very few) self-published authors do to 'spoil it' for all other self-published authors is to harass a reviewer about the review process -- that is, persistent and frequent questioning as to when their book will be reviewed, why their book was not selected for review, taking personal offense with respect to the actual review when one is done. It only takes a handful of such experiences to sour a professional reviewer or a book review editor into not wanting to deal with someone who is not a seasoned, experienced, professional author. For wanting to avoid authors who are so emotionally and/or financially invested in their self-published book that they become rude, and even down right abusive.
And please believe me when I say that in the 34 years I've been doing this I've had these kinds of encounters more times that I can count.
So how can a self-published author overcome this publishing industry reluctance to get involved with a self-published book?
1. Appear and act as professionally and maturely as you possibly can in every aspect of your contacts with reviewers, booksellers, and everyone else in the publishing industry you encounter, solicit, or market to.
2. Insure that your book is flawless with respect to what's inside, and competitive in terms of its outside appearance.
3. If your book is in a category where the numbers of competing titles is enormous, concentrate on marketing your title as if it were something very special, identifying and capitalizing on something that would make it 'stand out in the crowd'. If your book is in a category of a minimal or a specialized readership, target your marketing efforts directly to that niche group.
4. Don't expect to make a profit, or even recoup your initial investment, in the short term. Be prepared to engage in a long-term effort, one in which the months will turn into years, and the years into decades -- with you plugging away in your marketing efforts throughout it all. And expect to learn new (and hone existing) publishing and book marketing tips, tricks and techniques throughout it all.
Now for some 'how to' books you can start (or continue) that learning process with:
The Writing/Publishing Shelf
Tales from the Script
Peter Hanson, director
First Run Features
630 Ninth Avenue, Suite 1213, New York, NY 10036
$24.95 www.firstrunfeatures.com www.talesfromthescript.com
Tales from the Script is an extraordinary documentary about the art, craft, and business of screenwriting, particularly for Hollywood movies. Consisting of the firsthand testimonies from a wealth of minds behind big-budget screenplays - some beloved classics, some icons of pop culture, and some horrendous bombs or flops (the author of the "Bloodrayne" screenplay would like it noted that roughly 20% of her original work survived what Uwe Boll did to it). These men and women recall what it was like trying to break into the business, trying to make enough money to survive while writing professionally, working with directors and actors, honing one's craft, and more. The special features include a twelve-minute segment featuring the wisdom of author/screenwriter William Goldman, and a nine-minute section expressly consisting of advice for novice screenwriters. A candid, forthright, no-nonsense collection, Tales from the Script is an absolute "must-see" for anyone interested in breaking into (or trying to advance their position within) the screenplay business. 105 minutes. Also highly recommended is the First Run Features documentary "The Tiger Next Door" ($24.95, 86 minutes).
Great Little Last-Minute Editing Tips For Writers
How To Do it Frugally Publishing
9781450507653, $6.95, www.amazon.com
A successful author, editor, writing and publishing consultant, Carolyn Howard-Johnson draws upon her many years of experience and expertise to compile a 56-page compendium of 'user friendly' and immanently practical advice that will enable writers to avoid commonly encountered errors of spelling and thereby making their work, be it a blog, a letter, or the next Great American Novel, to be all that it should. From adapting/adopting to wreak/reek, "Great Little Last-Minute Editing Tips For Writers" is highly recommended reading for anyone preparing to write pretty much anything -- and a fascinating read in its own right for those who appreciate word-play and the occasionally encountered dilemmas of the English language!
The Weekend Novelist Re-Writes the Novel
Robert J. Ray
Watson Guptill Publications
1745 Broadway, New York, NY 10019
9780823084432, $16.99, www.amazon.com
The Weekend Novelist Re-Writes the Novel provides a follow-up to the best-seller WEEKEND NOVELIST and offers writers of all levels additional details on crafting their novel. You've finished the first draft: now it's time to apply the principles presented in The Weekend Novelist Re-Writes the Novel. It's all about revising and changing a manuscript for maximum impact: perfect for general or school lending libraries.
Now here are some Q&A's on writing and publishing:
In a message dated 4/28/2009 8:46:41 P.M. Central Daylight Time, ShugaPuppie writes:
Hi I have a question:
I've read so many opinions of how to send a press kit from professionals, web sites and "How To" books. I wanted to ask if it is best to place the press kit in a 2 pocket folder or if the documents should be folded and placed in the book? (which is what some books and online sites say)
Please make me aware as I would like to be professional. Thanks in advance,
To which I responded:
It all depends on who you are sending your press kit and book to -- and for what purpose.
To reviewers, my advice is just to include two basic documents, the cover letter and a one-page publicity release (sometimes also called a press release).
They should be folded and put into the book. That's so they will also be sure to pass along to the assigned reviewer by editors like me.
To booksellers and distributors, you should have a full blown press kit in a 2 pocket folder because you'll also be adding such additional material (to a cover letter and a publicity release) such items as other reviews, photo of author, a brief marketing overview, business cards, even such miscellaneous items as a book marker.
