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Jim Cox Report: August 2013
Dear Publisher Folk, Friends & Family:
Every now and then I get asked to participate in a survey or to be interviewed with respect to my being editor-in-chief of the Midwest Book Review and rather well known within the publishing industry. I thought I'd share the latest such occasion with you.
In this case, the interviewer was Christina Francine who asked if I would answer some questions for her. This was my response:
Subject: Interview Question Answers from Jim Cox
Date: 5/16/2013 8:39:45 A.M. Central Daylight Time
My perspective is that of a book reviewer and the editor-in-chief of the Midwest Book Review. So from that perspective here are my responses to your questions:
1. What elements does an editor, agent, and publisher look for in a manuscript when deciding to take on a first-time author? What makes a manuscript stand out from the crowd? What about things like sentence structure, metaphors, similes, interjected long tangents of exploration, and/or topic or plot?
An author's writing style can make or break a book. The clearer it's written the better. The more distracting in what's written (through poor grammar, typos, run-on sentences, dysfunctional paragraphing, and overused cliches) the poorer the chances for consideration for a review, let alone any positive recommendations to an intended readership.
I rarely encounter these problems with traditional published books from the major publishers. I often encounter them with self-published books coming from Publish On Demand (POD) companies. The reason for this disparity is quite simple. Traditional publishing houses employ editors. Self-published authors usually don't.
2. What is the planning and the process that goes into publishing a book? Is this different when the author is first-time published?
Self-published authors are the largest group of published writers to suffer from such lacks as proper editing of their material. The second largest problem (and one that can affect any author regardless of whether their work is self-published, published by a small press, or even one of largest and established corporate publishers) is an esthetically substandard cover.
3. What helps a debut novel stand out after being published? What can an editor, publisher, agent do to make a debut novel stand out?
With respect to such 'middle-men' as book reviewers, booksellers, distributors, wholesalers, and librarians, it is the accompanying documents in the form of a well designed and written publicity or press release. And specifically with respect to book reviewers -- the accompanying cover letter. Often the absence of these documents will doom a book to being passed over in favor of other competing titles that have them.
Also of critical importance (and not just to middle-men but to the intended readership) is the physical appearance of the book -- and that means not just the front cover, but the back cover as well.
4. What can the author do to help their debut novel stand out? Is there anything besides writing a great story?
In addition to writing a great cover letter and crafting an effective publicity or press release, the next most important thing is to talk to people whether it is in the form of author signings, media interviews, convention panels, creation of an author's web site, arranging for reviews, insuring that the book is listing on the major online bookselling web sites such Amazon, as well as any appropriate niche web sites, participating in thematically appropriate (given the nature or genre of the book) on-line discussion groups or chat rooms.
5. Do book reviews aide in making a book stand out? How about with sales? Do they matter? Does it matter who the reviewer is or where the review appears?
Reviews are critical in getting a novel noticed by an intended or targeted readership. Reviews can be done by amateurs (readers) or by professionals (Midwest Book Review; Publishers Weekly; Library Journal; Reader Reviews; etc., etc.). An unknown author with their first title and no track record, needs to garner as many reviews from as many sources as possible -- and utilize them to every extent possible in the marketing and promotion efforts. Those efforts range from getting reviews posted on Amazon, to archiving them on the author's own web site, to quoting them in marketing materials such as publicity or press release.
6. Does the size of a publisher make a difference in sales?
The larger and more established the publisher (the Simon & Schusters of the publishing industry) to larger the marketing budgets to finance such things as media tours and numbers of review copies that can be sent out. Most self-published authors are working on shoestring (or even no-string) marketing budgets. Publicity, promotion, and marketing make all the difference in sales numbers -- and bottom line profits or losses.
7. Does it matter whether the press is traditional or non-traditional? What are the pros and cons of each?
For a reviewer, whether the publisher is traditional or non-traditional is irrelevant. That also holds true for the general reading public. Where tradition vs. non-tradition holds sway is in the author being able to get published in the first place, and once published, the resources available to them for marketing and promotion purposes.
8. Has technology made a difference in what publishers decide to publish as opposed to say 25 years ago? In what way?
Technology has made a huge difference in what publishers decide to publish. But even more of an impact is the state of the economy. When the American economy fell of a fiscal cliff back in 1998, the immediate effect in the New York houses (think Penguin Group USA, Randhom House, HarperCollins, etc.) significantly cut back the numbers of titles they were publishing, as well as the print runs for the books they did publish.
At the same time, the POD companies (think iUnverse, AuthorHouse, Xlibris, and dozens more) had a kind of 'boom time' increase in authors wanting to turn their manuscripts into books and needed only a check that did not bounce in order to do so.
Then there is the phenomena of the ebook -- digital publishing has exploded onto the scene and is already having a critical impact on what and how books are getting published in this country today.
9. Would you share statistics or an approximate percentage of how many first time authors are published?
With respect to the major publishing houses, the percentage is quite small. I would think it to be around 15% based on what I see arrive on my desk seeking reviews. With respect to the POD companies, it would be more like 95%.
10. Do you believe first time authors are published more today than 25 years ago? If so, does this lower published book’s caliber?
