Monday, April 7, 2008

Interview with Jim Cox, Editor-in-Chief of Midwest Book Review

Mr. James Cox is the Editor-in-Chief for Midwest Book Reviews. Established in 1976, the Midwest Book Review publishes nine monthly book review publications for community and academic library systems in California, Wisconsin, the upper Midwest,, and several online databases for librarians including Lexus-Nexus, Goliath and Book Review Index. These publications feature an average of 600 to 700 reviews of books, DVDs, and music CDs. The Midwest Book Review website is renowned as a major informational resource for writers, publishers, librarians, booksellers, and the general reading public. Jim is also the author of the "Jim Cox Report", a monthly column of advice and commentary for writers and publishers. The mission statement for the Midwest Book Review is to promote literacy, library usage, and small press publishing.

The nine individual review publications include:

The Bookwatch
California Bookwatch
Children's Bookwatch
Internet Bookwatch
Library Bookwatch
MBR Bookwatch
Reviewer's Bookwatch
Small Press Bookwatch
Wisconsin Bookwatch

Reviews are posted on the Internet in areas such as and Pub-Forum. Reviews are also available through Internet bookstores such as

AP Lazar: Welcome, Mr. Cox. We’re thrilled to have you here on the Murder by 4 blog.
Midwest Book Reviews have always been around. Or so it seems! And over the years, when I read a back cover blurb by a Midwest Reviewer, I feel confident that the words within the covers will match the praise on the back of the book. How do you feel about the reputation you’ve built up in industry? And how hard was it to reach that pinnacle?

James Cox: While I've been a bookaholic and bibliophile all of my life, I didn't actually start reviewing books for the benefit of others until September 1976 when I started reviewing them for a local FM radio show in Madison, Wisconsin. It was out of this opportunity that I became a book review editor and worked with others to create a community-based book review organization that would grow to include a weekly television show called "Bookwatch", launch the first of what would become nine monthly book review publications, become one of the first content providers for, expand to include a world-wide short-wave radio book review column that would be heard in 126 countries, create the Midwest Book Review website, and find myself and/or the Midwest Book Review mentioned favorably in more than 27 'how-to' books for writers and publishers published over the last three decades. Two more such titles are soon to appear, one in March 2007 called "The Slippery Art of Book Reviewing" form Twilight Times Books and the other being "The Writer's Toolbox" coming out from Behler Press in May 2007.

As to how hard did I have to work at all this? Firstly, it never really seemed like work because I enjoyed doing it so much -- and still do after some 32 years. Secondly, I seem to have a knack for discovering (or being discovered by) other folk who are just as enthusiastic about reviewing books, promoting libraries, encouraging small presses, and aiding aspiring authors as I am.

It's these volunteers and staff people who do such good work day after day, month after month, year after year -- while I modestly garner more than my share of the credit! :-)

AP Lazar: Have you always loved books? What genres do you enjoy reading?

James Cox: My parents tell me that I began reading comic strips in the newspaper at my Grandfather's knee when I was somewhere around five years old. All I can remember is never being without books in my life. I remember as a child who could barely reach the top of the librarian's desk, checking out a big pile of books and having to prove to the librarian that I could read them by reading a page from one of them out loud to her.

I enjoy all genres and non-fiction subject areas. My personal favorites among the genres is Fantasy & Science Fiction, closely followed by historical novels, westerns, and Agatha Christy-style deductive mysteries.

In non-fiction I find myself particularly interested in poetry, history, archaeology, anthropology, and gardening.

AP Lazar: Do you write? If so, can you tell us about your work?

James Cox: I'm actually a self-published author. Back in my college days I wrote and published a book called "The Contributions of Joseph Smith to Plural Marriage". My step-father owned a hand-operated printing press (the same kind you see in those old-time western movies). We literally published each individual page, then collated and bound them. I sold them through the Brigham Young University bookstore in Provo, Utah, the Deseret Bookstore and Zion's Bookstore in Salt Lake City, Utah. As I recall (this was something on the order of 40 years ago or so) the print run was 1000 and they all sold out in about one semester. I still have a copy in my personal bookcase -- and my name in the BYU college library card catalog index.

That experience gave me a particular affinity for authors who go the route of self-publishing. It also provided me with great compassion for the small press, the niche publisher, and the independents.

I'm also a published poet (mostly in those small and obscure magazines that compensate you with a few copies in which your poem appears), I've written a lot of speeches, articles, and advice columns on publishing in general -- and book reviewing in particular -- down through the decades.

AP Lazar: I’ve enjoyed reading the Jim Cox Report on your website, especially the little tidbits about your life. I’m about to turn 55, and am looking forward to the senior deals I can get at restaurants. How’s life treating you at 65? Can you tell us a bit about your family and a typical day in the life of Jim Cox?

James Cox: When I turned 65 last November (2007) the first thing I did was go on Medicare. My Social Security checks won't kick in until May 2008 -- nowadays folks born in 1942 can't get them until they are 65 years and 7 months. My child-bride of a wife (currently 62) won't be eligible for them until she's 67.

Thanks to a hard-working staff, I'm nowadays effectively semi-retired -- which is how I'm able to spend time doing things like this little Q&A. My wife Nancy teaches piano and singing at a local music school. She also plays piano and organ for three local churches (Presbyterians, Lutherans, and Unitarians). She is also an Assistant Editor here at the Midwest Book Review.

