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“I Wasted $8000 On Kirkus Review Advertising.” An Indie Author’s Story.

“I Wasted $8000 On Kirkus Review Advertising.” An Indie Author’s Story.

This article has been removed by request of Kirkus Reviews, owing to some inaccuracies by the author, and replaced by an amended version HERE (22.3.2013)


Author: Suzanne Jenkins

Suzanne Jenkins is the author of the Pam of Babylon series and The Greeks of Beaubien Street. Her short story Vapor will appear in Willow Review, Spring 2013. A retired operating room nurse after living in New Jersey, USA for thirty years, she’s now a resident of the west Michigan lakeshore where she lives in the woods with her husband, dogs and sheep.


This Post Has 33 Comments
  1. I didn’t lose $8k but I lost $500. A reviewer’s job is to read the book, summarize its points and render his or her opinion. From my standpoint, as long as the summary is fair any review has value, regardless of the opinion of the reviewer. Because if the summary is accurate, someone reading the review can decide to read the book, despite the fact that the review may not have liked it. My Kirkus review for $500 reflected clearly that the review did not read the story, but rather skimmed it and therefore missed the complete point. When I complained to Kirkus they defended it basically saying reviews are subjective, and not guaranteed to be good. I completely understood there was no guarantee it would be good and that it was subjective … but I also understood that they had an obligation to have the reviewer being paid hundreds of dollars, actually READ the novel, which [he] clearly did not. In comparison, I also submitted my novel to IndieReader and received a very fair summary of the story.

  2. Suzanne, thank you for being so honest. I had to choose between taking my first trip abroad (London & Paris) or buying a bunch of advertising from Kirkus after a great review. It’s my first novel, so I was really tempted to put that money in advertising, but I chose to travel instead. After reading this, I am so relieved. I’m sorry you had to go through it, though.

    I’ve sold around 225 books and found KDP Select’s giveaway to be the most beneficial. I scored a total of 14,000 downloads during my giveaways. They changed the policy right after the last one. I find book bloggers are so backlogged it feels like that ship has sailed. I have awesome Amazon reviews, but feel like I have to beg bloggers to read it and that gets old. I’ve landed one blogger in seven months, but I’m not consistent with it either because it’s so frustrating. So I signed up for a blog tour through Beck Valley Books in England 21 bloggers. With shipping, e-copies and $10 per blogger, it cost me around $400. that’s the most I’ve spend other than the Kirkus, which really did nothing but boost my confidence. We’ll see how it goes. I tweet, FB, etc. As for editing, joining a writers meetup through http://www.meetup.com changed my life. Once a week I’m sitting down with four or five other writers. My work has been edited to death by the time I’m done and it’s free. The friendship and support are priceless too.

  3. Thanks for the confessional. I think we’ve all done something on the less than wise side when it comes to book promotion. I have six books out, and I still struggle with a variety of ways to get myself out there. I’ve paid for plenty of banner ads on book sties, author interviews, a 50 stop blog blitz, press releases, romance magazine ads, Facebook promotion, etc. etc. Many of them do not result in any sales. Last month I probably put $600 in advertising at various places to push a new release, and it only resulted in a tiny increase. I even won an award with USA Book News last year as an award-winning finalist in Fiction Romance. A major press release of winners went out into the publishing world. I thought I’d score some notice. I think I sold 20 books that month on my winning title.

    The places I have had success are BookBub and Kindle Nation. I’ve advertised on Kindle Boards – no response there. A few other tough spots to get listings are eReader and Pixel of Ink. Unfortunately, they are always booked.

    Amazon KDP was kind to me last year. I have a series, and I put the first book up free and it pushed 2,200 purchases to the second book in two weeks. I ended on the Movers and Shakers list and had two books in the top 100 in historical romance that month. Short-lived fame. I’ve not had that success again.

    I think it’s a mystery and some fairy of success flies around deciding who gets to sell books or not. She bongs authors on the head with her magic wand and says you’re the lucky one this month. Its probably a fantasy, but it does help soothe my pitiful tries to get noticed and my credit card bills of wasted advertising attempts. I wish she would fly around and stroke my ego a bit!

