Is an Indie Kirkus Review Worth It?

Part of the service of the “vanity” publisher I once worked with was a the inclusion of a Kirkus Review. I call the publisher “vanity” because I paid for a package that included editing, some promotion, promo materials, etc. Due to unscrupulous practices by this publisher, I canceled my account. I was able to retain the Kirkus review, which was received in 2018, and the files for the manuscript and exterior and interior illustrations, and eventually self-published my book, Secret in the Stars: An Abi Wunder Mystery.

But a dilemma soon surfaced. The Kirkus Review was not an entirely positive one. In that case, I had to make a choice. I could quote the positive comments in my promo materials, including the book cover, but Kirkus reserves the right to publish the entire, unabridged review on their website. Or, I could keep the review private. In that case, I wouldn’t be permitted to use any part of the review in my book’s promotional efforts. Instead, I could use the reviewer’s comments to help improve the book. I chose the latter, and continued revisions up until July 2020 when I self-published the book with Amazon. Once the book was out, in my search for reviews, I revisited Kirkus to see if a second review would be possible. Here’s what happened.

The Pros and Cons of a Kirkus Review

A traditional review starts at $425 and is promised within 7-9 weeks. I received a $50 reduction from an ad I found on Facebook for this type of reivew. An expanded review can be had for $575, and a picture book review starts at $350. 

According to authors surveyed for the Alliance of Independent Authors article, “Watchdog: Is a Kirkus Review Worth the Price?” by Giacomo Giammatteo, the benefits of purchasing a Kirkus Review are mainly:

  • A Kirkus Review lends credibility throughout the industry and by media and libraries.
  • Blurbs from the review can be used in marketing.
  • You can publish your review in; it will be considered for publication in Kirkus Reviews and in Kirkus’s email newsletter, which is distributed to more than 50,000 consumers and industry professionals.

However, Giammatteo’s article points out drawbacks. The majority of authors surveyed for the article (16 out of 21) felt that the reviews were “not worth the money.” Why?

  • “The review didn’t produce sales.” Giammatteo points out that the review is not intended to produce sales.
  • A positive review is not promised, as stated in the Kirkus email I received, "there are no guarantees that the second review would come back more positive than the first."
  • Many authors Giammatteo spoke with felt that the reviews were not well written and weren't inspiring enough for readers to want to buy the book.
  • Much of the reviews are spent in rehashing the plot, which seemed unnecessary to the authors consulted for the Giammatteo article.

An Added Challenge in Applying for a Second Review on the Same Book

I bit the bullet and decided that my book needed credibility. So, I applied for a second review and hit a brick wall. I received a rather curt response indicating that “we cannot review the same book twice, but if you make changes significant enough to render the previous review obsolete, we will consider conducting a new review . . . we ask that you include a letter to our editor outlining the changes with examples and page numbers cited. Our editor will ultimately decide if the changes are significant enough to warrant a second review.”

Give me a challenge like that and I can’t pass it up. The review back in 2018 found five flaws that I admit were significant. I took the flaws seriously, and went through each one, editing them throughout the book. Much later after I had left my publisher, I decided it was an opportunity to do more work on the book. I had the book reviewed by professional editor and revised it even more, until finally publishing it in July.  Here is a condensed version of what the original reviewer found:

  • Author fails to fully explore Abi’s various supernatural abilities and their causes or connections.
  • Secondary characters pop up throughout for no apparent reason.
  • The villain is one-dimensional who does bad things without much explanation or repercussion.
  • Book has an overly complicated plot and undeveloped characters.

In my application for a second review, I listed each of the flaws in large, bold, letters, and then went about looking up the passages in the original manuscript and how I had changed them in the published version. In a nutshell, it was a tedious exercise at best, which took three days to complete. The deeper I dove, the more determined I got. The last comment is what made my blood boil over:

  • Accompany illustrations are simple and charming, reminiscent of the old Nancy Drew novels. They’re just not nearly frequent enough.

GRRR! This was supposed to be an indie reviewer. The maddening part was that an indie author pays for illustrations out-of-pocket. The number of interior illustrations and the cover illustrations were created with what I could afford at the time. Also I found insulting was the reviewer calling Nancy Drew novels “old.” As far as I know, Nancy Drew novels are still enjoyed to this day. I call that enduring, not old.

