Earlier this week, Kirkus published an article by Smart Bitches, Trashy Books' Sarah Wendell titled “Bad, Kirkus, Bad,” and it stimulated quite a bit of controversy. As the fiction editor of Kirkus, I thought it appropriate to respond to the heated comments both in the article and contributed by passionate readers.
First, I want to set the record straight about what Kirkus really thinks about the romance genre and its readers. In short, we love ya. And we would love to review more books for you. Kirkus is a small literary journal, and like many in our shrinking field, we have limited resources. The romance genre is enormous (with more than 150 books published per week!), and unfortunately, we cannot afford to cover as many of its books as we’d like. But I disagree with Sarah’s comment that if we do not have the infrastructure or capacity to build out a full romance section in our print publication, we should ignore all romance titles that are published. Kirkus wants to cover as much of this genre as we can—and if we can only introduce readers to a handful of fabulous romance books per year, we believe that is a worthy undertaking.
Moving on to controversy over our review of The Proposal. I—and all the editors at Kirkus—go to great lengths to assign books to reviewers who are qualified to review particular genres and who are fans of those genres. Perhaps that’s what makes the final line of this review so unfortunate. The reviewer loves romance, especially historical romance, and she holds talented romance authors in high regard. She simply used inappropriate phrasing, and I failed to catch it before publishing the review. Our reviewer found the author’s writing to be on the level of Jane Austen—a rare feat for an author of any genre—and she wanted to convey that this book was a standout for that achievement. Did she have to use language that insulted an entire genre of readers and writers? Of course not, and that was not her intention. But we are as appalled as you that we let the line slip through, and we have asked the reviewer to rephrase the line to be a more accurate reflection of her true sentiment.
To Sarah, we do wish you had considered that perhaps we simply made a mistake. That perhaps one poorly phrased sentence does not capture Kirkus’ full intent or expertise. We would have appreciated a more judicious representation of the challenges our business faces in today’s book market, and the unique interest Kirkus has shown in finding innovative ways to shine a light on the romance genre. Nevertheless, we appreciate the vivid conversation you ignited and are grateful for the vital role you play in promoting a fabulous genre that deserves attention.
To romance readers and writers, thank you for caring about how books are covered in the media. Thank you for lighting the torches and standing up for the talented writers in this genre. I offer you my personal apology for the offensive line in the review of The Proposal and my personal assurance that we hear you, respect you and value your passion.
Elaine Szewczyk is the fiction editor of Kirkus.