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MAREE JOI PARAS INTERVIEW OF JIM COX (May 16, 2017)
1. What made you decide to start reviewing books?
I was offered a free and expensive book if I was willing to read it and sit down with a radio talk show host, John Ohliger, for three minutes and tell him (and his audience) what I thought about it. Instead of limiting myself to three minutes, I talked about the book in detail for the entire thirty minutes of his half-hour radio program "Bookwatch". Instead of berating me for hogging his whole program at the end of the show John shoved a stack of books across the table to me and asked me to come back the following week. In one month I was co-hosting the weekly show, it two months I got the station manager to expand it to a one hour program, in another two months I persuaded the station management to add a second hour (called The Science Fiction & Fantasy Hour) so that I could also have time to talk about all the books I and my friends were reading as members of the Madison, Wisconsin science fiction club. That was how I stumbled into my now 40 year career as a book reviewer.
2. What is the best thing about being a top reviewer?
Being able to get just about any book I want to read sent to me, for free, by the author and/or publisher and/or publicist. Before I became a reviewer I was spending about 1/4 of my income on books and magazines. When I became a reviewer as a part-time hobby (my day job was being a social worker for the county) and no longer having to buy my books it was like getting a 25% increase in my income.
3. What is your worst experience in dealing with an author or publisher?
With respect to authors -- having to tell them that the book they wrote about a personal tragedy to themselves or a loved one was not commercially viable and needed to have an extraordinary amount of editing before it could be recommended to its intended readership.
With respect to a publisher -- having to tell them that although they had published a good book, I simply didn't have the reviewer resources to assign it out for review.
Incidentally, although it took me some 38 years to come up with a solution to the "too many good books, not enough reviewers" problem, I finally did. Now if a book passes my initial screening but doesn't achieve a review assignment with in the allotted time frame simply because of "not enough reviewers", if that author or publisher has a review from someone else, and has that person's permission to do so, I will run that review (for free) in their behalf and under the reviewer's byline in our monthly book review publication "Reviewer's Bookwatch" -- and thereby at least bringing that book to the attention of our Midwest Book Review audience of librarians, booksellers, and the general reading public.
4. What is the most memorable book review or author interview you have ever done?
My radio show ran from 1976 to 1980. My weekly television show (also called Bookwatch) ran from 1978 to 2001. Both programs regularly and routinely featured interviews with authors, publishers, publicists, booksellers, and reviewers. Over the years those on-air reviews numbered in the thousands -- and now so many years later have thoroughly faded from my memory.
5. What books are you currently reading now, and what is your favorite genre?
For my own personal recreational entertainment I read western novels in a large print edition from the Linford Western Library, which is an English publisher distributed in this country by Ulverscroft Large Print USA.
6. How much time do you spend on reviewing a book, on average?
It varies, after I've finished reading a book it takes me between 5 minutes and 30 minutes to craft a review.
7. How do you deal with book requests?
I always invite the author and/or publisher and/or publicist to submit review copies to my attention -- and require that those review copies be accompanied by a cover letter and some form of publicity or press release. If a self-published author is unfamiliar with cover letters or publicity releases, I provide them with directions to the instructional 'how to' information which we have archived on the Midwest Book Review web site for easily creating those two documents .
8. Do you see yourself writing your own book? If yes, what would it be about?
I am a self-published author. I published 1,000 copies of "The Contributions of Joseph Smith to Plural Marriage" when I was a student at Brigham Young University now more than 50 years ago. It sold out in a single semester. It also gave me a life-long sympathy for what self-published authors are faced with.
9. If you had to choose one book that reviewed to be turned into a movie, which one would it be? Why?
"Trail To The Cazadores" by Mark Bannerman, published by Linford Western Library. It would prove to be a truly riveting western film along the likes of "Unforgiven" or "Once Upon A Time In The West" (you western movie buffs out there will recognize those films as classics in their own right).
10. What is your ultimate favorite book of all time?
"Tarzan" by Edgar Rice Burroughs. It was the debut novel by a middle-aged guy that sparked a literary empire that continues to this day. I first read it around the age of 10 and it spurred me to acquire and read the whole Tarzan cannon -- and go on to search out and read all of Burroughs' other books. The only other authors to provoke this kind of response when in my 20s was the late, great Isaac Asimov and the 'father' of sword & sorcery fantasy fiction, Robert E. Howard.
11. Have you ever received gifts to thank you for your review?
Occasionally. In my first year as a reviewer I once got a thank you note and a package of Moon Pies from a grateful author. I can no longer remember the book or the author -- but I still remember those Moon Pies!
The most expensive gift I ever received was a check for the Midwest Book Review for $1,000.00 -- it was from a self-published lady for whose science fiction trilogy I was apparently the only reviewer in the country to give it the attention it was due. Although it must be 20+ years ago I still remember being stunned when I opened the envelope and that particular check fell out onto my desk.
12. How do authors react when you give their books a negative review?
With but one or two exceptions in the last four decades, an initial angry response is mellowed by a soft and informative reply. If a reviewer can point out and document to the author the basis for the negative review -- thereby turning it into a learning experience for the author -- that author anger will most often turn to appreciation and even conclude in a thank you.
13. Finally, tell us a little bit about yourself. How do you see yourself 5 years from now.
I'm now 74 years old and semi-retired. My daughter and her husband handle most of the daily 'nuts & bolts' of the operation. She takes care of the web site, he is our mail room guy and does a lot of the routine clerical stuff. I focus on screening each day's new arrival of review copy submissions, make review assignments, handle the author/publisher email and snail mail, answer the telephone -- and generally serve as the spokesperson for the Midwest Book Review doing interviews like this one.
I'll be doing this for as long as my health and my family permit. So 5 years from now I still hope to be at the helm of the Midwest Book Review, reading books, writing reviews, communicating with authors and publishers, helping writers to write more effective, publishers to publish more profitable, and bringing to the attention of librarians and the general reading public good books that they might otherwise never know existed.
14. Please include a photo of yourself as well as your blog logo/icon for our website.
I don't have a photo of myself -- but you can use the bookshelf icon that is on our web site if you can figure out how to do that.
Interview Questions by Maree Joi Paras, Staff Editor
Book Reviewer Yellow Pages
James A. Cox
Midwest Book Review
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Oregon, WI 53575-1129
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