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Watchdog: Is A Kirkus Review Worth The Price?

ALLi Watchdog Giacomo Giammatteo provides a balanced and objective appraisal of Kirkus, the paid review service used by some indie authors who hope it will add credibility to their self-published books – but does it also bring sales?

Kirkus logoWhile researching this post, I spoke to six authors on the phone and communicated with more than a dozen via email. In every case but one, the authors were happy with the review they received from Kirkus. One author paid for two reviews and felt the money was well spent.

The common ground for all authors was that each one felt the Kirkus review lent credibility, and every author I spoke to used the blurb in their marketing. One author even credited Kirkus with being responsible for a film option on his book.

But—and this is a big but—the majority of authors (16 out of 21) felt that the reviews were “not worth the money.”

Despite lending credibility. And despite using them as editorial reviews or as blurbs in their marketing efforts—most authors felt they wasted money. And all but three said they would not pay for another review from Kirkus. After hearing that, I felt it was…

Time To Dig Deeper

When questioned about why they felt the money was wasted, the answers were almost identical. (I paraphrased the responses.)

“The review didn’t produce sales.”

I reminded them that the review was never intended to produce sales, but that didn’t seem to matter. What mattered was that the author expected sales, and anytime that you expect something that doesn’t materialize, you’re going to be disappointed. The question to be asked is, if a Kirkus review doesn’t produce sales, what good is it?

Let’s Look at What Kirkus Does Do

Kirkus promises you a review in 7–9 weeks for $425. You can purchase an expedited review for $575, and they will deliver it in 4–6 weeks. They tell you the review will be 250–300 words. They never tell you that a review will boost sales.

In defense of the authors who expected that, it would be easy to make such an inference based on some of the well-placed testimonials on Kirkus’ site.

Benefits of a Kirkus Review

  • Credibility—a Kirkus review is respected throughout the industry and by media and libraries
  • Marketing tool—a good Kirkus review is a valuable marketing tool, great for a blurb on a press release, or to be placed on your site, or as an editorial review on retailer sites
  • Personal gratification—every author I know feels great when their Kirkus review has good things to say

What Kirkus Doesn’t Do

What Kirkus doesn’t tell you is that, quite often, 200 or more of the promised 250–300 words of the review will be spent on rehashing your plot. I don’t know about you, but if I’m reading a review I don’t need to know the plot. I want to know how this story made you feel.

  • Were the characters strong?
  • Was the dialogue crisp?
  • Did the plot have twists and turns, and was it full of surprises?
  • Was the ending satisfying?
  • Did it keep you up at night reading?
  • Did you run and tell a friend about it?

That is what excites me about a review, and that is what persuades me to buy a book. Many authors I spoke with felt their Kirkus reviews weren’t all that good. They felt the reviews weren’t inspiring or well written. After hearing that, I went to Kirkus’s site and read through dozens and dozens of reviews. I have to agree with the other authors: not a single one inspired me to buy a book.

Seeley James headshot

Seeley James

One of the authors I spoke with agreed to be quoted. Seeley James had this to say:

“Kirkus is a brand name that delivers marketing value for the author. However, I rated the value against other marketing options and came to the conclusion it was overpriced.”

I empathize with Seeley, and I understand his frustration. But then again, Seeley James is a tremendous reviewer. If you haven’t read any of his reviews, go to his site and do it. Be warned, you’ll probably end up buying a few books. He is one of the few reviewers who always inspires me to spend money.

I became a Seeley James fan after reading his review of my first book. Please go read it, because I’m sure you’ll buy it. He’s that good. Not to mention he’s a damn good author, so be sure to check out his books.

Other Examples

Another review stood out for its paucity of words. It was from a well-known author, and although the word count fell into Kirkus’ range (it was 281 words), the number of words dedicated to the review was 15! And one of those was the author’s name. Here is the meat of the review.

Coaxing the inevitable out of the improbable, (author name) is a bet you just can’t lose.

15 words! And that was a starred review.

And there was another review that caught my eye. It was a book I’d read, so I wanted to see what Kirkus had to say. The book was They Die Alone, by Christopher Bartley. Kirkus had praise sprinkled throughout the review, but it wasn’t a starred review, and they ended it with this less-than-flattering statement:

“A striking start to a series with solid action and arresting details but saddled with a bland hero.”

I read this book and I can tell you Ross Duncan is anything but a bland hero. (You can see my review here.) In fact, after reading Kirkus’ take on the book I’m convinced whoever reviewed it did not understand what they were reading. But don’t take my word for it. They Die Alone has 53 reviews on Amazon, with a 4.9 rating. Forty-nine of them are 5-star reviews. The other four are 4-star.

These aren’t Bartley’s friends writing reviews. I know Bartley; he doesn’t have that many friends.

All of this made me wonder how often Kirkus missed the mark. After reading through all 99 of their “Best Indie Books of 2013,” I was convinced Kirkus missed quite often—both ways.

Food For Thought

Kirkus has a respected name in the publishing business, but please make note—that’s the publishing business, not the consumer market. When I spoke to Kirkus representatives, they claimed to have an email newsletter with more than 30,000 “consumers” on the list. I would guess that a sizable chunk of those are probably authors, but even if we grant that all 30,000 are readers, how does that compare?

For grins, take a look at Bookbub. I believe their “consumer” list is now more than 2,000,000. If I spend $600 on a Bookbub ad, I can point to numbers. I can say, without question, that the money I spent sold an extra 4,000 books at 99c, and an additional 350 books at $5.99. I can calculate the royalties and tell you the ROI (Return on Investment). With a Kirkus review I can’t do that. In fact, nobody I spoke to could quantify results.

Credibility is nice to have, but I’ll take sales every time.

So What Should You Do With Your $500?

It depends on what you’re looking for.

  • If you want sales—spend it on Bookbub, or ENT, or Kindle Books and Tips.
  • If you want reviews—try BestsellersWorld, or Indie Reader, or Readers Favorite. (Or do the really hard work and write to bloggers, do giveaways, work Goodreads, etc.)
  • If you want long-term results—get busy writing the next book
  • If you want credibility and recognition from a trusted review source—spend it on Kirkus.

You might also consider investing in your book.

  • Can you improve the cover?
  • Is your editing up to par?
  • Are you happy with the layout and formatting?

Those are investments that really will pay off.

As to Kirkus, this post was about reviews, but I’ll be doing another one in the future about a far more concerning issue, and that’s the company Kirkus keeps. By that I mean the companies that are selling Kirkus’s (very expensive) advertising and promotional campaigns. Companies like: Author Solutions, iUniverse, Xlibris, Lulu, and others.

Photo of Giacomo and his dog

Giacomo Giammatteo, ALLi Watchdog

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110 Responses to Watchdog: Is A Kirkus Review Worth The Price?

  1. roslyn willett July 4, 2016 at 1:25 pm #

    I sent a check for $575 for an accelerated review (supposed to be out in five or six weeks) on May 10. It is July 4 and I have seen NOTHING. I now believe that Kirkus is a giant fraud and I want my money back. roslyn willett, author of “a little work, a little play…” Stories of American Men published by Amazon in April 2016. roslyn willett

  2. Joseph Ollivier June 7, 2016 at 11:03 pm #

    Just got my review from Kirkus – “The Searchers” – a middle east adventure novel centered in North Somalia, Djbouti, and Eritrea, an area most know little about. I also had a number of maps and graphics to enrich the readers experience. I sent in a Harvard English Professor’s review afterI complained via email about what I thought they had missed in my 400 page book. I got a poor reply saying they only had so many lines for a review, and basically “tough luck.” I would never use them again. The review was poor in many other ways, and I should have read this blog first. They have no ability to put your book in the hands of buyers or publishers. And their reviewers are just low paid mechanics.

  3. Elyse Salpeter April 4, 2016 at 12:53 am #

    Gosh, this was a fantastic blog. I once had a Kirkus review for a YA novel I wrote. While they said some nice things, there were some things I couldn’t ever use for marketing. It’s crushing, but then I do what you said above and look at the 4.7 ranking on Amazon with over 36 reviews and I, too, wonder if Kirkus missed the mark. I think if I had all the money in the world I’d try for one on all my books though.

