Kirkus Discoveries and Vanity Reviews


With all the hubbub over Harlequin Horizons late last year, I’m surprised that more attention isn’t paid to Kirkus Discoveries. This service is a division of the established and formerly (by me, at least) respected Kirkus Reviews. For a mere $425 for 7 to 9 week turnaround or $575 for 3 to 4 week turnaround, self-published and independent authors can have their book reviewed by an “experienced” reviewer.

The site is filled with the same hollow claims that raised ire far and wide against Harlequin. They offer to publish the review on their website “which has a wide audience of librarians, major publishers, agents, rights representatives, booksellers and film and television producers.” They go on to say that their reviews help “many authors” boost sales on Amazon and BarnesandNoble.com, and that each month they include a lucky few in their Discoveries e-newsletter.

They also make great pains to indicate that while these reviews cost money, this doesn’t impact their content:

Though all our reviewers are experienced professionals, not all Discoveries reviews are glowing. Kirkus Discoveries is a caveat emptor service that gives honest, impartial evaluations of the titles we receive. The resulting reviews can be positive, negative or anywhere in between. By upholding Kirkus’ rigorous editorial standards, we ensure that an enthusiastic review is meaningful in the publishing community. Our long-standing editorial policy of anonymous reviews also applies to the Discoveries program.

Why would anyone commission a piece of writing and then not be able to dictate its content? This seems to be designed for the pure and simple purpose of separating writers from their money. Kirkus is preying on the same hopes that vanity presses are notorious for abusing, and they undoubtedly often add insult to injury once the review is delivered. One can only wonder what the reviewers must think who get these books. Are they the same reviewers who write the regular Kirkus reviews?

Kirkus defends the review-for-pay scheme with much of the same rhetoric that Harlequin used to defend Harlequin Horizons. As the world of publishing changes, they need to look for alternative revenue streams.

They’re right: the world of reviews has changed. We don’t need Kirkus anymore. Customer reviews written on sites like Amazon and the slew of great book bloggers that have emerged can quite nicely replace much of ye olde booke review guarde. These new venues review both traditionally and self-published books, and they charge nada. If a book–no matter who publishes it–is noteworthy enough to merit review, it should be reviewed. Period.

And whatever did happen with Harlequin Horizons? They yanked Harlequin from the name, relaunching the self-publishing imprint as DellArte Press. But it’s not clear if they’re still marketing self-publishing services when they reject a manuscript from the traditional Harlequin lines. They may not be, a search on the main Harlequin site did not bring up anything about DellArte.

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One response to “Kirkus Discoveries and Vanity Reviews

  1. I agreed to review for Kirkus discoveries many years ago. Some of the books were barely tolerable, some not. After my first batch of reviews, Kirkus didn’t send more books. You’ll notice that Kirkus Discoveries reviews are a good deal more gentle than their traditional ones.