An Egalitarian Approach to Book Reviewing

As a debut British author writing in the first-person voices of two American protagonists, I was especially nervous about what a U.S.-based reviewer would make of my historical novel, Liberty Bazaar. The story intertwines the experiences of an escaped slave girl and a Confederate general, and this extra complication added to my concern over how the novel would be received in the U.S.

I went down the Kirkus route on the advice of a self-published author whose novel proved so successful that she was signed by a Big Five publisher. However, she did warn me how tough it would be to get a good review from Kirkus Reviews––so I was aware of the risk.

Nonetheless, my publisher, Aurora Metro, was tremendously supportive, and I was also spurred by the great difficulty U.K. indie authors have in getting national print media coverage. Unless you are signed with an international publisher, the British nationals are very unlikely to review your work.

I’d checked out the Kirkus website and was immediately impressed by the system of reviewing bestselling and traditional authors alongside indie writers. This egalitarian approach was particularly refreshing after my frustrating attempts to attract the interest of U.K. literary editors.

When my review date arrived, I went onto the Kirkus website and was delighted and astonished to see that I had received a starred review. Indeed, I left the page and went back again, two or three times, before accepting that, yes, the review was exceptionally strong and the Kirkus Star was not there by dint of some cruel mistake.

Moreover, the review was intelligently written, explaining the story and characters with economy and insight. Clearly, the reviewer was familiar with the subgenre of historical novels about the American Civil War. The review also contained lovely turns of phrase that were extremely useful for marketing purposes––for example some of the writing was compared to that of Charles Dickens and the “twisty plot” was described as “refreshingly absorbing.”

I have no doubt that the Kirkus review was money well spent. The novel went on to be named as one of Kirkus’ 10 Best Historical Indie Novels of 2015 and was among Kirkus’ 100 Best Indie Novels of the year.

More importantly, though, that small blue star is a symbol of enduring value, a tangible achievement that has boosted my confidence to experiment with fiction and explore different approaches to writing.

David is a British journalist who has spent 30 years reporting on major events and interviewing front-line U.K. politicians. He has been running his own journalism and public relations consultancy since 2001, writing about business, investment, and economic issues. Born and raised in Lancashire, England, David took a B.A. in history and politics at Queen Mary, University of London, and a M.A. in creative writing at Manchester Metropolitan University. As well as his debut novel, Liberty Bazaar, David co-wrote High Seas to Home, a nonfiction book about the Battle of the Atlantic and jointly edited two short story collections. He has a life-long interest in maritime history and has travelled widely in the U.S. He lives with his family in Bolton, Greater Manchester.

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