Tuesday, December 15, 2009

The Most Dreaded Critic of All by Karin Neches

When I was a teenager and used to buy paperbacks at a swap shop, I’d always read the back cover. Although I didn’t really know what Kirkus was, I’d come to discover that if they liked a book, so would I.

I’d never imagined that one day Kirkus would review my work. Several months before the publication of my debut novel, my agent prepared me for Kirkus. “They can be very ugly,” she said. “Don’t feel bad if they skewer you.” I started to truly dread what Kirkus would say. They seemed to take particular delight in tearing apart cute Southern novels, which was what I’d written. I was sure that once Kirkus was done with me, I’d be literary road kill.
The call finally came from my agent. “You won’t believe this, but you got a starred Kirkus.” Everyone was so excited. There was practically dancing in the streets. A special marketing meeting was called simply because I got a starred Kirkus. Apparently it was a big, frigging deal. To this day, I’ve thought I’d like my tombstone to read: Her lies Karin, who got a starred Kirkus.”

Yes, Kirkus anointed me with love on my first book but things went a little differently for my fifth book. I saw the review was coming up, and I felt pretty confident about it. I assumed with five books behind me I was a better writer. While I didn’t necessarily expect a star, I figured I’d get a good one.

If you’re familiar with Kirkus, you never really know what they think until the last sentence. Then they either praise you or zing you. And when they zing you, it’s never mild. My fifth book was set in Heaven and here’s what Kirkus said: “Heaven trivialized as a pop-culture paradise without evident irony-a hellish idea.”

That’s right. Kirkus, never one to mince words, thought my book was “hellish.” It doesn’t get much worse than that.
If you’ve been paying attention to the news, you know that Kirkus is closing down. A lot of sad things have happened in publishing this year, but the end of Kirkus has really bothered me. Even though they haven’t always loved me, I will miss them as will many librarians and booksellers who relied on their reviews to make buying decisions.

How about you? Any Kirkus war stories to share? I’d love to hear them.


Anonymous said...

As we all know, any review is so subjective and can be glowing or a killer. I'd have to say I'm quite neutral on the demise of Kirkus...I've always tried to give the reader more credit...ie: To make the determination themselves, rather than based on somebody else's opinion.

I recently received a quote from somebody that I thought was SO apropos for this business:

What the artist creates....the critic destroys.

With that said...I read Earthly Pleasures and I loved it! I thought it was extremely clever, humorous and a delightful read!
Happy Holidays to you, Karin!

Karin Gillespie said...

Thanks, Terri. And Happy Holidays to you. I hope you enjoyed your book tour.

Lynne said...

Kirkus be dammed - I loved EARTHLY PLEASURES!

Karin Gillespie said...

Hey, Lynne.

Nice to see ya around these parts. Thanks for the compliment.

mj said...

I think it's hard to do creative stuff because you pour your heart into creating something and some people really knock it down. But that's the risk of going public with your work.