Meet Karen Schechner from Kirkus Reviews

SchechnerKirkusPhotoIf you’ve been kicking at this indie thing for a while, you might be familiar with Kirkus Indie, an arm of Kirkus Reviews that offers a paid review service for indie authors. The prices can be steep, which has been a point of contention in the indie community. I had the opportunity to meet Karen Schechner, senior indie editor at Kirkus Reviews, at a self-publishing conference in New York. After an interesting and rather aerobic discussion with Karen and another author in an elevator after lunch break, I invited her to come by IU and give her side of the issue.

Karen, how long has Kirkus been reviewing self-published books?

Kirkus Reviews was originally founded by Virginia Kirkus in 1933. Kirkus started reviewing self-published books in 2005. Originally the program was called Kirkus Discoveries; now it’s Kirkus Indie.

Some authors might say that the fee for a Kirkus review is a bit steep for their budgets. How would you explain the expense when so many other outlets review for free?

It’s possible for a self-pubbed author to get tremendous exposure from a Kirkus review, both from the print publication, which is sent to librarians, booksellers, editors, readers, etc., and the website, which gets one million page views monthly. Kirkus Indie pays its reviewers, all of whom are professional writers, and its editors, copy editors and fact checkers. The review fee helps support the infrastructure of a widely read venue that could bring the author’s work to the attention of thousands of serious readers, as well as editors and agents.

Do you feel any obligation to give a positive review?

None whatsoever. Our obligation is to provide a professional, informed critique. And if you look online, you’ll see we’ve issued many negative reviews. We’ve also given many mixed and positive reviews. Our reviewers are free to pan or praise a book.

A recent, albeit unscientific poll of authors and readers done by IndieBRAG revealed that “paid reviews” were named one of the least trustworthy sources of criticism as compared with book bloggers and Amazon reader reviews. How would you address that finding?

I would point to our 80-year track record within the industry. We have a long history of maintaining high editorial standards and we wouldn’t squander that. I would suggest reading our reviews, which range from pans to raves, but always offer cogent summary and the kind of analysis of plot, character, prose, etc., that’s hard to fudge.

Have you had to respond to any negative reaction from an author following a less-than-stellar review?

Yep. Reactions vary widely. Writers aren’t shy about saying exactly how they feel. We take complaints seriously and review them carefully.

Are there any particular genres you see more than others in the paid program?

We see a lot of general fiction, sci-fi, memoir and thrillers. But there’s a wonderful diversity in Indie. We see everything from an action-crammed noir series set in Hollywood to a memoir about a pit bull that “smells like fresh-cut grass, baked pork, and a hint of unmentionables.”

In your opinion, what should the role of a review play in the marketing mix of an independently published book?

A positive, descriptive line or two from a review should go everywhere—on the back of the book as a blurb, in the author’s email signature, in all marketing materials, on the author’s website, etc. The book review should also appear prominently in a press kit to garner additional reviews and/or author interviews. The idea is to parlay a review into more media coverage, and by including a review from a recognized publication in a marketing campaign, it makes the book that much more likely to stand out.

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Karen Schechner is the senior indie editor at Kirkus Reviews. Kirkus Indie curates self-published titles to help consumers and industry influencers (publishers, agents, film producers, librarians, booksellers) discover books they may otherwise never find. In her pre-Kirkus days, Schechner was the senior editor at the American Booksellers Association, where she worked with indie booksellers for nearly a decade.


Author: Laurie Boris

Laurie Boris is a freelance writer, editor, proofreader, and former graphic designer. She has been writing fiction for over twenty-five years and is the award-winning author of four novels. She lives in New York’s lovely Hudson Valley. Learn more about Laurie at her website and her Amazon author page.

63 thoughts on “Meet Karen Schechner from Kirkus Reviews”

  1. Karen, thanks for agreeing to the interview. I’d like to ask you to fact-check the statement you made about the Kirkus website receiving a million views per month. That seems unlikely and inconsistent with all other available data on your site traffic.

    You mention exposure as a benefit of the Kirkus review. Exposure is something a lot of platforms provide. Google ads and Facebook ads provide exposure – potentially to many millions of readers – yet, they do not seem to provide much in the way of return. Do you have any data you can share on the ROI? How do indie titles with a Kirkus review fare against those without one?


