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Watchdog: Is A Kirkus Review Worth The Price?

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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And don’t forget to write and tell us what concerns you have. What would you like to see covered in the Watchdog post?

Author: Giacomo Giammatteo

Giacomo Giammatteo is the author of gritty crime dramas about murder, mystery, and family. He also writes non-fiction books including the "No Mistakes" Careers series.
He lives in Texas where he and his wife have an animal sanctuary with 45 loving “friends.” His website is at www.giacomogiammatteo.com.


This Post Has 210 Comments
  1. I personally feel that Kirkus Reviews are overpriced. The new authors may consider Book Nerdection. Their price is reasonable and they have good reviewers.

  2. I wish I had read these comments before spending $674 on a Kirkus review. I naively assumed that for that amount of money I would receive a discerning analysis that at worst would yield a quotation or two that could be used to market the book. That’s not what happened. Like others here, I received a vacuous summary that read more like a book report written by a lazy high school student–who sprinkled in a few quotations to demonstrate they had “read” the book–than a professional review. While the “review” was not negative, there was no critical engagement and not one sentence worth quoting or one positive comment about a book that has been praised elsewhere. The only hint at criticism was a peevish complaint that the book is too long and there are too many deaths–six over a period of fifty years.

    In my experience it is evident that Kirkus does not offer a service commensurate with the cost of a review and that it takes advantage of the good faith of people who have put a lot of time and effort into their work. The comments here indicate the reviewers are unqualified, even apathetic, readers looking to pick up a little extra income who are not governed by uniform standards or professional oversight.

    You may have written a very good book, but don’t believe the reviewers at Kirkus will make the effort to read your work carefully or write a few words to acknowledge that.

  3. I blame myself most of all. I should have figured it out, but I was too eager to believe Kirkus because they told me what I wanted to hear. They told me, and I quote: “Kirkus Indie reviewers are experienced professionals who honestly and impartially evaluate the books they receive.”
    What I should have done is a bit of research. Kirkus reviews Indie books as well as traditionally published books. Traditional publishers do not pay for the review. However, and I quote, “Kirkus Reviews receives between 100 and 200 submissions per day, and we’re not able to review every title we receive.” You’re not? And how come? Because there are not enough experienced professionals to cover the demand? So what happens with the Indie authors, who reviews them?
    If you seek to be a reviewer this is what Kirkus will tell you: “Reviews are about 350 words due two weeks after the book is assigned. / To apply, please submit your resume, writing samples and a list of reviewing specialties to Kirkus Indie Editor David Rapp.” And who do they accept? Who would you accept if you were Kirkus and needed an unlimited supply of reviewers? Pretty much anyone with some understanding of English, yes? And would you limit the number of reviews they are allowed to take on? Probably not.
    Clearly, I should have done this research before I submitted. Doing it afterwards does, however, give me some clarity into how the review I received reads just like the kind of review a college kid would give the book having read it on their way to class. The review I received was in no way relevant to my novel and cannot be published as it would completely misrepresent it. In other words, a waste of money. (Except, of course, for the moment when I read the review to my daughter and she got all up in arms, finally admitting that she likes my book–THAT was priceless!)

  4. I spent the money for the review and got exactly what I expected: WAHHHHHHHHH! This dipshit who supposedly read my book “REALITY” is the epitome of stupid sheep who believe in the nonsense predicated by “science” and the Democrat religion. His prejudice regarding the comparison between Hitler and FDR is readily apparent – the dick commented on it. I am satisfied because the closing remarks of this jerk gave me everything I wanted:

    “While readers may or may not agree with many of Turner’s arguments, the book provides much to contemplate. A passionate, thought-provoking but uneven argument for questioning historical and scientific beliefs.”.

    This Leftist outfit does require some serious asswhupping regarding the veracity of their reviewers and I believe I’m in the driver’s seat to open the can.

  5. The review I got from Kirkus says nothing of worth about the work, is of no critical values whatsoever, inspires neither like nor dislike, but only a sense that the work is utterly insipid and dull, which it is far from being, and the review does so because the review itself is insipid and dull, and is so because it didn’t know the work. The review makes it undeniable that not more than 10% of the work was even viewed, much less read. Furthermore, the Kirkus review noted no pertinent details, has no summary and no analysis. You get a sense that: “Kirkus got your money, Kirkus short changed you as it does everyone, Kirkus doesn’t give a damn, Kirkus is covered by a full proof customer agreement , So goodbye to you.”.

  6. I’m an Australian author published by Adelaide Books New York, so wanted to promote my novel somehow internationally and in the US, hence engaging Kirkus Reviews. I was also given a poor review and cheated on a paid advertisement that didn’t really appear (even after a second upload??). I have written a blog post with the same title to land hopefully on google close to yours. You can read it here:-

  7. Great post. Articles that have meaningful and insightful comments are more enjoyable, at least to me. It’s interesting to read what other people thought and how it relates to them or their clients, as their perspective could possibly help you in the future.

  8. Perhaps, just perhaps the reason so many authors are dissatisfied with their Kirkus reviews is because their books were only “good and not excellent. It must be difficult for reviewers to wade through yet another murder mystery or romance novel. If we consider the reviewers point of view then it’s easy to understand how a reviewer can fall into the habit of comparing every book they read to the occasional “great” book they come across and as we know the quality of things by comparing them to other things of similar kind we tend to make judgements.
    The fact is most self-published books have little depth despite the very high hopes that attend their publication. Michael Mckinney

  9. After the 2017 fiasco, KIRKUS lost ALL credibility.

    I noted something that Editor Smith urged in response to criticism of the Star removal for Moriarty’s American Heart. According to uber-woke Claiborne, ANY person of a certain skin pigmentation (whatever amount of melanin that may be), or cultural upbringing, or gender, or religious faith, or political leaning, or hair color (or ANY OTHER DEFINING FEATURE) is NOT permitted to elucidate the reader about ‘another’ or ‘anything’ save that with which they have had personal experience (and then, only through the lens of ‘progressive woke’); I suppose Claiborne, in all of ‘his’ wisdom, doesn’t want Science Fiction writers to conjure alien worlds or Fantasy authors to scribble about the intricate details of bridge trolls… A cis black man couldn’t possibly articulate the world from the perspective of a transgender male from East Asia, and a young anti-war writer of a mere 20 years could NEVER tell a tale of a geriatric Veteran of a foreign conflict. SMH.. Kirkus has become a joke.