My daughter Bethany is the Managing Editor -- and the editor she mostly manages is me! :-)

My day typically starts around 6:00am when I stagger downstairs for my sugarless Carnation's Instant Breakfast (I'm diabetic and am losing weight to prevent the necessity of having to stick myself with insulin needles. I began last November at around 330 and as of this morning weighed in at 240.0).

Then I sit down in my easy chair so that our cat Chloe can claim some lap time and petting. I tend to watch a couple of TV shows that I've Tivoed from the previous day during this little feline attention session.

Then around 8:00 I go next door to work. I own a duplex with one side being residential and the other half being the Midwest Book Review. I start with downloading and dealing with emails, then move on to the snail-mail that came in the previous afternoon, then do my 'literary triage' with the previous day's incoming book mail.

About 10:00am I take a break and have a piece of fruit (I'm on the Weight Watcher routine of five small meals a day). After which I read the books I've selected out for myself and then write up my reviews.

At noon I knock off and go home (back to next door) where I have a bit of lunch. Then I watch a bit more television, or read a bit more, or (in season) putter in the garden, and lately -- try my hand at cooking the dishes I've found in the diabetes and Weight Watcher cookbooks I've gotten in the book review.

I also take the office telephone with me and answer it myself regardless of the hour. It is one of the perks of being boss that I refuse to give up! :-)

5:00pm is dinner time, followed by more of whatever I was up to earlier in the afternoon.

Bedtime is somewhere between 9:00 and 10:00pm. I listen to books-on-tape as I drift my way to slumberland -- reviewing them as I finish with them.

The last couple days of the month are the exception when I work 10 hour days laying out the monthly book review publications for the following month. The first couple of days are also 10 hour work schedules as the focus is upon sending out tear sheets and notification letters to those publishers whose books had made the final cut and gotten reviewed in the pages of our publication.

AP Lazar: Have you ever had the pleasure of meeting any of the authors you’ve reviewed in person? Are there any instances that stand out in your mind?

James Cox: From September 1978 to September 2000 I produced and hosted the weekly television show "Bookwatch" in Madison, Wisconsin. Over that incredible length of time I met and interviewed thousands of authors. I've also meet hundreds more at the various conventions, workshops, and seminars I've attended and/or participated in over the years. I'm afraid at this stage of my life no one stands out in particular -- I just remember those encounters as being among the very best and most personally interesting aspects of my job.

AP Lazar: Writing reviews is an excellent way for authors to get their name out there, even if they aren’t actively pushing their own work. I’ve had the pleasure of submitting and having my reviews accepted by MBR for several years now. There are detailed submission criteria on your website for those who would like to submit reviews, but are there a few items you’d like to highlight regarding this process? Any tips that might help an aspiring reviewer?

James Cox: I believe that the personal mission statement for every reviewer, amateur or professional, should be to encourage writers to write better, publishers to publish more effectively, readers to read with greater enjoyment, booksellers and librarians to make their selections more successfully.

That means keeping the reviewer's ego in check, being as compassionate as possible when delivering bad news (e.g. a negative review), and as articulate (and documented) as possible when expressing their evaluations and recommendations pro or con.

AP Lazar: Authors may also submit books for review at MBR. What books have you recently read that stand out in your mind?

James Cox: In view of the audience for this particular Q&A exchange, I would recommend that they go to the Midwest Book Review webste at and click on the 'Jim Cox Report'. A standard part of each of these columns is called "The Writing/Publishing Shelf" which is a collection of the reviews of books that I've read and recommend each month.

The last book I've read that stands out in my mind is the one I was asked to critique -- and then if I found it worthy, to write a Foreword for. It's "The Slippery Art of Book Reviewing" from Twilight Times Books and I recommend it highly -- not only for aspiring reviewers wanting to learn the mechanics (and ethics) of the craft, but writers, publishers, publicists, librarians, booksellers, and anyone else that must deal with or who relies upon reviews to help them with their reading choices.

AP Lazar: Do you have any insight to share with writers currently aligned with well-respected small presses who may seek larger representation or an expanded audience?

James Cox: All authors (regardless of whether they are self-published, or published by small presses, niche publishers, academic presses, or the big New York houses) need to understand that it is they who will carry the burden of making their targeted audiences aware of, and interested in, their books.

Every author needs to create a marketing plan that will enable them to effectively publicize and promote their book according to their available resources -- be it financial, available time, personal energy, and ability to communicate.

There is a wealth of 'how to' information authors can find on the Midwest Book Review website in two major sections: Writer Resources and Writer's Bookshelf.

Basically, the Midwest Book Review is specifically designed to be an aspiring writer's new best friend and help them to master the inevitable learning curve of how to go about marketing, promoting, publicizing, and selling the books they write.

AP Lazar: Thank you, Mr. Cox, for taking part in this interview! And best of luck in the future!
Aaron Paul Lazar

James Cox: My pleasure Aaron. I've never really wanted to write the Great American Novel. My aspirations were far more modest. I merely wanted the power of life and death over those who did! :-)

Anyone with a question, comment, or problem as relating to publishing in general, and book reviewing in particular, can contact me at any time via email at


Marta Stephens said...

Aaron, great interview questions!

Jim, thank you so much for allowing us a glimpse into your life and your motivation to serve the public. I'm always amazed at how one act can lead to a life-changing move. In your case, reviewing books for a radio station and turning that passion into one of the most respected review organizations on the web.

And by the way, I love the idea of a duplex!

pat said...

Hi Aaron

I enjoyed reading this interview. Mr. Cox seems to have built quite a sweet life , even if the CIB is sugar free! I look forward to exploring the MBR site! Thanks for another informative MB4 interview!

Pat Fowler