    1. Hi Stephen, Happy to do the interview! We use Google Analytics and our report for the month of December showed that we had 1.15 million page views.

      We don’t track sales figures of the books we review, whether they’re traditionally or self-published. But here are some comments from authors who’ve benefited from a Kirkus review:

      “Kirkus’ review of The Mill River Recluse played an important role in encouraging readers to take a chance on a first novel by an unknown author.”
      — Darcie Chan, independent author of The Mill River Recluse, which sold more that 750,000 copies (Read more about Darcie’s success in the Wall Street Journal.)
      “Kirkus’ advertising package helped me draw additional attention to my books. In August, 2012, Identity Films, Hollywood, optioned The Gaia Wars series for film.”
      —Kenneth Bennett, author of The Gaia Wars
      Read more about Kenneth’s deal in Variety >
      “The endorsement gave consumers a meaningful recommendation that they could trust.”
      —Guy Kawasaki, bestselling author of 10 books, including Enchantment and The Art of the Start, as well as the self-publishing guide APE: Author, Publisher, Entrepreneur
      “Thanks to Kirkus’ review, we have seen a dramatic surge in sales and an increase in both bookstore and publisher interest. Kirkus’ reputation as a credible, unbiased reviewer has made all the difference. This has been the best investment we have made.”
      —Janet and Ed Howle, authors of The Long Road to Paris

  2. Laurie, I am so glad that you provided this interview. I have always wondered why it seems acceptable to pay Kirkus for a review. Any other paid review is quickly shredded and the finger pointing begins. I do understand their longevity, and the amount of exposure, but is the industry saying, “no, no, no” behind closed doors? Maybe it’s a catch twenty two? I am anxious to hear what other Indie authors have to say. Good post, thank you.

  3. Thanks for the info.
    Personally, I don’t see the difference in paying one review site than another, except in the name and longevity. Who is to say which is credible? If I could pay Kirkus (in my dreams) or any other site, for that matter, why is it an issue?
    If all paid sites say the same thing about a book, is it the amount paid that makes the review true?

  4. It’s important to have other points of view, and this is a welcome addition to the debate. However, I am also most interested in the ROI. Perhaps Indies Unlimited has some readers who have purchased a review, and would be prepared to mention how the affected their book’s performance?

  5. I’ve always been kind of torn in the way I view Kirkus. For me personally, the credibility of the brand was hurt when they started the Kirkus Discoveries/Indies program because it seems designed to take advantage of naive authors, not unlike Publish America and other predatory vanity presses.

    I get that they’re a business and the economics of what they’re doing probably justify the amount they charge. But I have problems with offering a service to another business (an author in this context is a business) that you know has little chance of paying off in increasing that business’s profit enough to at least break even on their investment.

  6. I love the non-answer to the question about the fee being steep. That should tell everyone just what they need to know about the company.

    Before I got into this indie publishing thing, I hadn’t even been aware of the existence of Kirkus, so being around since 1933 means very little to me. Ford’s been around for awhile and I still won’t buy their cars (since they’re crap and Henry was a Nazi), so please don’t imply that longevity equals quality or credibility.

    The mere fact that you started a separate program for independent/self-published writers, as Al mentioned, means that you set out with a definite plan to soak some cash out of a burgeoning segment of the publishing community! Why not just enfold those reviews under the main Kirkus banner? Why not? Because your company doesn’t think independently published books are good enough! And you are still under the thumb of the traditionally-published payola! One mustn’t upset the Big 5! (or 6 or 4 or whatever they are now; as they drop the writing on the wall should become clear) This way you can keep your “respectibility” and eat your cash-soaked indie cake, too.

  7. In a perfect world, we’d all pay Kirkus for a chance to be recognized. The fact that the price is more than my mortgage for the month (yeah, yeah, mine’s cheap) tells me that it’s not gonna happen. Sure, anyone can write a book now-a-days. Not anyone can sell one. It takes either an incredible amount of time, effort and patience (hopefully you don’t kick the bucket first), or an incredible amount of money to hit the big time. It leads me to believe that it’s no different than writing a book a thousand years ago. It’s a rich man’s game, and I don’t mean Meyer. I’m might not be a reader, but I know what love is, Jenny. I was well educated in my youth, and somehow it managed to stick. I have read excerpts from most of the IU staff’s and other etchings, and have been greatly impressed with the styles and story lines. I’ve also watched the 5-star pile mount higher and higher (including my own), and yet, I haven’t seen any of us reach that elusive brass ring. Oh sure, I’ve seen some snippets of success here and there, but let’s be realistic on the definition of success, shall we? How ’bout being able to afford a ham sammich, for starters. “I write because I’ll just die if I don’t get it out of my head” isn’t gonna pay the sewer bill. Where is that confounded brass ring?

