Is a Kirkus Review Worth It?

Kirkus drawing 2In March, I purchased a professional review of The Case for Killing from Kirkus Reviews. I received it last week. The final sentence: “A slight variation on the whodunit—a whomightdoit—but with all the trimmings of a satisfyingly complex murder mystery.” —Kirkus Reviews. The full review is here.

This blog is part of my stream on how to self-publish. I thought it more relevant to discuss why I chose to pay for a review when the review was released rather than when I blog about self-promotion.

First about Kirkus. They’ve provided reviews of traditionally published books for many years and are recognized as tough book critics. Users of their reviews are booksellers, librarians, film producers, editors, book clubs, and others. Their Indie program “curates the self-published segment of the industry to help consumers and industry influencers discover books they may otherwise never find.” The indie author gets a review from a professional reviewer in their genre in Kirkus’ traditional format.

From the author’s perspective, the key is that they choose whether the review goes public (presumably a good review) or stays private (a not-so-good review). A public review goes on Kirkus’ website; is distributed to their licensees, Google, BN.com, Ingram, Baker & Taylor, and others; and may be included in Kirkus Reviews magazine and/or their email newsletter. And Kirkus allows authors to excerpt the review consistent with their guidelines.

For this, the author pays $425(US) for 7-9 week delivery. Not cheap. Is it worth it?

So far, my take is yes. I thought it important to know how I stacked up in the Kirkus world. If I’d gotten a negative review, I would have taken my lumps for a few days, then extracted what I could to improve my writing. With a positive review, I have validation and a promotional tool. The expense is significant, but it’s part of my marketing budget, which any author needs to have. Also, there are cheaper review services available.

Some doubt whether a Kirkus review translates into sales. Others worry about the subjectivity of the Kirkus review. And still others see an ethical issue in paying for a review. I’ll let you know on the first count in a year. On the second count, reviews are always subjective, but you need them for word-of-mouth promotion. And as for the “ethical” issue, which seems to relate to Kirkus cross-selling editing and promotional services, their pitch seemed low key and part of running their business.

Thanks to my good friend and amazing artist, Peter Fischer, for the drawing above.

Copyright ©2014 Peter Fritze

The Train Track

In The Case for Killing, Peter Bradley stumbles upon an abandoned railway track in the middle of Toronto. That explains the book’s cover design.

The train track, like most geographical locations in the book, exists. It’s about five kilometres long and runs from Leaside to downtown Toronto. And it is indeed abandoned, at least for the time being.

I came across the northeastern part of the track accidentally while doing research for the book. Here are two shots taken May 18, 2014.

Don Branch Looking Northeast True Davidson Bridge in Sight
Don Branch Looking Northeast
True Davidson Bridge in Sight
Don Branch Looking Southeast
Don Branch Looking Southeast

When you stand on the track where the photos were taken, there is little impression of being in Canada’s largest city. Sure, there are houses to be seen and there is some traffic noise from the Bayview extension. But, except for birds, it’s eerily still.

The track is known as the Don Branch of the CPR Belleville subdivision, running, as it does, alongside parts of the Don River. Canadian Pacific Railway built the track in 1888 to create a direct route into downtown Toronto.

For more than a century, freight and passenger trains used the track. CPR stopped its passenger service and the demand for freight declined as industry in Toronto’s core declined. The track was last used in 2007. Metrolinx bought the Don Branch and Go Transit intends to use it for future expansion.

It’s possible to hike most of the track. This excellent article gives details and more history. Warning: hiking some of the bridges is not for the faint of heart.

Copyright © Peter Fritze 2014

The Acceptance of Self-Publishing

Most new authors pitching a manuscript to an agent or publisher will be rejected. Many times.

Years ago, a few authors chose vanity presses as an alternative. These companies published books at an author’s expense. Most readers thought the author’s efforts were rooted in excessive pride and shunned the books. Now many authors self-publish their books and some appear on eBook bestseller lists. What’s behind the acceptance of self-publishing?

Self-publishing usually involves providing digital eBooks while vanity presses historically have involved creating bound books. However, there is overlap. In both cases, authors foot significant expenses and are responsible for self-promotion. Also, agents and publishing houses don’t act as “gatekeepers” of quality.

The rise of the Internet is behind much of the acceptance of self-publishing.

For authors, the Internet has made bringing a book to market easier and cheaper. Authors can download their books to online retailers for free, with retailers paid a percentage of royalties. They still face editing and cover design expenses, but at least service providers are abundant and some cost competitive. As for promotion, authors can take the driver’s seat with an online presence through their own or reader websites, blogs and social media.

The Internet has been a boon to readers, too.

Readers have always relied on reviews to decide what to read. The online world has allowed readers to exchange book reviews easily. The result is readers can curate books themselves, and often prefer to do so, just like they choose their own music and restaurants. Reader curation is as legitimate as relying on agents and publishers to tell them what to read. In fact, because there’s no underlying business, it may be more legitimate.

There’s still the problem of too many poorly written self-published books crowding the space for capable authors. I think new paradigms will emerge to resolve this, whether through indie sales statistics and/or awards, self-published authors satisfying criteria to qualify for membership in professional author organizations, or more technological advances.

If your goal is sharing a great story, self-publishing is a fine way forward.

Copyright © 2014 Peter Fritze

Should You Publish?

This post is part of the blog stream on how to self-publish. It asks the threshold question: should you publish at all?

So, you’ve finished a novel. You like it. Maybe you’ve even had editing help. You think it’s in good shape. What do you do with it? I’m going to assume for this post that you’re considering self-publishing instead of legacy publishing. (More on that decision in my third blog stream.)

It’s fair to say, I think, that most fiction writers want to be read. That’s what happened to me for The Case for Killing, at least once I’d completed the book. As many have commented before, we are born storytellers. But just writing out a story for yourself is unsatisfying. Writers need a few readers.

But there is a big difference between a few people reading your novel and self-publishing it to the world. If you’re going to publish, you want to believe you’re ready. Your credibility is on the line. And the process of self-publishing is time-consuming with significant costs for things like editing and cover design.

So how do you decide if you’re ready to self-publish? Here’s a process to consider.

First, take a weekend and read your novel out loud to yourself. It’s possible to do this and forget you’re the writer. Abandon all desire to re-arrange chapters and edit. Your goal at the end is to answer this question: did it capture your interest as a reader?

Then ask a family member or close friend to read your novel. Plead with them to be objective. Ask them to assess the writing, flow and pace; what parts and characters worked and didn’t; and, importantly, whether they enjoyed it.

Finally, find a few people outside your circle of family and friends (friends of friends, say) and ask their input. People can be surprisingly giving that way and you’ll likely get your most useful information there.

If you get thumbs up all around, then maybe you’re ready for next steps. What I got was thumbs up but with probing questions. I felt I was heading in the right direction, even if there still was a lot of work to do.

Copyright © 2014 Peter Fritze