Kirkus Indie: When a Review is Good for You

By: Kathleen Pickering

Great news for the self-published author looking for a marketing boost above the pile: Kirkus Indie reviews self-published works.

Believe it or not, word of mouth is still one of the strongest motivators for sales. Book sellers, librarians, book clubs, reviewers—your best friend—will all have an answer if ask, “Have you read anything good lately?”

Here’s where Kirkus Indie comes in. To quote them directly, “The Kirkus Indie program gives independent authors a chance to obtain an unbiased, professional review of their work, written in the same format as a traditional Kirkus review with the same chance of earning the coveted Kirkus Star.

Our Indie program curates the self-published segment of the industry to help consumers and industry influencers (such as publishers, agents, film producers, librarians and booksellers) discover books they may otherwise never find.”

The beauty of a Kirkus review is that you, the author, can chose whether or not the review goes public. If you don’t like the results, use the 250-300 word critique to improve your work and move on. However, should you be tickled to the tailbone about how your book was received, not only is the review yours to publish as you see fit, Kirkus will  post the review on their website at no extra charge. (The fee, I’ll discuss later. I want you to see the good stuff first.)

In addition to the website review, your review also gets distributed to their licensees, including Google,, Ingram, Baker & Taylor and more.

And if that’s not enough, the editors will consider your  review for publication in Kirkus Reviews magazine, which is read by librarians, booksellers, publishers, agents, journalists and entertainment executives. Plus, the review may be selected as a feature in the Kirkus email newsletter which distributes to more than 50,000 industry professionals and consumers.

Now, you ask, who does the reviewing? Meg LaBorde Keuhn, COO of Kirkus Media recently told Author Cheryl O’Donovan in a RWR article that editorial integrity is sacred to Kirkus. Only professional reviewers who are genre experts, independent and totally unbiased are hired.

O’Donovan cited author Darcie Chan who said a Kirkus Indie review played an important role in helping her make self-publishing history by selling over 500,000 e-books and counting. The Kirkus Indie review encouraged readers to take a chance on her as an unknown author.

Nice. Smile

Kirkus Indie is the fastest rising segment in the Kirkus organization, being followed closely by its new editorial service. (Visit Kirkus Editorial for more info.)

What’s the catch? You pay for your review.

Standard service with a 7-9 week response time costs $425. Express services for $575 returns your review within 4-6 weeks. Kirkus Indie requires two copies of the published book or completed manuscript. For e-book only format a manuscript PDF is sent directly to the editor.

Now, we all know that the self-publishing industry is booming. This author believes that obtaining a favorable review from an established reviewer branded with an 80 year reputation for being the toughest book critic in the world makes good business sense.

What do you think?

Write on, my friends!

xox, Piks

33 thoughts on “Kirkus Indie: When a Review is Good for You

  1. Do Kirkus reviews really sell books? More so than a handful of Amazon reviews, for example?
    I have been an avid reader for 25 years, yet until I had self-published, I had never heard of Kirkus.
    I wonder how many ‘average readers’ have ever heard of them or would consider their review important enough to sway their decision to buy a book or not.

    How many of the readers of this Blog had heard of Kirkus before publishing, or even before reading this post?

    The other questions here are whether it’s ethical to pay for reviews and also, why should Indies pay when Kirkus reviews for traditional publishers for free?

  2. Good questions, Greg!

    My answer is that Kirkus reviews reach the hands of the powers who reach out to the average reader: the booksellers, librarians, film producers, editors, book clubs, etc. If the review appeals to these folks, your book stands a good chance of being handed to the average reader as “the next best read.”

    I just recently learned of Kirkus’s influence on the publishing industry. That’s why I’m blogging about it. I wanted to inform those who self-publish of another tool for marketing their work.

    As for ethics of paying for a review? I look at it this way:
    I’d pay to have an expert edit my manuscript and give me feedback, and it usually costs much more than the Kirkus review fee.