  10. I paid the $500 for the supposed “premium” service as well. I was horrified after waiting three months for the review to be given 3 paragraphs, written in a completely pompous manner who clearly never read the book. The very first line of the synopsis, in fact, discussed a scene that wasn’t even in my book. Despite this obvious fact, they went on to literally tear my novel to shreds. It was very clear they were angry because I had tried to keep the violence and sexual scenes to a minimum in order to keep readers of a sensitive nature from being offended. In fact, the ONLY part of my book he/she quoted was the erotic scene which he said was basically as sexy as watching a pimple popped.

    I never expected a great review for a first book–even though I have received numerous positive reviews from beta readers and purchased readers alike. But I did expect there to be some professionalism, even in a negative review, out of a company like Kirkus. It broke my heart to see someone given my hard work to a person who clearly hated it and merely skimmed the entire story. If they despised it so much, why didn’t they give it to someone else who could give me a fair and impartial review?

    I have written and written and written them telling them to take my book off of their site. No response. I have called. No response. NEVER EVER EVER EVER spend the money–there are so many more important things to marketing your novel.

    1. I had the same thing today. It was painfully obvious they read only the very beginning before skimming the next 350 pages. Basic story facts were wrong. The only quoted details were from the opening pages. I would almost have welcomed a cruel, vicious review if I at least felt that they, ah, read the actual book? Very sorry to hear you hit the same rocks. Scammy and childish from such a big name organization.

    2. I could not agree with you more concerning your assessment of your Kirkus review. I wrote an epistolary novel and it was obvious from the get-go that the reviewer never read my manuscript. The reviewer focused on one letter and one letter only in the book. There were a lot of historical references and references to historical figures and how the U.S. Army treated African-American Soldiers. By the way, the manuscript was a finalist in the non-fiction category in the 2020 “Reader Favorites.” I wanted to see what type of review Kirkus would give. I will never use them again – the review was very hateful. I had a similar review elsewhere, but it wasn’t hateful like the Kirkus review . I did have one reviewer state that memoirs are difficult to review because the reviewer is passing judgment on someone’s life.

      I too wrote to Kirkus, that their review was such an outlier from all other reviews I’ve had that I would never use their review or use them again. Never got a response- of course I didn’t “hold my breath” because I knew they would never respond – but it felt good to let them know how I felt.

    3. Yes!! I just wrote a blog because not only was I scammed by a Kirkus review, but the reviewer then posted the private review to her personal Goodreads account. You could not make up the unprofessionalism from beginning to end. My book was given to a romance reader of high fantasy to read despite my book clearly being science fiction, and the reviewer skimmed it, missed all the key points, but for some reason was convinced I was fatphobic because the alien culture was concerned with good health, but that was a minor part of the culture and no one but the Kirkus reviewer/Goodreads reviewer even mentioned it in over a thousand reviews. Normal reviewers were much more concerned with the alien sex and other horrifying aspects of my science fiction book, and rightly so.

      Anyway, I emailed Kirkus the saying, “This person did not read my book properly.” I was told, “Not all reviews were positive…” I really hate that phrase because I don’t mind bad reviews, I do mind incompetence, and there’s a difference. But chalking this up to a stupid mistake, I marked the review private, ashamed I had spent $300 with Kirkus and thought that was the end of it.

      Oh no, what do I find today, she has published her Kirkus review verbatim with add ons like, “DNF” and “the worst f*cking book ever” on Goodreads with all the highlights of the same quotes from my book, obsessed with the food and health of the aliens, making her review very unique and memorable since it had been emailed to me before with a $300 price tag.

      And then, when I checked her Goodreads profile she has never read a science fiction book but mine. She reads High Fantasy and Romance. And posting a review she knew was supposed to be private. This makes Booksprout readers look very professional. What I can’t believe is that people use Kirkus anymore. But then again, I was stupid enough to fall for it. I emailed Kirkus to be like your reviewer has posted a private review to her Goodreads profile but they don’t care. How unprofessional can you get? The bar keeps getting lower and lower in the 21st century.

      I thought it might help me get a Bookbub. I was a fool.

      So yeah, I 100% agree! NEVER USE KIRKUS. IT’S A SCAM!

  11. Hi, very late to this thread, but I read the original article and every single post in the comments section here several weeks ago, before submitting my book to Kirkus and a few others, and here’s what happened…

    Kirkus gave my book a largely positive review. It didn’t garner the coveted ”Kirkus Star” and the reviewer criticized the book for “dragging” in a couple of places (as mentioned in the otherwise complimentary tagline for the piece), but overall I think he/she–their name wasn’t specified–liked it, and this was reflected in a well considered review. All I really ask is that a reviewer give the book a fair shake, and they did and seemed to understand the gist of it as well as some of its eccentric particulars, even if the value of some of the exposition might have eluded them, or those parts somehow seemed inert. Was the Kirkus piece on the level of Joyce Carol Oates’s review of Larkin’s A Girl In Winter? No. But overall, despite the higher price, and despite the fact that the review doesn’t seem to be visible or easily found via their main page, I don’t regret the experience and would not say there’s anything suspect about the service Kirkus provided.

    I then submitted my book to City Book Review, though, and ended up regretting the experience. I thought someone from San Francisco or at least California would be reviewing it but they outsourced the job to a failed author in Canada (ten self-published books and by his own admission very few sales) who appears to be in his late fifties. He completely trashed it and gave it one star. The irritating thing is that he confused the main character’s personality with that of the author and basically projected a bunch of tiresome boomer “get a job” nonsense on to the protagonist/me. Out of morbid curiosity, I read some of this guy’s prose thumbing through his books on Amazon and, surprise surprise, it was dull as dishwater. As a more objective point of contention, I think there was a conflict of interest at hand, given that I’m a younger author hoping to gain exposure for my first book, and he’s another, older author (with a whopping 73 Twitter followers) desperately in need of some sort of advantage over “the competition”—this is evident in his reviews and interviews.

