I wrestled with the decision for a few months. I searched and found a half-dozen of fellow indie authors who’d had a Kirkus review or someone close to them had. When I’d asked them if it had been worth it, only two said it had provided them with something quotable for their book. There was no claims of sales boosting or anything. More interestingly, no one had said “Yes, it was worth it.”
Being an indie meant I had no agent or publisher with the ability to try and get my book reviewed somewhere like the Washington Post, Publisher’s Weekly or The New York Times (disqualified because my books are published in Canada). While I was after something that could boost my sales, I was really after knowing how did I stack up against traditional works, really. I had over a hundred written reviews for my first book, Along Came a Wolf, the book that had kicked off my steampunk meets fairy tale series, The Yellow Hoods. I had a five star review from Readers’ Favorite. The book and the sequel had been finalists for a book of the year award, one in YA and the other in fantasy… but I still needed to know. So I took the plunge.
Yes, they do. They’re indie entry point is pricey and immediately weeds out people who are semi-serious, but they do. Many (most) big review channels don’t review indies, or they say “you can add it to the pile, if you really want, I guess.” With Kirkus Reviews, you’re dropping $425 for a review in 7-9 weeks, or $575 for it in 4-6 weeks. That’s a wee bit more than Readers’ Favorite. Publisher’s Weekly has an “indie” side, which is BookLife. There you can request that your book be reviewed (for free), however they stated that they only accept a handful of books to review, don’t state the criteria, and I haven’t found anyone who has had one.
When they complete the review, you’re notified. You read it and then have a decision to make. If you want to be able to quote the review, you have to check the box to allow them to publish the review, as is, on their website. If not, you can keep the review private and learn from the experience of rolling the dice.
Let’s say you decide to have them publish the review, and you put a quote on the book or use it in your pitches, then you’ll start getting offers, and maybe even a phone call, to consider advertising with them.
A Kirkus Star is like the Publisher’s Weekly Star, which means a “top caliber review.” I was nervous as could be, wondering what the heck I was thinking sometimes. I remember my stomach sinking and I grabbed my phone, the review was in. It was judgement time.
While I didn’t get a starred review, the review was decidedly positive (you can see it here). Here are some of the quotables:
“A very promising series opener featuring a young heroine and her pals that should win fans.”
“LeLoup’s gradual psychological disintegration is a highlight, handled with some real insight into the effect of failure on arrogance.”
“Dreece mixes clever fairy-tale references… with intriguing contraptions, appealing characters, snide villains, humor, and an exciting story.”
I had them publish it, I put the 1st quote on the back of the 4th printing of Along Came a Wolf, and didn’t opt to advertise with them. Their editors decided to include the review as one of the 30 indie reviews they included in their magazine (March 6th edition I believe).
Kirkus Reviews certainly posts enough testimonials to make you think that there’s a real chance you’re going to boost your sales, but we’ve all seen author-related websites with something to sell. I’m confident that the ones Kirkus posts are 100% genuine, but I know that I don’t have the full story, and all because it happened for someone else doesn’t mean it’s going to happen for me.
So what happened? There was no magic sales pump. Yes, a few extra print copies sold versus what I expected for March and April, but that was it. It could have had to do with any one of a million different things.
Now, had I decided to advertise in their magazine and decided to pay the ~$250 for their equivalent of an author page, maybe something would have come out of it. I have no way of knowing, but I doubt it.
So why did I do this?
While things are slowly changing, I still sometimes get a certain look from people when they realize that I am the publisher of my own books. “Oh, you’re self-published. Huh.” There’s a dirty sense to it, like I was cheating someone, like I was stealing the title “author” when really I should have “not good enough and is unwilling to do the real work” stamped on my forehead. If these people only knew what it took to be an author AND publisher, I think they’d run screaming from it.
There are some conversations that I’ve had since getting the Kirkus review that have changed. The difference between being self-published and being an indie author becomes clearer for them. “Oh, you have a Kirkus review? Really? Interesting” is more along the lines I’ve gotten now. I met with a highly experienced publicist and author business coach for a coffee. She wanted to know my story, and she liked everything she heard but I could see some hesitation. When I told her about the Kirkus Review for my first book and that I was thinking of doing it for my upcoming science fiction book, she got this look on her face. “You’re really in this to win this, aren’t you?” From there, we started talking about what would be the first step of working together.
From a bookstores point of view it’s a tipping point thing as well. I’ve had a few school librarians pick up my books because they found that they usually agree with Kirkus reviews.
Having a review by someone like Kirkus Reviews is another piece of credibility that I’m able to put on the table when I’m talking to a bookstore that’s never heard of me, or a conference that doesn’t know me from Adam, or a well read reader who’s suspicious of indies.
It doesn’t tip the scales, but it adds some more weight to my side. I don’t have a traditional publisher putting their credentials on the table, nor an agent doing that. I have to provide all of my own when dealing with the business people of the books world. There are millions of indies out there, there are a lot less who have had their books reviewed by places like Kirkus Reviews, and that allows me to stand out just a little bit more.
But why do I need this? Shouldn’t I just be focused on building fans? It’s about extending my reach. I can reach only so many people a year, never mind while I’m taking care of my kids (including 1 pre-schooler). Even if I was single, there’s only so many live events I can do. The more credentials I have (it’d be nice to win an award this year), the stronger case it makes, the less risk people feel like they are taking when they engage with me or buy my books.
Having a “trusted source” say something positive about your book is going to help. However, it only makes sense if you can see how it will help your marketing and reach. For my upcoming book, I’ve requested a Kirkus review. Hopefully it’ll be positive, but I can tell you for certain, it’ll feed into some of my marketing decisions.
So there you have it. It took a long time to write, and if I don’t publish this right now I’ll probably spend another month or two tweaking it, challenging some of the things I’ve said, etc.