    Meanwhile, a quote from a positive review on my book cover from Kirkus (which I may or may not decide to use so there’s no bribing here)just may very well give my sales the leg-up they need.

    While I do write for a big publisher, I have self-pubbed works that are coming out under a pen name. So for me, a self-publisher who does not have a publishing house marketing my other books, I think it’s a pretty sweet deal. IMHO, of course.

  3. I had Greg’s same reaction. Likewise it jumped out at me that they also offer editing services which seems tame on the surface but would that tempt them to give harsher reviews on the chance that you’ll then seek out their editing services?

    I’m not saying they would, but questions can’t help but rise to mind.

    But I’m very cynical of book reviews to begin with. 😎

  4. That is great information, but the cost is quite high unless you write literary fiction, or have something which is quite outstanding – like Fifty Shades-lol!

  5. I know one of these “unbiased genre experts” who does the paid reviews for Kirkus. Only the worst of the worst crosses her desk and this has created a predisposition in her to dislike everything Kirkus sends her way. She sees self-pubbed writers as delusional wannabes and has never, not even once, liked any manuscript she has reviewed.

    This much is for certain: Kirkus has a built-in bias against indie writers, but is not above squeezing a little cash out of them.

    Think about it. If you were a really good writer, would you pay $575 for a review that will get published only on Kirkus’ website (where indie reviews are never prominently featured and are, in fact, nearly impossible to find)? I have never known a writer who would dream of sending money to Kirkus for a “review”.

  6. Looking at the Kirkus site, their Author Services area offers Editorial services, Review services, and Marketing services. Kirkus is a business, and they want to make money just like the rest of us. I get that.

    But something about this reminds me of the old days when literary agents charged fees to read a manuscript, then would tell you it wasn’t quite ready for publication. However, they had a good ‘friend’–a book doctor–who could help get that ms into shape. I always wondered how big a kickback those agents got for referrals to the book doctors.

    So reading that you can buy a review from the same place you can buy an edit and promotional help makes me think, “Buyer beware.”

  7. That’s pretty expensive, considering Kirkus isn’t known for their favorable reviews. If a review does get a positive spin, though, the expense can be worth it.

  8. Wow, interesting input, folks.

    Mike and Mark, I see you points. I never considered the wannabes who litter the market with poor quality work. I can see how that would jade a reviewer. Here I am thinking that if you’re a good writer and needed a jet-pack to help get your book noticed, this would be a good tool . . . seeing as how I’d expect nothing but a good review. LOL!!

    I wasn’t adverse to paying for the review. Anything good is usually worth a price–especially if it gets results. I like to think of it as a win-win situation instead of a who’s gonna take me for a ride next.

  9. I’d like to receive your blog posts by email, but I can’t see a way to do that. Am I missing something? Thanks for your help.

  10. I caught your posting here and I wanted to respond and let others know what happened to me when I decided to plunk down $575.00 to Kirkius Indie.

    If you are a writer, and you respect your good work,avoid Kirkus Indie.

    Don’t for this ploy. Sorry, but I believe it is to be so.

    I trusted, like a fool, that a company of their repute would, surely, and for the price of $575.00 ( I was in a rush to print), that I would, at least, get a complete read of the manuscript. Well, that clearly did not happen. What I got was a was a bare, scant assessment of the novel–the reviewer made sure to check correct spellings of character names, their basic role, any little characteristic to throw in to “show” that the reviewer “read” the work–and just took it from there.

    The so-called “problems” with the narrative simply did not exist. There was a major aberration of the story arc as a whole and therefore, the reviewer just summed it all up the way he/she wanted to see it. After all, it doesn’t matter, not really. KIRKUS will cover him/her, under the shield of anonymity and their motto: “World’s Toughest Critics”, regardless of what they do or say.