    Anyway, I also submitted the book to Online Book Club and the reviewer gave it four out of four stars. He got it. He tapped into the experience of what it was like to read it, which is just as, if not more, important than the plot. What I liked about his review, and one of the reasons I’d recommend that site, is that before it was published the site submitted a dry synopsis the reviewer had made of the plot so that I, and the people running the site, could confirm that the reviewer did in fact read the whole book and didn’t just skim it. This is a such a great idea and if one were looking to launch a review site, they would do well to follow this model. It also looks like Online Book Club has fostered a genuine community of book lovers, which is great.

    I also submitted the book to Midwest Book Review and it was very enthusiastically received. I can tell that Diane, who read the book, has a genuine passion for reading, and it showed in her detailed comments. They provide a great service and are real asset to self-published authors. Zero complaints there.

    Pacific Book Review reviewed the book as well and I think the reviewer got the general thrust of the novel and appreciated it, even some of the more high stakes/life-threatening moments weren’t touched upon.

    Am not sure how many sales these or any other subsequent reviews will yield—my guess is not loads. But if you’re confident in your book, it’s not a bad idea to get it in front a few strangers…hopefully ones that a have a joy for literature and not an axe to grind. ;o)

    1. I’d co-sign this. I received my first Kirkus review recently and found it disappointing. It wasn’t a negative or harsh review. It was lukewarm. The reviewer, however, omitted any mention of one character that drove a lot of the story, yet mention some peripheral elements of the book that weren’t significant. I was left feeling that they only read half of the book or read it half-heartedly, as some major themes and chapters were just plain glossed over.

      That said, I know that 200-300 words can only say so much about a book that is tens of thousands of words. A review of that length will be limited in insight and value. What you ought to be looking for are money quotes and good ratings to put on the jacket of your book. With that in mind, diversify the publications you send the book to. This same text got an eloquent, positive review from the Independent Book Review, a Recommended Rating from US Review of Books, and 4/5 stars from the City Review of Books.

      All I’m looking for is something to help me make the pitch. The rest is up to the reader.

  12. Kirkus Reviews? I wish I would have consulted with this site before dropping $800 on reviews. My experience has so far been disappointing — not in terms of whether or not the review was positive or negative or neutral; rather, the process (they said they had received my manuscript and it would take several weeks – I needed the review by a certain date and they said they would deliver….just a couple of days before that due date, they said they never got the manuscript….then when I said “cancel” they said they could deliver…etc., etc….) and the errors in it (including the reviewer referencing a character name that wasn’t a character at all – probably due to the rushed review (that shouldn’t have been)) I realize I’m not alone. And I wouldn’t do Kirkus again.

  13. Wow! Am I ever glad I found this article. I’m going to launch a book on Amazon in April and am considering how I can get reviews. I’ve heard of Kirkus, of course, and just saw a Facebook ad in my feed. The cost made my eyes bug out, but the info in the article really sealed the deal, or the never-deal. Thank you so much for the article and for the many honest comments!

  14. Wanting to recommend The Wasp Factor to a friend along with a review, I read the Kirkus review for it today and was horrified to see it gave away the ending with no spoiler alert offered. Aside from that all it did was summarize the whole storyline. Apparently Kirkus has no idea of how to review a book. Complete amateurish, unprofessional site. Avoid!

  15. A great article and very informative discussion/commentary. I’ve just paid for a review of my self-published novel (Beethoven’s Tenth and the journey which saved the world) which mixes humor and satire with parody (including of authors, their characters and publishers). While the review gives me a few useful words/phrases, my overwhelming impression is that the reviewer didn’t actually finish reading the book. As much as the review commentary is linked to the book (some 230 pages) it stops about the half-way mark.

  16. “An often fun read with two likeable leads.”

    For that I paid $425? How . . . underwhelming, but that was the summation at the end of my Kirkus review. It implies that, overall, the book was only occasionally fun to read and the leads were “meh” at best, bland and unremarkable at worst. It was a review more fit for an old Dick and Jane grammar school reader from the 50s and 60s.

    I don’t know what I was expecting, but perhaps something not quite so beige. I wouldn’t a buy a book with that review if you gave it to me.

  17. Worst purchase I have ever made. I did a YouTube video about it. It had spelling and grammar mistakes, didn’t make a good point about the main message and selling points of the book, was sloppily done, never helped my book get any attention…. in summary: A complete overpriced rip-off. A scam in disguise, with promises of getting the book “in front of movie producers, librarians, huge publishing house” which translates to, “We’ll post it on our website” where actually, hardly anybody seems to go to find a good book to promote or distribute. My advice: Stay away from Kirkus reviews.

    1. In July this year I received my first and only paid review as a self published writer
      from Kirkus of comedic mystery novel “Voted Least Likely” the summary was mixed
      “Appealing but messy character driven who dunnit.” Reviewer acknowledged the
      humor in the story but felt too much of the book was centered on the main character.
      Somewhat confused the story is mainly centered on the main character which is the
      point of the novel. To be fair I chose this book for my one and only paid review to
      learn what a reader thought about the story structure. Overall the plot and point of the story was missed. Not a review I can use for validity as a self published writer Roger Loff pen name Aaron T Knight,

  18. Thank you for this honest review of Kirkus. After reviewing the website, I assumed most of what you said in this article. I wasn’t impressed by the reviews on the website however, I thought it would be a reputable review for marketing my children’s book Maria Patia: Away We Go. #mariapatia

  19. Giacomo,
    I’ve devoted quite a lot of time to my current novel, Max in America: Into the Land of Trump, and so I’m eager to spread the word. I thought that going with a Kirkus Review was a great idea. However, just like you describe and other comments here demonstrate, there’s a cookie-cutter approach at play over at Kirkus. Yes, just as you describe, the first paragraph of my review simply recounts the narrative. And you have to dig around for anything substantial. In my case, I really believe that the reviewer was just phoning it in and even had a bias against the political satire in the book. My book is taking a risk by bringing in political satire but it’s far more artful than the reviewer lets on. I just get the feeling that a college intern rushed over and wrote it the night before after a very quick scan of the contents. So, a Kirkus review is NOT worth paying for! In fact, it is going to gain a very bad reputation, if it doesn’t already have it. I wish I’d read your post before enduring this painful and most frustrating process with Kirkus. I know quite a lot about the art of writing. And, from my experience, I don’t see any dedication to the art of writing coming out of Kirkus. So, fellow writers, stay away from Kirkus!

