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BOOKHITCH.COM INTERVIEW OF JIM COX (August, 2010)
Last month we featured an interview with Steve Weber, who talked about how to get your book reviewed on Amazon.com. This month we talked to Jim Cox, Editor-in-Chief of the Midwest Book Review. Midwest Book Review is an organization of volunteers committed to promoting literacy, library usage and small press publishing. We asked him a few questions about the philosophy behind Midwest Book Review and the reviewing process.
Q. Does Midwest Book Review only review print books? If so, do you believe there will ever be a time when your company reviews eBooks?
A. We predominantly review print books. But we do have one reviewer among the 76 currently on our roster who is willing to review ebooks. That being so, she is literally swamped with requests. I routinely route all ebook review requests or inquiries to her. She has complete discretion over what she selects or rejects for review.
The day will probably come (in another ten to twenty years) when ebooks or books in some other electronic format will dominate the publishing industry. But for now and the foreseeable future, as a practical matter, we will continue to review print editions to the general exclusion of ebooks.
This is because all our reviewers are unpaid volunteers whose only compensation is getting to keep the books they review. A number of them supplement their income by selling off those review copies once they are done. No one has figured out how to be compensated by reviewing an ebook -- unless they charge for their reviews.
Q. Many of the review sites I have come across require a fee, but MidwestBookReview.com does not. Why is this? Are there many other sites like yours?
A. We do not charge authors or publishers for our reviews in order to avoid any conflict of interest issues. We are supported by two annual foundation grants based on our three point mission statement of promoting literacy, library usage, and small press publishing. We do allow authors, publishers, or anyone else that wishes to make a gesture of appreciation and "support the cause" in terms of what we try to accomplish in behalf of the small press community and the self-published author to donate postage stamps. We use them in mailing out copies of the reviews and notification letters to publishers.
Q. How can an author tell the difference between a legitimate review site like yours and a fraudulent one?
A. I've written a detailed article on this very subject. It's called "How to Spot a Phony Book Reviewer".
Q. Do you believe that online reviews are going to become more popular than print reviews, now that newspaper subscriptions are down? Do you think that places that have amateur reviewers like Amazon.com are beginning to have more pull over consumer's decisions than print sources like the New York Times?
A. There has been a growing trend in the newspaper and magazine industry to reduce and even discontinue book reviews as one of their features. The slack has clearly been picked up by on-line book reviews such as Amazon.com and the Midwest Book Review.
Several of our reviewers switched to the Midwest Book Review as a forum for their reviews when their previous print review columns were discontinued in local papers and even some national ones.
Reader Reviewers have come to dominate customer clientele simply because there are fewer and fewer professional, salaried book reviewers. The freelance reviewer has seen magazine and newspaper markets for their reviews literally disappear under the financial duress that has afflicted the newspaper and magazine markets.
I expect this trend to increase dramatically over the next decade.
Q. Do you have any general advice for authors, specifically self-published authors, trying to get their books reviewed?
A. As a general bit of advice: Be as professional as possible!
I've written extensively on the subject of book reviews and the book review process. My instructional articles are all archived on the Midwest Book Review website here.
Once you've read those articles germane to book reviewing and the book review process, then go to another section of the Midwest Book Review website called "Other Reviewers".
This is a database of freelance book reviewers, book review magazines and publications, book review websites, etc. that I've compiled. It's a huge database. I've vetted them all and they are legitimate. A few of the reviews are "pay for play" and charge for their services such as "Foreword Magazine", but most are free of charge. Some are specialized (e.g., Poetry, Science Fiction, Children's Books), others are more general in nature.
The trick is to go down the list (and it's a very lengthy one) and when you see one that looks promising, click on it. You will be zapped to that particular website. Read through it and you will be able to determine if it is thematically appropriate for your particular book. If it is, you will also learn what their submission guidelines are.
Finally, there are two instructional articles that I've written that will powerfully improve the chances for self-published authors to be taken seriously with respect to their book review submissions. They are:
Writing an Effective Cover Letter
Writing an Effective Publicity Release
These two documents should always accompany a book review submission for review. The articles will explain the differences between the two documents -- and following the simple instructions, you can create in just a few minutes professional quality documents that will substantially enhance your chances of being selected for review amongst all the competing titles for a reviewer's attention.
Read these articles. They are practical, succinct, and will help any novice author or publisher master the "learning curve" with respect to getting their books reviewed.
Q. Many of our readers are self-published authors, and are the people that Midwest Book Review gives priority to. This is great, but why did you decide to do that?
A. When the Midwest Book Review began back in 1976, book reviewing was largely the province of a literary elite -- mostly located in such big city venues as New York. The (then) novel idea that launched the Midwest Book Review was to have ordinary people review books and provide a forum through which their book reviews could be given an audience.
I found that the self-published author was simply dominated by the major publishing houses in terms of publicity, financing, marketing, and distribution. I basically 'found a niche and filled it'. The Midwest Book Review gave small presses, niche publishers, and self-published authors priority over the big New York publishing houses. This strategy became an immediate success and has continued to be so ever since.
On a personal note -- as a book reviewer and as the Editor-in-Chief of the Midwest Book Review I can make a more significant impact on the publishing industry and the general reading public by providing self-published authors and small presses a forum. The Random Houses, Penguin-Putnams, and HarperCollins of the world have an immense roster of review resources. All to often for the self-published, POD-published author, the Midwest Book Review is the only game in town for them.
As expressions of gratitude from self-published authors and small presses, as measured by their postage stamp donations, I haven't had to buy a postage stamp for going on 30 years now. I don't think any other book review operation can match that level of approval!
James A. Cox
Midwest Book Review
278 Orchard Drive
Oregon, WI 53575-1129
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