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

The post below is an amended version, by request of Kirkus and by agreement with the author, of a post originally published on Friday, March 8, 2013. The original article contained some factual errors around dates and the order and nature of communications.

“When my first book came out, advertising budget dollars were the last thing on my mind. Having spent $3000 on self-publishing my paperback, I was feeling miserly. And I had three more finished novels to pay for.

“So I wasn’t thinking of advertising more elaborate than tweeting or Facebook posts and pay per click ads on Goodreads — until I read an enticing line on the Kirkus Reviews website, offering a display ad service in their prestigious magazine.

“A Kirkus review offered an unbiased review from a well-respected source. My book would be reviewed, hopefully positively, and then possibly presented in an authoritative newsletter sent to booksellers around the world.

“A heady proposition indeed.

“I needed validation from somebody beyond my adoring family, and Kirkus would either give it, or be the catalyst to send me back to a nursing job. I jumped at the chance.

Costs of Services for Authors

“I got a great review. It was what I needed to keep writing, spending money I didn’t really have as retirement drew near.

“A review costs between $400 and $500. I still don’t regret having my first three books reviewed. I skipped the next two in the series, and finally last fall, had the last book I wrote reviewed.

“Again, it was a good review, but I found myself wondering if the reviewer really read the book.

“I went back to their website and as I was reading, a sad thought came to me as I read all the services for authors: that they were definitely jumping on the indie publishing bandwagon.

“It’s big business, all of us who are compelled to tell a story. It occurred to me that what I had done by being enticed by the concept of advertising in Kirkus's magazine was waste $8000.

How I Got My Review

“Following the directive of the online offering, I requested more information. I set up an appointment the next day for a phone conference. I was so excited. I just knew this would be the ticket for my book to be placed into bookstores around the world, and that a lucky agent would discover what would surely be the next bestseller when they saw my ad.

“Let me preface this by saying no one at Kirkus promised me that any of this success would happen. It was my own egocentric yearning.

“To make matters worse, my mother was taken to the hospital the morning of my call with Kirkus. I talked about my writing future in the hospital parking lot while my mother lay dying.

“Then to make life more exciting, my daughter had to have an emergency C-section the following day. My husband and I packed up our RV after the undertaker came and rushed across the country to be with our new grandchild. A little more than a month later, I decided to purchase advertising.

“When I think of it now, I do so with a smile; the comedic aspect would be good book fodder. But at the time I was just numb.

“Aside from about ten expanded distribution sales which amounted to ten dollars, the ad didn’t do anything for book sales. I didn’t get any agent calls or publisher interest. It was a waste of money.

“But I often take longer to learn lessons than the average person.

Kirkus Ads

“The following year, I reached out to Kirkus about purchasing more ads to promote my first book along with two new ones that had just received positive reviews.

“They discounted my ads to give me exposure in multiple issues of the magazine while staying within the $5,000 budget I dictated. I didn’t think twice, sending the credit card and the contract back as quickly as I could.

“For all that money, I got one response. And it was from a public relations firm, not an agent.

“Kirkus sent me the magazine in which my ad appeared.  I was happy with it at the time, but as I look at it now, it seems hideous. It screams EGO.

Display Ads Don't Sell Books

“I wasted $8000 on ads that were never going to do anything for me because display ads don’t work for books. I have read that over and over again since.

“Hindsight and all that.

“Once again, I take full responsibility for such a stupid decision. My positive reviews are still posted on their website, and I do use the information in book promotion.”

I just wish I had that money now so I could publish a few more books.

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 19 Comments
  1. I don’t regret getting a Kirkus review. While it wasn’t starred, it is nice to have a positive review for promotional purposes. But being on the website did not generate sales. I spoke to a representative about their promotional packages. I think any sales presentation for any product usually highlights historical results as the main selling point. I’ll never feel comfortable when that topic is not only avoided, but I hear disclaimers instead. I decided not to purchase a package.

