Thursday, June 22, 2017

Should I buy a Kirkus ad?

Earlier this year my debut novel was published by an independent publisher. I recently received a pretty sweet review from Kirkus Reviews for my book.

I'm on the verge of purchasing a half-page ad in Kirkus' trade mag that will hopefully be seen by many agents/execs.

Here's my question(s)

1. Do you think buying this ad is worth the money? It's $1,100 for the first two weeks in August.

2. Is there an optimum time for placing an ad like this that will have the best chance of being seen by the most people?

3. Are these ads a good idea?

4. The contract with my publisher expires in December 2018. Will this prove to be detrimental in attracting an agent now?

(1) No

(2) No

(3) No

(4) Yes, but not for the reason you think

First, congrats on a good review from Kirkus. Those aren't easy to come by. I love reading Kirkus' reviews cause they are blunt to the point of being eligible to swim with the sharks.

Buying an ad in the Kirkus magazine is a terrible idea. Kirkus is a TRADE publication. Bookstore buyers and librarians are their target audience. NOT agents. Certainly not editors. We do read it but mostly to see what's been published and the reviews for books we sold or recognize. We do NOT read it to find projects to work on. (That is what the incoming queries are for)

Given Kirkus is for bookstores and librarians, I went to your publisher's website. It's clear they don't work in the wholesale market at all. There's no information for bookstores or libraries on how to place an order; there's no mention of discounts or terms. In other words, if you did place an ad, and a librarian wanted your book, there's no information on the publisher's website about how to get it.

Orders for your book are MUCH more likely to be generated by readers asking for the book, either at the bookstore or from their local library.

Thus, any outreach should be to READERS not retailers. If you're hellbent on spending $1000 research Facebook ads or google ads, or other places that a reader will see.

As to question (4): Your chances of attracting an agent for this book are close to zero. The book has already been published, and Bookscan shows you sold three copies. Yes, I know you sold more, probably a lot more, but you sold them one on one, on consignment, or in other ways that don't register on Bookscan. Bookscan is not even close to accurate for these kinds of books, which is why I also look up sales stats on Amazon. Amazon doesn't measure volume, it measures velocity, but we still look to see what's happening. And not surprising, since this is a small press, it's not speeding along the sales highway. It's kind of dawdling.

Agents (and editors) are looking for books that are sprinting, not dawdling, for taking on a book with a publishing history.

Here's a deal announcement for a book like that:
POMODORO TECHNIQUE, a time management system that breaks work into 25-minute segments, based on a self-published book that has been downloaded more than 2 million times, to Roger Scholl at Crown Business, at auction, by Howard Yoon of Ross Yoon Agency (World English). Translation: Dara Kaye of the Ross Yoon Agency

If you want to snag an agent's attention, your focus now is finding readers for this book. You'll find those people on Twitter, Facebook, and Goodreads. You will not find them via advertising. You'll find them via conversation.

Use your Amazon author page; use GoodReads. I've said it before, I'll say it again now: books are most often sold by word of mouth. The best thing you can do for book is make friends.


Susan said...

This post is full of useful information that I'll have to go back and digest, but the thing that sparked my attention was the advertising. It might be useful for OP (for all authors, really) to check out what indie/self-published authors are doing as far as advertising because aside from building up their mailing lists and word-of-mouth, Facebook and Amazon ads are what make the sales for these authors. Though, to be fair, that might be more on the e-book side where self-published authors make the majority of their sales, but it might be worth researching and checking out some boards/groups to learn more. If you can leverage that and apply some of the ideas to your own marketing, you can make that budget you intended for Kirkus go a long way.

Also, consider press to get more eyes on your book. I have a $0 marketing budget (not by choice), but I've reached out to newspapers, book clubs, and other interest groups that relate to my novel to help get people talking about it. Press doesn't always translate to sales, but if it's free, it can help to expand your reach that you can then leverage for sales opportunities.

Good luck, OP!

Lisa Bodenheim said...

Ha! I recently heard about that Pomodoro Technique.

Opie: thank you for asking this question. Your questions are so helpful. Good luck in your book sales! The Queen here has given some excellent suggestions. And there may be more coming your way via the already arrived and the incoming commenters.

This blog is a treasure trove of great info. And Janet, it is so helpful to have you here pointing out what may be obvious to people who work in the publishing field but obtuse to us woodland critters who spin our hamster wheels while trying to finish our stories, our pitches, our one sentence descriptions, our query letters, our 1, 2, and 5 page(s) synopses (plural looks so weird), our back cover copies, our author bios, etc. (did I remember everything?) depending on whether we're seeking trad representation for a shot at the Big 5 or going indie.

E.M. Goldsmith said...