    When I tried to point out to them that I could prove that this reviewer didn’t really read my book, they ignored my simple suggestions: that they contact the reviewer in a live call and simply ask one or two definitive questions. It would have not taken a lot of trouble, really, but they clearly were not interested in being fair. They were interested in maintaining their position that they do not do refunds. Ever. Under any circumstance, however, their CEO said that each reviewer must read the work in its entirety. I can guarantee that this did not happen with my work. Yet– they took my money. And they refuse a refund. Clearly, this is a scam and a sham and a type of fraud cleverly wrapped up as a nice little package for the independent writer who is looking for some support. Partake at your PERIL!

    I did challenge them–but lost:

    KIRKUS ended my pursuit without giving any of my considerations a try, or even offering to have another reviewer take a stab (actually, I wouldn’t trust another…) but they are hanging on to my money, protecting their reviewer while I must request that they bury the thing and walk away in absolute disgrace. That’s what you get when your vulnerable, and trust snakes like KIRKUS to save the day. They’re outright criminals. STAY AWAY.
    Understand: I did present my “case” in a clear manner–asking that the editor there ask the reviewer these pertinent questions (proving my assurance that she did not read major, crucial sections) and I asked that it be done in a live call. Not in an email. (as it would give time for the writer to go back to the manuscript to answer those questions). I suggested this as the Kirkus Indie CEO assured me that every reviewer assigned a book must read the entire work. This is something they are adamant about, she assured me.

    However, when it got down to the wire, both she and the editor ignored my request and responded with tepid, defensive statements from their reviewer–who was interrogated via email.The attitude was: “Too bad.” it’s “her opinion”. The problem is, she was factually and demonstratively incorrect.

    They clearly did not care to get to the truth of the matter. They only wanted to protect their position as the bottom line for them was to keep my money. That’s another thing: they say “Well, if you don’t like the review we’ll make sure it never sees the light of day.” They actually say this. And proudly. Like they’re doing you a big favor.

    • They ARE doing you a big favor.
      You dont get bad press.
      You need thick skin in this business, i guarantee you if your story was compelling enough to read the whole way through, they would have.

      (assuming you’re right and they didn’t)
      The whole idea of a well written book is to get the reader so they CANT PUT THE BOOK DOWN.

      You obviously did not do this, and kirkus is RIGHT in their position.

    • Whether or not the story is ‘compelling’, the writer has paid a hefty sum for the review. The least the reviewer can do is read the book properly.

  11. I’ve heard (now) both the good and the bad concerning Kirkus’ e-reviews.”An author never pays for a service…”
    Not entirely true.
    “A good (great) review by the well-respected Kirkus staff is a definite plus when self-publishing.”
    I suspect that is very true. I have always glanced a little harder at books with a glowing Kirkus review on the back cover.
    It’s tough enough getting traffic to your baby. Having Kirkus write something positive about it can only help. Thanks so much for the perspective.
    Now, back to what I do best. Writing.

  12. I, too, thought that the Kirkus name was so highly respected that surely all of the their reviews would be fair. My indie review was not bad, not bad at all. However, I am FURIOUS as the reviewer clearly did not read my book, at best, he skimmed it.
    I say this because nearly every plot point the reviewer discussed was factually inaccurate! Half of the plot points discussed never even occurred in my book! I can only assume that the reviewer skimmed my book quickly since I got my review with only hours to go to the deadline.
    Whether it was a good review or a bad review is irrelevant (although it was not a bad review). What is entirely relevant is that the reviewer did not read the book, but clearly only skimmed it. I could not believe how the reviewer described major plot points completely wrong! I mean, not even CLOSE to what really happened in the story! And these were not minor things, but MAJOR plot lines!
    Do NOT spend your money on the Kirkus Indie review! Not because you might not get a good review, but because apparently if it is an indie review, they do not care enough to even read the book!

    • Communication is a two way street.

      Perhaps your book wasn’t clearly written well enough that the plot points were not obvious.