  20. The review I received from Kirkus was not a bad experience like others’, more like a so-so. But be aware, when a reader of your book (if he/she truly reads it and not only skims over it) says something neutral, with a little good and a little not so good, he may actually not be interested and will mostly make remarks on the elements he could get, somewhat letting on the story didn’t quite work for him. That means that, if your story doesn’t fit into a clear genre, or if you’re being metaphorical/philosophical with your episodes and/or language while building an action/fantasy/SF story, chances are the reviewer won’t match your intentions and he will focus on the most obvious side (leaving out the inner turmoil of the characters etc). Oh, and, just like the other authors, I didn’t appreciate the one page review summarizing the story, with only a few bits of peripheral feedback and one opinion-sentence in the end. Did the reviewer skim? I don’t know, he could have skipped paragraphs/pages for not being interested, but I can’t really tell. Was the reviewer relevant? For me, not really, as he/she missed the deeper points of the novel and the inner feelings of the characters, and insisted on the skeleton of the action. Would I buy a Kirkus review again? Probably not—like other authors said, it is expensive and their reviewers are anonymous and could be just anyone; and, regarding the paid indie reviews, the feeling I get is of an industry rather than of artistic, focused approach.

  21. I’m a regular reviewer for Kirkus. I’ve done hundreds, and I mostly like what I read. I’d say over 80 percent. Years ago my editor asked if I’d review for the paid reviews. Since the fee was a little more, I jumped at it. I reviewed a couple and wasn’t all that taken with them. I was never asked to do another. So my impression is that if you pay for a Kirkus review, you’ll get a more favorable one.

  22. Hello Giacomo

    This article of yours is most useful for me as i am currently having my crime thriller book published by “XXXX” and their Marketing folks are pushing me to buy add-on marketing services of which reviews by Kirkus and others is one. It is really pricey and seems like a “zero sum game” as anything less than glowing = zero.

    I will pursue other approaches and your article confirms my own intuiotn

  23. I wish I saw this post before i purchased a Kirkus review. I submitted a second edition of my book, and they posted all the information from the first edition which was not the one I wanted to be discovered. It will take 48 hours to correct. Of course the first 48 hours of a new review is the most important. The reviewer completely slammed me and didn’t say anything about the writing other than it was direct and dialogue-heavy (that is what my readers love about my books.) The reviewer was also extraordinarily judgmental. They also put it in the wrong genre. It is true they summarize the plot. I would say the reviewer quickly skimmed my book because he got it all wrong.

  24. Thanks for that.
    I visited your site after reading a post by an author on a writing forum, when I looked at her book I saw that there was a review by three sites, Kirkus Reviews, Chanticleer Reviews, and Matt McAvoy’s Book Reviews.
    I had no idea that she had to pay for the Kirkus review, and maybe for the others, I haven’t checked yet.
    $500 seems to be a big investment for a book that might not sell.

  25. I enjoyed reading this information on Kirkus Reviews. Waiting now to get my review on my book published 2019. I think this review will be a big help to me and looking forward to it.
    Rosalie Ross

  26. Thank you Giacomo for your review of Kirkus. I agree with your assessment. I sent my non-fiction book, The Coming Glory: Hope Now for Life After Death, to Kirkus for review. The review was bland, uninspiring, and contradicted one of my main points. The reviewer seemed ignorant of historic Christianity. I wish I had read your review of Kirkus a month ago.
    Paul W. Swets

  27. I just received a Star review from Kirkus for “Iran Before . . . ,” a 35mm black&white coffee table book of images of traditional Iran before the Islamic Revolution and the modern world. The reviewer described it as “luminous photographs . . . .of documentary realism and visual poetry.” To read the full review, look on http://www.KirkusReviews.com or ask me for the pdf. Beside a few glowing adjectives (“near-palpable” and “vibrant”) the review mostly describes the content in sensual detail. Kirkus could not bless me higher than that. What I thought or hoped I would get are the eyeballs of librarians and others as they make their buying decisions. If not Kirkus, who influences librarians?

  28. Great info, Giacomo. I received notice of a $85 savings on a Kirkus review. Before investing in a review for my children’s book, Oh, The Things I Can Be When I See Me (#ThingsICanBe), I wanted to find out if the benefits outweighed the expense. Based on your article, I’m putting my dollars somewhere else. Thanks.

    1. I just got a Star review for “Iran Before . . . ” It is a hardback coffee table book of 35mm b&w photographs of Iran before the modern world and the Islamic Revolution of 1979. It is a crossover of Art Photography and Cultural Anthropology of the Middle East. The reviewer mostly described some key content in sensual detail, not a bad thing. Began and ended with single sentences of high praise.

      I believed (a mistake?) that libraries look to Kirkus among others to make buying decisions. Surveyed authors said Kirkus may lead to recognition and credibility in the industry but definitely not sales. I hope what is true of marginal fiction is not true of superior quality photography of Persian Islamic culture.

  29. I wish I would have read this Kirkus review before wasting $425 on a real KR of my historical novel, The Chinese Laundry. a Novel of the San Juan Mountains. My “reviewer” clearly did not read the entire book. She provided a synopses of the scenes she didn’t like from the first couple of chapters, made a mistake in one of her comments, and closed with some cursory remarks I can’t use in my book marketing. Don’t make the same mistake I did by believing Kirkus can boost your writing career. And don’t let a bad review get you down. Just keep writing.

    1. Thank you for that. I will not let a Kirkus reviewer get me down. I am fairly intuitive and I would say that my reviewer also did not read the entire book, or if he did he skimmed it very quickly. Interesting to hear someone else has that experience.

