My Experience with Kirkus Indie Book Reviews

Did not have a pleasant experience with Kirkus

For those of you that don’t know, Kirkus Reviews was a book review magazine known for having very harsh reviewers, rarely giving a positive review to anything.

In 2004, they launched a service whereby someone could pay for an honest review. In theory, this sounds great because it fulfills a need; few ebooks by unknown authors are given a chance to be read by a reputable house.

Unfortunately, this didn’t seem to help them enough financially and they announced that they would close at the end of 2009. However, a man from the Indiana Pacers swooped in and saved them so that they were able to continue their business model (as Kirkus Indie Reviews).

That’s the backstory.

A few months back, I wrote this post which I can tell you now was about Kirkus Reviews.

I sent them The Men Made of Stone, because: A real artist ships, otherwise you’re just a nutcase with a notebook. Putting my money where my mouth is, requested a review.

And as I said, I got a scathing review of the first 30 pages of my story. Almost half the review – 102 out of 304 words – is spent talking about a minor character that’s killed on page 24 out of a 296 page book.

The hero of the book is given 13 words in the review and called a “minor character” by the editor. The antagonist wasn’t mentioned at all.

That’s like writing a review of Hamlet and saying it’s about the witty banter between Bernardo and Francisco and some punk kid named Hamlet. With no mention of Claudius.

Put another way, that’s writing a book review on The Godfather and saying that it revolves around Bonasera and Fredo.

And if you don’t know read crime thrillers to know what that means, that’s fine, because neither did the Kirkus reviewer, who called the story “completely unrealistic.”

But just like The Godfather, The Men Made of Stone, while fiction, is a roman a clef; the scenes that the reviewer said could not have happened, actually happened.

In any case, I exchanged emails with the editor and asked him to just refund my money, which he refused to do. He essentially said, “We’re Kirkus, our reviewers are anonymous and you can’t do anything about it.”

After countless emails back and forth, I just opened a complaint with the credit card company, printed up the emails we had, and sent in my side of the story.

After about three months, my credit card company said that after hearing from Kirkus and reading everything, they decided that Kirkus Reviews did not, in fact, provide what they were supposed to provide: an honest review by a qualified reviewer who read my book.

Logan: 1
Kirkus: 0

Now, logic would say I should just pocket my returned funds and keep quiet.

But it was never about the money. It was about the unfairness of it all. I can brook a lot but I can’t put up with bullies. If I didn’t just get a refund, I woulda just gone to court.

Moreover, I believe in my story and my editors. Enough to write this entry.

For those ebook writers that ask, “Is a Kirkus Review worth it?” For me at least, the answer is no.

I’m not saying that this is going to be your experience with Kirkus – but it is my experience. Moreover, my opinion is that in order to make money at that model, you have to churn quantity. Assuming an average reading speed of 250 words a minute, skimming is an attractive option. Since it’s anonymous, all the more so. As I neither get paid nor am anonymous in my reviews, I know of what I speak.

So take this post as you will.

Kirkus Editor: I’d hope you could appreciate the subjective nature of reviews. [If you go to court, you’ll lose].
Me: Your review make it seem as if my book is about a guy named C and a guy named TT. My position is simple – that is not what my book’s about. I’ll take my chances. Thanks.

———-

I did get a positive review on the San Francisco Book Review but more on that next week. Or just read it for yourself:

The Men Made of Stone - Logan Lo
 

Location: getting dressed for work
Mood: vindicated
Music: takes more than what you got to frighten me
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40 thoughts on “My Experience with Kirkus Indie Book Reviews”