    • Michael A May 12, 2016 at 1:21 am #

      Elyse, self-published authors usually believe that especially Kirkus Indie is somehow more respectable than most reviewing services, and that therefore Kirkus Indie will give objective-enough reviews. But if you think about who is actually reviewing at Kirkus, it always comes down to that one reviewer or editor who has near total autonomy just like any obscure Amazon reader has. Bias, unavoidably, is the real Kirkus. The scam is that Kirkus actively perpetuates the myth of respectability about them. From my experience, getting a great, indeed perfect review from Kirkus was as easy as writing rather simply, fast-paced, and with plenty of left-wing themes. The narrative, too, should be inoffensive to the self-confidences of failed writers such as most reviewers and editors must be. The Kirkus reputation is a massive multi-million-dollar falsehood. Avoid Kirkus Indie and get much cheaper priced but far more notable recognition from bona fide literary competitions, even if subjectivity pervades the judging panels’ decisions in such competitions. SELF-PUBLISHED WRITERS BEWARE: KIRKUS INDIE IS IN FACT UNABLE TO REALISTICALLY GUARANTEE AN UNBIASED REVIEW. CONSUMERS’ COMPLAINTS TO CONSUMER AFFAIRS DEPARTMENTS AND GROUPS HAVE LIKELY BEEN FORMALLY SUBMITTED IN DROVES. KIRKUS OVERALL TENDS TO REVIEW SELF-PUBLISHED BOOKS SOMEWHAT DIFFERENTLY TO TRADITIONALLY PUBLISHED BOOKS. KIRKUS INDIE IS INUNDATED WITH SELF-PUBLISHED BOOKS AT MORE THAN $425 PER BOOK ON AVERAGE, RELIES THEREFORE ON INCREASINGLY OBSCURELY SOURCED REVIEWERS WHO ARE NO MORE PRESTIGIOUS OR RELIABLE THAN THOSE AT SAN FRANCISCO BOOK REVIEW, AND HEAVILY FAVOURS BOOKS THAT HAVE ORDINARY NARRATIVES AND SIMPLISTIC WRITING STYLES. PUBLISHERS AND AGENTS TEND TO DISFAVOUR SIGNING AUTHORS WHO HAVE HAD PUBLISHED REVIEWS FROM KIRKUS INDIE, AS THE PUBLISHERS AND AGENTS GREATLY PREFER TO SUBMIT THEIR OWN BOOKS TO KIRKUS (FOR PUBLICITY REASONS). USE CLARION REVIEWS INSTEAD–IF IT’S A CHOICE BETWEEN KIRKUS AND CLARION, CLARION IS WHAT AGENTS AND PUBLISHERS SURELY PREFER OF SELF-PUBLISHED AUTHORS WHO SUBMIT WORK TO THEM. As ever so many authors essentially say, Kirkus staff use the excuse of subjectivity on a regular basis with self-published authors who complain to them. But the Kirkus staff are unable to pretend in the same way with well-known authors, whose readerships would laugh at the seeming dishonesty of the reviews in question. If a conservative-styled, intelligent famous writer such as Alan Furst were a self-published author reviewed by Kirkus Indie, Kirkus Indie almost certainly would deliver him negative reviews mostly regardless, as Furst’s sophistication of writing style would upset the Kirkus Indie reviewers (they do favour simplistic writing styles) and Furst as an unknown writer would have little or no chance of recourse after the negative reviews. An independent official audit of Kirkus would likely uncover plenty of interesting facts, leading to some very intriguing questions such as: (1) Is the political culture that predominates among Kirkus staff of a particular bent, and is that bent left-wing? Yes. (2) Are Kirkus Indie review turnaround times often irreconcilable with the limited number of Kirkus Indie reviewers, suggesting that skimming of books must be unavoidable in the reviewing practices? Yes. (3) Does offering two prices (each with a different turnaround time) for a Kirkus Indie review mean that those reviewers receiving the lesser payment for service will be more likely to give a negative review? Yes. (4) Do Kirkus staff deliberately rely on the subjectivity excuse when dealing with complaints from authors, while objectively common sense dictates the obviousness of the fact that such subjectivity is often a false front for reviewer (and editorial) bias (such as pretending that writing style preferences are technical errors in writing)? Yes. (5) Does the predominating political culture (rather than due work process) at Kirkus often interfere with reviewer services before the reviews reach authors, by acting as a filter against certain politically-aligned content of reviews being published? Yes. (6) Is there evidence in the published lists of Kirkus reviews that indicates that by far the majority of positive reviews are those given to writings that have ordinary narratives and simplistic styles? Yes. (7) Should Kirkus be legally purged, in the conclusion that insufficient regulatory and legal oversight of Kirkus work practices (in an industry that by its very nature is liable to predation for monetary gain, and its excuses to complainants are dubious at best) has allowed an unacceptably large number of complainants to remain unsatisfied? Yes. (8) Should Kirkus be legally forced, at the very least, to claim in its promotions that, as with any reviewing service, its reviews are subject to reviewer subjectivity, which means that personal bias of reviewers may influence the reviews no matter the best intentions of the reviewers? Absolutely, yes. Kirkus makes millions of dollars each year, with unjustifiably massive profit margins, and with little independent quality-control of its services affecting huge numbers of people in the hands of such a small group whose culture would appear to be a major impediment. And the Kirkus reputation of evidentially erroneous, implausible excuses to rightly unsatisfied complainants is inexcusable… US government consumer watchdogs must investigate this misrepresentative monopoly euphemistically called ‘Kirkus’. Kirkus reeks.

  4. Plum McCauley March 7, 2016 at 2:54 pm #

    I’m happy with my Kirkus Review. It was, indeed, a bit bland, but the few sentences that were not summary nailed the essentials of my middle grade book.
    I don’t understand people’s complaints over a paid review. All of Kirkus’ reviews cost money–they either cost the publisher money or the independent author directly. But for God’s sake, they’re not producing all of that work for free!
    If Kirkus doesn’t have tremendous credibility, why does winning a Kirkus Award yield 1. so much money ($50,000.00) and significant presence in book stores.
    And, too, who does it better? I saw that some people mentioned Midwest Book Reviews, but they don’t guarantee a review.

    • Michael A May 12, 2016 at 2:14 am #

      Plum McCauley, see my reply to Elyse Salpeter’s comment, and remember that as soon as an unknown author writes anything too belittling to the self-confidence of the reviewer or even editors at Kirkus Indie, a negative, bogus review is likely to follow. Kirkus is evidently left of centre politically, and there is no doubt that to afford each $50,000 Kirkus Prize Kirkus needs fewer than one hundred paid reviews. Have a look at how many self-published writers’ reviews are posted to the Kirkus website each day. A lot indeed. And figure out what they’re all vying for: the Kirkus Star. The Kirkus Star is part of the Kirkus scam, as the Kirkus Star must be mostly awarded on a quota basis. On the balance of probability, Kirkus Indie is a scam, like most if not all paid-for reviewing services. And this comment is coming from one who has had perfect and near-perfect reviews from Kirkus Indie. Trust me, Kirkus is a scam. Use literary competitions instead. There are only a few places for writers at the top of success, and so, agents and publishers often favour the few winners and finalists of bona fide literary competitions. Kirkus Recommendeds are in fact equal in merit to Kirkus Stars, and all the agents and publishers know that. Unfortunately, authors often don’t, and are fooled into chasing a Kirkus Star, which is no rarer to agents and publishers than a Kirkus Recommended (Recommendeds are given in the dozens everyday on the Kirkus website). Kirkus Indie really is a scam, a kind of vanity reviewing service, which exploits the myth of there being mainly objectivity among its reviewers. For optimal profits, Kirkus Indie mostly pretends to be negative on what it deems to be just the right quota of writers’ books, and never hands out too many Kirkus Stars–all just to keep the money rolling into Kirkus. Positive reviews from Kirkus Indie, then, are either just as unreliable as most of the negative reviews, or too common to be of much value for the writers. It is extremely bizarre that no government or independent consumer watchdogs have moved to have many practices at Kirkus Indie legally banned. Kirkus Indie is one of the most biased companies in existence, on an obscene robbery spree in an under-policed goldmine of writers’ hopes.

  5. Richard February 11, 2016 at 9:55 am #

    I think this article hits the nail on the head when it mentions that most authors using Kirkus are happy because it adds credibility to there book. However, when the criteria is based on “does it help generate more sales” the answer is very doubtful, and the general consensus is that they are therefore overpriced at $500 or so for 1 review.
    A respected authority, Susan Friedman, certainly suggests as much in her view that “some might argue that having a professional review as part of the book’s description on Amazon (and elsewhere) adds a sheen of professionalism and leads to more readers taking a chance on the book. But I believe readers are generally not persuaded by one professional review when there are few reader reviews and/or a low star rating. Like it or not, purchasing behavior online is driven by quantity of reviews”.

    So this is my question, book promotion services like Kindlebookpromotions.com generate on average 20 to 40 reviews, while Kirkus provides just the one; yet Kindlebookpromotions is (certainly per review) much cheaper.

    Does this not indicate that Kirkus is (however good) just simply overpriced?

  6. Garfield Whyte January 20, 2016 at 10:14 am #

    My opinion is that Kirkus Review does not worth the price. I had them review my second book and the review had inaccuracies that I had to point them to in my text. I am talkin abut opinion I am talking about facts in my book that they misrepresented. I asked for a refund as I felt that review was compromised and they wouldnt. I think that was extremely poor and does nothing for me to o give them credit for.

  7. Piri Halasz January 14, 2016 at 5:01 am #

    Belatedly, let me thank you for telling me what I might expect from a Kirkus review and saving me the money I might have spent requesting one. I already have one review that seems to be similar to what I might have earned from Kirkus — and, while I’m very happy to have it, I don’t need another.

  8. Mary Nguyen December 25, 2015 at 5:20 am #

    This was an extremely comprehensive inspection of Kirkus Reviews. Thank you for this invaluable information!