  30. Thank you. This post was very informative. I’ve been researching Kirkus reviews since my title was denied from a library for not having any professional reviews. I’m still not sure that a Kirkus review is worth the money, but this post has given me some great insight. Thanks again!

  31. thanks for the info.

    Earth’s Emergence: Transcendence.
    Matthew J. Baldwin

    I am looking for published reviews.

  32. I just had (August 2019) a terrible experience with the “Kirkus Circus.” Their reviewer could not have read the whole book, had an axe to grind against the military, and was trying to impress with his reviewing skills and his (misuse of) vocabulary. He clearly decided what he wanted for a book — and reviewed against that model. Stay away from Kirkus!

  33. Another “thanks for your article” to toss on the pile from me.

    As a newbie to this mess of self-promotion, it’s been a disappointing, expensive struggle finding a fair-minded reviewer, money or no money, and a serious time-sponge trying to figure out marketing magic. I’d rather be writing. So far, it seems like everybody wants a buck from me to look at the cover, let alone read the dang thing. Review topics are flying around online faster than bradford pear leaves after an early frost and it’s all hanging on the limbs of Amazon’s mysterious algorithms.

    As an “old lady” that got a very late start actually writing, but decades of formulating and shuffling stuff in my head, looking for the funnybone in serious matters, it was a breeze and a thrill to actually “retire” to write. But one thing I have learned, it’s hard to explain sarcasm to reviewers. I was born this way, not interested in changing, so I wonder if there a special place for sarcastic reviews?? I tried to swap a review and do a book review myself. It was like trying to write a happy obituary, so I cut some slack to chronic reviewers that chose that lifestyle, still they owe a writer something if they’ve been paid. After we writers spend a couple years of our lives invested in telling a story, you’d think they could at least put some thought into reviews. I wanted that honest opinion. Funny how nice your friends and family are when you hand them a copy of your “child” and ask them what they thought of it. I guess it’d be like asking your friends if your daughter was pretty…what are they supposed to say? Suddenly they have to go for a fresh brewski. So I thought a paid review would be a better deal. But after reading a few bloggies on the paid reviewers….I’m in the bozone again. Like many, I want the best bang for my buck.

    Early in my life, I’d have killed to write for Mel Brooks or have done stand-up in the years of Phyllis Diller, Totie Fields, Rusty Warren, but these days I’m finding the entire self-publishing book industry to be much more ridiculous and it’s sucking the funny right out of me. So, now I get to try to figure out a new game plan to market my story. I don’t need to get rich but simply wanted to entertain readers with just how ridiculous life can be.

    I was going to write the check today for a Kirkus review, but balked after looking at reviews of the reviewers. I’m going to stall and look further.
    I appreciate you looking into this and reporting what you found. Thanks!

  34. I received the type of feedback I expected from Kirkus. My book, Unopened Letters from Dead Men, did not receive a star but it did receive a positive review. That’s about what I expected although I had hoped to get the star but, on the other hand, knew I could get a reviewer who wasn’t receptive to the book. Here’s why in simple terms : I had four editors read the book throughout the years. One was a graduate of the Iowa Creative Writing Workshop, another an English Professor and another a newspaper editor. They were all generous with their praise and guidance. The fourth was an acquisitions editor for a literary matchmaking program and she passed on the project. I knew it was a decent book but it had already had one detractor. Kirkus said, basically, the book was really good but maybe not quite the best. Pretty simple and about what I expected to hear.

  35. As an author of 13 books, and 7 movie scripts ,based on my novels, I have not spent enough time on publicity. It look very expensive and complicated, especially for 13 books. My 3 self help books were the best received for radio & TV interviews. 3 of the self help books had foreign rights sold and the books published in foreign countries. I will attempt, after 20 years, to push books 11-13 which are being published this year. In conclusion non-fiction may be better received in today’s flooded marketplace.

  36. Kirkus didn’t read my book before they reviewed it. The summary covered only the part 1 of the 4 part story structure I wrote the book by. The reviewer was very specific about the summary of the first 100 pages. Afterwards, the summary was general and inaccurate. I logged a grievance with the asst. editor and chief who allowed the reviewer to reply with defensive bullet point answers, most of which stated that the review was subjective and at the reviewer’s discretion.

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  38. Thank you very much.Found your post informative and valuable. As a recently self-published author (1/9/2018 ) of the book Dubai: An Insider’s Guide, I am grateful to you for the information you have provided and it has given me a very good idea of how to spend my $500 marketing budget.T hanks once again.

  39. An issue not addressed here, but which may be worth mentioning for general awareness, is that of the seemingly inadequate search function on the Kirkus website (certainly at the time of writing this). My recent short story collection ‘Ragbag’ included numerous pieces set in my native Bermuda (as well as in the USA and other places), but although the review placed considerable emphasis on the book’s likely particular interest to those with a connection to Bermuda, the book does not actually appear in the search results for “Bermuda” on the Kirkus website, which is quite frustrating. I am told by Kirkus that they are working to improve the search function, but it does not sound as if a major improvement is anticipated anytime very soon. Hopefully it will eventually be resolved and produce more accurate search results.

    1. I just read all the responses. My issue with Kirkus is that they have NOT done the review. The review was to happen in 7-9 weeks. I paid and ordered the review on January 31, 2018. Nine weeks would have been April 4, 2018. It is now April 25, 2018. Obviously, that is more than nine weeks. Perhaps I should be lucky. However, the question is how do I get back my $575 I paid. If anyone is reading this I would appreciate the advice on what to do. I did read that someone in Texas used small claims court. We have small claims court in New York State. The other option is to use the credit card to claw back the payment based upon non-performance.
      For a very good read, try my book, “Hear You Think.” It is on Amazon as a paperback and digital format. It is a techno-thriller. My reviews from people who have read the book are very good… not just friends. Most see the book as a movie with the fast action.