  2. I paid for a Kurkis Review even though I could have submitted through their regular channels (I am not self published). I did this because they do not accept all “regular” books for review, and it takes so long to find out if they will review you or not. I also did it because through indie you have control over the review being published or not. The review was very good. I did notice that most starred reviews were give to the top publishers’ books, which I found typical insider industry crap. My book was then picked to be listed in their print magazine, which was really amazing. I didn’t pay extra for it. As far as the review itself, it was clear the reviewer read the whole book. He or she also worded my review in a way that helped me revise my elevator pitch. I thought it was worth it. As far as the promotional package, I didn’t pick that–this was a couple years ago–because I was told by my publisher to not waste a lot of money on advertising. I’m glad that I did what I did and it worked out better than expected. Keep in mind my book was available for preorder at most bookstores because I was not self published, so for me it was a way to remind bookstores that they could order my book. I think now self published authors can find services that allow them to be listed in Barnes and Noble databases as available for preorder. If this is the case with you, I would consider a Kurkis Review.

  3. I have found Kirkus to not be credible. I paid for a review and I seriously doubt they read the book. The paraphrased comments that were not in the book. The review was written disjointed and lack a review of the book and reader experience. I sent them a note. The reviewer read a few chapters and assumed the rest. I would not recommend or use them again. I had other authors read it and they stated the same thing without knowing my opinion.

  4. Things are worse yet. Kirkus reviews for novels are a chancy proposition. You begin with the fact that in their Agreement that you must sign they state unequivocally that they only correct “factual errors” in the anonymous reviews. Think about that for a moment. Does a novel have anything in it that if paraphrased incorrectly amounts to a factual error? Of course not. It is a work of imagination. But the reviews can have all sorts of egregious errors and the review of my latest book did. The word error means a variety of things–a deviation from a standard of conduct such as provided in the excellent Purdue University Online Writer’s Laboratory guide to writing a book review. It could also be a an act that through deficiency or accident or ignorance departs from or fails to achieve what should be done–i.e. an error in judgment. I pointed to numerous errors in the short review but since they were not errors of fact the sages of Kirkus would not budge. This is in the province of the subjective nature of a review was their stock reply. Occasionally they would supplement that by saying that they could not address the matter because of space limitations in a review of no more than 250 words.. Kirkus has gone belly up once already and now that it is no longer in the business of assuring a quality product its days are surely numbered. Mourn the passing of the old Kirkus. Shrug when this latest incarnation.passes from the scene. You have better things to do with your money than give it to them for anything if you write fiction..

    1. 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 REVIEWS FROM KIRKUS INDIE, AS THE PUBLISHERS AND AGENTS GREATLY PREFER TO SUBMIT THEIR OWN BOOKS TO KIRKUS. As Robert Fisher essentially says, 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 Allan Furst were a self-published author reviewed by Kirkus Indie, Kirkus Indie almost certainly would deliver him negative reviews, as Furst’s sophistication 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. USE CLARION FOREWORD REVIEWS INSTEAD–IT’S WHAT AGENTS AND PUBLISHERS SURELY PREFER OF SELF-PUBLISHED AUTHORS WHO SUBMIT WORK TO THEM.

    2. I agree that Kirkus’s review of my novel “An Otherwise Perfect Plan” was one of the sloppier reviews I’ve received, though it was generally quite positive. However, they did correct a number of errors when I pointed them out to them. For example, the original review misspelled my name (duh!), had the Kindle Page Count rather than the print page count (god knows where they go that one!), and said one of the main characters was a Hollywood screenwriter (apparently having gotten that from the fact that he says he sold one of his novels to be made into a movie). He, however, was a novelist, not a screenwriter, and lived in Boston not Hollywood. These are both key plot points as his daughter lives in the Boston area, is looking for him and finds an old Boston phone number, and eventually tracks down his books and ultimately him, still living in Boston. Well, kind of… you’ll have to read the book to know what I mean.

      Anyway, this was the most egregious error among several others, more subject ones. After I contacted them, they immediately corrected the page count and my name and put the plot point misrepresentation under review. After a while they did change the review in the most minimal way possible, BUT… and this where it gets slightly weird, the revised review had a GET IT Recommendation, and either I missed it originally, or they had a second reader go back and actually really read the bloody thing and decided to up their review rating. In either case, while they aren’t completely unresponsive, they were certainly sloppy, and I don’t think I’ll have them review my next one.