    Again, thanks for sharing. And please, don’t get me started on what I’ve paid editors! What a loss of money that is, and I’ve learned the hard way as well. I’ve not had one yet that has done a stellar job. Every editing job I’ve paid for has come back riddled with missed items I’ve found later. I’ve been through three editors so far. I cringe thinking of looking for another.

  4. Hi Suzanne,
    I was researching the best places to advertise my book and came across your page. Thanks so much for sharing your experience which has really been the most useful information I’ve found. There’s so much hype about I’m certain you’re spreading a lot of good by this honest example.
    Glad to see The Greeks of Beaubien Street is getting so many 5 star reviews on Amazon. Best wishes for its success.

  5. Kirkus has over 400 anonymous reviewers. I made the mistake of buying three of the Kirkus Indie reviews last year, in hopes they would be of use at the Frankfurt Book Fair, for the agent I paid to rep the books there. Two of them were incompetent on their face. Quite obviously the entire book was not read because the reviewer(s)focused on minor characters and background scenery only seen in the early chapters or missed major turning points in the plot. I asked for an adjustment or re-do, and was refused. I was a book reviewer in the 1980s and 90s for the Los Angeles Daily News and that kind of sloppy work would gotten me fired.

    I am always willing to experiment, but I never spend more than I can get back from sales. I don’t hire PR people because we used to do that for others,and you do not need these guys to arrange a book signing. It usually just takes a phone call and a good pitch. The Hastings Entertainment chain is especially friendly to authors like us. Just call the local Book Manager, and then bring extra stock when you show up for the gig. They want 40% of the cover price of the copies sold.

    As for Facebook, I use it, but no longer buy ads there. A large number of “likes” does not produce additional sales. I’m experimenting with the “Promote” feature. That might move the needle a little, but will it be enough to pay for the service? We’ll see.

  6. This was a very brave and generous post, Suzanne. It should be required reading for all indie writers.

    When I read such things I’m reminded that the people who made the most out of gold rushes weren’t the miners but the clever men who provided them with shovels, gold-pans and mules and the rogues who provided them with booze, false maps and women.

    I think the best advertising is the quality of the book and the second best the word of mouth from people who have enjoyed it.

    Thanks once again.

  7. Thanks so much, Suzanne. You reminded me of when my first book was published. I went with a PR guy in NY who’d done promotion/marketing for some very well-known, best-selling authors. I paid him $5,000 to work for me for six months. Know what I got in return? One radio interview with a local station in the Four Corners area of New Mexico, and one book signing. That was it! When I requested a list of the people he’d queried about me, he hemmed and hawed for almost a month, then sent me a list of approx. 15 people. And when I had the audacity to complain, he said he’d gotten me the book signing, which I should be grateful for as a “newbie” who didn’t know anything about the business. Adding insult to injury, when I asked him what he thought of Twitter for promotion, he told me not to do anything with them, because it’d be a waste of time!! When I wanted to send some review copies out myself, he advised against that, too. So, like a dunce, I did nothing.

    PS The guy’s name is Barry Porter, and he now bills himself as a Social Media Marketing Specialist. He sure was quick to change allegiance when he saw where his bread was going to be buttered!

    It was a very expensive lesson for me, but I spent a fraction of that money promoting my second book myself, and got far, far better results. Live and learn!

  8. Dear Suzanne, thank you for sharing your story. You are not alone in the world of self-published authors who have spend loads of money on their books and review services with little to show for it. I live in South Africa so multiply that by 8 or 9, depending on our terrible exchange rate. I am so glad I read this article. You have stopped me leaping into the Kirkus abyss-of-no-returns. I get their newsletter and recently received a $50 disocount voucher. I went onto the website and saw those tantalising offers. You have made me step back. There is a publisher I have been looking at, one that is a real publisher and does not charge for producing the book.They take a percentage, but it’s a normal one. You can contact them on [email protected]. They began as an educational publisher and have moved into other genres.