  8. Great interview, Laurie.

    Karen, I’d be interested to know the difference in the fee between a Kirkus Indie review and what Kirkus charges a trad publisher for a review of one of their books. Is it comparable? Thanks!

    1. Hi Lynne, Thanks for your question. Traditional publishers do not pay for reviews of their books. The magazine was founded to provide booksellers, librarians and readers with reviews they could trust. Their subscriptions, along with advertising dollars from traditional publishing, helps support the magazine.

      If a traditional publisher misses the pre-publication deadline for the other sections of the magazine, and they would like their book to be reviewed by Kirkus Indie, they pay the same Indie review fee as any other author.

  9. Terrific interview, thank you Laurie, and thank you Karen for stepping into difficult territory for all of us. I’d love to hear the answers to all the above questions, especially about ROI. I’d also like to know if any of your Best Books of 2013 are indies?

    1. Hi Carolyn, I’m happy to answer questions. ROI is very tricky because we’re not talking about uniform results. Our goal is to provide professional, astute book reviews, but the books, of course, vary tremendously. When the editors love a book, we hope that the book does well, and we may include it in our Best of list (, feature it in the magazine and/or bring it to the attention of editors and agents. (I also spend a lot of time volunteering for the Lambda Literary Foundation, where I promote talented LGBT self-published authors.) But we can’t guarantee anything. What I can do is point to the very concrete, specific success some authors have had. Does this mean every author who’s written an excellent book (and let’s not forget that’s the critical ingredient here) will see his or her sales skyrocket? Not necessarily. But it does mean that they have a strong endorsement from a recognized publication, and that’s a really good start.

  10. Interesting post and discussion. I never knew Kirkus did this, but I mostly keep my head down and peck away on the keyboard. I don’t plan to pay anyone for a review.

  11. Great information! Thanks Laurie and Karen! I never looked too far into the Kirkus Indie reviews since I’m too cheap to spend that much on a review(whether or not that’s self-destructive to my writing career . . .). Also, I love seeing the discussion this interview has created. Several questions/observations have been made that I probably wouldn’t have thought of. I’d love to see some answers pertaining to the previously posted concerns about what evidence Kirkus has as to the success of indie authors who employ their services.

  12. Great interview, Laurie. I have to admit, I’ve spent money on review tours and such, so the idea of ‘paying for a review’ isn’t foreign to me (and no, I would not EVER pay for someone to rate/review my book if they didn’t read the thing–icky, icky, icky). What I object to is the amount of money Kirkus charges, and the fact that Indie titles are treated differently. The best mileage I have ever received from an independent review (aside from Big Al’s awesome site, of course) was Midwest Book Review, which will review your print edition for FREE.

    I’d love to hear Karen’s answer to the ROI question, too, although it’s doubtful she would be able to answer it with any hard data unless Kirkus has done a survey of sales results from authors who’d paid for their services. I’ve spoken with a few authors (trad pubbed and indie) who received reviews (paid and unpaid) from Kirkus, and from what they tell me it didn’t shift many units. I assume your mileage varies, of course. If Kirkus hasn’t surveyed its authors about results the question is, why not? I’d think it would be an awesome marketing tool–unless, of course, the results weren’t so good…

    1. “aside from Big Al’s awesome site, of course”

      Thanks, DV, but I doubt it caused enough of a blip to notice. I don’t think a single review whether from Kirkus or from my little site does very often.

      1. Actually, Al, your review for both Serial Date and Yucatan Dead helped sales each of the days your reviews posted and you bet I noticed. Of course, the latter sold more b/c it was a 5* compared to a 4*, but I got a bump from the former, as well. 🙂

      2. Big Al, I’ve got two of my novels and one short story collection in your hopper. I’d volunteer to be the guinea pig to see if there’s a blip in my sales. 😀

  13. Actually, if I were to see a book reviewed on Big Al’s site, I might check it out. If I were to see a book with a Kirkus review, I’d probably not even bother with it, since if someone’s either desperate or insecure enough to pay that kind of cash for a review, I’d seriously wonder if it was worth reading.