Midwest Book Review
The ShugaPuppie wrote again (and gave her real name at the end):
Sent: 4/30/2009 1:10:49 P.M. Central Daylight Time
Subj: Re: I have a question
Thank you so much! You are a very caring and compassionate person to offer so much information to those starting out in the book industry.
I know because I read your web site, and I, like so many others I'm sure, appreciate your interest in assisting small publishing houses, authors, etc.
Not everyone is willing to give such assistance and to so many for free.
I pray that you continue to be successful in what you do as you are definitely a great help to new publishers like myself, as well as authors and others.
You inspire me to continue my newspaper AMISTAD, where I am Editor in Chief. I inform the community about the goings-on around the world via the newspaper. I only paused the paper due to the novel, but when I start that engine again, I'd love to speak with you about a possible interview. I'd like to write an article about your endeavors and passion for what you do to help others.
By the way my publishing company is Around-The-Way Publishing, and you probably have received my novel for review by now, Life Knows No Bounds, "1 Who Luvs U More."
As I mention on page 8, the novel is written in the Realism and Naturalism genres, so it was key to employ certain language as a device to keep true to the Realism genres. It starts out grasping for your attention, but that is my trademark, except the language is always according to the class of people in the novel.
I hope you or your reviewers enjoy the novel, and look forward to hearing your review.
Thanks again for your help, and please know, you are greatly appreciated.
Around-The-Way Publishing, LLC
It little correspondences like this one with Andrea that truly make my day!
In a message dated 5/13/2009 5:21:58 P.M. Central Daylight Time, firstname.lastname@example.org writes:
Good explanation of the difference between distributors and wholesalers. Give Mary a raise! I read about it on your website. My name is Bruce Lang and I just self-published a novel called “Newsman”. Any ideas on how one might go about getting it into bookstores?
Deer Creek Broadcasting
Chico, CA 95928
1. Go to the Midwest Book Review website at http://www.midwestbookreview.com
2. Click on "Book Publicity & Marketing" where you will find a number of informational resources.
3. Click on "Publisher's Bookshelf" where you will find a huge number of reviews of "how to" books for publishers -- including a number which are specifically addressing the problem of getting books into bookstores.
James A. Cox
Midwest Book Review
Now one last Q&A for this month:
In a message dated 5/13/2009 7:01:43 P.M. Central Daylight Time, email@example.com writes:
I had a few questions,
1. Is there a cost for your book review
2. How long will it take to get your book reviewed once I mail it.
3. Once your book is reviewed then you will post the review to all the sites you mentioned on your web page
4. If you get a bad review, what happens then.
5. Finally my book is a 60 page Christian Managing Fear/Self Help Book. Would you still be able to review my book
1. Our services of free of charge. We do not permit authors or publishers to contribute financially to the Midwest Book Review in order to avoid any conflict of interest issues.
2. If a book passes our initial screening process, it then has a 14 to 16 week 'window of opportunity' in which to secure a review assignment. If it is assigned for review then the reviewer has 30 days in which to review the book and turn the review into me. I then edit it and publish it in one or more of the following month's book review publications that we produce.
It should be noted that we receive an average of 2300 titles a month seeking reviews -- and I have 76 reviewers to try to cope with it all.
3. Our reviews are automatically posted and published to our various venues (in addition to being archived on the Midwest Book Review web site for five years). A tear sheet (that is, a copy of the review) and a publisher notification letter are automatically sent out. It is the publisher's responsibility to notify their authors, editors, illustrators, publicists, and anyone else they deem appropriate.
4. If your book is felt not be to recommendable to its intended readership, we do not run the review.
5. One of our regular monthly book review columns is called "The Christian Studies Shelf". From the sound of your title it would be appropriate for that column.
James A. Cox
Midwest Book Review
278 Orchard Drive, Oregon, WI 53575
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:
D. Jean Smith
Robert & Shirley Sartori
Harold G. Ross -- "High Country"
Kileen Prather -- "Journey Beckons"
Jacqueline H. Hacsi -- "Plagues Past and Present"
Jennifer Colt -- "The Hellraiser of the Hollywood Hills"
Birke Duncan -- "Monty Moudlyn: Founder of the Hug Brigade"
Rita Jean Moran -- "The Library Kids Mystery of the Blue Mounds"
Birch Brook Press
Ibex Publishers Inc.
Rogue Scholars Press
Toad House Publishing
Glenna Luschei -- Solo Press
Linda L. Isaacs -- New Spring Press
John Lemmon -- Penmark Publishing
David J. Heath -- Majestic Pine Publishing
Charles Campbell -- Pointless Ink Publishers
Mary Jones -- Bladestar Publishing
Don Napolitano -- River City Publishing
Robert Egby -- Three Mile Point Publishing
Deidre Dailey -- Triple Crown Publications
John McClure -- Signalman Publishing
Peter Sorrells, Best Books, LLC
L. L. Moss -- Finish Off Press Ltd.
Raymond Fears -- Precocious Kids Publishing
Beverly Schenler -- Heaven on Earth International
Beverly Newton -- International Jewelry Publications
Elizabeth Waldman Frazier -- Waldmania!
Erin Pankowski, Concierge Marketing
Lindy Litrides -- Litrides & Associates
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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