Thursday, June 22, 2017

Why I'm not using a Kirkus Review for my book

I kind of got a magical shortcut to a first book by winning a contest. I guess it's as good a way to get a book published as any. The nice folks at Washington Writers' Publishing House put together a pretty nice package for me:

-They pay for the printing of the book
-They publicize it on their website and social media
-They got me a couple of readings for the fall at D.C. bookstores

However, there are a lot of ways in which I'm kind of on my own. Not totally on my own: they'll give me advice. But there are some steps related to publicity that are my responsibility:

-Contact venues for reviews
-Set up my own readings outside the ones they set up
-Get papers to publish announcements (papers? honest to god newspapers? who would read the announcement?)
-Generally promote myself

One of the suggestions they made was to get a Kirkus review. What's Kirkus? They used to be the book reviewer. From what I can gather, they kind of went belly up in 2009, but then re-emerged by selling their services to authors. They seem to especially market themselves to the self-published, suggesting a Kirkus review will make the book look more legitimate. It's $425 to get a review in seven to nine weeks. That review then shows up on Amazon and...other places? I'm a little hazy on this. Basically, it will increase the visibility of my book, I guess.

Okay, fine, but it's $425. That's on me to pay. No wonder the head of the publishing house said, when she told me I had won, "You're not going to make any money off this." They were expecting that $1000 would go to stuff like this, I'd guess.

Here's the thing. I kind of already told WWPH that I would donate the $1000 back to them. (I hasten to add that I did this on my own. They are allowed to advertise their contest in certain places because they offer a prize, and they didn't at all ask for the money back. I just was really impressed with this small, cooperative publishing house, and this was something I wanted to do. Everyone who wins is then supposed to help out the publishing house for a while. This is my way of helping. I don't have a lot of other talents. It's unlikely I'll be able to do much else for them of any value. )

The upshot is that $425 is a lot of money to me. Mrs. Heretic and I have had a kind of crappy run of luck money-wise, with unexpected bills popping up here and there this last year. That's a lot of money to me. (I apologize to my anonymous reader, who dislikes when I complain about money problems.)  Kirkus can't really promise that the money spent is going to result in a lot of sales. Or any extra sales, really. The last several winners of this contest said they used Kirkus. So far, only one winner has sold at least 1,000 copies of her book, and that was because it got picked up for D.C. schools, who bought a few thousand copies.

My former advisor from graduate school--with whom I had a nice conversation, including a post-mortem of what went wrong in graduate school--has promised to get the book reviewed on American Book Review. Another member of the publishing house will help get it reviewed at the Washington Independent Review of Books. I think I'm going to just call that enough. The book is just not going to sell that many copies. Most of the people who buy it are likely to be people who know me. I don't know that many people.

Another issue is that the review Kirkus gives you, about 300 words, is typically about 200 words of plot review. I have a book of 12 short stories that don't go together at all. Fuck they gonna say bout that? Nothing that will convince people to buy the book. 

In other words, I don't know really what I'm going to get for my money. I'm okay with the fact that this book isn't going to sell a lot. There's no way, though, that I'm going to pay what would be the first $425 of my son's college fund on some vanity project for myself.


  1. Have you considered Twitter? Lots of writers there at all levels; it's my understanding a lot of publishers advise writers to get an account, and with your blog, it's a nice tie-in.

    I'm not sure what Goodreads is up to since Amazon bought them, but that's another no-to-low-cost possibility.

  2. I've had a few occasions to wish I had a Twitter account, although the last thing I need is another reason to waste time on the Internet. Or another password to remember.

    I suppose a few people might review the book on Goodreads.

    I wasn't even aware of Kirkus a few months ago. I really don't understand how a review that I paid for is considered legitimate by the world. Am I going to pay for it and they're going to write that the book sucked?

  3. I'm surprised you'd not heard of Kirkus, but then I didn't know they were shills. Paying for a review by them sounds like some of the most ridiculous advice I have ever heard. I would not give them a penny.

    Now you seem to be laboring under a false notion that a larger publishing house lifts a finger for its writers. There are big, huge writers: the publishers do something for them because they have money riding on it and their staff only have so much time. But for the vast majority of other folks picked up those places, well, it's mostly on the writers themselves to promote their books. Most think the publishers will do something, and then sit around the phone for those interviews and bookings that never come because the jackass in New York City is flogging Grisham, a known quantity.

    So what you're experiencing from your cooperative sounds a helluva lot like what a lot of other writers experience from full-blown, reputable, business concerns. Most work remains for you to do.

    1. I've heard similar things. I actually think this little coop is doing quite a lot for their size. I mean, I'm the only commodity they have to tend to this year (along with the poetry winner). So I'm not at all complaining. I think I've just realized that writing isn't a great profession for me, even were I to "break out." It feels like selling Avon. You have to either turn every friend you have into a customer or an ex-friend who is tired of hearing about your stupid book.

  4. About three years ago, I got an email from Tim Horvath, a writer I’d never heard of. His collection of short stories had been published by Bellevue (a pretty prestigious outfit) two years before, and he wanted to send me a free copy, no strings, hoping I’d like it and would blog about it, late as it might be. I was kind of flattered, but also quite anxious and a tiny bit put off; I figured I wouldn’t like it enough to finish it, or have anything to say about it, as is the case so often with what I read, but as long as he realized that, it was fine with me. He sent me the book, and honestly, it’s one of my favorites and I recommend it frequently (earlier this week, in fact, to a neighbor sitting on the front steps reading Borges). And I did write a ginormous blog post about it – sadly, since really no one reads my blog, it wasn’t of any benefit whatsoever to Tim, except to give him something to talk about at readings (which I believe he arranged himself).
    In any case, I’ve mentioned this post to him, and given him the link, in the hopes he might have some suggestions or words of wisdom or something that might be of help to you.