    1. SELF-PUBLISHED WRITERS BEWARE: KIRKUS INDIE IS IN FACT UNABLE TO REALISTICALLY GUARANTEE AN UNBIASED REVIEW. CONSUMERS’ COMPLAINTS TO CONSUMER AFFAIRS DEPARTMENTS AND GROUPS HAVE LIKELY BEEN FORMALLY SUBMITTED IN DROVES. KIRKUS OVERALL TENDS TO REVIEW SELF-PUBLISHED BOOKS SOMEWHAT DIFFERENTLY TO TRADITIONALLY PUBLISHED BOOKS. KIRKUS INDIE IS INUNDATED WITH SELF-PUBLISHED BOOKS AT MORE THAN $425 PER BOOK ON AVERAGE, RELIES THEREFORE ON INCREASINGLY OBSCURELY SOURCED REVIEWERS WHO ARE NO MORE PRESTIGIOUS OR RELIABLE THAN THOSE AT SAN FRANCISCO BOOK REVIEW, AND HEAVILY FAVOURS BOOKS THAT HAVE ORDINARY NARRATIVES AND SIMPLISTIC WRITING STYLES. PUBLISHERS AND AGENTS TEND TO DISFAVOUR SIGNING AUTHORS WHO HAVE HAD 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. $425 for a review? Wow.

    You should never have to pay someone to review your book. That's what we book bloggers are for (:

    I'm glad you got everything settled because that was just plain unfair. You paid good money for a service you were promised to receive and didn't. They could had at least looked your case over instead of just dismissing you. At least.

    1. I know one shouldn't *have* to but I thought my story was good enough that it would merit a solid review. But the deck is stacked against the author since the reviewer is anonymous so we have no idea if s/he actually has any experience reading the genre AND the more reviews written, the more they get paid.

      That just seems like a model that ripe for abuse. Very disappointing.

      1. Whaaaaaat you don't even know who's reviewing your book?!

        There was this great debate thing going on in the book community this weekend about paying for reviews. Don't remember the company that some people called out but apparently he was talking crap about book bloggers too. Then you have the people who aren't part of companies and just set up a fancy site to trick people. It's insane the things people do these days! I think that company gave you like +10 positive Amazon reviews too or something.

        1. Yep – for all I know, it could be someone that can barely write or read – which is exactly what I think I got when I did it.

          That's really interesting! I wonder if it was Kirkus…

    1. Well, marginally good overcomes douchey is probably more fitting a description but I'll take it anyway. Thanks!

  2. Wow. I just had a very bad experience with Kirkus Indie. Same situation. EXACT SAME. I will dispute with the credit card company (and also trash Kirkus Indie mercilessly on all social media channels).

  3. I’m so sorry to hear that, that’s just terrible.

    I actually asked – several times in fact – for them to reassign a reader because it was so obvious (a) the reviewer had no experience reading my genre and (b) the reviewer didn’t actually read more than the first few chapters. The editor I spoke to was polite and said that the reviewer was a “well-respected professional” but gave me nothing else.

    The reviewer could have been a professional speed walker for all I knew.

    Yes, absolutely dispute the charge with your credit card company and send supporting documentation too.

    And post what happens, I’d love to read more!

  4. Wow. So you wouldn’t recommend Kirkus. I’m not sure that very many authors have a positive outcome when it comes to them…kinda sad.

    That said, maybe next time you should try PennBookReview.Com—they are pretty good and you can always talk to someone directly. They’re honest and fair.

    1. Shoot – sorry for the super late reply, I just saw this comment now. I’ll look into the Pennbookreview.com – thanks for the suggestion!

  5. Thanks for posting. Was considering paying the exorbitant fee. Found several articles, your blog being the straw that broke the camel’s back.

    1. Hello! I think the major issue has to do with the lack of quality control; essentially, it seems that anyone can be a “qualified reviewer.” Sometimes, you get someone who knows your genre well and if you are a good representative of your genre, you may do ok. With me, I clearly got someone that didn’t read my genre at all. Personally, I wouldn’t risk it because the cost is substantial relative to return.

  6. I really expected something more professional for the almost $550 that I paid for a expedited review. It referred to my book as a spy novel though it has nothing to do with spying. It referred to the characters as working for the CIA throughout the review, though the term was used only once at the end, in reference to something else. Kirkus is the puppy mill of editorial reviews. Value wise it was not worth it.

    1. Did you get it on a credit card? If so, if you can prove that they didn’t really read the book, you can probably get your money back, like I did.

      It’s shady because they really need to churn reviews to make it a business model that’s worth anything.