Another multitude of posts that fall into "why I am getting an agent 1st if at all possible."

I moved. Boxes everywhere - I think I am going to be murdered by boxes.

Jennifer R. Donohue said...

Congrats on your book and good review, OP! You're working on the next one, right? ;)

An interesting thing I've noticed about Kirkus, particularly this year: Whlie their reviews are absolutely eviscerating, ranging from one devastating word to a paragraph long dressing down of the book's disastrous the indie area in the back? They've been really nice. Like, alarmingly so.

Susan said...

Oh, yes! Sorry, OP--I do want to say congratulations on the excellent review!

Jennifer: That's a little bit fascinating, and I wonder why... I'm pretty sure the reviewers are different for indie versus trad books. So is it the books themselves that are problematic or the reviewers? (Also--congrats to you on the story!)

Amy Johnson said...

Opie: Congrats from me, too, on your review from Kirkus!

I agree about the value of this post and this blog. I find information on things I've wondered about, and information on things--important things--I wouldn't have thought to wonder about. Thank you, Janet.

I so like the last line of today's post. The best thing I can do for my book is make friends? To me, the idea of self-promotion is so very iiiicky. I'm sure many here feel the same way. But making friends? I like doing that. :)

Theresa said...

Susan: Kirkus offers indie writers the opportunity to pay for a review. That may make the difference in tone. I don't know how to make this a working link, but here is the site: A "traditional" review costs $425.

And it includes this: You may choose to publish your review on where it can be discovered by industry influencers, agents, publishers and consumers. If it is a negative review, you can request that it never see the light of day by simply not publishing it on our site.

So it's no wonder OP thought a Kirkus ad would be a worthwhile investment. Janet's advice was very helpful.

Colin Smith said...

All the best, Opie, with the book and your attempts to attract an agent. You've got some great advice.

It's true, Amy--before coming to this blog, I didn't know what I didn't know. And even now I'm discovering more things I didn't know, or I thought I knew but really didn't know, or new things I wish I had known but now know, or knew.. or... what time is it?

Elise: Been there, bought the... box. :) It took me about a month to unpack my office. Some days I just stared at the boxes. They didn't move. At least it didn't work for me. Your telekinesis may be better developed than mine.

Colin Smith said...

Theresa's link:

How to make a linky link:

Timothy Lowe said...

A very enlightening post. There are no short cuts to building a fan base, apparently. I echo others that I've learned a ton by reading online content (mostly this blog, of course!) but I've learned the most by observing others going through the process. Some online, some I know personally. A HS friend who published with a small publisher came to my school and my wife's to talk about the process to kids - handed out bookmarks and a few free copies, talked about the creative process, etc. She said afterwards, "this is the part I hate," but she did it, and did it very well, even though she was terrified.

I replied, "I hope to be lucky enough to hate it one day, too."

Lisa Bodenheim said...

Jennifer: Yes. Congrats on your story being published at Syntax and Salt!

Joseph S. said...

Excellent post today.

And a big thanks and shout out to Janet Reid for taking the time to compose and type such a long, detailed, informative piece.

Casey Karp said...

And here I've been disappointed because the only people who showed up at my first signing were friends. If I follow Janet's advice--and I'd be crazy to do anything else--that's always going to be the case. That's a bit scary for the guy who still remembers being able to count his friends without taking off his pants.

OP, my congrats on the Kirkus review as well. But, yeah, it sounds like that cash will be much better spent elsewhere.

Donnaeve said...

Congrats on receiving a positive review, OP, although what Jennifer pointed out is interesting. Funny thing, though. I've never followed Kirkus reviews and have only seen those that end up on the flap copy of a book.

Ads...I love Facebook ads. I've not tried Google's because I'm not much of a Google+ user. I have a profile, and I'm pretty sure I set things up (i.e. when I post on my blog) to filter out there, but other than that...I don't do much in that space. I do love Goodreads, and I have an Amazon Author Page...and a FB Author page.

I began making internet/reader friends long before the book sold, and it HAS been a tremendous help in getting the word out. No doubt about it.

Anonymous said...

Yes, look at what Indie authors are doing.
No, don't just focus on Facebook ads or social media.
If you've got $1000 to burn, try your hardest to get a BookBub promo. Also, research and try for other, similar promotion sites. These promos go out by newsletter to thousands of readers. BookBub is said to be pure gold by those who've been able to snag a place.

Cecilia Ortiz Luna said...

Congrats on the positive Kirkus review, Opie!

Unknown said...

Congrats OP and Jennifer. Thanks to all for great advice. Much to add to my perusal list: Kirkus, BookBub, Amazon, Goodreads. I could read about writing all day! But I won't.

Craig F said...

