As savvy writers know, getting a positive review from a respected source like Kirkus can do wonders for a book’s sales and credibility. In today’s blog post we interview expert Karen Schechner, Vice President of Kirkus Indie 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, Karen was the senior editor at the American Booksellers Association, where she worked with indie booksellers for nearly a decade. She is also a senior editor at the Lambda Literary Foundation.
Thanks for joining us, Karen. Most authors hope their book will get an enthusiastic reception from readers and critics. What are some of the most important things authors can do to earn a positive or starred review?
Reviewers appreciate books that are well-written and maintain the standards of their genre or artfully break the rules. Every genre has a fair chance at a positive review. About three percent of our titles are starred (which has gone up from two percent over the past two years). To earn one, we want to see all the boxed ticked—standout prose, good storytelling, a well-considered plot and narrative arc, a fully realized cast, and more. Nonfiction must be carefully researched and organized and well-framed. Originality helps; humor is appreciated.
What are the most common shortcomings/mistakes that writers make?
The most common complaint from reviewers is that the book was poorly edited. Overly expository or wooden dialogue is another common problem. Quick pacing can cover a multitude of sins; when the pace dawdles, reviewers tend to notice. And, while reviewers don’t generally comment on them, covers matter! Particularly to scouting agents. And when writing historical fiction, watch anachronisms. For example, if you’re going to mention a photograph, make sure your story isn’t set before the invention of film!
Why is professional editing so important?
When you submit your book for review, it should be your best, most polished effort. Our reviewers will absolutely notice and comment on the quality of the work, including any flubs. Kirkus Indie has reviewed thousands of books that would have been significantly better (and gotten better reviews) had they been professionally edited.
How can authors make best use of their Kirkus review? Any tips?
Use your review in all marketing materials and as a blurb on the front or back cover of your book. Post it wherever your book is for sale. You can also use your review from Kirkus in your media pitches to get more press. If your budget allows, get several reviews, which work well together. They key is: once you have some recognizable press, other blogs and publications will pay much closer attention to you.
Thanks so much, Karen!