Kirkus Reviews and Bumps In The Night

Imma big fan of Sara Sniders blog, and now her book, which I’m almost finished with. Click on the picture to go to amazon.

The Thirteenth Tower, Sara Snider, Magi

Sara’s book in five words or less: Magic, creatures, snow, Emelyn, Boggans, Magisters. Towers. Amazing. Epic. Life Changing.

Here’s thing about The Thirteenth Tower: it’s not fairytales for the faint of heart. It’s the kind that go bump in the night. The Snow White with dripping fangs variety. <– Okay, that might be a bit much.

Suffice it to say: Sara Snider doesn’t hold back. And her blog looks like a princess fairytale. Yes. That just happened. I used the words ‘princess’ and ‘fairytale’.

I asked her to come here today because I noticed that she had Kirkus review the book and give her an honest evaluation. I didn’t know much about this, except that I’d seen Kirkus Review on so many books it may as well have been Scholastic, so I asked her to write up a guest post.

Wow me with your knowledge, Sara. You always do:


My Experience With Kirkus Indie Reviews

There’s a lot to be said about the Kirkus Indie Review program. I’ve read posts that discuss a variety of topics, ranging from criticism for the fact that Kirkus charges to review indie books, to how it’s not worth the money,

I’ve even seen complaints that Kirkus didn’t read the book in question before writing the review (though I can’t for the life of me find the discussion again). It’s all interesting information, and relevant if you’re trying to decide whether or not to send your book to them for a review. I’d suggest that anyone considering approaching Kirkus to do a good amount of research before doing so.

However, that’s not what this post is about. This post is about my own experience with Kirkus, as well as a little bit of information that might have helped spare me some emotional angst once I did make the decision to get a review from them. It’s not a post that is meant to sway you one way or the other. It’s really just my own thoughts on the process as it went down for me. Take from that what you will.

Things I Would Have Liked to Have Known Prior to Sending My Book to Kirkus

Kirkus Book Reviews, Logo,

Image courtesy

Kirkus has a pretty good FAQ. One thing that isn’t listed there, however, is how they determine which books go to which reviewers. So, after sending my manuscript to them, I later realized that they never asked for the genre of the book, synopsis, or any information whatsoever beyond the Title, Author, and Publication Date.

This freaked me out. I mean, let’s be honest here, Kirkus reviews are not cheap. It’s scary enough facing the prospect of negative reviews, but to pay 500 bucks for the privilege of possibly having your heart ripped out and stomped upon is an entirely new level of emotional drama.

So, after I realized they didn’t have any actual information about what kind of book it was, I got all kinds of stressed out. How could they pair it with a qualified reviewer (as per their FAQ) when they don’t even know what it’s about? I sent them a mail asking them about it and they said that they have editors that review the book to assess genre and whatnot before deciding which reviewer would be a good fit. Oh. Well OK then. Good to know (wish I knew it sooner).

The Cover

A cover for your book is not required for a review, and will not affect your review’s outcome (the fact that there are starred reviews for books without covers on their website seems to back this up). The manuscript I sent them did not have the cover attached, nor is there a way to upload it when sending in your file. I figured this would mean my book would toil in the obscurity of coverless books. However, once I received my review, there was a note in the email they sent that said the cover should appear in a week or so. If not, then I could mail it to them and they would upload it. I did, and it was. Coolsies.

The Aftermath

After waiting 6 weeks or so, I got the review as promised. It was a fair one, I thought. The negatives they brought up were fair points, and there were positives too. Overall, for me, the review was a good one, and I felt okay about having done the whole thing. No regrets. I felt I got what they said they’d deliver: an honest review. (And, yes, I do think they read the whole book.)

The million-dollar question still remains, however: was it worth it?

Honestly, I don’t know. I’m not sure I’ll ever know. I wanted my book reviewed by Kirkus for a quote. That’s all I really wanted—a usable quote that I could add to my book description to hopefully give it a little bit of weight for any possible buyers that might be sitting on the fence. For me, Kirkus is a name I recognize as a reader, and if I was waffling about whether or not to buy a particular book, such a quote might be enough to sway me. Especially when we’re talking about books in the self-pubbed sector. It’s really about my own perceptions in what I think might work in marketing a book. I could be wrong (I often am). I know some would disagree with me, and that’s OK too.

And—if I’m going to be completely honest here—I’ll admit that I kind of wanted to see what would happen. I’m new to writing. The Thirteenth Tower is not only my first published book, it’s the first book I’ve ever written. It’s the first anything I’ve ever written beyond some half-assed attempts at writing as a teenager before I decided I couldn’t hack it and gave up. What would happen if I threw this new book of mine to the sharks? Would it survive?