    2. Kirkus Indie has both a lower price and higher price review, and I chose the higher price review with more words. The review was full of appropriate comments, and I believe the reviewer did read the entire book. He pointed out two specific deficiencies. OnlineBookClub noted the same two deficiencies. I needed only to add about a page of writing, without disturbing the novel otherwise, to correct them. The OnlineBookClub reviewer also found 8 typographical and grammatical mistakes, which I also corrected. I do not know whether he found all the mistakes. But the manuscript had previously been very thoroughly proofread and was not full of typos as is complained about some books. I believe that the OnlineBookClub reviewer not only read the book, but read it very thoroughly. I as author find both of these reviews useful. I had previously taken the recommendation to obtain reviews prior to official publication. I was able to act upon the review comments to improve my manuscript prior to publishing.

      Perhaps the Kirkus Indie higher priced review is done more properly and the lower priced one has the many complaints, though I have no valid proof of comparison.

      My novel is now ready for publication. All I have to do is click on the “Publish My Book” on the CreateSpace web site. But I, a first time fiction author, likely will never publish despite the reviews being moderately favorable. One does not need to be an excellent writer to author a best seller, though it probably helps to be a good writer. But I am completely convinced that one does have to be an EXCELLENT salesman. Being a good salesman is not good enough. Though I consider myself to be a good writer, I am a terrible salesman. I consider writing a book to be much like taking a trip to distant lands, expensive, fun, one that thousands of people would find interesting. But there are so many books being published, and so many exciting trips being taken, that only the excellent salesmen can conjure up audiences of more than a few close family and friends. I am confident that thousands of people would like my novel – if they knew it existed. But a lousy salesman like myself will never find these audiences and project my novel onto them. If I publish my book, it will quickly sink to the bottom of the Amazon ratings and stay there forever, no matter how good are the reviews. I do not claim better than moderately good reviews and a moderately good niche novel.

      1. Hi Fredrick,
        I’m the salesman, I am working with a friend of mine to help him sell some books. I believe in the product. This is my first venture into selling books, but he has the money so that, I can place his books in the right arenas. I’m researching that as we go. If you need help let me know. Compensation will take care of itself.

        1. Hi Gerald,
          I noticed your post about helping a friend sell his books. I am wondering how that went. I am an older writer not willing to spend any more than the few months I have already spent to get the book on Amazon, soon in Audible. I’m looking for a film contract after the reviews I’ve received from various professional avenues. Any info you can send or offer would be of interest to me.

          Marilyn Morningstar
          Facebook, Amazon, etc.

  40. After researching the authors complaining about getting their book reviewed by Kirkus, I noticed they all had one thing in common: an extremely niche market. A professional book review should be thought of as one more way to reach an author’s audience, and not a way to fix a book that not many people would want to read. A professional review is not necessary for every book. It should be thought of as a small percentage of advertising with the hope of smoke becoming an uncontrollable blaze. Quality trumps reviews. Period. If an author writes a book that has the qualities for mass appeal, it will sell. Readers will find it. My own experience with Kirkus has been extremely positive and I have no doubt it has helped with my sales. Instead of blaming a review service, authors should blame themselves for not writing a book worth reading. That could make some who read this angry, but direct that anger inward and write a book that will sell enough to satisfy. That satisfaction, whether its personal for reaching one reader who gets it, money, or reviews, is up to the author. Dig deep, realize that there’s no such thing as writer’s block, let the characters say what’s on their minds not yours, and don’t hold back. Good luck…

    1. Sadly, the buying public doesn’t share your (and presumably Kirkus’) appetite for your work. Dig deeper buddy.

      1. Read my book Clint, it’s about four generations of cops in one family from the late 1800’s into 1993. The title “Nice Pinch” really picks up after the first few chapters about experience and history of two of the generations. I know it’s my book but I think it will make a movie or TV

        Captain Ed Hayes (ret)

      2. Excellent advice. I wrote a book using such advice and it’s soon to be on Audible and BN, etc. but it took eight years of my life. I think there are a lot of writers who decide to write a book and try to make a living off a few words in a few books, hardly worth the time it takes to glance at them.

        My aim next is Hollywood, a film. And I will get it. Why? Because it’s a masterpiece. Of course, I will need to beat the streets of Hollywood, but I will do it only because of such extraordinary encouragement from every reader in and out of the industry. It reads like a film, readers are immediately inside the heads of the characters. READERS NEED TO CARE ABOUT THE CHARACTERS IMMEDIATELY.

        I suppose it was that 20 plus years of learning the craft that is making all the difference now. I’m not boasting because I am just a nobody writer, but take a peek at the work and let me know your opinion. Amazon offers a LOOK INSIDE feature and you can read the first 4 chapters for free.

        “Where Love Survives in a World of Deadly Secrets”
        Marilyn Morningstar
        Facebook, Amazon, etc.


    2. OMG! That was a post along the lines of “Blame the author if the review’s no good.” Nothing could be more ignorant than the old idiocy of blaming the victim for the crime. Bad reviewers give bad reviews, end story.
      If their corporate employer had to refund the fee to every displeased customer, like honorable businesses do, many reviewers would not last five reviews. But you can’t get a refund even when it is obvious the reviewer is an unhappy mean grouch and doesn’t know how to, or bother to, read your book. So the shoddy book review scam will continue until an authors’ group takes them to court and fines them BIG time.
      Stay away from the $400 Kirkus Krap Cirkus!
      Get an unprofessional free or cheap review. It’ll be more credible. My scifiction novel, “BRAVE NEW MARS” Booklife review proved even crummier than Kirkus and that is a very high limbo stick! Pro reviews don’t pay their way. Waste your money in Las Vegas and have more fun. meeceblog.wordpress.com
      One thing I tried and enjoyed was disputing the reviewer’s corporate charge on my Credit Card. They don’t like that. Shakes em up. Makes em work more. I’ll post the results.

  41. As a new literary agent with a longstanding agency, I have had queries mention Kirkus reviews, but once I look at their first pages, I am confused by the supposed “good” review they mentioned. When a story opens with no conflict, character goals or character connection, uninspiring writing, editorial issues, etc., the review loses credibility. I no longer look at manuscripts that tout rave Kirkus reviews. My expectations far exceed mediocrity.

