I don’t know what your budget is, but I have a mortgage, a student loan, and two credit cards I’m paying off, so $425 is not sitting in my change jar waiting to find a good home. Ordering a Kirkus review takes strict planning and a belief that this service is truly worth my money.
It’s also a gamble. I’ve ordered well over a dozen reviews, and not all of them are positive. One reviewer blasted The Golem of Rabbi Loew as pornographic. I had to laugh, of course, since I couldn’t write porn if I tried. I know, because I have tried. You’d think that genre would come easily for a former sex worker, but that is not the case. So I don’t always agree with every assessment the reviewers make, and not every review I pay for ends up seeing the light of day.
I belong to a book club whose members are all well-educated and well-read. Every month, there is a debate over the quality of the book we’ve just finished. Some claim the writing is “beautiful and poetic” while others say the writing style was the weakest part of the book. I am confident that Kirkus reviewers are likewise qualified to assess my books, but I’m also aware that any one person’s opinion is necessarily subjective.
Still, each time I order a review, I not only hope for snappy blurbs to advertise my books, but I also anticipate receiving sound advice. I use the reviews in part to learn what I’m doing well and where I need to improve. There’s no reason I shouldn’t take full advantage of a professional investing the time to read and critique my work. My story “Dragons of the Book of Mormon” was heavy-handed? I’ll be more restrained in the future. My introduction to Lying for the Lord was rancorous? It won’t happen again. Of course, just as in writing workshops, the author has to be the ultimate judge of which advice to take, but Kirkus reviewers are pretty consistently aware of what works in a piece of writing and what doesn’t.
I include an obnoxiously long blurb section at the beginning of each book. I expect most readers skip it altogether, but I read it again and again with each new manuscript, and I find this encourages me to live up to the praise. Ordering a review also makes writers eligible for a spot on the coveted Kirkus Reviews’ Best of the Year list, which always pushes me to go over my manuscripts one, or two, or three more times so my book can at least be up for consideration.
Has a Kirkus review ever helped my sales? I honestly don’t know. I sometimes see Indie authors who claim that a glowing review from Kirkus has boosted their sales to 50K or 100K. Well, that ain’t me. But they have certainly helped me a great deal as a writer. I wrote my first novel at the age of sixteen and have been writing seriously ever since. I received over 400 rejections before selling my first story. I have been absolutely committed to writing for decades, no matter the obstacles, and Kirkus is a valued resource toward achieving my ultimate goal of critical success.
Johnny Townsend earned an MFA in fiction writing from Louisiana State University. He has published stories and essays in Newsday, the Washington Post, the Los Angeles Times, the Humanist, Harrington Gay Men's Literary Quarterly, among other. His books have been named to Kirkus Reviews' Best of 2011, 2012, 2013, 2014, and 2015.