Again, with respect to established traditional publishers, fewer first time authors are making it into print. But digital publishers and POD publishers are doing a robust business putting out titles by first time authors -- so ironically, more first time authors are being published today than at any earlier period of history within the American publishing industry.
James A. Cox
Midwest Book Review
Chris -- I'm going to use the above in my monthly column the "Jim Cox Report" which I write for the small press community.
Midwest Book Review
Here are reviews of some new books of special interest to writers and publishers:
The Writing/Publishing Shelf
Around The Writer's Block
Jeremy P. Tarcher
c/o Penguin Group, USA
375 Hudson Street
New York, NY 10014-3657
9781585428717, $15.95, www.amazon.com
Writer's block is a condition, primarily associated with writing as a profession, in which an author loses the ability to produce new work. The condition varies widely in intensity. It can be trivial, a temporary difficulty in dealing with the task at hand or extreme condition lasting years on end. Every novice writer and every professional author will, sooner or later, be afflicted with 'writer's block' and end up staring at a sheet of blank paper or a blank computer screen, unable to set down a coherent idea -- or even a meaningful sentence. That's why "Around the Writer's Block: Using Brain Science to Solve Writer's Resistance" by Rosanne Bane should be a core part of every writer's 'how to' resource and reference collection. This deftly written, 320 page compendium covers ever aspect and symptom of writer's block -- and what can be done to overcome them and even avoid them in the future. Of special note is her real-world commentary on the subject of self-sabotage. Informed, informative, practical, and thoroughly 'user friendly', "Around the Writer's Block: Using Brain Science to Solve Writer's Resistance" will prove to be the best investment any aspiring or professional writer can make with respect to advancing their literary career.
Writing the Science Fiction Film
Michael Wiese Productions
12400 Ventura Blvd., #1111
Studio City, CA 91604
9781615931361, $26.95, www.mwp.com
Any collection strong in screenwriting, performing arts and film will find this a solid addition, offering insights into how to write science fiction for the genre. Classic and cult science fiction films from Star Wars to Aliens are used to show how the genre has changed, what makes it compelling to modern viewers, and how writers can adjust their science fiction writing to lend to a film production. From changing a cliche plot to turn it into something fresh and different to handling new technology and its jargon in the film environment, Writing the Science Fiction Film is packed with insights perfect for aspiring genre writers and film producers alike, and is a pick for film and literary collections.
A Quick Guide to Screenwriting
c/o Hal Leonard Performing Arts Publishing Group
19 West 21st Street, Suite 201
New York, NY 10010
9780879108045, $12.99, www.limelighteditions.com
A Quick Guide to Screenwriting joins others in the 'Quick Guide' series, with this gathering together an assessment of principles key to understanding screenwriting basics. Any involved in the art will find this blends history, business savvy, and writing insight along with specifics on film industry requirements to teach the basics of formatting, differentiating between different types of screenplays and their requirements, and developing a story. The attention to detail without assumption of any prior industry knowledge makes this a fine recommendation for any film and creative writing holding.
Here is "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:
Anonymous -- Roseburg, Oregon
Gary Michael Blahnik -- "Denial"
Charlsie Russell -- "Camellia Creek"
Robin Murphy -- "Federal City's Secret"
Roderick J. Robinson -- "The Christmas Tin"
Katherine Holmes -- "The Wide Awake Loons"
Mindy Killgrove -- "Meet Me at Fountain Park"
Donald W. Kruse -- "Pee-Pee Harley and the Bandit!"
Farris Robertson -- "Executive Summary of the Bible"
Garrett M. Carter -- "Common Core Creativity: Language Arts Fun in the Classroom!"
Hannacroix Creek Books
Light Messages Publishing
Rachel Epstein -- ACMI Press
Scott Martin -- Daylight Books
Jim Parker -- Winter Beach Press
Janie Jessie -- Jan-Carol Publishing
Mick Winter -- Westsong Publishing
James Mafchir -- Western Edge Press
Julie A. Aydlott -- SDBAS Publishing
David Parker -- Darwin Bay Publishing
Kris Komarnitsky -- Stone Arrow Books
Brian C. Strauss -- Cliff Edge Publishing
Diane Rose-Solomon -- SOP3 Publishing
Lin Conklin -- Amethyst Moon Publishing
Judith Palmateer -- Amber Skye Publishing
Ryan Self -- Abilene Christian University Press
Paul Vincent Rodriguez -- Renaissance Peak LLC
Jim Horne Minter -- Silverback Sages Publishers
John R. Guevin -- Biographical Publishing Company
Barbara Wall -- The Barrett Company
Elizabeth Waldman Frazier -- Waldmania!
Maryglenn McCombs -- MM Book Publicity
In lieu of (or in addition to!) postage stamp donations, we also accept PayPal gifts of support to our postage stamp fund for what we try to accomplish in behalf of the small press community. Simply log onto your PayPal account and direct your kindness (in any amount and at your discretion) to the Midwest Book Review at:
SupportMBR [at] aol.com
(The @ is replaced by "[at]" in the above email address, in an attempt to avoid email-harvesting spambots.)
If you have postage stamps to donate, or if you have a book you'd like considered for review, then send those postage stamps (always appreciated, never required), or a published copy of that book (no galleys, uncorrected proofs, or Advance 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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