  13. I happened to be looking up reviews on Kirkus and came across this post. I am a crime fiction author that was fortunate to get an outstanding Kirkus review a few days ago. Did it make a difference? You bet it has. Prior to this review pitching agents produced no reply. Now people are contacting me. I hate to say it but self published authors need a credible review and if you are lucky enough to get a great one from Kirkus, that speaks volumes. I read below in a post that explained this person had a friend that reviewed books for Kirkus and every book that came her way was terrible. I can’t speak for everyone but what I can say if it is a horrible book then of course the review from Kirkus must reflect that. That is what they are paid for, honest unbiased reviews. But I will say there are extremley credible writers out there, myself included, who believe in themselves and are willing to take the risks to show the world they are able, confident writers. My name is Carolyn Arturi and I am proudly the author of “A Dream Too Far”.

  14. I also forgot to mention that it was incredibly evident that the reviewer that read my book read it from begining to end. When I went through my self publishing company and the Kirkus Review was an option that I could purchase I was told flat out that the company was tough when it came to their reviews. It was a risk, there was absolutely no guarentee my review would even be a good let alone great one. That is the chance you take and when you take that chance you must be prepared for the truth of what a professional thinks of your work. If it’s bad then use it to better yourself, if it’s good then it’s an incredible honor.

  15. Kirkus Indie reviewers operate with impunity. Their identities are not revealed and no one can challenge what they have written. In these circumstances they are, I suspect, tempted to ‘stick the knife in’, just for the hell of it.
    I received complimetary reviews from other sources (eg newspapers) but I found the Kirkus review of my book on the Czech Republic to be whiny and vituperative in character.
    Save your money. Give Kirkus a miss.

  16. Well, I wasn’t stuck with a knife from Kirkus and I don’t believe anyone should be persuaded out of trying. Just because one person decides to give a good review from a paper or magazine doesn’t make Kirkus wrong for giving you a less than favorable one. That is the chance you take with anyone who reviews your work. But Kirkus are the toughest book critics in the industry and it is what it is.

    • Reviews should be fair and undertaken in the right spirit.’Whiny and vituperative’ reviews don’t meet the criteria.
      Besides, grumbles about KI are numerous. Scroll up to see one in which, evidently,the reviewer barely read the book and missed major plot lines. How could anyone place faith in such a review? (As a corollary of this, don’t mistake KI ‘toughness’ for rigour.)
      If you’re happy with the service you received from KI, that’s great. Others, it appears, have cause for complaint.

    • Most newbie authors think they’ve written a good book when they haven’t. It’s easier to blame the reviewer than actually look at yourself in the mirror and realize you aren’t the literary genius you thought you were.

    • No doubt there’s some truth in that, but it doesn’t let KIR off the hook for (as I’ve read) missing major plot lines, patent contradictions and, incredibly, commenting on characters who don’t exist in the book.

  17. I also received a very positive review from Kirkus. It didn’t get the coveted Kirkus Star, but then that’s true of most books they review. It was clear that the reviewer *did* read my book thoroughly and the only negative comment was that a few of the characters can be a bit long-winded — and that’s a fair criticism. I even got a nice tag line that will tweet nicely. Now for the big question — will it sell more books? Will it help my work attract attention from an agent or publisher? No clue yet, since I just received the review, but I’ll report back when I know more on that front 🙂

  18. I just want to chime in here and put in a good word for Kirkus. The review I received on my soon-to-be-self-pubbed book was good and fair. I have no doubt that the reviewer read my manuscript either.

    I also want to add that I’ve been writing seriously for ten years, and am just getting ready to publish my first novel with a second almost finished, and I’ve found that almost everything in this industry involves some sort of luck. You may happen to find an agent very quickly if you query the right one early on, or you may send hundreds of queries to the wrong agents. You may meet your dream publisher at a writing conference, or spend thousands of dollars at conferences and never have success. With Kirkus, you may get a reviewer who “gets” what you’re doing and reviews your work positively, or you might end up with one who simply doesn’t.

    Of course, you also have to write good material! But what I’m saying is that even if you do, you still might not success as quickly as you’d like. This whole business is very subjective. So is a Kirkus review worth it? Yes, if you can accept the fact that you’re taking a gamble. You might not get a good review, and might end up feeling that you’ve wasted $400 or $575. On the other hand, the review might be just the break you’ve been waiting for.

