Kirkus Reviews and Kirkus Discoveries*

I spoke with the founder of Kirkus Discoveries, the paid review service today. The topic was Publisher’s Weekly, but naturally the conversation turned to paid reviews and the inherent difficulty that lies therein.

On one side, there is something to be said for the value to the author. Securing reviews is tricky since the number of books published so heavily outweighs the number of reviewers available to review them. One advantage a publishing service provider can offer is the ability to help an author overcome those odds.

On the other hand, the moment a review is “paid for” its creditability is called into question (the same can be said for paid-for-mention blogs and more on that at a future date).

Kirkus Discoveries seems intent to counter such prejudices by being particularly brutal in its reviews of on-demand books. Is that biting the very hand that feeds it, or is that simply its way of maintaining its impartial MO? According to the founder (not sure if he wants to be mentioned or not, which is why I’m referring to him like that), Kirkus has a reputation for being somewhat callous and cruel in its reviews anyway.  (2011 Update: In fact, their tagline currently is: “World’s Toughest Book Critics.”)

Our major competitor offers the “Kirkus Review” for $360, which is $10 more than anybody can get it for from the Kirkus website. Presumably the $10 additional fee  is their service fee (ie, profit), but knowing what I know about the 50-word “reviews” coming out of Kirkus Discoveries (that’s $7 a word, in case you’re calculating), I wonder if that publisher is coming to the same conclusion their authors are coming to — that paying $350 for a bad review kind of…sucks.

2011 Update:  The cost for a review from Kirkus is even more now. In the span of time since writing this blog post back in 2007, Outskirts Press has responded to our authors’ requests by introducing several pay-for-review options for our authors, including Kirkus.  But one thing hasn’t changed:  I still believe that paying for a negative book review sucks.  So if you, as an author, are considering this route, look carefully and dispassionately at your book first–as dispassionately as you can, at any rate.  Yes, it sucks to pay for a negative review–although even negative reviews typically have some kernel of positive content that can be used, or at least absorbed to help you improve your craft.

On the other hand, there is nothing as exhilarating as getting a positive book review, especially from “The World’s Toughest Book Critics” at Kirkus — because if you do, you’ll know you deserve it. 

 Here a special note should be made to one of our authors and his book, recently chosen by Kirkus Reviews as among the very best of all the indie books they reviewed in 2011.  Congratulations go out to Graham Parke on this notable achievement for his book No Hope for Gomez — which I should mention has won NUMEROUS awards this year.  You’ll notice Mr. Parke has done all the rights things – he’s altered his cover to showcase an “award-winning seal” and even added an excerpt from the Kirkus review to the cover.  Perfect (and all easy to do with the options available at Outskirts Press).

Read the Kirkus review below and then click here to buy it for a 10% discount


A drug trial participant blogs about his experiences on an experimental medication and questions whether the strangeness in his life is a side-effect or just weirdness as usual.

As a test subject in an experimental drug trial, Gomez Porter is asked to a keep a blog to chronicle any strange experiences, an exercise that quickly alerts him to just how many odd things seem to be happening around him. He soon finds himself wrapped up in a possible murder mystery, stalking a stalker for a woman he thinks he loves (though it might just be the drugs), while his life and the characters in it get ever more absurd—and increasingly dangerous. Parke’s debut novel melds screwball comedy, hipster-style irony and an old-fashioned unreliable narrator into a quirky whodunit that challenges our perceptions about how we think and interact with the world around us. The blog-style entries are unique, providing a firsthand view of events from Gomez’s perspective, a perspective that even the character himself actively joins the reader in doubting. When Gomez goes so far as to admit he edits his posts, we’re left to wonder what got cut, what he isn’t telling us and why, if he is cutting things, he still records his more embarrassing, frightening or unflattering moments. These layers of ambiguity, combined with the novel’s wit and some of its more subtle humor (often overshadowed by its bigger laughs), give the book the distinction of being a work most will want to revisit. The most notable shortcoming is the ending; it isn’t hugely satisfying, and the tone doesn’t fit with the rest of the book. But this is largely forgivable as the real charm of the novel is in the humor of its journey rather than its surprisingly solemn destination.

At times laugh-out-loud funny, occasionally just weird for the sake of weird, but consistently entertaining.”

Great review! Great exposure! Great book! So it can be worthwhile. In other words, here’s the take away: Before requesting a paid-review, be sure your book is awesome!  Publishing at Outskirts Press is a great way to take care of the technical awesome parts (interior design, cover design, etc), but the material/content of the book is what Kirkus examines closest, and that’s all you, baby! 

 Here’s one easy rule-of-thumb: If you didn’t have your book professionally edited, either by Outskirts Press or another professional editing service, then apply your marketing dollars to something other than a paid-review. We have a lot of other options to choose from.)

* Originally posted on on August 27, 2007. To see why, click here.