  5. I find myself wondering what chance a good novel has in today’s market. Unless the book is just a rare, extraordinarily unique, and phenomenally intriguing and gripping book, is it really going to create enough income to live on? Some books that have the backing of celebrities like Oprah Winfrey or some other well-known name would have a much better chance. Of course, she would never promote a Christian fiction novel. There are a world of books out there, I read some of them and enjoy them very much, but these are books that are recommended by Amazon, Kindle, Goodreads, etc. which is how I first learned about them. Some of these books, though enjoyable enough, truly are not any better than The Lingering Cloud which remains an unknown book lost in the titles of millions of other books.

    Of course, if you are a news anchor, a well-known successful singer, a prominent politician, a well known preacher/bible scholar such as Billy Graham or David Jeremiah, a nobel prize winner, a talk show host, an artist of renown such as the late “Painter of Light,” or a celebrity for other reasons, then people are interested in what you might have to say and will purchase your book.

    A couple of comments on my husband’s book: “His book said things that my soul needed to hear.” “The ending … I just never saw it coming … It completely blew me away!

    I’m sure I will continue to search for ways to market the book. But I’ll refrain from spending any more huge sums of money that I can ill afford as many others have in previous comments shown here.

  6. I am okay with Kirkus so far. Their review was honest and somewhat positive. Secretly, I think the reviewer liked it. NOW…stay away from Xlibris! Even though they are now owned by Penguin, there is no parental guidance and they are simply hucksters and thieves They got me for$650 in a weak moment and provided nothing, zero, nada. As well, the internet is lighting up with Xlibris scam alerts.

  7. Sadly, I’m betting, through experience, that you could have spent that money so much better on things that would actually move the needle. Being an author today means removing the ego from the equation. It was put there by traditional publishers, because that’s how it used to work.

    But it doesn’t anymore. Authors need to lose the ego and romantic view of publishing and realize it’s now about marketing it yourself and treating your book like a business.

  8. Hi Suzanne,

    Thanks for the information. Did you only use display ads with Kirkus? I noticed they offer different promotion types. Thanks.

  9. Thanks for sharing your experience and insights, Suzanne. Having just published my first novel, I’ve been looking everywhere for credible marketing alternatives to draw readers to my work. Kirkus was a possible avenue that I had given some consideration to. Based on your results—I think I’ll pass. It’s becoming very clear that finding one simple and affordable method that answers all my promotional needs just doesn’t exist. Worse, there seems to be an abundance of websites and agencies recognizing that desperate writers are easily exploited resulting in fast profits for people that really can’t deliver on their promises. Good luck publicizing your books and if you find any legitimate solutions—please let us know.

    Take care,


  10. Hi Suzanne,

    I’m sorry you had such a bad experience. In reality though, you do NOT need a ‘self-publishing company.’ You can easily do all of this for minimal cost (I have a self-publishing basics post on my blog which gives you the numbers).

    If you’re looking to publish an ebook, go with Amazon and smashwords – no charge for that.
    For paperbacks, go with CreateSpace.com. No charge for uploading. When your book sells, they keep a cut, and give you the money.

    The only money you should be spending is on:
    1. A good editor
    2. Book cover (you can get premade covers for as little as $20)
    3. Ebook formatter (if you get the guide from smashwords, and the online tutorial from Amazon, even that is free)


  11. I suspect that paying for reviews is a bit of a mug’s game. Much better to spend the money hiring a PR with good credentials to get you interviews on radio or other media. Having said that I have to confess that I too have paid for a Kirkus review, which was no more than OK, being largely plot summary. However, I did find a couple of lines that could be useful. At least the reviewer had read the thing, which is more than you can say of one or two other zine ‘reviewers’ who get no further than the blurb, never back up their sweeping statements and can be gratuitously nasty.

  12. I self-published my autobiography ‘NOMAD’ utilizing a prominent self-publishing company. I have no complaints except that I rushed the completion for a November deadline. I am now having Nomad professionally edited and reprinted. My trifector reviews were worthwhile in pointing out the folly of rushing to a deadline.

    I have learn’t that the marketing of a book is a process to be approached with caution as there are a large number of very smart sales persons out there just longing to pamper to the egos of indie authors and extract their money.

    Value for money should be the catch phrase.

    1. HI Winston, Yes it seems that one of the merits of having a trade publisher is that they save us from ourselves. It’s just so easy to press that “publish” button, especially when in hot creative heat. At least we can go back and get it right — good luck with NOMAD

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