    1. My debut book is plodding along very slowly but with an average on Goodreads of 4.24 over 93 ratings. An hour ago I came across something about Kirkus and was tempted to pay $425 to reach a bigger audience. But I’m getting on a bit and increasing wariness led me to send out a question into the ether which brought me to this site. I am very, very grateful to the contributors here for their experience, wisdom and caveats. It is all too easy to be seduced into parting with money in a misguided attempt to make your ‘baby’ into a bestseller. You have saved me an expense I can’t really afford and given me other avenues to explore. (I followed through some of the Kirkus testimonials to their Amazon pages and the statistics there were frequently less than impressive.) Thanks to Giacomo for a clear and scrupulously fair synopsis of the situation – and, yes, I was someone hoping that reviews equal sales. I am naive but, as my mother used to say, ‘I’m not as green as I’m cabbage-looking’ and I feel a lot less greener now. Thanks.

      1. As the author have already suggested, and you also have acknowledged, you can look for some other alternative (review blogs). I suggest you to spend a little time on Quora (http://QUORA.COM) to search for book review blog names. There are many bloggers who exchange genuine reviews in exchange of books. Once you have enough sales, you can go ahead paid options.

    2. “When a story opens with no conflict, character goals or character connection,”
      Like “A Tale of Two Cities” by Charles Dickens? In which the whole first chapter has no conflict, no characters, no character connection, and no action. Clearly that was a dud then!
      Maybe the problem is that literary agents are so stuck up with their preconceptions that they can’t recognise a great book even when it is before their eyes? Cheers.

  42. Buyer beware:

    It is Kirkus Indie’s policy to address those matters related to factual inaccuracies and, while we understand your dissatisfaction, the items you listed were supported by our editorial standard. As you know, book reviews are inherently subjective in nature. Sometimes the author’s intent for his or her work will not align with the reviewer’s interpretation.

    Here is a point-by-point response to your concerns:


    1. The author takes issue with the following sentence: “The book is also somewhat unpolished; minor spelling mistakes and other errors (for example, ‘The mutilation caught got my attention’) become distracting.”

    The manuscript submitted for review was clearly marked “ADVANCE READER COPY” and “UNCORRECTED PROOF.” Including comments in a review about typos in an ARC is inappropriate and unprofessional.


    1. It is Kirkus’ editorial policy to mention mistakes that become distracting. We do recommend that all of our authors submit the most final version of their manuscript when placing their order.

    We’re unable to make any changes to the review. We do understand your frustration and disappointment, but we have certain editorial guidelines that we follow.

  43. I don’t recommend. I just got my review back, and throwing aside the fact that it doesn’t seem like they actually read the book based on their synopsis. They also call me a male several times. There is an author bio on the back that clearly shows I’m female.

    Spend your money on advertising.

    1. That’s exactly my experience Anna: judging by the ‘synopsis’ the reviewer didn’t actually read my book and even though the ‘review’ was quite positive, its tone was condescending, arrogant and on top of it, it was inaccurate. I complained and here is an excerpt:

      “…A novel that talks about domestic violence, inner city poverty, alcohol abuse, women’s refuges, single parenthood, brutality of the riot police can not simply be described as ‘a fun (if predictable) look at life among artists’.

      A synopsis of the first 28 pages and a midway spoiler doesn’t convince me that the reviewer has even read the whole book…”

      Indie authors please don’t waste your money.

    2. Same thing here. 87% of the review was allocated to reinventing the synopsis (which still left a question in my mind as to what book the reviewer was reviewing. I wouldn’t let these guys review another of my books at gunpoint. . .

  44. Does anybody know if the Kirkus review has any impact—good, I hope—when you are proposing your novel to a publisher? I mean, an Editor is more likely to pick your novel because you are including the Kirkus Review in your book’s proposal?

  45. For those still reading this article and considering paying Kirkus for a review, I need to provide a perspective as a 20-year librarian who has been long involved in “collection development,” that is selecting books to add to a library’s collection. Kirkus used to be one of the book review services (along with Library Journal, Publisher’s Weekly, Choice, Booklist, New York Review of Books, and several others) that one could trust for legitimate, reasonably good quality reviews.

    But, now that Kirkus publishes many pay-for-review reviews, I, as I suspect most librarians, no longer trust the consistency of the quality of their reviews. Consequently, I rarely look at Kirkus reviews, only doing so when I can not find a review on a potential book to add to our library’s collection on any other of the major review sites in which I have confidence.

    1. John,

      That is an interesting response and certainly different than Kirkus implies. We are trying to get libraries and colleges interested in our book on oil painting with cold wax medium. Would you be interested/willing to offer your perspective on whose reviews librarians would trust/go to for such a book? (We already have very positive Kirkus and Huffington Post reviews, but would certainly be willing to look elsewhere.)

    2. Can you please refer me to review sites in which you as a librarian have confidence, especially review sites that will consider first time Indie authors?

  46. When I sent my book to Kirkus with a check, apparently receipt of a check instead of online payment flummoxed them. The endorsement was a handwiritten “for deposit”, clearly a two-bit operation. The review came out with use of “peripatetic” to describe the varied fields in which the men I wrote about worked. This is inept language. Furthermore, the reviewer seemed to think stories about gay men and men of color were “manipulated” for mysterious ends. They were stories about such men, not manipulated for any ends except to help express what such men were interested in and working at. I had already written a critical view of Kirkus, inspired by the silly behavior of one of its principals. I think he is the guy who wrote the review. roslyn willett .

  47. Received the second review today. They STILL did not get the name of my series right. They STILL did not accurately portray what took place in the book. They STILL guessed at how the book ended and got it wrong. I’m at a loss. I told them, once again, to correct it. If they don’t, I’m contacting my credit card company for a dispute.

    1. I recently had a similar experience. The review about the book included several errors about the characters and the story. It was apparent that the reviewer did not take the time to read it, and I was completely disgusted. A lot of money down the drain.

  48. I just received a review back from Kirkus and I was completely mortified by the quality. It was apparent that the reviewer had skimmed the first 60 pages and called it a day. The reviewer did not accurately represent the facts within those first 60 pages and very clearly assumed how the remaining plot of the book would play out. They assumed wrong. Best of all, the reviewer didn’t even get the title of my book right! I’m left to wonder how they can justify charging $525 for a product that doesn’t even pass the quality inspection table. I’ve asked for a second review, which Kirkus agreed to issue because they agreed that the first one did not meet their quality standards. I’m very curious to see if I will end up with the cover to cover review I was promised. Will definitely keep you posted.