Looking for validation is always dangerous, and it’s important to get it from the right places. Kirkus isn’t necessarily the right place (I’d say readers are). But as a fledgling writer just sticking my toes in the water, I will admit it was nice to receive some sort of indication that maybe I’m not completely wasting my time, or the reader’s time, for that matter.

There, you can judge me now if you want. I don’t mind.

Would I Recommend It?

Depends. If you’re looking for in-depth reviews that are going to reach readers, then no, I wouldn’t. You can get better, more personalized reviews for free from your friendly neighborhood blogger. Nor does the Kirkus website seem like a place where readers congregate. (As an aside, an editor from Kirkus said in an interview that they receive over 1 million page views a month. It seems like some of those would be readers, but who knows. Maybe it’s just a bunch of authors checking to see what’s happening with their review.)

If readers do hang out there, I’m not sure how good the chances are of them seeing your book among the myriad of reviews anyway. I honestly couldn’t find my review on the Kirkus website after it was posted—and I was actively looking for it (without using the search function). Who knows where it actually is. Maybe I could do a scavenger hunt contest and offer goodies to anyone who finds it and tells me which page it’s on.

Anyway, the only time I’d recommend going to Kirkus for a review is if you’re looking for marketing matter to put on your Amazon page, website, the back of your book, etc., and you’ve got the marketing budget for it. Even then it wouldn’t be a “recommendation” per se. It would be more of a “go for it and see what happens” endorsement. That is, if you’re the gambling type.

What about you? Have you considered having your book reviewed by Kirkus? What made you decide one way or the other?


    • says

      They were my favorites! What I love best about them is that you came up with them. I’m feeling like the book is a little bit of a fairytale tour of all the sneaky, creepy creatures (in some regards). But I will say that Cobbe is my absolute favorite. She’s a little bit gollum-esque, but I love, love her!

  1. says

    I’m no expert, but something I’ve learned along the way is that while you hope and expect a glowing review from Kirkus, that may not happen. But a Kirkus review means something – whether good or bad. They may not get it right but when their review is published, many people will be able to tell from the review if they would like your book – or not. From what I’ve learned, the only reviews that really matter in serious book people’s minds are: Kirkus, Publishers Weekly, Booklist, and Library Journal. While I didn’t agree with the mediocre review Kirkus gave my first book, it made me a better writer. They were very generous with the review on my second book, and people took notice. I just view it as something that needs to be done if you want people to notice your book. Plus, you can usually promote some of the review that appears positive. I hope that helps.

    • says

      Cary, that helps a lot, actually. Especially when it comes to writing, I love to get nitty gritty feedback. I haven’t ruled Kirkus out as an option, but it would definitely be a leap of faith for me to send it in. I admire both you and Sara for doing it.

      I’ll look into Booklist and Library Journal as well. Thanks for your feedback!

    • says

      Hi, Cary. It’s interesting–and great!–that you noticed an increased interest with your second book. I can’t help but wonder if it was because of the positive Kirkus review, or if it was just a book that was bound to appeal to more people regardless. Perhaps a combination of both of these might be the most likely. Thanks for chiming in and congrats with your success. :)

  2. says

    Here we go. Kirkus is at it again ripping off authors day and night.

    It is honestly one of the biggest wastes of money ever. I browsed their website years ago and read a lot of reviews—or should I say—80% plot summaries followed by a three sentence half-hearted review.

    For around $500 I think you gotta be real honest and I’ll say it if you won’t, Sara: Sorry, but that is a huge effin’ waste of money.

    Even as a reader, a Kirkus review means nothing to me. Once more readers educate themselves on how useless the Kirkus review quotes are, they’re gonna go out of business. I’m okay with that kind of money being spent, e.g. manuscript assessment, but $500 for a few lines.

    Far out, I mean, the person assigned to read the book has probably spent at least 6-10 hours or more reading your book, you’d kind of expect more than a few lines to be said about it.





    • says

      First of all, thanks as always for integrating twitter in your response. Changes my experience every time.

      This is the thing: I think that it does change the mind for some people who are on the fence about a book. Not all readers, as you so subtly put here, but for some it does. Also, there is still a lacking respect for self published works, and maybe seeing a Kirkus review will help some readers see the author as someone who is at least trying their hardest to get the name out there.

      However, you’re right: for that amount of money, I’d hope for a more in-depth review on things than the short paragraph they state. Great point.

      You have those every now and then Tuan.

    • says

      Soo… what are you trying to say? (Kidding! *ducks*)

      I’ll not say it was a waste of money simply because I have yet to make that determination for myself. I’m not saying you’re wrong, you may very likely be 100% correct. But I like to find these things out for myself, that’s just how I roll.