    I was remiss earlier in not complimenting Laurie on her review – great job and great snag, girl! 🙂

    I’ve done the StoryCartel thing were you get a book and leave a review for the chance of getting an Amazon Gift Card. Done it many times in fact, and left honest reviews for everyone of them. Sometimes I came out richer for it, sometimes not. No biggie. But I might go that way as an author since it’s just a fee and $30 worth of gift cards I’d have to lay out, as opposed to $400 smackers.

    1. Rich, it is more than $400. Lets see, standard review is 7-9 weeks at $425.00 and express is 4-6 weeks at $575. Too rich for my poor blood.

  14. So if we were to send you a manuscript pre-publication, you’d give us a review for free?

    Psst! BTW, if you’re accepting subscriptions from the people you’re reviewing for free, it’s not exactly free, is it? It’s payola. Especially since this is the very first time I’ve seen noted that traditional publishers don’t pay, but you put the vise on the wallets of the little guys.

    Kirkus, for all it’s years in publication, is becoming of more dubious value with each comment reply…

  15. Naturally, I’d buy a subscription to your wonderful … umm what is it? a newsletter? … naturally I’d subscribe first so I can feel like I’ve got big boy pants like Random Penguin.

  16. Thanks, Rich. You asked the two questions on my mind. Can an Indie get the same deal as traditionals? If not, makes me feel as if the special section really is a way to milk money from those the industry believe are undeserving of equal recogniton.

  17. It makes me feel proud to be able to honestly state that I’ve never paid for a review, never even asked for one. I just waited patiently for reviews to come in as my readers felt like it. Now two years after publication, I have 46 reviews, on Amazon alone, all of which are unbelievably positive.

    BUT I feel it is very relevant here to explain that I did spend a comparable amount of money, NOT to a review site, but to a highly reputable new Zealand literary assessor. I paid twice for this service, once after the first draft and then again after the second draft. Each time over $600 of our dollars (probably about the value of a kirkus review)
    After the third draft, nearly double that amount of money went to an experienced professional editor.

    I have nowhere near been repaid for all this yet, but I have received (resoundingly) the first two of the three ‘r’s. (Respect, Recognition and Reward.) I get speaking gigs in a respected creative writing tertiary institution here in NZ and I get invites to many other literary situations. My book was sent to the Frankfurt book fair, to represent our literature there in 2012, this country’s year of honour at the fair. I sold foreign translation rights there for the book to be published in the Czech republic.

    Recently my agent sent the book to a film-maker who accepted it and intends to make an animated feature film of the story. If that happens, my sales could improve. He will have to raise $millions first, but he intends to try.

    The assessments were far more comprehensive than any Kirkus review. They were thousands of words and many pages in length, incredibly detailed and brutally honest. I got unbelievable value for money. Without them I would be nowhere.
    I recommend that before anyone shells out for this, ask yourself, ‘Could my money be better spent ?’

    1. A bit of a correction, I suppose I must be getting close to being paid for the services of assessment and editing I’ve described above, but certainly not for the time spent on writing and marketing. So far I would still have been financially better off to stick to my old teaching job. But I have not given up trying yet and still do not intend to go back to teaching.

  18. I’m sorry but I don’t see how paying for a review from Kirkus is much better than passing bucks under the table for a review from any Joe Blow. Certain authors in the Indie community have been burned for this. I don’t intend to join that list. IMO, it’s dishonest, no matter how “honest” the review is.
    The most I will do is offer a free copy for an honest review to a blogger or book reviewer.

  19. There’s one thing that, unless I’ve missed something, that hasn’t be explained satisfactorily: Why Kirkus AND Kirkus Indie? Why does there need to be a differentiation between the two? Why can’t all books be reviewed under one masthead? Wouldn’t that give value to all?

    1. Considering that most people can’t remember who published the last book they wrote, if they get a good, professionally presented story, I’m questioning that myself. Unless it has something to do with libraries, big-box stores, and schools preferring traditionally published books?