Even indie publishers have a vested interest in their writers. Ask them and if they have a big name, ask that writer as well. There are too many ways to advertise for cheap or free to have to spend big money for it.

I used to check for Kirkus reviews on sci-fi books. Then I noticed how far off the mark some were. That was about the time I found out that you get what you pay for from them. Now I hardly even notice them.

BJ Muntain said...

When I read the first question, the first thing I thought of was, umm. Kirkus? I used to work in a library, and my thoughts were that it was geared towards libraries buying books. Didn't know bookstores also used it, but I've never worked in a bookstore. It's not an industry magazine.

Also, agents aren't the people you need to sell to. If you don't want to rely on querying to knock an agent's socks off, try meeting them at conferences. Depending on where you live, $1100 could pay for a couple of conferences. Maybe three. (I say depending on where you live because travelling and staying in a hotel can double - or more - the cost of a conference.)

As for trying to sell this particular book to an agent - why not write another book? This one has been sold. Of course, in the bit of your question posted from Janet, you don't mention wanting to sell *this* book to agents, but Janet's obviously read more of your e-mail than we have. :)

My suggestion: In your query letter to agents, mention that your first book, published at Small Publisher, Inc., got a wonderful review at Kirkus. As Janet said when Susan asked about her PW review, that can get an agent past the low sales numbers on that book.

But you'll have a much better chance selling a new novel. Once you've had a couple books sold to a larger publisher, that publisher may be willing to re-publish your first novel.

Good luck, OP!

Andrea St. Amand said...

Congratulations on the book and the great review!

Curious what people think about using a publicist? (Janet should have something to say about that!) I have a friend whose book released June 15 from a small press. The press gave her a sliver of a dollar for marketing. With that tiny satchel of coins, to her surprise, she was able to hire a fantastic publicist. Fantastic, as in, that woman determined the target audience for her book and placed her book in front of them through book clubs and free press, including the largest book club in the world (!). That book club, in turn, chose the book as a must read of the summer. My friend didn't even know these avenues were out there, but so far, it's working. It's that word of mouth thing, I suppose, through readers from readers and friends they trust.

Best of luck!

Colin Smith said...

FYI, folks, there's a Publicity Q&A in the Treasure Chest based on Janet's previous comments on the subject. Do we need to add to this?

Also, please send me any links or other suggestions for gems to add to this writers' resource. :)

BJ Muntain said...

EM: Boxes can be murder, that's for sure. And moving is filled with lots of boxes. I've moved so often in my life, that I am very unwilling to move again unless something major happens. I've lived in this house now for 20 years (it only seems like 5, to be honest), and it's nice to have constancy like that.

Jennifer: Regarding the indie area of Kirkus, it's possible that, since they get so many submissions, they only post the best ones. I'm sure the people reading don't really care to hear yet another review about yet another unprepared author with an unprepared book.

(Just read Theresa's comment). Ah. People are opting to NOT have their reviews up if they're negative. That would definitely affect the tone, and explain what Jennifer's been seeing.

By the way, OP was published by a small publisher. OP was NOT self-published, which is the type of review that appears in the 'indie' area of review publications. It's that darn 'indie' monicker. An indie publisher is a small publisher that is not affiliated with a larger one. Although the term has been co-opted by self-publishers to mean, 'I'm an independent person, so I publish independently.' Neither is wrong, per se, but it is confuzzling.

As for making friends to help your book: The people most likely to pass along good word of mouth are friends. I recently mentioned Susan's book to someone who was bemoaning the plethora of books about 'the difficulties of living with someone with a chronic illness'. I told them they might like this book, about the strength it takes dealing with a chronic illness. A couple strangers have retweeted my tweet now - maybe Susan will get some sales this way. :)

Donnaeve: Google ads aren't just for Google+. They appear in search results, on the side of a page of search results, and as ads in games, etc. Ever wonder how game apps get all those ads? They subscribe to a service, like Google ads.

Craig: One thing I learned about Kirkus when I worked at the library - Kirkus reviewers are rarely science fiction/fantasy readers. Although that may have changed in the 30 years since I left the library. I don't believe that traditional publishers pay for their reviews, though. If they did, they wouldn't be giving out bad reviews. As Jennifer says, they can often be quite nasty. The indie publishers, on the other hand, as mentioned above, are given the option to not let bad reviews run.

Morgan Hazelwood said...

I learn so much every day!

Susan said...

Theresa: I didn't realize authors could hide negative reviews, but that makes so much sense why we're only seeing positive reviews from indie authors. I was wondering about that. Although it doesn't negate the positive review--it's still Kirkus, after all--I think that might dampen the credibility and validation for me. Thanks for clarifying!

