It was never my intention to go indie with my novel. I’d quickly found an agent, whose reader recommended only my book during months working through the submissions pile, and the agent herself was also very excited. She “loved” it, calling my book unique and memorable; stating that certain scenes would live with her forever, and that my writing was “brilliant.” But was it commercial enough? Twice she thought so, then changed her mind. “It is about art, and it is art,” she said, but art and commerce don’t always mix.  

I went away and worked with two editors, via a literary consultancy, and amongst some tips for tweaking, they too offered effusive praise, as did the boss of the company, a former Penguin editor. Every professional I put my book in front of offered wonderfully quotable feedback, except it wasn’t really the right thing to quote private praise.

After many years spent writing the novel, and another year of tweaks made on the understanding it would then be taken to a publisher—before ultimately it wasn’t—I’d had enough; I wanted to move on to writing my next novel, and so self-published The Girl on the Pier. I had some truly lovely and heartwarming reviews from book blogs and on Goodreads, but little coverage beyond that. Sales passed 1,000, which was pretty good, but I was frustrated that it was otherwise being overlooked. I’d applied for Bookbub promotions but was turned down. Momentum had completely stalled, and I considering leaving it there.

However, in search of some honest, quotable review lines, I sent the novel to Kirkus Reviews. I was nervous about the response, not least because I knew I was paying for an honest critique, and it might sting. The good news was that if they hated it I’d only lose my money; my pride could be saved by the fact that it could essentially be buried (perhaps I could print it out, dig an actual hole and ceremonially inter it, and then place several heavy rocks on top, so that it never escaped). The price seemed fair—after all, someone had to read 75,000 words and then spend time writing a review. 

Thankfully the review came back hugely positive, with the added bonus of a Kirkus Star, which I’d never expected. The reviewer completely got the nuances of the novel.

I applied for Bookbub again, noting the glowing Kirkus review. It was finally accepted, but only outside of the lucrative US market. When my novel was then included in Kirkus’ Best Indie Books of 2015 a few months later, I applied once more to the US Bookbub and this finally got the title included in their promotion as well. Sales have subsequently passed 10,000, some 10 times what it had sold prior to the review. 

Had I been in possession of such a review before publication I could perhaps have got some momentum going quicker, particularly with the printed copies—which had high production values (and costs), but which I was unable to get into any physical stores.

So my experience with Kirkus has been a good one, with the review opening doors to greater publicity. If only I’d done it sooner.

Formerly a London-based designer, Paul has been writing full time for over a decade, having been diagnosed with ME/CFS in 1999. To date he has written 11 books on soccer, several of which have made the Amazon.co.uk top 50. In addition to this, Paul has written for a number of prominent football websites, including five years as a weekly columnist for the official Liverpool FC site, and also runs the highly-acclaimed subscription-based The Tomkins Times, for which thousands of dedicated readers pay a monthly fee. The Girl on the Pier is his first novel.