  9. Thank you so much Suzanne for speaking out. This is why ALLi has put together our guide: “Choosing A Self-Publishing Service” by our watchdog Ben Galley. This book, which also has contributions from Victoria Strauss, Mick Rooney and Orna Ross will launch at London Book Fair. It contains a chapter called “Beware The Brands” — focussing particularly on big names like Kirkus, Simon & Schuster, Random House etc. We want to hear other writer’s true stories. Write (in full confidentiality) to ben [at] allianceindependentauthors.org.

  10. Thanks for sharing that. It’s pretty much as I suspected.
    The Awesome Indies doesn’t accept a Kirkus review as a recommendation either, any review paid for is suspect.
    In the end what sells books is readers talking about them and we simply can’t make that happen.
    Has anyone spent big and got their money back in this business? Since most SP books sell less than 100 books, I can’t see how it would be worth it for most people.
    I think there are a lot of advertising companies feeding of indies desire to sell books, but the truth is, the market is saturated and readers are wary of indies because they’ve read too much crap. No advertising can change that.

  11. Suzanne, this was a brave and honest post. You are a credit to the industry for posting it. Three days ago I received my first Kirkus Review. I read it and thought, “for $500 all I get is 200 words explaining the plot line, one sentence of knit-picking; and a great one-sentence, boiler-plate sound-bite at the end?” It was clearly a formula: the meat says nothing; there is a CYA caveat; and the last line you can use in your advertisements. The last line is designed to make you come back for more. But MysteriesGalore gave me a more comprehensive review for $80… Kirkus is like Authorhouse, a cynical attempt to cash in on the indie movement.

    Peace, Seeley

    1. It never occurred to me that it’s a formula, but you’re exactly right. My earlier reviews from them were longer and you could tell the book was read. They are jumping on the bandwagon to make lots of money. Seeley, thank you for writing.

  12. Oh my this is horrible. Luckily I didn’t have funds to do that kind of promo. I always tried to find cheap ways to get the word out. I’m sorry you had to go through this, but thanks for sharing your experience with us.

  13. Hi Suzanne. Thank you so much for sharing this! I hate that as writers we are easy prey, and unfortunately not everyone shares their experiences. I believe in sharing them to stop the bastards ripping off others. I once gave $400 to Jessica Hollis-Brown to do editing (I’ve done a blog post about it) and she came up with a million excuses as to why she hadn’t done it until I realised she wasn’t going to do it. Live and learn. I hope your books end up being super successful – you deserve it :).

    1. Oh boy, Dionne, editing is a whole other topic. I have a few things to say about it, as well, but think I better watch it or no one will work with me! One of the constants in my reviews is the horrible editing. “Please get your work reviewed.” I want to explain that I paid for editing for every book. One book had two rounds of comprehensive editing at $1500 a pop. I guess the the final responsibility truly lies with me, but I’m awful at that sort of thing. So my books have mistakes.

      Thank you for writing, Dionne.

      1. Hi Suzanne

        You mentioned that you paid for editing but the editing was of a poor quality. Why have you not gone back and made them review their work?

        I read a lot of indie books and novellas and find that some editors out there give a very poor service. I know that as some authors mention the editors name in their books. These books have wrong words used in context, i.e. their/there, he/her, she/he, advice/advise, etc. or complete words or even part of the sentence are missing.

        Due to my line of work I read a lot and edit my colleagues letters. I do find many mistakes, which the writers did not see themselves and the spellchecker will not pick up as an error as the word is not really mis-spelled as such, just used incorrectly.

        1. Daniela, after the fact, I should have made an issue of it with Createspace. But once again, I understand that as my own publisher, I should have taken the time to carefully go through my book. Thank you so much for commenting.

