My Blog Week: November 14 to November 20
A Word on the Week
The Kirkus Review
In retailing, there’s a basic equation to solve.
The selling price of a product has to exceed the seller’s purchase cost, while the wholesale price has to exceed the manufacturer’s cost. Labor hours and workmanship are only a portion of the manufacturing cost, meaning the essence of the product’s quality, the transaction between laborer and factory owner, comes at a far lower sum than the one charged by the seller to the customer.
But the customer, paying…$425.00, expects the value of the product to equal $425.00.
I promised in September to report on my experience in buying a Kirkus review for my novel, Sequence of Events.
A review, or critique, is an argument. An argument can be a subjective opinion or an objective summation of evidence. But all arguments are guided by logical conditions, which is how we test their validity. A review written for publication has need by definition to be of help, usually to a fellow reader. One sold as a product should be of help both to readers of the author’s book, and the author—the purchaser of the service.
I like it/I don’t like it amounts to an unsupported contention, and can’t fulfill the condition of being helpful. An unhelpful opinion isn’t worth even a small price, and Kirkus has set themselves the standard of producing $425.00 worth of perceived value.
Why is it important to the company not to fall into the trap of “writing is subjective; we can’t dictate what our reviewers will say”? This is a copout argument, first, because the condition of dictating doesn’t exist. Executives at Kirkus aren’t expected to do all the reading, and to generate the text of reviews, and to word-match the efforts of their contractees.
The No Unsupported Contentions rule would be a protection to Kirkus, because the poorest-quality review, issued under the company’s name, sets the baseline.
Writing a careful review is plenty of work, and if we assume the laborer is paid quite a bit less than Kirkus charges the author, we also, parsing that out by hours spent reading, notating, organizing notes with related themes, rereading notated passages to be referenced, writing a full version, editing for wordcount, assume the reviewer may not earn much above the $15 an hour touted for the minimum wage.
Why does the reviewer want to do this? For exposure, for the chance to shine. (Writers complain about this demand of the industry, work exchanged for promises, but if we’re powerless to introduce a new game, this remains the only one in town.) In that case, the anonymity of Kirkus reviews is problematic, in the same way the lowest common denominator can lower the company’s reputation.
Writing for Kirkus should impress potential employers. Jobs are few; competing for one, you would like the interviewer to say, to this listed experience, “Oh, ho!”, not “Meh.” But the worst performance, in a case where everyone can be anyone, becomes the baseline for how your work is regarded.
The review sent me, of Sequence, was not favorable.
Keeping my arguments in the objectively supportable realm, I can report two problems. The review runs around 300 words, likely a limit for this price point. (While only, from the corporate view, a high degree of integrity in the cheapest product, can separate a pay more, get more dynamic from extortion.)
Letting software provide contributors both guidance and vetting, so the review may read like a class assignment that never crossed the teacher’s desk for grading, would (if this is how it’s done) subject Kirkus to the harms mentioned—abdicated control over the baseline, and a justified perception among customers that the product isn’t worth the cost.
First, then, my purchase takes up a lot of its wordcount in listing characters and storylines, a kind of extended blurb. The reviewer liked the trans character Luberta/Talou best, so the recommended approach would be to work with that character only, (i.e., “…the plotting is complex and the story highly populated, but for my purposes I will focus on…”)
Second, the reviewer dislikes my prose style, but gives examples taken from dialogue. Characters speak the way they speak, so objecting to the patter of a salesman is to object to the salesman himself—whether the character should exist, whether he should be drawn differently.
And that is too large a contention for a small space. But also, the supporting of it sits unattempted.
(I do wonder, since fortunately, I didn’t major in creative writing, if these curricula never include courses in humor writing? I remember a Dave Barry column, where he mentions the city of Des Moines “…which translates as ‘some of these moines’…” [paraphrase from memory]; I can picture a lit grad frowning: “No, moines means monks.” Or, criticizing this sentence of satirist H. H. Munro, from “The Unkindest Blow”: The last and least successful convulsion had been the strike of the World’s Union of Zoological Garden attendants, who, pending the settlement of certain demands, refused to minister further to the wants of the animals committed to their charge, or to allow any other keepers to take their place, for having too many words, when parliamentary language in the treatment of silly things is a basic tool of British satire.
While, of course, everyone’s free to like anyone’s humor or not like it.)
And I recommend The Chicago Review of Books as both a great source for choosing your next read, and a template if you want to study the writing of reviews. I’ve always seen them keep the three R’s in mind: Respect for yourself, respect for your subject, and respect for your publication.
On Monday, a new Yoharie, Hibbler close to the culmination of Todwillow’s work on his brain. On Tuesday, “Please Help”, Milton shopping for his captors. Wednesday, a new Allied Forces, with the Folly spiritualists and a few ghostly friends preparing to confront the assassin they’ve lured. Thursday, part two of Catastrophe, more of Hess’s opinions on the French Colonial Ministry. Friday, The Sword Decides!, the funeral procession making towards Naples, Cabane’s agents sowing the official version of events along the way. Saturday, a reissue from Rattus, “Rapunzel”.
Images on my posts often have a link to related information (click first image), sometimes serious, sometimes whimsical, sometimes in answer to a direct reference. Since people can be leery about links, I include them here: what they are, what sites they point to.
My Blog Week: November 14 to November 20