To Kirkus Review or not to Kirkus Review, indie author?

Something people generally don't know is that famously critical Kirkus Reviews are not free. No, not even cheap. For $425.oo you wait 7-8 weeks and may well be lambasted. Some of the reviews I read on the site made my tummy clench and my toes curl in anticipated and sympathetic pain.

However. I was feeling the bind of the “indie” writer–there's a critical feedback vacuum. Many contests are still not open to Indie books and those that are, many are more marketing/popularity contests than actual measures of the excellence of the book. Seven books into it, with many positive reviews on Amazon and Goodreads and loyal and active fans, I still felt marginalized by not being in bookstores or eligible for more serious awards. Into this dearth of critical review, I decided to pitch my bucks and my hopes. by purchasing a Kirkus Review for Unsound, my most recent book, a literary suspense.

Kirkus Reviews are still widely regarded in a positive light even in this age of scandal regarding paid reviews, and librarians and bookstores regularly peruse their lists for the “best” books to order.

I chose Unsound because I honestly think it's my best writing so far; while any one of the Lei Crime Series books is currently outselling it, I know its a truly original book that people have a hard time walking away from and that only improves upon multiple readings. So I sent off my naked little Word manuscript, stripped of pretty formatting and its beautiful cover, and hoped for the best.

Right after I sent in the manuscript the self-doubt began. Why do I still need the stamp of approval of “the publishing establishment?” What did I hope to gain by throwing away $425.oo that wouldn't necessarily have anything to do with boosting sales? I kicked myself around the block and back for being such a needy, insecure writer that I still craved the approval of elite Book People instead of just loving the success I have with READERS.

Readers are gold. Readers are where it's at. And readers are who I'm writing for.

Thankfully, in the end, I got what I paid for. Critical validation.  Kirkus Review of Unsound here.

The review of Unsound was just really really wonderful. The reader “got” what I was trying to do in the book, calling it “a strong, savvy dissection of how two people’s lives are intertwined by violence, psychology and grief.” And my fragile writer's ego could live for years on the praise contained in the review: “Author Neal (Twisted Vine, 2013, etc.) has written multiple thrillers, and her experience shows in her careful, detailed handling of the characters and their circumstances. Neal is a powerful writer, and her prose is often effortless and elegant.”

So, yeah, I might have done better in increasing sales by spending $425.oo on some other kind of promotion–but have the “establishment” recognize the potential in my writing was worth a lot more to me.

Not only that, I've now chosen to price my Unsound print books at 12.99, set the “discount” at 50%, and allow returnability on the book, hopefully setting it up for being carried by bookstores–a risk I haven't been willing to take on any of the other titles. That could change, though, if this experiment goes well.

What do you think, author friends? Would you roll the dice on a Kirkus Review? And readers, do you look to Kirkus for recommendations? Do you have any reservations about their policy of paid reviews?

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