Tag Archives: money

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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What Not to Get for a Day Job

I accepted long ago that first novels don’t vanquish the day job. With average first advances coming in at $5,000, they’re financial successes if they pay the rent for a few months. But it still surprises me when I hear of authors with multiple titles out, even those who win awards, who still have day jobs. They’re here to stay, it seems, so we had best find something that works.

I’m in a good spot now, but that’s not what this post is about. It’s about what not to get for a day job. I’ve had a few:

Writer. After a brief stint waiting tables, my first real job was as a writer. I thought I had it made. Only problem: the writing wasn’t really mine. I was ghosting huge tomes  on stuff like international citizenship, tax legislation, and investment advice. It drove me bonkers. Each book got significantly more difficult to finish than the last, and I soon realized that I only have so many words in me each day. Once I’d finished my paying gig, there was no juice left for fiction. It was a thrill to see my words in print, but aside from developing the discipline to sit down and write every day–which is huge, admittedly–I learned nothing about fiction.

Bookseller. Once I realized that I’d rather beat myself to death with one of my books (they were heavy) than write another one, I got a job in a bookstore. I worked part time, and got health care. This was grand for a little while, and I got tons of writing and even more reading  done. Only problem: no money. As splendid as the picture of the starving artist is, it isn’t all that much fun in practice. Even worse, I started to see myself as a failure, some guy who dreams about publishing a novel, but works retail. My fiction became responsible for my happiness. On days when it went poorly–and there are always these days–my whole life was a shambles. My writing crumbled under the pressure, and what began as a productive phase ground to a halt.

Proofreader/Copyeditor. Following this, I entered the corporate world and got a gig as a web proofreader, then a copyeditor. My writing came screaming back. Yes, I was much busier working full time and writing, but who needs sleep? Only problem: I started to hate the work. I felt, maybe even correctly in a few cases, that the people whose work I was copyediting was vastly inferior to my own. I could do so much better than this! How dare they treat me like I’m nothing more than an underling? Ultimately I ended up making the same mistake I made right out of college, and got back into a writing gig. This time it would be different, I thought, since I would be writing about something fun. It was fun, but no different, still there were only so many words in me per day.

Mini Poobah. It was shortly after this that I decided to give up on writing entirely. I got a gig managing a team, and my day job soon overflowed into nights and weekends. My cell phone rang whenever I wasn’t, and even often when I was, in the office. My inbox always had a thousand unread mails waiting for me. Though I did make decent money for the first time in my life. I had stock options. Only problem: I had nothing else. I knew I needed help when I was heading into work on a Monday, and thought that I had better put in for the vacation day I took the day before. I hadn’t worked that Sunday, the first day in weeks. It took me a while to realize that Sunday wasn’t a vacation, it was just a Sunday. I quit a few weeks later, and really didn’t come to understand how unhappy it all had made me until many months down the road.

I’m now hooked up with a day job that gives me a comfortable living, fantastic benefits, and my nights and weekends to myself. I write for work, but only a bit. Yes, my day job is sometimes boring, but it’s not so boring that it tires me. It’s also sometimes engaging, but not so engaging that it overpowers me. And I’m writing again, after a five year hiatus, I’m back at my desk each morning before work.

Who needs sleep?

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Automatic Digi Super-Duper Readi Payments

I’ve taken Harlan Ellison’s advice into consideration and enacted Automatic Digi Super-Duper Readi Payments™ on this site. Your credit card will be billed $1 if you continue reading this fine post. Still reading? Wonderful… processing. Thank you!

April Fools’ aside, this is a classic snippet–apologies if it’s old hat to you–that still cracks me up. Mr. Ellison waxes poetic about the crossroads between words, dollars, and loathsome amatuers. Warning for those with kids leering over their shoulders or in work-type places, Mr. Ellison also manages some serious potty mouth.

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Fannie Hurst: Highest Paid Writer in Her Day, Now Mostly Out of Print

Fannie Hurst in 1932, portrait by Carl Van Vechten.

Fannie Hurst in 1932, portrait by Carl Van Vechten.

I first heard of Fannie Hurst through a Zora Neale Hurston television biography. She was mentioned briefly as someone who encouraged Hurston to write early on, when she was the highest paid writer in America.