BJ: Thank you for spreading the word! I think all books about chronic illness are necessary for the differing viewpoints--and being a caregiver or loving someone with one is difficult. But I do think we need more books with main characters with chronic illness as well. Just because they can't be action-packed, doesn't mean the characters can't be heroes. I personally would love to see a dystopian novel with someone with a chronic illness. "OK, I'm going to save the world, but first I need to restore my energy with a nap."

;) <3

Lennon Faris said...

Great info, post and comments. Thanks, Janet and all, and congrats on the review, OP!

Donnaeve said...

What meridithmansfield said about BookBub. A thousand times yes to that - it is pure gold.

Thx BJ, I'll check Google ads out. (I wondered if my thought on that was incorrect. I guess it was)

Kate Larkindale said...

Very useful post this morning. I have a book coming out in just over 2 weeks and any marketing and publicity advice is willingly and gratefully accepted at this point! Not that I would ever consider paying $1K or more for an ad. I just don't have that kind of money!

Barbara Etlin said...

Lots of good stuff to study in today's post. Thanks, Janet!

EM, I moved in November 2010. I still have unpacked boxes. They haven't murdered me. Yet.

I've turned one of our closets into hidden bookshelves. It's easier to resist buying new clothes than it is to resist new books.

Karen McCoy said...

I have to put my librarian hat on for a millisecond and agree with Janet. Often, libraries are not looking for indie books (though there are events in place, like Indie Author Day, to help libraries to compensate for this). As a library selector, I only skimmed Kirkus, because I was explicitly told that the best books for libraries come out of Booklist and Library Journal. (A secret way to get your book on library shelves is to have a friend put in a patron request--libraries often have online forms for these and usually honor them. Also look into the book clubs at your local library to see if your book might fit the bill.)

And I agree with BJ about Kirkus. It's all very subjective. That being said, though, I'm glad Opie got a good review.

Yes, Colin, this is definitely worthy of adding to the treasure chest.

Colin Smith said...

Karen: I have added it to the aforementioned Publicity Q&A. :)

Her Grace, Heidi, the Duchess of Kneale said...

BookBub is the good standard, albeit a difficult one to procure. That said, there are other book promo newsletters like Fussy Librarian that offers the same service. I've had sales success through those, and that's helped my review numbers go up. This is good as BookBub requires so many positive reviews before they'll consider taking you on.

Anonymous said...

I find it interesting, when discussion turns to advertising and promo, that writers don't talk about what causes *them* to buy books. I mean, we're all readers too, right? Stop and think about the last five or ten books you bought. How did you hear about them? Why did you buy them? Have you read them yet? Whose recommendations have you come to trust? Seriously, make a list and keep up with it for the next ten or twenty books you buy. You might be surprised to find that all the places you *think* are great for advertising . . . just aren't.

AJ Blythe said...

Umm, how come I don't know what Kirkus is? Just googled to find out more.

As usual, learnt buckets here today. Colin, thank you for adding to the treasure chest! Lots of useful info in the comments as well. You guys are all so generous with your knowledge.

OT... I know lots of the US is sweltering at the moment - stay cool and hydrated (and don't forget your pets).

Melanie Sue Bowles said...

I've just taken the time to read through several days of comments. Including the current contest. Cecilia! Wow... Wow. I wasn't able to participate, or engage this last week. I've had to leave the sanctuary in hubby Jim's capable hands and drive two states away to sit vigil at my beloved brother's bedside as he journeys to whatever waits on the other side. Haven't been on the internet, but needed a break from the grief. And this is where I came. Thanks, Janet, for the community. LOVED reading the contest entries.

AJ Blythe said...

Melanie, my heart is with you. While supporting your brother and other family, don't forget to care for yourself. (((hugs)))

Colin Smith said...


John Davis Frain said...


If your search brings up a bunch of references to Ringling Brothers, you're checking out the wrong kirkus. Just shy of celebrating their sesquicentennial, Ringling Brothers called it quits and shut down. They gave the Greatest Reviews on Earth until then.

Or I could be confused. The whole search thing befuddles me after sometimes.

Dena Pawling said...

EM and Barbara - We moved in 1996 and we STILL have boxes we haven't unpacked. I told my husband that at this point we should just toss them if we haven't even opened them in 21 years. He says no, he still wants to go thru them "at some point" before tossing them. Sigh.

On the bright side, he says he's NOT moving again until people come to take him out in a box and he moves to his final, permanent location. Which of course will happen to him before me, so I'll still have the boxes from 1996 here in the garage, and I'll probably go thru them before tossing them, because that's what he wanted.

Congrats on surviving the move tho. I hate moving.

And congrats to OP for the sweet Kirkus review!

AJ Blythe said...

John, I appreciate your help. See, I was hunting down Caucus, but I guess the American accent got me confused.