Anesa Miller

Kirkus Fiasco Revisited

An Installment in the Saga of DRAWER NO MORE!
>> View all posts in this series.

In fairness to Kirkus Reviews, I’ll readily admit that they have some fine employees. When I wrote to express my disappointment with the review I’d purchased of my novel, Our Orbit, I was surprised to encounter a very helpful young man. I assume he was young since he was working as a first-line responder to email inquiries like mine. I’ll call him Thad.

Among Thad’s helpful reminders was this: “Our reviews are required to meet a minimum word count of 250 words.” So at 348 words, my review was laden with gravy.

Point taken, Thad…although nearly 100 of those words were mine rather than the reviewer’s—quotations from Our Orbit padding the lukewarm remarks.

Nonetheless, in spite of my jaundiced attitude, I was impressed when Thad stated that he would, “present your concerns to our editors.” In case you didn’t read DRAWER NO MORE! last week, my primary complaint was that the review I’d bought so dearly contained a spoiler revealing a major plot point. I felt this made the whole thing unusable due to Kirkus’s policy requiring permission to publish the complete review if the buyer quotes so much as one phrase (which is, of course, the point).

So I pricked up my ears when Thad suggested that senior editors might actually consider the issues I’d raised and offer some solution. Three weeks went by without further word. When I wrote again to ask Thad if I should expect a reply, his answer came the next day:

“The Indie Editors … have decided that we cannot alter the review. It is Kirkus Indie’s policy to only address those matters related to factual inaccuracies …

“Regarding the point about the [spoiler], very often our reviewers are not able to elaborate on each and every plot point found in a given work… However, they must inform a reader of certain points… We do understand your frustration and disappointment, but we have certain editorial guidelines that we follow.”

Do I detect a bit of circular reasoning? Kirkus reviewers cannot elaborate every plot point, but they must inform readers about certain points. And just because I withheld a plot twist until page 191, treating it as an elaborate family secret, that was apparently no reason to select some other point to elaborate for those demanding readers.


Okay, okay. As friends have assured me several times by now, I’m making much ado about very little. Are spoilers such a serious thing? accommodates spoiler alerts on reader reviews, but Amazon has discontinued that practice. Even if an author objects to revealing statements in a review, Amazon will do nothing to post an alert. (Guess how I know.)

Moreover, millions of people know how such books as To Kill A Mockingbird and The Great Gatsby turn out. Or Gone Girl or The Secret History or The Hunger Games. And that does nothing to keep new readers away. So, yes—I’m overreacting. I should be so lucky as to have fans clamoring over Our Orbit, discussing the plot twists and characters, accidentally spilling the beans about what happens on page 191.

Maybe I’ll go ahead and put that brief, mildly flattering, quote from my Kirkus review on the back cover of my book. Maybe I’ll even publish it here on my blog.

If Kirkus responds by putting up the full review, complete with spoiler, in some obscure corner of their website—so much the better. If one or two people stumble upon it and find the secret—don’t tell anybody, please?

And thank you, Thad, for making an effort to talk to those “Indie Editors” on my behalf.

4 thoughts on “Kirkus Fiasco Revisited”

  1. When I published my first novel, COLONY EARTH, one of the first things I did was request a Kirkus review. I had read accounts from Indie authors that this was how they were successful. Imagine my disappointment when this paid review came back and it was obvious that the reviewer had not read more than the first couple pages. Kirkus refused to do anything when I complained.
    Despite the bad experience, I ordered reviews for Books 2 and 3, and the reviews were wonderfully written. My experience at Clarion Foreword was much better.

    1. This is good to know, Regina–many thanks for sharing. It’s interesting to hear that you persevered with Kirkus in spite of a bad first experience. I’m glad it turned out better on the re-try. And thanks for the tip on Clarion Foreword. I’ll look into it.

      Hope you’ll stop by again sometime soon.

  2. It’s good for readers to keep in mind that no kirkus review is ever free. For indie authors to be paying them to write reviews might sound kinda unseemly, but in fact the Big Boys like Random House et al have also always paid for Kirkus to cover their new releases. Only difference: it’s the house that pays (probably in bulk, I’m not sure how that shakes down), rather than the author/self-publisher. Is it a racket? Yeah, maybe. Guess it works fairly well for all informed parties until–SNAFU–it doesn’t.

    1. Thanks BB! You raise a good point. I have also read that traditional publishing houses purchase Kirkus reviews for their authors. This is not so much a scandal as it is a mutually beneficial arrangement between two large organizations. A business relationship. We might like to believe that reviewers are motivated by an impartial love of literature, but this no doubt soon gets overladen with economic considerations, which is understandable. Moreover, if I’m not mistaken, a Kirkus review has always been the type of brief, functional plot synopsis with a sentence or two of assessment that one finds in such trade publications as Library Journal. It is not like an NYT review that emphasizes analysis, literary techniques, and deeper stuff like the book’s place in cultural history.

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