Many of the authors interviewed felt that their $500 would be better spent elsewhere. One comment suggested Chanticleer Reviews and Matt McAvoy's Book Reviews. Pubby also offers reviews. I tried Pubby's trial offer but declined to continue as I felt I don't have the time to devote to it. The best advice can be found in Carolyn Howard-Johnson's book, How to Get Great Book Reviews Frugally and Ethically, which I keep on my desk along with her other terrific books, such as The Frugal Book Promoter, and her other books.

My new Kirkus Review is promised by mid-October. I'm hoping it will be positive. No matter. This time around, I am going to use the positive parts--hoping there will be some--in my promotional material. Then I will have come full-circle with Kirkus. I hope my gamble pays off.

"You are now part of my world . . . forever."

Linda Wilson, a former elementary teacher and ICL graduate, has published over 150 articles for adults and children, and several short stories for children. She has recently become editor of the New Mexico SCBWI chapter newsletter, and is working on several projects for children. Secret in the Stars: An Abi Wunder Mystery, Linda's first book, is available on Amazon, The next book in the Abi Wunder series, Secret in the Mist, will be available soon. Follow Linda:


Terry Whalin said...


Thank you for telling us the details of your experience with Kirkus Reviews. I've heard about them for years and never used them. Your article is a valuable service for other writers.


lastpg said...

The review has been returned to me. Like the first review, it pointed out flaws as well as positive aspects of the book. I chose to agree for Kirkus to publish the review on their site so that I can use the positive comments. All I can say is, I hope the positive comments help!

Karen Cioffi said...

Linda, I missed this post. Great information on your experience with Kirkus Reviews. And, on the second round you received some position comments along with the critical. I'm sure any positive from Kirkus will be helpful!

deborah lyn said...

Thank you Linda - your journey is producing helpful tips for all writers!

lastpg said...

Thank you, Deborah, and journey it is!

Carolyn Howard-Johnson said...

Linda, I talk about what used to be Kirkus' stellar reputation and how it has been tarnished by their choice to sell reviews. Many authors who have paid for them feel the money spent worthwhile just because of the prestigious name, but many others complain that rarely do those paid-for reviews give them even a blurb that they can use in their marketing. They are often bland and non committal. Further--ethically a good thing here!--they make sure that readers of their magazine know which reviews abide by journalism's ethical standards (that is, NOT paid for) and which are. Thus negating most of the value they provide. You can tell, you got me started here! I think we all understand that every journal must get enough donations, enough support to exist--or make enough money somehow. The fact remains that many credible journals still get by without doing paid-for reviews. It really boils down to this: Gatekeepers in the industry--the ones in a position to buy books like acquisition librarians, book sellers, etc--know the difference between free, ethical reviews and author-paid-for reviews. So, really! So much lost. So little gained. I wish I had known you were considering it and you would have heard this little rant (or read it in my book!

lastpg said...

Yes, Carolyn. I wish I had read that in your book! Never again. Lesson learned. Thank you for your informative comment. I have two sentences I can use. That's something, I suppose. But I will go on to greener pastures next time.

Unknown said...

What a waste of money. All the same, I blame myself. I should have done more research and more common sense thinking, but I was so eager to believe Kirkus when they said; “Kirkus Indie reviewers are experienced professionals who honestly and impartially evaluate the books they receive."
Turns out Kirkus reviews both Indie books and traditionally published books. Traditional publishers do not pay for the review and are told, “Kirkus Reviews receives between 100 and 200 submissions per day, and we’re not able to review every title we receive.” And why not, I ask, if you're able to review all of the paid reviews? Is it because there are not enough experienced professionals to cover the demand for the traditional publishers? If that's the case (and you say it is) then who reviews the Indie authors' work?
If you seek to be a reviewer for Kirkus Indie Review, this is what Kirkus tells 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.
So what if someone takes on the job of reviewing for Kirkus to pay their way through collage? How many reviews would you need to write per day?
Clearly, I should have done this research before I submitted. Doing it afterwards does, however, give me some clarity into why the review I received reads just like the kind of review someone might give the book having thummbed through it on their lunch break. The review I received was in no way relevant to my novel and cannot be published as it would completely misrepresent it. (It was attributed to the wrong genre, critiqued for not fitting the supposed genre AND with a summary that was incorrect. A bit like saying 'Agatha Christie's Murder On The Orient Express is a dissatisfying Romance Novel where a detective commits murder.) 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!)

Karen Cioffi said...

Unknown, I wish you had put your name. Thanks for this letting us know. I didn't realize this happened with Kirkus. It's such a shame when a service or company with a quality reputation does something like this.

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