    Good luck to all!

  19. I’d urge anyone contemplating a Kirkus Indie Review to see the relevant page of It’s a sobering experience, with writers complaining of half-baked, unprofessional and sometimes offensive reviews. It’s worth noting that one of the complainants says she’s qualified to doctoral level in Criticism, so she, more than most, is well qualified to comment.

    • The only thing that’s sobering about that page is how many writers there continue to hold delusional views of the quality of their work.

    • Those with doctorates in Criticism are not noted for being particularly ‘delusional’ as to the quality of their writing.

  20. I wonder how many of those who had unfavourable reviews of their books from Kirkus had taken the trouble — BEFORE sending them off to Kirkus Reviews — to have their books edited, checked for grammar, proof-read and also reviewed by one or more people they could trust to be honest with them. Few of us can see our own errors, and when a reviewer is faced with too many of them, the story itself must become impossible to review. It took me two years AFTER publishing one of my novels, along with constructive feedback from those I respected, before I plucked up the courage to send it to Kirkus. I was delighted, therefore, when I received, last December, a positive, recommended, review. One should also be prepared, however, that no matter how good the review, there is no guarantee that it will result in any increase in sales at all, which has, thus far, been the situation in my case. I am now wondering whether to take the plunge again, and pay Kirkus to market it for me via one of their marketing campaigns and promotion options. It is a huge amount of money to gamble, but Kirkus does spell out exactly what they will do for that investment. I’d be interested in hearing from anyone who has done this, and what, if anything resulted from it.

  21. Katherine Pickering says: “… Kirkus reviews reach the hands of the powers who reach out to the average reader: the booksellers, librarians, film producers, editors, book clubs, etc” For anyone with any doubts about this assertion where librarians are concerned, I should like to say that as a professional librarian formerly involved with the acquisition of books for a large city public library, one of our foremost resources for book selection was Kirkus Reviews.

  22. I have a very good review from Kirkus for my book ‘Deat Watch Beetle, A Historical Post WWII Spy Thriller’.
    Kirkus have been soliciting me to invest in an Author’s page on their web site. Is it worth the money??
    David E Huntley

    • I too have been contacted by Kirkus, suggesting that I pay for one of the three marketing packages they offer. If one does not pay for them to market one’s book, OR if it is not selected to appear in their magazine, one thing is sure, and that is that, as an unknown author, the only person to ever see the review — even if it is recommended, as mine was — is the author. Even if recommended, such books are listed according to publication date, not review date, so if, like mine, a book was published several months ago, or more, it is unlikely that anyone will have either the time or inclination to plough through the many hundreds of recommended books, on the off chance they might find something of interest to them. The only option, therefore, for those of us in this position, is either to be simply content to use our Kirkus review for publicizing our book ourselves, or to take the expensive gamble that an all-out marketing campaign with Kirkus will attract the eye of some industry professional who is sufficiently impressed with one’s book to invest in it and the author — figuratively speaking, dangle the bait out there in the hope that a fish will bite. You ask, is it worth the money? No one can even guess at answering that. If you are lucky enough to have the desired fish bite, then yes. If not, then no. The only answer that is for sure is never to gamble what one can’t afford to lose — and the question I am asking myself right now is: can I afford to spend that large sum of money, and quite likely have it result in no bites whatsoever?

    • I should have added that it would be helpful if Kirkus could give authors some statistical evidence of the success of their marketing campaigns on their behalf. Bur, they cant’ do that. Reason? Any communication from industry specialists regarding an author’s book goes directly to the author, NOT via Kirkus, so Kirkus has no way of knowing at all how successful their marketing campaigns are. One could be cynical, and say that this is a marketing campaign on their own behalf, in that success rates are so low that it would deter all but the financially secure or the most confident in their books’ potential from ever gambling away so much money on the off chance of it becoming a success.

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