  9. Richard December 6, 2015 at 1:50 am #

    The question that returns to me whenever I consider Kirkus and similar review sites is this. Why would anyone give credibility to a review that has been paid for (and paid handsomely for), unless the book in question is rated up there among the top ten or so? Kirkus is in the business of making money off writing reviews. If they write a bad review, you’ve wasted your money – and probably should have paid for a good editor – if you’re self-published. If they write a good review, one would assume that that’s what your money gets you anyway. So where’s the credibility? The credibility is in the following they have gathered, and that is it. If your book is not that good, even that is not of much help; no publisher is going to pick you up because you have paid for and received a decent review; the book actually has to do something to the agent or publisher. Good writing, in whatever genre, is the key. Can anyone tell me if Kirkus is the way to success for mediocre writers – of whom there are millions?

  10. Whit Sinclair November 30, 2015 at 9:13 pm #

    Kirkus is one of the main reasons we wanted to start our own review site. Paid reviews aren’t worth a thing really. I mean, what does it tell the reader beyond your willingness to spend 425 bucks on your book. Also, Kirkus, like so many other sites isn’t designed for Kindle, iPad and all the other devices modern readers use. We are taking submissions now, and if you didn’t get it from above, our reviews are free. No catch. we make our money off ads and clickthroughs to amazon. Check us out!

    http://www.indieauthorreview.com

    P.S. Mr. Giammatteo,
    we are available to chat if you are curious about our site and would like to know more. just reach out at the email provided in this post. We ant to make money with our site, but we really are interested in finding the self-published gems out there and letting the world of readers know about them.

  11. Reggie October 6, 2015 at 10:32 am #

    Payed Kirkus for a book review that turned out to be a scam. Since I taught English in the California Junior College system for many, many years, I know every trick in the book when it comes to cheating on reading assignments, so when the reader of my book (that is selling very, very well, by the way) tried to give my book a book review based on only reading the introduction and the appendix of my book, I knew this company was not legit. I called them told them the problem, because the so-called reviewer had completely missed the main topic of the body of my book, and they said they would check into my concerns (No, they didn’t.). To make a long story short, I ended up reporting them to the Texas State Attorney General for Non-performance of their contract that says right on their own web page, “We will read the complete book.” I will be suiting them in small claims court for my money, and since a local judge helped with my case, I know it’s a slam dunk in my favor. As for all you others who have been cheated out of your money, the best thing to do to this company is to write to the Texas State Attorney General (Their address is on the web.) and write your complaint out and prove it completely. I did, and the attorney general has started a case against Kirkus because they believed me and my credentials. One more thing, Kirkus promises a real book review, but since I taught standard methodology for reviewing books and short articles, I can tell you their idea of a book review is a joke. It does NOT follow, or even come close to what a book review is supposed to include or comprise of when completed or done right. The book reviews are nothing more than a personal opinion of some hack they hired to sort of read your book. This company might have been good when the founder was alive, but they are nothing more than a money pit for writers now. Stay away from these crooks. Since I own a company that deals with research over seas in Asia, I am thinking of opening up an inexpensive book review department so people will get a real book review that they will be able to use, and not some short worthless personal opinion by some nobody that uses Kirkus past glory and name to rip off new and small self published writers. Have a great day and write the Texas State Attorney General now, so we can close this company down. They are crooks and from what I read on their web page, only give good reviews to new authors who use the Kirkus editing department for their books.

    • Michael A May 12, 2016 at 4:49 am #

      Well said, Reggie. Your comment should be with its own dedicated website, so that whenever authors search up ‘Kirkus scam’, etc. on Google, the website with your comment is listed. The only way to stop Kirkus misrepresenting itself is to legally audit and fine it for breaches of consumer affairs laws. Kirkus’s claims as to its reputation and its reviewer services are demonstrably largely false. If only authors would stop paying Kirkus so much…

  12. Greg June 9, 2015 at 12:15 am #

    I know this is from last year but I’m curious if you have any suggestions (or could throw links) on sites and resources that offer perhaps more credible book reviews and not exclusively for eBooks or the like. It seems with SO many books being churned out, there has to be more than a handful of book reviewers and book review sites that book stores and librarians use to stock their shelves.

    Any good recommendations for who to go to?

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  14. Melissa May 31, 2015 at 2:19 am #

    The only reason I am looking at doing a Kirkus Review is that a local library told me they will only look at carrying books that have a Kirkus Review. That has made me wonder if this is true for other libraries.

  15. Walter Stoffel May 29, 2015 at 3:51 pm #

    Thought provoking stuff. My gut tells me the typical book buyer doesn’t know one reviewer from another and only the reviewer’s blurb might have any impact on the decision to purchase. Walter

  16. Marion Stein May 28, 2015 at 4:57 pm #

    I’m more than a year late to this party, but just wanted to say thank you for this excellent and well-researched post. It’s very frustrating sometimes “going it alone” and I’ll admit to wondering if there’s one thing I can do that will help jump start sales of my books, and that is the ONLY reason I’d invest the money in a Kirkus Review. This confirms the impression I had just from looking at a few of the reviews and the rankings of those books. By the very nature of the reviews, I can’t imagine NOT being disappointed in a Kirkus Review or the lack of “results.”

    But I’m also curious about the justification for the reviews even in terms of the “credibility” factor. It’s clear that Kirkus Reviews don’t lead to more sales and I don’t believe they impress too many regular readers — especially those who are aware that “indies” pay for the reviews (even if they are still objective). So the question is: Does Kirkus still have credibility with the industry? Will a publisher or agent or buyer for a major bookstore chain see a “starred” Kirkus “indie” review and say, “Let’s look at this?”

    I’d love to see a part 2 to this post looking into that piece.

  17. Robert Leslie Fisher May 27, 2015 at 3:16 am #

    I really liked Giacomo Giammateo’s review. In fact, my only criticism is that I think based on the review Kirkus did of my latest manuscript they are incompetent as reviewers and their review is not only not going to help sales it is not going to provide anything of value. I quote verbatim from their review of my book “Unfortunately the waters are muddled further by increasingly implausible plotlines involving Mexico’s war on drugs, Iranian subterfuge, a wily North Carolina stokcbroker-turned-church leader named Bobby the Banker, and even Afghanistan’s Haqqani network. Characters all come with tremendous baggage, which weighs the novel down even as the story careens out of control to its surprise ending.” I asked them why given that Mexico’s drug war is front page news and well covered on television they found a novel entitled Riviera Maya that discusses the drug war to have an implausible plot line without at least saying what it was that they found implausible. Was there a scene that seemed farfetched? A character that seemed implausible? Their blanket answer was that their reviews are inherently subjective and the tight word count for their reviews prevented them from offering any evidence of the implausibility of the plot. The novel is nearly three hundred pages and I was hoping that based on a review they had done of my previous novel (which was balanced and fair and generally positive) I could expect a similarly balanced and informative review this time. Sorry. But Kirkus is probably on its last legs and given their total lack of quality control in their reviews no one will mourn when they l leave the scene. .

  18. A.Abbe Aardmore May 9, 2015 at 4:41 pm #

    Giacomo!

    Thanks so much for saving me from being a carny’s mark.

    And I love that you have an animal sanctuary.

    Abbie

  19. Martin Thiebaut April 17, 2015 at 12:25 pm #

    Hi Giacomo,

    Congratulations on your informative website.

    I’m a British national based in Luxembourg and have just self-published two novels in the UK (on a POD basis) including their ebook versions. I was recommended to have them reviewed by Bookbag, which I did for roughly £90 each. Both reviews were superficial, focused on outlining the plot, leaving little room for remarks of substance about character, atmosphere or prose. I should add that one review misnamed a protagonist. To sum up, although neither review was negative, I felt the money was wasted.

    I then turned to Kirkus and lashed out $450 on each review, the second of which qualified for a 10% discount. Result: well satisfied with the first review, but disappointed with the second. Nonetheless, instead of introducing the reader to eyecatching details, both reviewers concentrated on sketching out the plot almost in line with each book’s rear cover blurb. As for the disappointing review, although the reviewer had the diplomacy not to give away the plot’s twists and turns, he or she failed to address the meat on the bones, preferring to flesh the review out with lighthearted quotes considered, perhaps justifiably, overworked. Indeed, the review not only failed to address the novel’s pivotal issues but falsely lumped all the characters together under the single adjective ‘worldly’ and also incorrectly described the role played by one of the story’s central participants. My impression was the reviewer rushed through this 600-page novel.

    Prior to production of Kirkus’s second review, I received a glowing report on the same novel from Last of the Authors – without having had to pay so much as a penny for it! You live and learn.

    Now Kirkus’s marketing staff are trying to sell me a $5 000 promotional investment package, which would include my giving away ten free copies of whichever novel I chose to promote (and possibly posting these as far afield as Alaska and Zanzibar). No need to tell you how I am guaranteed to respond.

    It seems advisable to follow up some of the review options listed on your first-class website.

    Thank you for the good work you are doing and for giving us indie authors a platform from which to voice our opinions.

    P.S. The undersigned is my real not my pen name.

    Sincerely,

    Martin Thiebaut

  20. Colin March 14, 2015 at 4:40 am #

    I’m a self-published author writing in the mystery genre that has sold about 30,000 books over the past four years. I agree that $500 is perhaps too much to pay for an independent review – but I also think independent reviews are an essential part of a book marketing plan.