A quick search revealed Fannie Hurst to be quite the character. Her first short story “Ain’t Life Wonderful” was published in Reedy’s Mirror in 1908, while she was still in college. She went on to write seventeen novels, nine volumes of short stories, and three plays. Her stories, many of which appeared in Saturday Evening Post, were adapted into 30 movies.

The list of interesting tidbits only begins there. Hurst was friends with Eleanor Roosevelt. In 1915, she secretly married pianist Jacques Danielson but lived separately from him, insisting on a woman’s right to maintain her own name and residence. A radio show that she hosted was one of the first to openly discuss homosexual issues and concerns. And yes, at one time, she was the highest paid writer in America. She’s rumored to have received $1 million for her novel Great Laughter from Metro-Goldwyn-Mayor, and went on to leave that amount to Brandeis and Washington Universities upon her death in 1968.

Yet today, her books are almost entirely out of print. How could an author once so popular be virtually unknown today? Shouldn’t a figure with Hurst’s radical political views be particularly of interest to a contemporary audience? A quick eBay search revealed no shortage of her books. I popped for four purple library hardbacks, which arrived a couple weeks later with a distinct musty odor.

I dove into Lummox from 1923. The novel follows Bertha, a Scandinavian immigrant who is a bit too big boned for her own good and who constantly gets in trouble through no fault of her own. It’s a gin soaked story set in the back alleys of New York, contrasting the lives of the working class with that of their upper class employers. Bertha becomes pregnant by one of her employers, and is forced to quit her job. All good so far, a slice of America that was washed away with furniture polish in the 1950s. Perhaps this is why Ms. Hurst was forgotten? Her stories dealt with subjects that the post war era would rather forget, like those forbidden movies from pre-code Hollywood.

Then, I stumbled over this metaphor: “To Bertha, who felt but could not say it, the lovely ellipisty of that head was like putting an egg whole in your mouth and then feeling it slowly come out.” Okay, kind of works. But then a few pages later the head-as-egg-in-mouth metaphor returns. And then it does again.

And then this:

The climb was rocky and the running back and forth, from the hampers in the van to the remote spot on the knoll, twisted her ankles and strained her back and once, scaling the top, she fell and barked her shin and passed sandwiches over gay shoulders with her eyelids stung with the heat of the held-back tears.

I’ve read that sentence–yes, it is all just one sentence–20 times, and still have no idea what’s going on. Yes, picnic. Sandwiches spilt, it seems. Tears, and happy shoulders.

I trudged on though, finally stopping at page 172. Admittedly this is a climactic moment where Bertha has tracked down her son, who she gave up for adoption a few years earlier. She is outside the large, stately house of his adopted family. And gets caught up in what I assume is a parade, very convenient to have a parade around when you need one:

She stood wedged, her elbows pinned to her hips. The window. She could not, could not look, but the tail of her eye kept tattling. There were heads and halves of bodies out of it. Flutterings. One head was very bright. It caught the light in pools, like the silver ball of the major domo. She fainted a little standing up there. Just let go, and the crowd sustained her of its denseness.

The pulse of the living wall that held her–it sang against her–it wakened her–she leaned out–the major domo was walking past. Roosevelt then, standing up in a motor car and flashing and bowing, with the light on his spectacles and his teeth and his cheek bones. There was a man who felt the little vibratory messages run in and flashed them out again, broadcast! He was like a magnet with them and the nap of the crowd rose up to his passing! Cheer! He stood as he rode, always smiling, and always with the light on his spectacles and his teeth and his cheek bones.

Smiling! Bowing! Bowing to the window! Bowing to the window! Her eyes would not lift, but the tail of her glance kept knowing. The Colonel bowing to the window. The Colonel and that very bright head that caught the light in pools.

The crowd began to loosen. A disintegrating snowbank. It was frightening to feel the support withdraw. The Colonel had passed. It was easier to move. She was going to look. She had found the strength to look. It was hard to breathe and to swing her heavy burning eyes just a little upward–there!

But the heads were withdrawn and someone was jerking down a shade. The window stared over at her blandly. A slap in the face.

I’m not sure whether to be thrilled that such writing can lead to riches–even my own terrible scribbles can be no worse–or dismayed with how arbitrary fortune is in the writing business. Fannie Hurst remains a fascinating figure though, and who knows, one day I may muster up the courage to come back to her purple books with my tattling eyes. Could look. Look!

More on Fannie Hurst:

Wikipedia | Jewish Virtual Library | Jewish Women’s Archives


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