A Complicated and Rewarding Relationship

Kirkus and I go way back. That sounds pompous, but it’s true. We’re not close friends, but we’ve had a bit of a relationship throughout the years. And always a positive one, I might add. I wrote mystery novels for St. Martin’s Press for a decade back in the ’90s, always worried that I might get a bad review from Kirkus. Kirkus had a reputation among writers for being hard-nosed, a bit sassy, the stab-in-the-back-with-a-smile kind of review. Each time I had a new book out, I’d hold my breath. Then let the breath out in a long whewww when I read the smart, intelligent, positive assessment of my book. For example: “When the time comes for the obligatory melodramatics and histrionics, novelist Wright handles them with a matter-of-fact delicacy and subtlety….Keep an eye out for this one.” Yet there was always the worry that I’d pushed my luck, that the next time the reviewer would be out to get me! But it didn’t happen. Two more in the series came out with enthusiastic Kirkus reviews: such as “penetrating, economical, and generously plotted.” I loved those words!

Then I sent my historical novel, Queens Never Make Bargains, to a small press, who didn’t send the book to any mainstream reviewers. “Oh well,” I told myself, “at least it’s out there.” Sure, it sold a dozen or so copies to friends, and I went on to other pursuits. Why should I pay $400 to a reviewer when I’ve had a stack of reviews from the best of them? And what guarantee had I that the review would be a positive one? Four hundred dollars down the drain just to gratify my ego? But the book would go nowhere if I did nothing, so without telling anyone—especially my skeptical husband, I got a Kirkus Indie review.

A month went by. Two months. And then a review from Kirkus, which I kept two days before getting the courage to read it. And there it was. A lovely, wise, and sensitive review. The reviewer called my novel “an often illuminating novel that lays bare the societal constraints faced by generations of women and the stark realities they bore with grace.” It wasn’t a starred review, but it was so beautifully phrased! The review is now on the back cover of my novel, and doing quite well in the bookstores, thank you.

Nancy Means Wright has published fiction with St Martin’s Press, Dutton, Perseverance Press & elsewhere, including a trilogy of historical mysteries featuring 18th-century Mary Wollstonecraft.  Her most recent works are Queens Never Make Bargains, a novel, and The Shady Sisters, a collection of poems. Short stories and poems appear in American Literary Review, Green Mountains Review, Carolina Quarterly, et al. Her children’s books have received an Agatha Award and a grant from the Society of Children’s Book Writers. A former teacher, play director, and Bread Loaf Scholar, Nancy lives in Middlebury, Vermont, with her spouse and two Maine Coon cats. 

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