    The problem is that some writers actually believe that those reviews alone are going to help them sell, and that’s naive. Lots of films, for example, receive boatloads of amazing reviews and win film festivals, but actually lose money at the box office. So with books, you need a great story, great marketing copy, a great cover targeted to a specific audience, good distribution, and yes – good reviews. And by the way, those independent reviews will help you get into places like BookBub – they don’t just take anyone.

    Kirkus Review alternatives:

    For people who write more “literary” stuff, I’d recommend http://www.PortlandBookReview.com – they cost around $90, and it gives you credibility.
    For people who write thrillers or mysteries, try http://www.BestThrillers.com – $99.

    BTW, those review sites don’t just accept anything that is sent to them and give you five stars – your book has to be good! But again, even if your review is great, you can’t rely on that alone.

  21. Darb March 12, 2015 at 1:30 am #

    I have to say that my experience with Kirkus was terrible. A bad review is fine, albeit painful, but the one I received sounded like it was written by someone with a 6th grade education. My book is a published intelligent psychological thriller that Kirkus inexplicably gave to someone who must read at the level of Nancy Drew mysteries. The review was poorly written, with merely a rehash of the plot: “he did this and he did that and then he…” with no apparent understanding or appreciation of the intricate plotting and beautiful use of language. A perfect example of why fiction and much of the arts is so mediocre these days: the review was not geared to a reader of Nabokov, Pynchon or Amis, but rather to those who enjoy “The Voice” and “Here Comes Honey Boo Boo.” A total waste of money that I would suggest you avoid unless you are writing mundane middle of the road popular fiction for readers of low IQ.

  22. Cate Baum March 9, 2015 at 6:09 pm #

    Don’t forget us at Self-Publishing Review! Our professional reviews start at $59 with an add-on service for Amazon Author Central editorial review edit at $26, going up to $249 for the most luxurious package with add-ons galore. We pay our reviewers well too, who are hardworking self-publishers themselves. Thanks for all the support, ALLi! We’re proud to be a partner member!

  23. Daryl Cobb February 17, 2015 at 6:43 pm #

    Hi All,

    Kirkus has always been known for being brutal, this isn’t anything new and to be honest it’s what drew me to them. As a writer I am very confident in what I do so I wanted my work to be reviewed by them for this reason. Have I liked everything that a reviewer had to say, not always. Do I think that they could spend less time summarizing, probably. But in the end I think that all of my books have been reviewed in a respectful professional manner.

    To date I have garnered 9 good to great reviews from the harshest reviewers in the business. Has it help me sell lots and lots of books? NO! And I never expected them to. I am not in the business of selling books. I am in the business of writing and I am in the business of selling myself and anything that can help me sell myself is worth paying for.

    I do nearly 80 school author visits a year and the people who do depend on Kirkus, your school librarians and reading specialists are the exact people that I need my books seen by to make a living. I learned a long, long time ago that if you are in this business to sell books you’re in trouble right from the start, but if you can find a way to sell yourself the book sales will follow. So for me a good Kirkus review is worth every penny spent and it is well worth the occasional misstep that one reviewer might have.

    There are those that question Kirkus’s reputation for charging and those that say the review is worthless if you have to pay for it, I don’t believe this at all. My books have been reviewed by Kirkus Reviews, a company that may not have looked at them otherwise, they have also appeared in Kirkus’s Magizine, which I didn’t have to pay for and it was a nice surprise. I certainly don’t think Kirkus is going to put their reputation at stake by handing out good reviews when they are not deserving just because they have been paid for them, they do have a reputation to uphold and through the years they have pissed off many people, writers and illustrators who all expected to be praised.

    Again, I don’t always agree with the reviewer, but I have never felt like they didn’t read the books so I don’t have that issue, but if you are using them for the right reasons they are well worth the money.

  24. Lyn Alexander December 18, 2014 at 2:40 pm #

    I paid for a Kirkus review, and I now stand among those dissatisfied by a reviewer who obviously missed the point of my historical novel, The Officer’s Code.
    The reviewer saw it as some sort of family saga. It was written, in fact, as a hero’s journey.
    I had been thinking of collaring Kirkus about this mindless discrepancy, but having read your blog here, realise I’m in very good company, and helpless.
    Buyer beware.
    I also appreciate that Kirkus means something to the publishers, but very little to readers.
    Mea Culpa.
    I have never found writer’s groups to be helpful in marketing my novels. My experience is that writers are not buyers, and they seem to be reluctant about spreading the word.
    It’s a tough world out here.

    • Girlande December 31, 2014 at 7:47 pm #

      I took a quick look at your 15 reviews on Goodreads. Nowhere did I see anyone describe this as a coming-of-age story. The closest were three reviews that mentioned the protagonist’s desire to outstrip his father, but in nearly all cases, the book was described as some variety of historical or military fiction:

      powerful novel of cavalry operations in WW I
      historical fiction
      historical fiction
      historical fiction
      historical novel
      war fiction
      fiction about World War I
      War novel
      war-time historical fiction
      Historical. . . dramatic . . . romance
      most intimate account of the Great War since “All Quiet on the Western Front”

      A couple of reviews mentioned that this is the first book in a series:

      “this is in fact the first book (chronologically speaking) in a series of four about Erich von Schellendorf”
      “An epic series that spans two world wars and two great loves”

      Perhaps this is what gave rise to the family-saga classification.

      But in any case, it’s very unlikely that the genre of your book is its entire point. Many books, and many plots, cross genre categories and can be reasonably understood as belonging to more than one without affecting a reviewer’s evaluation of the work as a whole.

      • Girlande December 31, 2014 at 11:46 pm #

        Just want to make sure to clarify: Iny any post, I am not speaking for Kirkus Reviews. Only for myself.

    • Mary Nguyen December 25, 2015 at 5:12 am #

      Lyn Alexander,

      I went to a writer’s group and they had a self published author selling her book about self promotion for authors. Writers are buyers, if you sell them a book they are interested in. The group was not as fun as I had hoped…… Maybe, if I have been closer to the ages, of the members… I would have fit in….

      Warmest regards,
      Mary

  25. Girlande December 8, 2014 at 8:14 pm #

    I’m a Kirkus reviewer for the indie program. The person above who said that Kirkus reviews are mainly employed by librarians deciding what books to acquire is exactly right. I have several friends who are librarians, and they all told me they use Kirkus in buying decisions. So don’t dismiss Kirkus as a source for possible buyers.

    Some commenters were upset that some of the review (usually, about a third) is given over to plot summary. How else can prospective readers get a handle on it? And it’s especially important for indie books, which usually don’t come with a good blurb or plot summary. Indie writers: you mostly suck at self-marketing. A plot summary is HELPFUL to people making buying decisions. Much of the analysis wouldn’t be understandable without the reader understanding the main plot points, genre, and audience.

    It is actually much more difficult to write a short, concise review that covers the most important points–which is what busy librarians want–than it is to write a long, rambling one with plenty of space to mention every little thing. And it takes hours often just to read the book. We are paid by piecework, not by the hour, and unless I have a short little children’s book, I am making far, FAR less than minimum wage, although I have a master’s degree in English literature and have been working professionally in editing and writing my whole adult life.

    Yes, I’m paid, but my reviews are independent, and Kirkus has never pressured me to soften a review when I made a case for a harsh one. I have called out authors who paid for my review on issues like plagiarism and sexism. The percentage of really positive reviews I write is low, although it’s going up as indie writers become a more sophisticated group.

    I really care about doing a good job. My parents were writers, I love books, and the best, most exciting part of writing a review is when I find a great new voice that I can’t wait to tell the world about. But sometimes your book isn’t very good, according to my best judgment, and it’s also my job to tell prospective buyers that.

    If you want encouragement and support, a writer’s group is a better bet for you than paying for a review. If you want publicity, hire a marketer unless you want to learn how, because that’s a job just like writing. (Hire an editor, too. For God’s sake, some of you, hire an editor.)

    A good review from Kirkus can put your book in the New Books section of a library. Could that be worth $425?

    • giacomo giammatteo January 20, 2015 at 3:47 am #

      Girlande: I’m sorry it has taken me so long to respond. I didn’t see the comment until recently. As to the point about:

      “Some commenters were upset that some of the review (usually, about a third) is given over to plot summary. How else can prospective readers get a handle on it?”

      I don’t think I’d have a problem if ⅓ of the review was devoted to plot summary; however, in the vast majority of reviews I read (and I read a lot) the average was more like ⅔, and in some cases even more. That is far beyond what is necessary.

      As to the librarians. I agree, that librarians read Kirkus reviews but even according to several executives at Kirkus, librarians have not shown much interest in indie authors, so I have serious questions about that channel producing much in the way of potential sales.

      I respect the Kirkus reviewers, as I do all reviewers, but I just don’t think they are worth the money.

      Indie authors are business people, who have to make decisions based on ROI, and $425 for a review is not a wise investment in my opinion.

      • BC Dee July 7, 2015 at 8:52 pm #

        In my research, I have found that libraries don’t buy POD books. I’d love some feedback on this.