      But let’s play around with numbers a bit. Shelling out 500$ for a review means that I’ll need to sell approx 150 books in order to make that money back (100 print books, or 185 ebooks). Or rather, more specifically, the Kirkus review will need to somehow get me 150 sales I wouldn’t have gotten otherwise. Will it accomplish that? Dunno, my book has been out for a little over two weeks (ebook only–still waiting on the print version), so I honestly can’t say whether or not it will. But I will say that generating 150 sales to pay itself off seems reasonable to me. Doable. It might not accomplish that, but I think it’s possible. So, for me, it’s worth the gamble.

      But you know what they say about gambling: don’t ever bet more than you’re willing to lose. That certainly applies here.

      Thanks for commenting. :)

      • says

        Good luck with that! I really do wish you luck in your sales!

        I hope you make so much money that you can afford to contribute a bit of it to the United Nations Time Travel Project to build a real time machine so you can go back in time to the formation of Kirkus Reviews and hold a gun to the Kirkus Review person’s head and say: “Hey, you there! $500 is too much. Lower it or I’ll blow your brains out!”

  3. says

    I’m not an author, but here’s my thoughts and experiences. As a tour organizer and PR person, I’ve been happy to have the Kirkus review to try to entice people. Like see- Kirkus says it’s good so it can’t be horrible, right? Unfortunately I haven’t seen it help in convincing people to read it. I still think it does, it just didn’t for these particular books (or it’s just that bloggers don’t care). But for self published books I do really think it is helpful for random people on Amazon searching for inexpensive books to buy that aren’t garbage. It’s always a bit of a challenge knowing which ones are good (or so I’ve heard). Though regular reviews should help, sometimes there’s just not enough.
    I don’t think it’s worth $500.
    BUT if you have a Kirkus Review and it’s really positive and a review that actually tells you something, I think you can sell your book for more (and actually have people buy it) so that $500 might be worth it if you can go from selling it at .99 cents to selling it for $4.99 and have people buy it. But it’s a gamble because what if the review isn’t very good?
    Also, you’re buying the ‘Kirkus Review’ bit, when these are just regular people. The only thing that makes them special is they review for Kirkus. Really, it could just be ME, or any other blogger/reader/reviewer in the world (it’s not me). And that just seems kind of silly really.

    • says

      Hi Candace! It’s nice getting some perspective on the PR side of things. You’ve touched upon in your response a lot of what was my own reasoning for giving it a shot. It is most certainly a gamble. We’ll see if it pays off.

      And you’re right about it being kind of silly to pay so much money for essentially the privilege of being able to throw around the words “Kirkus reviews.” For some folks that might mean something. For some it won’t. Silliness is a reality of life sometimes, though (don’t even get me started on money in general, that’s some serious silliness going on right there).

      • says

        Actually, I don’t think it’s all that crazy that people pay to get a line or two that may help us sell their book. (I’m not saying this to open up the should-you-pay-for-reviews debate. I’m just saying that it’s a part of publishing).

        I think a lot of people do it, and, in some cases, I think it may help sell the book. In one instance, it’s a way of showing that we are serious about our book: if you are going to pay that much money, you need to have some confidence in your story. It may drive people to write to a higher standard.

        But, as Tuan brought up, I think Kirkus owes indie authors a more in-depth review than just a summary and a few paragraphs if they are going to ask so much. Also, if they really were smart, indie publishing is growing big-time. They could lower their price, increase the value of their actual product by writing comprehensive reviews, and get more publicity themselves.

        • says

          Katie, I think you’ve summed up well how Kirkus could benefit itself and readers and writers if they changed their review structure. Indie publishing is huge, but many indie writers might not have 500$ to gamble; yet, they might have 250$. Perhaps Kirkus could offer levels of reviews: for 250$, you get a 100-word review; for 500$, a 250-word review. I just checked out Kirkus’s review of Sara’s book. I think it’s positive enough to make a reader who might be on the fence decide to pick up her book. But the review itself is too brief and, IMHO, not very well-written. Still, I agree with Cary that for indie writers, having a blurb from Kirkus, Booklist, etc., to pitch their book would be a plus. And thanks, Sara, for the post! It’s always very interesting to read writer’s experiences in publishing. I wish you and Katie the best of success with your books :)

  4. says

    This post caused me to go over to Kirkus and look up a friend’s novel that was traditionally published several years ago. I was rather shocked to see that the Kirkus reviewer essentially panned the novel … a novel that I loved. I guess Kirkus reviewers are only human and thus fallible 😉


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