    1. Same thing here, Carrie. I received a review that was unprofessional, vitriolic, and didn’t even represent the book. I question whether the reviewer really even read it. Further, the review detailed a spoiler in the plot…in the first 2 sentences of the review!

      Complete waste of money!!

  49. 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

    1. Roslyn: I don’t think they’re a scam. Something must have happened to your work and it got ‘lost’. Write to them or call them. I do not think they’re worth the money, but I believe they operate honestly.

  50. 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.

    1. Joseph: I think the problem with any review is that you are never certain of who will read the book. Perhaps your book was assigned to someone who didn’t find it ‘their cup of tea’. We’ll never know. That’s why it’s my suggestion to let readers review the books, and don’t pay for reviews.

  51. 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.

    1. 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.

      1. Hi Michael A:
        I’ve read your wall of text and kinda got the impression that you don’t much care for Kirkus Indie Reviews.

        Yep, any kind of review is only a subjective, biased critique!

  52. 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.

    1. 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.

  53. 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?

  54. 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.

  55. 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.

  56. 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?

  57. 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!


    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.

  58. 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.

    1. 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…

  59. 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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  61. 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.

    1. She prolly means she chooses books from their review magazine. Pre-paid clumsy reviews by “Kirkus Indie” don’t get into the magazine. I paid $500 for an expedited Kirkus circus review of my fine Viet Nam naval war novel called “TIN CAN.” The review was terrible and they refused to either re-review or refund. Felt like a big fat expensive scam. Don’t do it.
      It looks like the reviewers aren’t paid enough to read the whole book. Or else theyre just illiterate.

  62. 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

  63. 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.

  64. 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. .

  65. […] A good review should not be a 250-350 word synopsis of a book with a one sentence opinion thrown onto the end of it, (I’m talking about you, Kirkus reviews!). A good review should tell everyone who reads it how the story made the reviewer feel. Here is a nice little list that I found from selfpublishingadvice.org. […]

  66. 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.


    Martin Thiebaut

  67. 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.

  68. 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.

  69. 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!

  70. 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.

    1. Daryl’s feedback was encouraging and I’m going forward with the Kirkus review, trusting that the reviewer will connect with the vision of contributing to a peaceful world in my recently published book, Can You See What Eye See? Envision a Better You and a Better World, and validate the practical and transformative tools for resilient and joyful living. Wish me luck!

  71. 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.

    1. 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.

    2. 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,

  72. 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?

    1. 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.

      1. 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.

        1. You are absolutely correct with the occasional exception. As a publisher, I turned to IngramSpark to get around that. Even though it was POS, it had the Ingram catalogue listing to make it acceptable to book stores.

          Over the past year or so, IngramSpark has become the self-publishing place for POD. They have decided to go compete with Create Space et al for that lucrative market. We have had to leave IngramSpark because once again, we are lumped in with indie author POS by bookstores. Along with that, their quality has suffered tremendously and many orders, that we happen to see, have bad covers, are printed from old files or have pages with strange markings and bad binding.

          I think if it this way, technology has lowered the bar to entry into publishing a book. But it has also lowered the bar of judgment and acceptance-quality. With so many books out there Libraries and bookstores etc. need another barrier to entry- a filter to say we will only look at a book that…

          POD is one of the filters that they are applying to apply some bar to entry and their time and shelf space.

    2. 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.

  73. 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’.

    1. 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.

  74. 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.


    #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

  75. 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.


    #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

    1. 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.

    2. 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.

  76. 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.

  77. 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

  78. 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.

    1. 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.

  79. 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…

    1. 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.

  80. 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.

    1. 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.

      1. Amazon separates editorial reviews from reader reviews. With good reason. Editorial reviews are or should be, from “known” independent sources. Reader reviews can be bought, begged for or otherwise skewed. They can also be authentic. A book that has recognized (Kirkus?) reviews will get noticed because of what they are.

        The biggest common mistake I have read in this really great thread, is the idea that everything revolves around a Kirkus review. Or any one event. I get the feeling that authors turned to Kirkus as the place to get their book legitimized, if that is a proper word. And in many cases, to get their book read.

        Most authors do not have a marketing plan. If you have $500 to spend, it is clear from this thread, spending it on Kirkus would be unwise.

        What you should be asking, is not whether Kirkus is the place to be, ask rather where will my budget take me and what is my priority of ways to get my book known to the right audience.

        Within that budget plan, reviews might be a top item. You might then find all the places where you can submit your book for review for free and for a fee and find the best ones for your book. Then assign the review portion of your budget to the appropriate places.

        If you have a larger budget, you might say ok Kirkus, ReadersBest, LibraryJournal, Amazon giveaway (a free one), Facebook promotion to my web site download (you get email addresses for follow up that way) and so forth. No single one of those efforts is and end in itself. It is the execution of a thought-out plan that gives you the potential to succeed.

        And I will tell you, after spending a lot of money on my start-up, even after that, there are no guarantees. But don’t give up. I have authors’s books that are now just getting attention after being out there for a year or more. And authors whose retail sales look slim but who sell at speaking events and tours fairly well. Finding where your book will take hold is part of the process. Keep writing and promoting but don’t just chase a miracle source of success. Execute a plan and have it ready months before your book launches.

  81. 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!

    1. 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.

  82. 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.

  83. 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.

  84. 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.

  85. 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?

    1. 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.

      1. 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?

        1. 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.

      2. 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.” 🙂

  86. 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.

  87. 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

  88. 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.

    1. 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.

  89. 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.

  90. 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…


  91. 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

  92. 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.

  93. 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.

  94. 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.

    1. 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”?

  95. 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.

  96. 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.

    1. 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.

  97. 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!

  98. 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.

    1. 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.

  99. 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.

  100. 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!

  101. 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.

    1. 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.

  102. 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!

    1. 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.

  103. 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.

      1. 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

    1. 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:

      1. 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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