    2. Rich, the link that Karen provided above happens to present an interesting article. It definitely toots self-pubs and indies. And thank you Karen for sharing. It reinforces exactly what Rich as been saying. This is part of a quote from Rosencrantz “more agents and publishers are trawling self-publishing sites to recruit successful authors. It appears that the bananas are on our side of the boat. We definitely should be treated equally. A good song is a good song, and a good book is a good book, plain and simple.

  20. It’s a seperatist act. Do they review the Indie books with a different standard and what would it take to have an Indie book cross the line?

    1. I’m thinking it takes E.L. James or Hunger Games level popularity. It’s all in the numbers … ka-bloody-ching is all that really matters.

  21. I have trouble with this concept: it is not ok to pay for reviews unless it’s a Kirkus review? Plus publishing companies dont pay for reviews, but Indies are charged an astronomical fee?

  22. Same question for Karen as I have for the Indie Arm of PW, which also offers indie authors the “opportunity” for a paid review.

    Specifically, why charge independent authors for their reviews, when it seems to me the company could gain FAR more financially from charging traditional publishers to review THEIR titles? I mean Kirkus, seriously, why not go for the gold? The paid review system by instituted companies such as this is nothing more than a grab for revenue, not to mention morally reprehensible and artistically ridiculous–but if that’s the case, why go for the chump change?

    More importantly, indies,why fall for it? Just for the chance to get your stuff reviewed by some inexperienced, underpaid publishing acolyte who can’t land a better gig than the lowest rung of Kirkus’ corporate ladder? PUHLEEEZE…

  23. I wonder if the original Kirkus Reviews company, which actually closed its doors back in 2009, would be doing things this way?

    When someone else started up Kirkus again in 2010, it was the beginning of the indie/self-publishing boom. Methinks someone up the food chain saw the writing on the wall and figured it was better to be a haifisch swimming with the krakens of the traditionals, making tasty and profitable meals of the guppies pouring in to the sea from the mouth of the independent river.

  24. Read the interview and all comments. Honestly, for Indie writers what are most important are, guess what, the readers! and the readers know very little about Kirkus. For the sake of it, I’ve asked around, not one answered they knew anything about Kirkus and when they learned the company charged about $500 for a review the comments were… well, you can raise your bar of nastiness to the roof and beyond.

    One single review from Kirkus means nothing at all for an Indie writer. It’s a traditional publishing pat in the back that has the same value of something everybody does. I simply cannot understand why Kirkus can’t have the same model as Midwest Book Review (free) and for a company who’s there since 1933 the fee means only one thing: “you’re a wannabe, you waste our time, at least you have to pay for that”

    Sorry, Kirkus, but you’ve got a tarnished reputation among Indie writers and readers know nada about you. When they do, having a Kirkus review on an Amazon page means LESS sales.

  25. I know an author who went with Kirkus and it didn’t help her out that much. It’s like everyone hates us indies until they can find a way to get us to pay for things we just don’t need. The day I ever pay for a review is the day my ashes are scattered. Sorry Kirkus.

  26. Such a heated discussion! I have a friend who is a reviewer for Kirkus and when she spends time away from her writing work, she needs to be compensated, just like when she edits. Just sayin’

    1. Thank you for the comment, Kim, but one of the issues at play here is the seemingly unlevel playing field. Journalistic publications that do book reviews – say, the New York Times down to my local arts magazine – compensate their writers who are assigned a review. The publisher pays them. It’s not completely clear, in terms of the New York Times, whether that money is coming from the traditional publishers, although most of us have a strong hunch and anecdotal evidence that this is the case. But in some of the answers we’re hearing from Karen, it sounds like independent authors are paying out of pocket for reviews and traditionally published authors (and their publishers) do not have to pay. Where does the compensation come from if, say, Darcie Chan wants her next trad-pubbed book reviewed? Because I’m sure that Kirkus reviewers who review independent books are compensated just as equally as those who review traditionally published books, yes?

  27. Wow, what a great thread.

    It makes me wonder if the review process is the same with Indies and traditional. Does a four star review for an indie title carry the same significance as a four star review of a trad pub title.

    If you take the body of reviews from the indie side and compare them to the traditional side, what shakes out?

    If too many Indie authors start to get bad reviews, Kirkus will destroy their marketplace.

    Kirkus might be able to be more honest with the traditional pub side, those guys have bought into the system, they aren’t taking just one book to the marketplace, but thousands. A couple of bad reviews won’t even be noticed.