  14. Thank you for your heart-felt honesty, Suzanne. I paid $400 for a review from the esteemed Kirkus Review, but didn’t like the tone of one of the statements in the review, so never used it. (They insist that the author allow them to publish it in their newsletter in its entirety before the author who has paid for it can use even so much as one work of the review for marketing purposes elsewhere.) I was feeling kind of dejected with their review ( it was and is the first and only less than glowing review that I’d gotten), until last night when I read the Kirkus review for Divergence, which is the first book in the hot new YA series. The review for it was verging on withering, yet the book is uber popular with the buying public, so THAT leads me to believe that the reviewers for Kirkus may be a bit pompous and full of themselves.

    Cheryl, I wrote about what has worked for me as a newbie author here: http://diannegreenlay.com/2012/07/ and most recently, what did/didn’t help with sales, now that I am 2 years wiser, here:http://diannegreenlay.com/2013/03/03/a-12-step-program-for-authors/ . Hope it helps!

  15. After doing this for two years, my experience has been the most positive with book bloggers who are willing to read and review my books, and with tweeting. I’m not an expert marketer by any stretch of the imagination, but I do carefully watch sales when I’m doing a promotion and am learning to pin point what efforts result in sales, and which do not. It’s really hard work! I have great empathy for other authors.


  16. Thank you for sharing and hopefully preventing others from being sucked in. My first eye opener to all the expensive “help” for self publishing authors was meeting a woman who spent $24,000 on her book, ending with 10,000 copies or so in her garage. Its a nice book, but I am so happy that now we know about Lightning Source and POD. No more buying books without them being ordered.

    If anyone else has blazed the path and has stories of the pitfalls for self-publishing, please share with those of us making our way along the trail.

  17. Thank you for stepping up and sharing. Hopefully it will give another author pause and make them do even more research to find out if this is the way to go for them. I’ve made some dumb advertising mistakes myself, until a friend told me, find out what the track record is for these services and other authors/writers, before you pay for any of these services.

    I take that advice to heart, as we all should do. Lots of services make it sound like things are going to go gangbusters after you sign up but until I see and hear concrete evidence proving it, I’m sticking on the side of caution.

      1. Suzanne, I read of your negative experience with Kirkus Reviews. I can’t help but feel skeptical of them now, but not for the reasons that you might think.

        I also went to your website and then read a few pages of one of your works on Amazon.

        If I had been your reviewer, I would have been honest with you. Although it might have hurt your feelings in the beginning, you would have thanked me for it later. Not to mention, you would have kept your money in your pocket until you were primed and ready to spend it on a polished piece of work.

        I would have told you that you have a great passion for writing, which is very evident by the sheer effort that you put into your work. However, you should invest in a reasonably priced fiction writing class.

        I read the prologue of one of your books and immediately noticed that you bounce around between your characters’ heads. You must stay in one character’s head at a time; otherwise, you risk the chance of your reader becoming confused and disinterested.

        Although you do a lot of showing instead of telling, which is fantastic, you still come across too wordy. This is a huge pitfall, as editors and agents can detect that your work hasn’t had a polished, professional edit before going to the marketplace.

        Those two pitfalls alone could cause you to loose even the most dedicated reader, and lose out on any chance of a traditional contract.

        My suggestion: enroll in a fiction-writing course through Gotham Writers. The courses are less than $400 and will provide you with real feedback from an audience of your peers. You can repeat the classes as many times as you like at a discount. What’s more? Many of your teachers would be actual editors or agents from the traditional publishing world.

        Like I said, you have a lot of positives. However, the negatives in your writing might continue to stifle you. You have the intestinal fortitude to write a lot, now have the intestinal fortitude to write well enough to get noticed.

    1. Joni, thank you. It was difficult to tell the story because I am such a people pleaser! I don’t want to make trouble for anyone, even when I’m wronged. Again, it was my fault for needing that ego stroking a salesperson is so good at giving.

      1. Thank you so much, Suzanne. I got a good review for my book and at first rejected their promotional offer. But since the review hasn’t done much for my book sales, I was checking the internet on the value of Kirkus review promotions. Thank you for saving me money I can’t afford to spend. Lawrence Goudge, author of Cover-Up: How the Church Silenced Jesus’s True Heirs.

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