Over the past few weeks, the staff of Kirkus Reviews has been enveloped in a golden nimbus of Book Love, as we presented our Best of 2019 lists in fiction, picture books, middle-grade books, nonfiction, young adult, and indie titles. Books are wonderful, we feel worthy, and all is right with the world. Lots of heart emojis.
But hang on just a moment.
Kirkus sees thousands of books every year, and there’s plenty that we don’t like. For every outstanding work of literature brought forth by the publishing industry, there are dozens of others that are forgettable, half-baked, or, occasionally, downright objectionable. We get it—this is a tough business without a surefire model for success, and publishers have to try a lot of different things to see what works.
But we’re critics first and foremost, and our job is to evaluate books honestly and fairly, good and bad alike. (Any author who has received a negative review from Kirkus will not be surprised to learn this.) So as we wind up 2019, we’re calling out some of the publishing trends we weren’t so crazy about.
Laurie Muchnick, Fiction Editor: Bland titles. Too many publishers go for them—and I do believe it’s the publishers, not the authors. When I got early galleys of Angie Kim’s Miracle Creek—one of our Best Books of 2019—it was called Miracle Submarine. You might not know what that means, but its intriguing, and you’d remember it, wouldn’t you? I’d like to see more publishers taking a chance on unusual book titles, especially after the success of Ocean Vuong’s On Earth We’re Briefly Gorgeous.
Eric Liebetrau, Nonfiction Editor: Blog Books. Now that seemingly everyone has a blog, many bloggers are publishing books, and most of them are disposable. If you can’t do more than lift your blog material and shove it between two covers with an introduction, don’t bother.
Vicky Smith, Children’s Editor: The infestation of “Baby Shark” books. Books crafted around viral sensations are an inevitable phenomenon of our age, and far more often than not they fail miserably at capturing whatever made their source material viral and sensational. “Baby Shark” books, for example, are impossible to enjoy without knowing the song. What’s a reader to do with lines like, “Baby shark! Doo doo doo doo doo doo!”? Without the tune, it’s just a lot of, well, “doo doo.”
Laura Simeon, Young Adult Editor: The gap in the market when it comes to younger YA readers. Sixth graders are worlds away from 12th graders developmentally. They’re also different from bright elementary kids who can “read up.” We can’t forget that YA covers a broad age range and it needs to serve kids at the younger end, as well as older teens who are more sensitive or otherwise want less intense and explicit materials, and kids who struggle with or dislike reading and who deserve high-quality, accessible materials.
Karen Schechner, Vice President of Kirkus Indie: The New York Times’ practice of ignoring self-published books. In 2018, indie authors published 1.7 million books. The Gray Lady doesn’t have to sift through all them; she can start in this magazine’s Indie section and pick a good one, like anything by Jacob M. Appel, or email me, and I’ll make a few suggestions: firstname.lastname@example.org.
Now that we have that out of our system, here’s to more books we love in 2020!
Tom Beer is the editor-in-chief.