    On the Indie side, a bad review by a “respected” reviewer can be devastating. Financially and more.

    Thanks Laurie for a great conversation, and thanks Karen for braving the waters.

    1. “On the Indie side, a bad review by a ‘respected’ reviewer can be devastating. Financially and more.”

      Maybe. Maybe not. I’ve heard that claim (normally from authors claiming their sales tanked after I gave them a less than great review), but what little investigation I’ve done makes me question it. (If your sales are averaging 2 a week and you don’t sell any the week a bad review came out, can you really attribute it to the review? Now if you were selling 200 or 2,000 a week and had been for months and the bottom dropped out, I’d agree.)

      However, this reminded me of something I’d seen about Kirkus that causes me concern from a credibility point of view.

      From there page about Kirkus Indie (

      Kirkus Indie will notify you via email that your review is ready, and you will click the link in the email to go to your author dashboard, where you can download the review. At that point you may choose to keep it private or publish it on our website (at no extra charge). If you choose to keep it private, it will never see the light of day. If you decide to publish the review on our site, you may use it any way you choose—on the back cover of your book, in marketing collateral, on your website or in a letter to an agent or publisher.

      So a Kirkus Indie review, while having financial implications, carries no risk of a bad review for the author. In my mind, this policy has some implications. Scanning the initial page of indie reviews (just reading the preview and blurb, not the full reviews) I don’t see anything other than positive reviews. The reason is obvious. So the question I have is, if Kirkus gave too many reviews that were negative so the only thing the author got for their money was being able to kill a negative review, would authors be talking to each other saying, “it’s a waste of money, they gave me a negative review I couldn’t use” (since every author thinks their book deserves a glowing review)? If people aren’t hearing that, does it mean few negative reviews happen, possibly because reviewers don’t want to kill the golden goose? I don’t know. I don’t think I know anyone who has paid for the Kirkus review, nor is there any evidence for my theory, but when an author is paying for a review, these are the kinds of questions I would expect people to have.

  28. Slippery slope, this.

    Important topic for Laurie Boris to cover; enlightening writers on the many options available allows us able to make wiser decisions, so THANK YOU, Laurie, for bringing this to our attention… great conversation, as others have said.

    But – boy – how many ways does the fact of indie writers being charged for services traditionally published writers are not rub me the wrong way?? The presumption, I presume, that desperation drives our marketing decisions is cynical at best, gouging at worst.

    And then there’s the whole ethical question of ANYONE paying for reviews…

    As one who’s been long-involved in the music industry as well as being a writer, a “ding” went off when someone above mentioned “payola.” Not much difference here. The minute you put money in someone’s hand to do something that should, instead, be an authentic response to work, you’ve muddied the waters.

    I get the point — we all want the marketing heft of a good review — but have we become such whores to the marketplace that we’d rather pay someone to say “I love you” than hold out for an authentic – and unpaid – expression of appreciation from a reader or writer who was drawn to our work and had a genuine, artistic response? If not, what’s the point, then?

    Of course, Ms. Schechner says even though paid, reviewers WILL write a bad review if they are so moved, but my God, what an even uglier prospect for an indie writer… to go out-of-pocket for something “non-indie” writers don’t pay for AND get a bad review they can’t use but will still be floating around. There’s a deal with the devil.

    When you think about why we do this, the crassness of this approach is all the more grating. I write because I have stories to tell, ideas to express, hopefully something moving with which to touch, incite and inspire readers the way writers have touched, incited and inspired me throughout my life. YES, it’s tough out there and we’d all like to not only make a living but actually get our books well-launched and widely read. But we’ve already been dismissed/ignored by those in traditional publishing and have chosen to soldier on by virtue of the indie market – bravo to all of us – are we really going to let bean-counting “business people” reduce our efforts to pandering for unauthentic, paid-for reviews to bolster our campaigns?

    I’ll always appreciate a good review. But I damn well want it from someone who’s writing it because they’re moved to write it, not because I pulled out my credit card.

  29. Hi All, Thanks again for including me in your conversations! There are so many good questions here, and I’d like to get to them. Please give me a little time, and I’ll try to respond to some of the most common questions over the next couple of days.