      1. I’ve heard that Kirkus pays about $50 to the “reviewers” — which means Kirkus is making an 800% profit on their faulty evaluations of the work authors have spent years creating. I wonder how those bozos sleep at night. I hope they have nightmares about being chased by mobs of flesh-eating, undead, zombie authors.

        1. It’s a terrible iteration of what could be a good business model; after all, a good review can make an unknown author. And if I got a bad review on the merits of my book, so be it.

          The thing that bothered me is that they used someone so obviously unqualified to read a crime drama and also someone who doesn’t even understand basic story structure.

  7. My novel, The Hero Experience, got the same poor treatment from Kirkus reviews. It was obvious that the reviewer didn’t understand the novel (at best), and probably didn’t even read all of it. Unlike you, I didn’t put up a fight and get my money back. Sir, I salute you.

    I’m still waiting for my review from ForeWord/Clarion reviews — which I’ve learned is basically Kirkus under another name. I wish I’d known that before deciding to submit the novel. I have, however, been in touch with them, making specific requests about the type of person who reviews the book. That may do no good at all, but we’ll wait and see.

    Thanks for sharing your experience with Kirkus. I intend to find out more about your own novels, which sound extremely interesting.

    1. That stinks that you didn’t put up a fight; I’m sorry that you got cheated.

      Absolutely let us know how that goes; this entry gets read with some regularity so any input you might have would be helpful. Hopefully this arm of their company is a little better.

  8. I just recently had the same experience. I mentioned it on another authors blog and that is how I found a link to you. I don’t believe Kirkus read my novel in its entirety either (I am thinking the first third). After reading the review, I had one major concern. The critic focused solely on the love triangle and my book is not a romance novel. Although, romance plays an important role in book, it essentially is a coming-of-age story centrally focused around a noir whodunit. In fact, the second half of the book’s plot is anchored by an unsolved mystery, only to be intertwined with elements of love, the pursuit of dreams, and self-discovery. NONE of this is mentioned-only the romance portion is reviewed.

    It’s also important to note that this is book one of an already-completed series that continues to explore the shadowy backgrounds of the central characters and their intertwined relationships.

    I am not sure if the omission of the mystery in the review qualified as a “factual error,” but it’s important to note that by not mentioning this component, the primary plot of my book (and its subsequent novels) is lost.

    When I followed up with CreateSpace about my issue—they went back to Kirkus with my rebuttal. Kirkus response was not only snarky and condescending but they extended their “sympathies” to me as an author. Wow.

    Let me state for the record that I don’t expect everyone who reads my novel to like it. Reading is art and it’s subjective. I just expected Kirkus to actually read my book from start to finish and review it’s entirety not a portion of it. My experience was shoddy and I would recommend an author (whether published traditionally or independently) to NOT spend the money. As a couple of my readers commented when I told them the story, “Who is Kirkus? Never heard of them.” My sentiment exactly.

  9. Maybe. But it all seems so laborious and I hate negative energy even if I know it’s the right thing to do. It was the same as you though–like reviewing Rosencrantz and Guildenstern’s relationship in a review of Hamlet with no mention of anything else. It really brought me down. I almost feel that Kirkus wants to do that to writers especially if you self-published.

    Once my author site is up and running, I’ll post a blog piece about it as you did. It will help me clear the air (in my own mind at least).

    1. It’s definitely laborious, but I found it very cathartic, especially when a third party looked over everything and agreed that they didn’t do what they were paid to do.

      Moreover, that’s still a nice chunk of change you could use for something else. Regardless, I’m glad you wrote me about it. I think more people should know.
      Logan Lo recently posted…Caught a fight between two middle-aged menMy Profile

  10. While I’m not doubting your experience with Kirkus, I’ll just say I checked your novel out on Amazon, and all the reviews sound like you talking, right down to the ones with the Godfather and “It-All-Really-Happened” comparisons. The rest just basically say “Buy! Buy! Buy!” These are almost always phony reviews.

    1. I can see how you might think that but a few things:

      a) I have a 5-Star Amazon Vine Voice review; those are not for sale anywhere – nor should they be!
      b) Most phony reviews come from where the author is located. I’m located in NYC, but my reviews are all over.
      c) I’ve had this blog for over six years with over 500 daily readers in my peak. Would it be possible that some of those readers – my readers – would buy my book and enjoy it?