        But if libraries don’t buy POD books, then 99% of indie authors are out of the running anyways. And that is considering that Libraries would buy a book from the author that she had printed on demand.

        Again, please give me feedback on my original assumption: libraries don’t buy POD books.

    • Mark Saha January 17, 2016 at 5:04 am #

      Girlande, My problem is that you write, “The percentage of really positive reviews I write is low”. And yet, Kirkus goes after the indie market in a big way, with lavish ads promising the self-published writer that money invested in a Kirkus review is a wise investment. According to you, buying Kirkus is a lottery ticket, and most buyers are going to lose. I would have no problem with Kirkus if, in their advertising, instead of promises they simply reprinted your above letter.

  26. barry easton December 4, 2014 at 11:03 am #

    In your article, you mention the company that Kirkus keeps. It is not just Kirkus.
    To broaden the discussion, I would also like to point out an aspect of reviewing that fills me with concern. I am beginning to detect the hand of big business manipulating the publishing market.
    I quote you one specific example: The Martian by Andy Weir, who won the Sci-Fi category in Goodreads with a whopping 30,000 votes
    see https://www.goodreads.com/choiceawards/best-science-fiction-books-2014
    I went into Amazon and read the start of this book. The only review that made sense was the 2 star ‘Bad writing is bad writing.’
    Frankly it is so bad that could not understand how it is being turned into a film starring Matt Damon.
    Then I looked up the publishing company, which is Del Rey (‘Of the King’); this in turn led me to the main company: Random House, whose behaviour needs no explanation
    see http://www.theguardian.com/books/2013/jul/28/penguin-random-house-merger-reactions.
    The fact that a badly written debut book so has made such a splash needs investigative journalism.
    My market research leads me to suspect that these reviews are in some way being manipulated. The bad reviews are being drowned in a sea of 5 star reviews that are highly suspicious. The sheer number in praise suggests that it is being driven by masters of marketing strategy.
    I have written to some of the staff at different companies asking for their comments but without response. I wonder if it is a bit like a once prominent UK company, Allied Dunbar, who used to make it a condition of employment that employees were forced to ‘sell’ their products to at least 30 of their own insurance products to family and friends.
    From my own research and experience, nothing else makes sense. No doubt it hasn’t escaped your attention that Amazon owns Goodreads. They too dish out new books to staff, for reviewing and inclusion in ‘Editors’ Picks’.

    • Giacomo Giammatteo December 4, 2014 at 3:19 pm #

      Barry, thanks for the comment. I’m not familiar with the book you mentioned, but I don’t doubt that some form of manipulation went on. Whenever there are contests that involve people voting there is bound to be manipulation. It has turned me off completely to any type of contest.

      As to the “investigative journalism”, I wish I had time to do things like that. There seems to be a never-ending list of leads to follow up on.

  27. Vincent December 1, 2014 at 3:46 pm #

    Hello, fellow writers!

    Warning: Do NOT get a review from Kirkus Reviews.

    You probably think they gave me a bad review. On the contrary… 90% of their review was positive. Still, it’s not worth the $425 you pay these unprofessional incompetents. After the bad service I got from them, I feel it’s my duty as a writer/illustrator/editor to warn other writers who are thinking about investing. Here is why they are not worth your time and money:

    1. Spelling mistakes. As a professional editor who worked for a multi-million dollar company for years, I noticed their spelling mistakes immediately. Not very “professional,” right?

    2. Wrong pricing. Apparently they had somebody look up the book on Amazon, which had a 99 cent deal. So they put “ebook price: 99 cents” on their review. Maybe next time, they should care to look a little better and see that it was a countdown deal, which already expired. Luckily, they were willing to change this.

    3. Size: I was expecting a long, interesting review of 2 pages or something, especially when I put down $425!!!!!!! Not so. Their review was only 1 paragraph! They probably didn’t spend more than 20 minutes on it, also seeing that they made spelling mistakes and didn’t have a professional editor take 5 minutes to look over it. But yes, I got 1 lousy paragraph for all that money.

    4. Book description. I expected a review! That’s what I paid for! The first 5 sentences of that teensy wheensy paragraph were a book description. I can write my own book description. It’s like they had nothing to say about it, so they just described what they read to fill up the page. Anybody can write a review if they just describe the book.

    5. Word show-off. The few actual sentences they wrote with an opinion were full of expensive, difficult words nobody uses. It’s like they were showing off their vocabulary to make it sound professional, but it just made it harder to read for the people who might be interested in the book, especially since it was a children’s book I had them review. And for some reason, the reviewer was overly obsessed with the word “prose” which he used repeatedly.

    6. Negative formatting. This is what annoyed me the most, and I asked them to change it, but although they were willing to correct their spelling mistakes, they stubbornly refused to correct this. Like I said, their review of our book was 90% positive, which is what I expected because it’s a popular book and it’s great quality. That’s why I paid them in the first place: So I could use the review to sell more books. But despite the fact that the entire paragraph was positive, and in the middle they put one negative comment, the reviewer felt it was necessary to repeat that at the very end. Now, if you know anything about people or sales, you know they are going to remember the last thing being said. It’s better to say “I hate your shoes, but I like your dress” than to say “I like your dress, but I hate your shoes.” I pointed out that their review was positive but that the last sentence they wrote destroyed everything they previously wrote, because it’s the last thing people will hear echoing in their heads. I didn’t even ask them to change their words, only to switch the order of the last sentence, which didn’t really summarize the review very well. They refused. I tried to call them 10 times that day, and every time I left a message. Nobody picked up, and nobody called back. Finally I emailed them, and in their email they even made spelling mistakes!

    So those are my reasons. Of course, after I invested the $425 from my savings, I found many other people who complained about their lack of service and their pointless reviews. I should have looked those comments up earlier. It would have saved me a lot of money and frustration.

    DO NOT INVEST YOUR PRECIOUS MONEY IN THESE SLOPPY, UNPROFESSIONAL SCREW-UPS! THEY DON’T KNOW WHAT THEY ARE DOING!

    #Kirkus review review #Review of Kirkus reviews #complaints about Kirkus reviews #Negative feedback of Kirkus reviews #Kirkus reviews useless #Kirkus reviews bad #Useless kirkus reviews #Kirkus reviews not worth your money #Do not buy Kirkus reviews

  28. Vincent December 1, 2014 at 3:45 pm #

    Hello, fellow writers out there!

    Warning: Do NOT get a review from Kirkus Reviews.

    You probably think they gave me a bad review. On the contrary… 90% of their review was positive. Still, it’s not worth the $425 you pay these unprofessional incompetents. After the bad service I got from them, I feel it’s my duty as a writer/illustrator/editor to warn other writers who are thinking about investing. Here is why they are not worth your time and money:

    1. Spelling mistakes. As a professional editor who worked for a multi-million dollar company for years, I noticed their spelling mistakes immediately. Not very “professional,” right?

    2. Wrong pricing. Apparently they had somebody look up the book on Amazon, which had a 99 cent deal. So they put “ebook price: 99 cents” on their review. Maybe next time, they should care to look a little better and see that it was a countdown deal, which already expired. Luckily, they were willing to change this.

    3. Size: I was expecting a long, interesting review of 2 pages or something, especially when I put down $425!!!!!!! Not so. Their review was only 1 paragraph! They probably didn’t spend more than 20 minutes on it, also seeing that they made spelling mistakes and didn’t have a professional editor take 5 minutes to look over it. But yes, I got 1 lousy paragraph for all that money.

    4. Book description. I expected a review! That’s what I paid for! The first 5 sentences of that teensy wheensy paragraph were a book description. I can write my own book description. It’s like they had nothing to say about it, so they just described what they read to fill up the page. Anybody can write a review if they just describe the book.

    5. Word show-off. The few actual sentences they wrote with an opinion were full of expensive, difficult words nobody uses. It’s like they were showing off their vocabulary to make it sound professional, but it just made it harder to read for the people who might be interested in the book, especially since it was a children’s book I had them review. And for some reason, the reviewer was overly obsessed with the word “prose” which he used repeatedly.

    6. Negative formatting. This is what annoyed me the most, and I asked them to change it, but although they were willing to correct their spelling mistakes, they stubbornly refused to correct this. Like I said, their review of our book was 90% positive, which is what I expected because it’s a popular book and it’s great quality. That’s why I paid them in the first place: So I could use the review to sell more books. But despite the fact that the entire paragraph was positive, and in the middle they put one negative comment, the reviewer felt it was necessary to repeat that at the very end. Now, if you know anything about people or sales, you know they are going to remember the last thing being said. It’s better to say “I hate your shoes, but I like your dress” than to say “I like your dress, but I hate your shoes.” I pointed out that their review was positive but that the last sentence they wrote destroyed everything they previously wrote, because it’s the last thing people will hear echoing in their heads. I didn’t even ask them to change their words, only to switch the order of the last sentence, which didn’t really summarize the review very well. They refused. I tried to call them 10 times that day, and every time I left a message. Nobody picked up, and nobody called back. Finally I emailed them, and in their email they even made spelling mistakes!

    So those are my reasons. Of course, after I invested the $425 from my savings, I found many other people who complained about their lack of service and their pointless reviews. I should have looked those comments up earlier. It would have saved me a lot of money and frustration.