  30. Great interview, Laurie, and a fascinating debate. Respect to Karen for sticking with it and offering to come back with answers to the questions asked. I agree with everyone who has commented on the unfairness of indie authors being expected to pay for reviews for which traditionally-published authors don’t pay. Not only unfair but ethically wrong.

    1. Hi Mary, Many thanks for your comments. This one–the fairness or unfairness of asking Indie authors to pay while trad publishers do not–seems to be the question of the day. I’ll answer below.

  31. In my humble opinion, Kirkus would do much better in terms of reputation if they acted as Bookbub does. You submission has to have some pre-requisites before Bookbub even considers running a promo with your title, and then they can always refuse you anyway.

    Because Kirkus is a company (not a blogger or an avid reader who runs a blog out of his/her passion and reviews whenever possible) I understand they can’t take up everything and everyone onboard and have their editors start shuffling with the flood of self-published work out there. They need a filter, agreed, but the filter cannot be $400 😉 Base your filter on something else, will ya? 🙂

    1. Hi Massimo, Yes! A big part of the issue of why we can’t review for free is the tremendous flood of indie work out there. I personally happen write about indie work for free for the Lambda Literary Foundation (please find one Q&A here:, but I can only do so much work without getting paid. I found out about John Waldron’s work via Kirkus:

      1. I understand the issue. Amazon’s revolution has done a wonderful thing: it has allowed all writers to publish their work with ease and efficiency. It also created a big problem: it has allowed all to publish their writings with ease and efficiency.

        Today, readers are the slush pile filter because the slush pile is published. We all get it, but the solution, although tempting, is not to have an Indie writer pay $400 for a Kirkus review. Why? Because you’re not getting rid of the slush pile either. You’re simply dividing the same pool in two categories, those who have $400 to spend on a review, and those who either don’t have that free money to put on a review or, equally probable, won’t pay to have their work reviewed. But you’re not selecting quality, you’re selecting wallets.

        Wouldn’t be better for Kirkus to—pure conjecture—require not less than 50 reviews with a 4+ average?

        The overall picture Kirkus sends to the Indie community at large is that of a money grinder. Remove the “you can decide not to publish a bad review”, make that be the pre-selection: A bad review is published the same as a good review, put a pre-filter for Indie books to have been ‘exposed’ to readers already, and ask for a nominal fee if you really have to (justified, for example, with “in case of a good review, we will promote/publish/post the 4 and 5 stars reviews to these channels…”.

        I bet you’ll get a lot of great Indie works this way. 😉

        1. Another crazy idea: Kirkus embracing the Indie writers. What if a promising great new voice (any genre) gets a 4 or 5 star review from Kirkus. From what you say, it implicitly means it really is publishable and sellable. It might be the next Hugh Howey?

          And what if for a publisher to offer a contract to an Indie writer discovered via Kirkus would have to pay Kirkus a commission? Wouldn’t Kirkus make more and be more reputable (among Indie writers and readers too?) that with the current business model?

          Let Kirkus Discover You!

          I’m sure Kirkus lawyers can find a way to ensure to have publishers pay a good commission to Kirkus after a 4 or a 5 star review to an Indie novel 😉

  32. Ok, I’ll tackle one of the common questions below. Then I’m going to have to get back to editing! Hope this is helpful.

    Why do indie authors pay for reviews when traditional publishers do not?

    When Kirkus decided to offer review self-pubbed books in 2005, it was because indie authors asked us for that service. The magazine had always been supported by advertising dollars from traditional publishers, as well as subscribers. Our subscription base was mostly librarians and booksellers, who primarily buy traditionally published books (although more booksellers and librarians are interested in self-pubbed books, Kirkus worked toward providing our subscribers with the specific information they needed to make their purchasing decisions.

    To fund reviewing self-pubbed books, Kirkus had to find a way to pay for the reviewers, editors, copy editors, fact checkers, other staff, as well as overhead, IT expenses, etc., since that revenue wasn’t coming from subscriptions or advertising. The solution was to offer reviews for a fee. I know many indie authors object to the fee, but it’s the only way the infrastructure of Kirkus can be supported. I see it this way: It’s an opportunity for indie authors to get featured in a nationally recognized publication. If an author doesn’t think they should/want to buy a review, I completely understand. And if they can get reviewed someplace else for free, that’s great. Kirkus is just one option among many.

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