      Why don’t you read the first 25% for free online and tell me what you think? You tell me if I deserved that five-star VV review and if the others are false.

      1. 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 to see my work to make a living. I learned a long, long time ago that if you are in this business to sell books you in trouble right from the start and most cases never be more that that traditional starving artist. 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 a company that may not have looked at them otherwise, they have also appeared in Kirkus’s magizine that I didn’t have to pay for. But it was just 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, they do have a reputation to uphold and that is to piss off writers.
        Again, I don’t always agree with the reviewer and 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. Hi Daryl!

          Well, it sounds like you got a fair reviewer and that’s what I think a lot of people – myself included – hope for. I wish I had your experience, but, unfortunately, I didn’t. I got someone who didn’t read past the first 30 pages of my book and that’s not what I paid for nor what was expected from anyone.

          Glad to hear it went well for you.

  11. I published a book through CreateSpace and ordered a Kirkus Review as part of a package. I believe I paid about $350 for the review. I also stumbled upon a WiseInk blog post, “The Top Ten Awards for Indie Authors,” and submitted to five of those ten awards. My book, “Beauty as a State of Being,” won four of the five book awards including a Nautilus, Foreword Reviews, Next Generation Indie, and National Indie Excellence. One blogger called it a “masterpiece.” The Kirkus review, however, was ugly.

    My first name is Solomon. In THE FIRST PARAGRAPH of the book I state that, “I lived as a Buddhist monk in Burma and Sri Lanka. You’d think the Kirkus reviewer would very quickly form that impression that I was male, not female. Wrong. The Kirkus reviewer writes as if I were a female and refers to me in the review with the personal pronoun, “her”. Just to give a quick sense of how carefully your book might be read. And, as Logan already mentioned, the reviewer knew nothing about the content of the book. The review was probably written in ten minutes.

    Fortunately, four book awards give a more favorable impression. For the amount you would pay for a Kirkus review, you can submit to four or five book awards and get a much more reasoned and widely read opinion. My advice: forego Kirkus. With Kirkus you might get a fair review but you might also get commercial fraud. Following Logan’s lead, I have asked CreateSpace to refund my money.

    1. Solomon – thanks for this comment, so interesting! Yes, I’ve heard of people that have had good experiences with Kirkus but most I find get reviews that make it obvious that the reviewer is either (a) unqualified, (b) dishonest, or (c) both.

      I’m going to check out the awards you mentioned as well to see if my novel might fit into any of the categories; great tip.

      Finally, I think it’s so interesting that you lived as a Buddhist monk abroad. I don’t think I’ve ever met anyone – online or off – that have ever said anything similar.

  12. An update: I requested a refund from CreateSpace for the Kirkus review, they agreed, and I have a check for $379 in hand. The takeaway? Logan has called Kirkus bullies. They certainly can be. CreateSpace told me that they no longer offer Kirkus reviews in their publication packages. But I never would have thought of contacting CreateSpace for a refund – on principle more than for the money – if not for this blog. Thanks for the posting, Logan. It’s a public service.

    1. Whoa, that’s great news! I’m glad that you did that – the more I read about it, the more crooked I think it is.

      And thanks for your kind comments. I’ll definitely make sure to keep this post up so others can find it.

  13. I paid for a review with Kirkus and when i got the review it wasnt that I was dissatisfied with their objectivity but the glaring inaccuracies. They mentioned some stuff from the book in the review and I had to be pointing them to the pages in my book showing that they had it wrong in their review. They made the corrections and emailed it back to me, a few hours later I found more inaccuracies that i asked them to refund me my fees as i felt that the review was compromised with so may inaccuracies. They refused and pointed me to their agreement. I told them the agreement is to provide me with a genuine service, so if they didnt review the book they ought to refund it. I got a lawyer to write them and they still have not refunded me. Thats my experience with them on my second review. My second experience was bad, very bad and for such high fees

    1. It sounds like that’s par for the course for most people, I think. It’s a terrible business model that lends itself to abuse. I hope you are able to get your fees back; def keep us in the loop.

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