In 2002, a Russian mathematician solved a 100-year-old problem in topology. He won the Fields Medal and $1 million in prize money—both of which he turned down. I’ve always loved the response he gave when journalists asked him why: “You are disturbing me. I am picking mushrooms.” You can’t argue with that—he knew exactly what he wanted, and it had nothing to do with fame or recognition. He just wanted to do maths and pick mushrooms. When it comes to writing, you’re going to want to ask yourself the same question.
Who are you writing for? When you finish your novel, will you be happy just to put the manuscript in a shoebox and go pick mushrooms? There are plenty of people who do, and our lives would be a lot happier if we could be like them. But if you’re here, chances are you’re not a mushroom picker—you want something more than that, whether it’s payment, or recognition, or fame, or even changing people’s lives. You want other people to read your work, and for that to happen they’re going to need to be able to find it.
That’s where Kirkus comes in. Reviews aren’t just a form of judgment on your work, they’re also the tool by which you generate awareness. As your novel’s release date approaches, you want as many reviews as you can get in order to generate the greatest possible buzz, but even making the decision to have your novel reviewed can be a difficult one. It can cost a lot of money and not all websites you find online are reputable. With publications like Kirkus Reviews, it helps that they’ve been in this business for a long time and publish a physical periodical. It’s not hard to realize you’re in good hands.
The real anxiety sets in after you agree to have your novel reviewed. What if the reviewers don’t like your work? Kirkus can be notoriously harsh. What if the reviewer slams your novel? If you’re any good as a writer, you will always have that anxiety, because it’s what compels you to improve and polish your work. Never trust anyone who thinks they’re perfect, and never be afraid of criticism. It can hurt. It can be devastating. But remember that with any luck your first novel will be your worst—you can only get better. Criticism can help you, and even if you think that criticism is unfair, remember that you can’t please everyone and you shouldn’t try.
So far Kirkus has reviewed two of my novels, Radium Baby (2013) and Skunks Dance (2017), and I haven’t regretted either of them. The exposure and the attention that Kirkus garnered for my novels has been thoroughly worthwhile. I’ve received a lot of praise and some criticism too, and yes, criticism can hurt, but if you want never to receive any criticism then remember that there is nothing wrong with picking mushrooms.
San Francisco writer St John Karp is an ornamental hermit who likes to live near exciting things so he can not go to them. He has an undying love for the unusual, the Bonzo Dog Doo-Dah Band and toast. His debut novel, Radium Baby, was released in 2013. Skunks Dance, Karp’s second novel, releases Jan. 24, 2017.