    DO NOT INVEST YOUR PRECIOUS MONEY IN THESE SLOPPY, UNPROFESSIONAL SCREW-UPS! THEY DON’T KNOW WHAT THEY ARE DOING!

    #Kirkus review review #Review of Kirkus reviews #complaints about Kirkus reviews #Negative feedback of Kirkus reviews #Kirkus reviews useless #Kirkus reviews bad #Useless kirkus reviews #Kirkus reviews not worth your money #Do not buy Kirkus reviews

    • Giacomo Giammatteo December 4, 2014 at 3:12 pm #

      Vincent, I empathize with you. And you’re right about the way they do things. The bulk of the reviews are almost always a rehashing of the plot–which I find redundant. I tend to favor reviews that never–or barely–mention plot, and focus on the storytelling, the character development, whether the plot worked (without any spoilers), and the style of writing.

      I have also seen numerous spelling mistakes in their reviews.

    • Ann November 20, 2015 at 10:25 pm #

      I also spent money on Kirkus. All the same. This review looked as if it was written by a schoolboy. I can’t publish it. My free reviews on Amazon are much better.

  29. Pratish November 7, 2014 at 10:26 am #

    Thanks for a very useful article Giacomo

  30. R. Smiraldi November 4, 2014 at 7:35 pm #

    Thank you so much for this post. I’m sorry that I’m just reading it now. I’m sorry to say, I bit the bullet and have just today purchased a Kirkus Review for 425.00.

    Mind you my book hasn’t made that much since I first put it out there. But for some reason this year I decided that some marketing might be in order. I had a good deal of other things going on in my life back in 2012 (I was put into the unenviable spot of becoming POA for an elderly woman/friend from Manhattan who was suffering from Alzheimer’s disease).

    Now that I am free, I felt like my novel, Death And Disappearances wasn’t getting enough play. First I illicit the help of Piece Of Cake PR. They wrote a lovely press release and then who knows where they sent it out to. The President told me that 10 media outlets were asking for a copy of the book (I never heard of any of them) and then asked for a copy for all the requests.

    This didn’t produce any sales so I went on a merry go round of publicity stunts. I joined Story Cartel which is really an interface so that you can get your friends and mailing lists to review your book. 45 People have downloaded the book. No one has written a review.

    I also paid a service to get some honest reviews. They gave me 2 three star reviews. One said it was good, but needed work (I’ve since edited) and the other said that they didn’t understand it.

    Someone named ireddit wrote a 5 star glowing review which was promptly removed by Amazon. I have no idea why. There are 2 other reviews from people I don’t know – one “praying ” I’ll write a sequel. I’m thinking these two are vampire crazed teens.

    So for better or for worse, I ordered the review. I had wanted a cashmere sweater from Ralph Lauren for the same price – but thought it was too expensive, so let’s just think of this as my cashmere sweater. If I get a poor review – then the sweater got washed and shrunk.

    I’m the type however to let fly, no matter what the review. If it’s good, if it’s bad…like most writers the way I feel these days is – at least somebody somewhere is reading my book, my characters, my nine million hours (hyperbole) of slaving over a hot keyboard, and taking it seriously.

    The review is due out January 9th, so unless you see me on Late Night with Jimmy Fallon, I’ll pop back here and let you know how it’s done. I honestly hope it isn’t another BookRooster scenario (I don’t think I’ll ever get my 67. back from that outfit!).

    Thanks again for posting and let’s hope we didn’t just rub salt in the wound.

    • Orna Ross November 5, 2014 at 8:20 am #

      Look forward to hearing how it goes for you… Do let us know.

  31. Kirk Bonner July 23, 2014 at 11:34 pm #

    I signed up and paid for a Kirkus Indie Review for indie writers on April 20, 2014 for my second sci-fi book in my trilogy, Two Worlds Saga. I expected an honest and forthright appraisal of my book. My reviewer at a minimum should have been at least sympathetic since s/he was reviewing an indie work. What I got was a supercilious and snooty person who did a cursory read of the highlights of my book and then proceeded to shoot it down, sneering that my worldbuilding was not up to Harry Harrison’s Deathworld saga, a sci-fi author who wrote the cited work back in the early 1960s. To me sci-fi literature does not constitute a corpus of inviolable knowledge to be revered. I have read some of it, but I have my own style of writing. I saw little acknowledgement about some of my creative ideas although the reviewer did give me a little nod of praise in this regard. But all in all, I expected a more careful reading and less I-know-more-than-you attitude. Kirkus did review my book in 7–9 weeks as they said they would. But I won’t be repeating the experience of having another one of my books reviewed by them. I think my money can be better spent elsewhere, as many of the people making comments in this blog have suggested.

    K. Bonner

  32. simon July 9, 2014 at 6:09 pm #

    Good analysis!
    Paid-for reviews, while usually (but not always) better written than Amazon customer reviews, are in many ways less effective, since they have no impact on Amazon ranking algorithms and will never influence as many potential buyers.

    When most people are deciding whether to buy a book on Amazon, they skim the synopsis and look at how many customer reviews there are. Anything with hundreds of real customer reviews instantly has more credibility than something with some paid-for reviews pasted into the blurb but only one or two actual customer reviews.

    My advice? Before you consider blowing hundreds on a Bookbub ad, just run periodic free and discount promotions and submit the details of these to all the book promo websites you can find. Most of these websites charge a few dollars for a guaranteed listing and most will only advertise your promo in the US, but it’s still worth doing and will likely only cost you $50 or $60 to reach tens of thousands of potential new readers.

    • giacomo Giammatteo July 11, 2014 at 3:23 pm #

      Hi, Simon. editorial reviews are great for blurbs and to help establish some degree of credibility with a few of the companies who promote books. I believe that most readers skip those or assign little value to what is said, and move directly to the reader reviews. Thanks for taking the time to comment.

  33. Brett Dent July 6, 2014 at 12:37 am #

    Thank you for this great article! Very informative, but unfortunately a little too late for me. Just to tag on to what others have said and confirmed by the authors you interviewed for this article:

    I got a great review from Kirkus (not a star, though) back in May. In fact, they enjoyed my book enough that they just published the review in the 7/1 magazine. I was ecstatic and have been checking my e-mail and sales constantly since the review went out. But, as you all know by now, I have gotten zero sales. I, too, did not necessarily get a review with the expectations of sales, but one expects a “power house” like Kirkus to be somewhat influential. They are not, for Indie authors at least.

    As a matter of fact, after the magazine went out and I saw no resulting sales I went through their reviews that had been published in previous editions. None of those authors’ rankings are better than 1,000,000 right now on Amazon. At least I’m better than that right now, just barely:)

    So, no – not worth the money at all. An author cares about sales when he puts his money on the line. That’s money I could have spent on advertising. But, who knew? I’m just a writer trying to make a living…

    • giacomo Giammatteo July 11, 2014 at 3:20 pm #

      Brett: Thanks for sharing the information. It’s only by sharing with other authors that we can help each other. Unfortunately, there are few things that “work” for all authors. Some get lucky and something pops, and others might try the same process with zero results. I have not found any review service worth more than the “credibility” factor, though. As long as authors go into it with that expectation in check, they’re okay.

  34. S.L. Ellis June 24, 2014 at 5:12 pm #

    I disagree with those saying readers don’t care about or know about Kirkus reviews. I’ve purchased books from Amazon and Barnes and Noble online for years, long before e-readers, and I have always read the editorial reviews before ordering. I also did an impromptu survey after reading this article and 80% of the friends and family questioned also read reviews before purchasing.

    • giacomo Giammatteo June 26, 2014 at 2:13 am #

      S.L. I certainly didn’t mean to imply that readers don’t read or count on reviews, simply that “most” readers were not familiar with the brand name of Kirkus, nor did the Kirkus name carry any more weight than other editorial, or reader reviews.

  35. Philippa Rees June 24, 2014 at 4:44 pm #

    I posted up the details of The Midwest Book Review for EBooks procedure on the Alli Newsletter last week.

    Mine was fast, comprehensive, and very impressive by their Principal Ebook Reviwer Diane Donovan.

    I asked her to provide the details so worth checking out. The $50 is simply the administrative fee for referral and given the cost of emailing two copies from the UK well worth it. It will at least arrive!

    • giacomo Giammatteo June 26, 2014 at 2:11 am #

      Philippa: I agree. I like MW Book Review. I’ve used them a few times, and although the wait times are often longer than I like, they deliver a respected, honest review. I think Diane reviewed one of my books also.

  36. Ron Herron June 24, 2014 at 4:42 pm #

    I wish I had read your comments before I spent the money on a Kirkus review (I’m still waiting for the result). I already have a Readers Favorite Gold Medal and five-star reviews for the same book. I don’t expect a Kirkus review to make sales soar…as an indie author I’m hoping for additional credibility. Marketing the book, and increasing sales, are still my responsibility, and that means getting out, speaking at book clubs, doing book-signings, etc. All the “earned media” kind of things that you don’t pay for in anything more than effort.

    • giacomo Giammatteo June 26, 2014 at 2:10 am #

      Ron, it’s all about expectations. As long as you know what you’re getting going in the door, you should be happy.

  37. giacomo Giammatteo June 24, 2014 at 3:26 am #

    Hi, Eric. There are other places to get credible reviews without breaking the bank. Midwest Book Review does it for free (you have to send two print books) or you can pay $50 to have it expedited and use an ebook. San Francisco Book Review is a credible source and will only set you back about $125? I haven’t used them, but I have had reports of happy customers. I believe the Portland, OR Book Review is also a respected source. In addition, sites like Bestsellers World, and others are good options.

  38. Eric Hutchins June 23, 2014 at 5:16 pm #

    Excellent post. While I agree with the vast majority of your post, one of the difficult issues for emerging authors is getting credible reviews and in many circles Kirkus is still a far more credible review than someones mom. Yes it is expensive, but…. you mention spending money on Book Bub, well, most emerging authors, regardless of how “good” their book is, will not be able to get on BookBub unless they have some truly credible reviews,,,, so there is a bit of a conundrum there.
    With respect to the earlier comment from one of your readers regarding Amazon pulling reviews. As you said, YES, a resounding yes! we have Authors that have lost 30-50 reviews on a single book (probably many more but who really knows) because of somewhat arbitrary decisions by Amazon.

  39. Antara Man June 17, 2014 at 11:53 am #

    Great post, Giacomo! I won’t use Kirkus. Can you share, please, your experience with getting Amazon reviews and as well from other sites. Yesterday I read in a book blog a comment from a blogger that Amazon sometimes deletes reviews. Have you encountered such a thing?

    • giacomo Giammatteo June 17, 2014 at 2:17 pm #

      I think I did a post a long time ago on here about reviews, but I’m sure it’s dated. There are some great posts by others on reviews and I’ll try to do one in the near future. As to Amazon, yes, I have experienced their “purging”. I didn’t suffer horribly, but overall I think they removed 12 5-star reviews from one of my books. And these were not paid for. 5 of them came in all at once from a book club whose members had read the book and posted reviews when they finished discussing. I guess Amazon thought it looked suspicious. Others I don’t even know who they were. I think Amazon has cut back on that, although I don’t know for sure.

      • Antara Man June 17, 2014 at 6:51 pm #

        Thank you, I’ll check. The same blogger wrote also that smashwords are fairer than Amazon, though they are smaller and don’t offer print covers. Do you have any experience with smashwords? By the way, I saw your books on your site and on Amazon, they look interesting. I noticed, your publisher is Inferno Publishing Company. Are you using only their print-on demand services?

        • giacomo Giammatteo June 18, 2014 at 4:20 pm #

          Smashwords is an ebook distributor. They distribute books to retailers like B&N, Apple, Kobo, etc. They do not offer any print services. I don’t know which author or post you are referring to about a comment re: fairer than Amazon, but I’d be cautious about blanket statements like that. As to my books, Inferno Publishing is a company I set up to self-publish my books. You should read ALLi’s “choosing a self-publishing service” book. It is full of great information and will help clear up a lot of issues.

      • Svetlana Grobman April 9, 2015 at 5:01 pm #

        I’m late to respond to this post:). Still, here’re my 2 cents. I paid $350 (discounted price!) for a Kirkus review, and I haven’t seen any result, yet:(. Still, it looks good on my Amazon site, and if you want to try to get to libraries, something like that is a must (although you have to write to every one of them separately; chances are they won’t pay much attention either — unless one of their user requests your book for purchase). As for Amazon, they took down 5 of my good reviews. It started with one, and I complained. After that, they took down 2 more, and when I complained again, 2 more still! And they never gave me a name of a person I could talk to. Hate them!
        BTW, my book is called “The Education of a Traitor: A Memoir of Growing Up in Cold War Russia.” 🙂

  40. JoAnne Simson June 17, 2014 at 3:30 am #

    This was a good and fair assessment of the Kirkus Review for indie authors. I paid for a KR for both my “assisted-publishing” books because I felt insecure about my writing. Were the books really good enough for the market? Friends thought so, but what about the vast, anonymous public? Both reviews came back very positive (although not starred), and the reviewer in each case had obviously read the book. I’m happy to have paid for the reviews and would do it again if I self-publish. A good Kirkus review is an affirmation that the author has not wasted her time writing the book, whether or not it sells well.

    • giacomo Giammatteo June 17, 2014 at 2:13 pm #

      JoAnne, that’s good. All that matters is that you know what to expect and you’re pleased with the results. Thanks for letting us know.

  41. MARK HEAD June 16, 2014 at 12:01 am #

    Hello Giacomo- much enjoyed your post. Rare to see a spade described correctly when describing a spade and not a shovel- I have been exploring this mystical review land for a while now and its refreshing to see clarity occasionally shine through this dross of murky waters that seems to be the norm these days. I thank you. Cheers. Mark

  42. Ian Sutherland June 15, 2014 at 1:08 pm #

    Great post, Giacomo. I’m just about to publish my debut novel, and you’ve just saved me wasting $500 of my marketing budget! Thanks!!

    • giacomo Giammatteo June 15, 2014 at 8:09 pm #

      Ian: I’m thrilled that I saved you some money. And best of luck with the debut novel. There is a tremendous of good advice on the ALLi blogs and a lot of wonderful people.

  43. David James June 14, 2014 at 10:30 am #

    Very helpful, Giacomo. Kirkus was well-known to me long before I decided (after a year or so of wavering) to use them. I wanted a respectable review, one that might persuade readers that if the reputable Kirkus thought my book was worthy then they might take a chance on it. Well, I got a halfway decent review and a useful quote to use on the back cover, but it probably did nothing for sales – though who can tell? Anyway, I felt better for using Kirkus, though the price and the long wait was not too pleasant.

    As I say it was well known to me – that was long before the company opened up to Indies and the reviews there of people like Howard Jacobson were good and not charged for. The Kirkus Indie brand came later and with the ebook avalanche has no doubt has proved lucrative to the company.

    • giacomo Giammatteo June 15, 2014 at 8:08 pm #

      David, glad your review turned out good for you. I think a lot of authors want that blurb to use in marketing and for editorial review spots. And as long as that’s what you expect, it’s great.

  44. Giacomo Giammatteo June 14, 2014 at 2:24 am #

    Hi, Warren. I certainly don’t mean to imply that none of Kirkus’ reviewers understand the mystery genre, but it is unavoidable that a few of them might not “get” each book they are assigned. And I agree with you that a strong review feels better coming from a reader.

  45. Warren Shuman June 14, 2014 at 1:53 am #

    Hello Giacomo:

    You are correct. Excellent article. I have investigated Kirkus, and have had reservations about their price/services. An honest review of any book should be performed by a reviewer who has familiarity with the genre. A reviewer who doesn’t understand “Cop-speak”, Police procedures or firearms can’t conduct a fair review of a detective story. I would rather have the readers write reviews of my writings, as I always do for the books I purchase.

    Best of Success…

    Warren.

  46. Giacomo Giammatteo June 14, 2014 at 1:42 am #

    Hi, Philip: Glad you found it useful. And best of luck with your books. It’s an exciting time to be publishing.

  47. Philip Grant June 14, 2014 at 12:48 am #

    Thank you for this helpful piece. I am new to self publishing (Kindle &POD)
    and am looking for productive ways to increase sales and spread the word about my WONDERFUL books! I think I’ll try some of the other sites you and your respondents have mentioned. I’m certainly not going to spend the sort of money that Kirkus expects for what seem to be little more then mentions.
    In case you or your followers are interested I write crime novels and have two in the process of being published – ‘The Other Mister Holmes, (not surprisingly a Victorian mystery) and
    ‘Now And Then Dead’ … this is I think Unique (so said the late Harry Keating) in as much as
    it tells two entirely different stories in one novel – you get two mysteries for the price of one!
    Thanks again,
    Philip Grant

  48. Giacomo Giammatteo June 14, 2014 at 12:44 am #

    M.M., I agree. I think Kirkus’ name lends credibility to certain segments of the business. But at the same time, when it’s known that a review is paid for it taints it.

    Adam: I’m glad that the review worked out well for you. I found that many of the indies who purchased reviews did so for the purpose of using them as “editorial reviews” to be posted on Amazon and other retailers.

  49. Adam Santo June 14, 2014 at 12:39 am #

    I walked into a Kirkus review with my eyes open. Making money because of a review was not an expectation of mime. I had Kirkus review my novel so a teacher could use it in her accelerated reader program. The school required at least one review from a major review site for a book to be considered. Paying Kirkus meant 12 to 15 yr olds would read and hopefully become inspired to write. In the end, it was worth it.

  50. M.M. Justus June 14, 2014 at 12:21 am #

    Speaking as a former librarian (who used to buy books and answer questions for a living), I can tell you that Kirkus has always been primarily for the library and bookstore buyers, not for individual readers. And that most libraries and bookstores are still leery of indie published books which haven’t jumped through a lot of other hoops besides one paid review/advertisement in Kirkus (or PW, for that matter). Librarians know that those indie book reviews are paid for, and that puts up a red flag for most of them before they even read one.

    There’s a *huge* difference between a “legit” Kirkus review and a paid Kirkus review. Don’t let them kid you otherwise.

    • S.L. Ellis June 24, 2014 at 5:33 pm #

      M.M. Justus, what other hoops do indie published books need to go through to avoid the red flag? What can an author do to help get their book “legitimized”?

  51. Dana June 14, 2014 at 12:01 am #

    Thanks for that – and – ta-da, I just bought your book!! Now looking forward to reading the night away.

  52. Giacomo Giammatteo June 13, 2014 at 11:12 pm #

    Thanks, Flora. I’m glad you found the post helpful.

  53. Flora Morris Brown June 13, 2014 at 11:09 pm #

    Giacomo,

    Thank you for this thorough article. I appreciate that you dug a little deeper than just the feedback from the authors who used the services.

    The respected names in publishing need to be watched since too many are counting on past reputations, and hoping authors are keeping up with their doings. I’m happy that your keen eyes are on them, and then sharing with us what you find out.

  54. Giacomo Giammatteo June 13, 2014 at 10:41 pm #

    ML. PW used to charge indies for an ad, with the “possibility” of a review. I haven’t looked into them since they started Booklife, but I do intend to. If you, or anyone else goes through the process please let me know about the experience.

    • Nicole Evelina February 16, 2016 at 7:56 pm #

      They are free for indies now. I submitted by debut novel and was told pretty quickly they chose not to review it. I have no idea what their method of choosing is. But since it doesn’t cost anything, it’s worth a shot.

  55. ML Banner June 13, 2014 at 10:18 pm #

    Thank you for saving me $425. I was planning on submitting my book, Stone Age to Kirkus and other traditional reviewers by the end of this month. I wasn’t after creditability, since it had already blessedly received almost a hundred reviews on Amazon. But, I thought this might open it up to other markets, and potentially other sales. I figured, “Hey my book has made a pretty good amount of money, why not reinvest it?” Yes, I had planned or done all the other activities you had suggested; now I can cross Kirkus off the list too.

    Did you know that Publishers Weekly now has a really easy (and free) review submittal process through their BookLife.com website? I ran into it going down my reviewers list. PW is just as well regarded as Kirkus. Sure, you’re most likely not going to get reviewed, but all you expended was a little time, but no money.

    Thanks again!

  56. clare weiner June 13, 2014 at 8:55 pm #

    I’d never heard of Kirkus, and I’d be naturally wary of paying for a review …

    I so agree with your point that a review is not about giving away the plot – if that is anything, it’s called a synopsis, and is not usually what we want to read prior to reading the book. A review is about how the plot’s dealt with, whether the characters are worth spending time reading about, whether it’s written well, whether it’
    s a satisfying read, (and whether it’s set with appalling cliches!)
    Thanks for researching and posting this, which underlines both my instincts and gives some helpful alternatives to how to boost sales.

    • Giacomo Giammatteo June 13, 2014 at 9:05 pm #

      Clare, the more I looked into this, the more I realized that people not affiliated with the publishing business were not aware of Kirkus. It confirmed what I thought about some of the other services as well.

  57. Pam June 13, 2014 at 8:34 pm #

    Thank you for the very informative article. I never considered paying for a review (when the time comes) but more I would like to rely on the contacts I’ve been fostering to read my book and honestly review it.

    I read excellent, thought provoking, emotionally charged reviews every day and many times those reviews are the extra push I need to purchase the book. I also like to read a review on how the book made the person feel. The plot, I can get from the jacket cover or e-book blurb. Besides, delving into the plot too much ruins it.

    I agree that there are much better ways to spend $500.00.

    • Giacomo Giammatteo June 13, 2014 at 8:36 pm #

      I agree, Pam. I think regular reader reviews do more to sell a book than anything.

  58. Margaret Welwood June 13, 2014 at 8:31 pm #

    This has been so incredibly helpful! I’m very happy with the reader comments about the print version of my picture book for children, but was wondering how to drive traffic to my website when the e-books are up. I think you’ve given me an answer!

  59. Dianne Greenlay June 13, 2014 at 8:17 pm #

    Jim, I really enjoyed this post. For me, sales are the end goal, and I really appreciated that you pointed out that for the money, an author gets WAY more bang for the buck with advertising on Book Bub, Kindle Books and Tips, and ENT, than hiring a review from Kirkus, especially if it should end up being a negative one for such an inflated price. I have read several Kirkus reviews and found that they more often than not, do not line up with my personal opinions of the books being reviewed.

    Thanks for your always insightful guidance.

    • Giacomo Giammatteo June 13, 2014 at 8:23 pm #

      Dianne: When I first started out, I was certain all I needed was a good Kirkus review to get me kickstarted. I sometimes still laugh at how silly that was. It was a good review, but it did nothing. And after reading through more than 100 or their reviews, I’m even more convinced that the people who read them quite often don’t align with my thoughts of a good book.

  60. Karen Inglis June 13, 2014 at 8:13 pm #

    Great post, Giacoomo – if shocking – but for some reason not surprising in my mind.

    The thought t running through my head from the start of this, though, is that I don’t think consumers know what a Kirkus review is (I’d never heard of them until I read about them in the publishing blogs) and on that basis alone it feels a waste of money. I’m speaking from the UK – and had initially thought that may just be me and/or it may be different in the USA – but sounds no different there from what you say. There are definitely better places to spend one’s money in my view!

    • Giacomo Giammatteo June 13, 2014 at 8:21 pm #

      Karen: I completely agree. Although Kirkus and others who sell their services will attempt to convince you differently, I think readers would rather see 2 or 3 real reader reviews as opposed to one expensive Kirkus review.

  61. Michael N. Marcus June 13, 2014 at 8:02 pm #

    Thanks for an excellent assessment.

    I have avoided Kirkus because I resent paid reviews and I think the Kirkus name means absolutely ZERO to the reading public and the price for a review is high.

    Midwest Book Review may not be well-known to readers but its name at least _sounds_ like it’s a substantial operation — and reviews are free.

    • Giacomo Giammatteo June 13, 2014 at 8:20 pm #

      Michael: I have nothing for or against an honest paid review, but I do think that Kirkus is overpriced and overvalued. And I agree that to the readers it means little.

      • John Williams July 16, 2015 at 2:05 am #

        I recently spent the $575 for a Kirkus review. It was absolutely a waste of money and I had wished I read this article sooner. Specifically, two-thirds of the review was a re-cap of the first three chapters of my book. The rest seemed like a review of only the first three chapters. The book contained sixteen chapters. In a word: “ripoff.” I will never do it again. In closing, Kirkus says on their website: “Everything that Kirkus Reviews stands for—integrity, honesty and accessible reviews written with an insider’s eye—started with Virginia Kirkus.” Apparently that’s where it ended. – John

    • Philippa Rees June 13, 2014 at 9:44 pm #

      Having had a recent ( JUne, 2014) Midwest Book review I thought your readers may be interested in the difference. I have transcribed it on my blog here to save a search and scrolling. Find it here http://involution-odyssey.com/midwest-book-review-june-2014/

    • Sophia Linberg December 13, 2015 at 5:07 pm #

      Hi Michael,

      Sorry about your experience with Kirkus. I can tell you as an author I have been using Pacific Book Review for all of my books and have been very pleased with how they operate. Pacific Book Review ROCKS! They understand my books and really go the extra mile. They do have different book review packages depending on the level of marketing you need. They provide a lot of other services to help the author get the word out. All I can tell you is that I have been extremely satisfied with them. Hope this helps!

      Pacific Book Review:
      http://www.pacificbookreview.com

      • Christine Sihag February 16, 2016 at 5:54 pm #

        Thank you for your note, and I am happy to hear about Pacific Book, which I had never heard of. I will keep it in mind for my next book! But to respond regarding Kirkus reviews, I had a very positive review, which I was able to post to Amazon.com, on my author page – in order to lend credibility to my book as a new self-published author. However, I decided not to use Kirkus advertising, which is very pricey and I read repeatedly that Kirkus advertising does not help sell more books. I read accounts of how authors spent thousands of dollars on advertising to little or no avail. They were sorry they spent so much money. But I was very happy with my Kirkus review. I was quite impressed with the thorough grasp that the Kirkus reviewer had of my book’s subject matter – a myth-busting book of 125 poems rhyming poems, aimed at a “Biblical perspective on truth” – not an easy subject to get one’s arms around. But the Kirkus reviewer nailed it! See the following, which I wrote to Kirkus in appreciation:

        As a first-time author, I would very much like to extend my compliments to Kirkus for what I consider to be an extraordinary experience – not only for an easy-to-use and timely book review process, but most importantly for the stellar quality of the review that I received on my book. My book of 125 stanza-structured rhyming poems was a true anomaly and a tedious task for any reviewer – being a collection of seemingly disparate poems, each with its own message to convey, but with a central theme and viewpoint. Each poem is accompanied by relevant Bible verses, which buttress the meaning of each poem – but the purpose of including them was to bring together both ancient and contemporary perspectives on a wide variety of subjects related to the human experience. My reviewer was able to expertly ascertain the entire essence of my book, and easily extract my overall objective in writing it. I actually feel quite honored to have had such an individual review my first book!

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