Self-published authors get a shot at $50,000 book prizes

Self-published authors are eligible for three new lucrative literary awards set up by Kirkus Reviews offering $50,000 in each of three categories.

The Kirkus Prize will be awarded to authors whose books have earned the Kirkus Star in the categories of fiction, non-fiction and young readers’ literature. The annual prize in each category is $50,000.

All books that earn the Kirkus Star with publication dates between October 1, 2013 and September 30, 2014 are automatically nominated for The Kirkus Prize.

Marc Winkelman, president and publisher of Kirkus Media, says, “Since relaunching Kirkus Reviews in 2010, the company has enjoyed tremendous growth. Everyone at Kirkus feels a deep responsibility to our readers and the publishing industry; this prize is a symbol of that commitment.”

The finalists and winners of the awards will be selected by panels of three judges, comprising a writer, a bookseller or librarian, and a Kirkus critic.

Six finalists in each category will be announced on September 30 and the three winners of the 2014 prizes will be announced at a ceremony in Austin, Texas on October 23.

Claiborne Smith, Editor in Chief of Kirkus Reviews, says, “At a moment when the publishing industry is rebounding from the recession and adapting to the many changes thrust upon it, we wanted to create the Kirkus Prize to put a spotlight on writers who remind all of us why we got into publishing in the first place.”

Only 10%  get a Star

The editors of Kirkus Reviews work closely with critics to determine which titles get a coveted Kirkus Star. A Kirkus Star is given to only around 10% of the 8,000-10,000 books reviewed each year by the magazine.

Self-published books reviewed by Kirkus’ indie section that receive the Kirkus Star are eligible for the Kirkus Prize and will be considered in their respective category.

One of the most notable self-published successes to benefit from a Kirkus recommendation was Darcie Chan, author of The Mill River Recluse, a debut novel that has now sold over 700,000 copies.

Kirkus Reviews was set up by Virginia Kirkus in 1933 as a pre-publication review service. It was taken over by Herb Simon and Marc Winkelman in 2010, since when the circulation of KirkusReviews has increased by 257%, the number of book reviews published has risen by 77% and feature coverage has grown by more than 350%.

The website was redesigned last year and now gets more than 1,500,000 page views a month.

Reviews 3,000 self-published books a year

Kirkus Reviews now covers more than 7,000 books from traditional publishers and over 3,000 self-published books a year. The magazine is published on the 1st and 15th of every month.

A Kirkus review doesn’t come cheap and it’s not quick either as it’s really designed as a pre-publication service, so, for example, traditional publishers would send proof copies a season before publication. The standard service takes 7-9 weeks and costs $425 and the express service takes 4-6 weeks) for $575.

An editor assigns a project to a qualified reviewer who reads the complete book and writes a full review of around 250-350 words. The reviewers include librarians, business executives, journalists from national publications, PhDs in religion and literature, creative executives in entertainment and publishing industries as well as other professional reviewers.

Keep review private or publish it

Once the review is complete, the author can choose to keep it private or publish it on the Kirkus website at no extra charge and in any other way they want to use it, such as on the back cover of the book, in marketing materials, on a website or in a letter to an agent or publisher.

If an author chooses to publish a review on the Kirkus site, it will be distributed to licensees, including Google,, Ingram, Baker & Taylor and others. The editors will consider it for publication in Kirkus Reviews magazine, read by librarians, booksellers, publishers, agents, journalists and entertainment executives. The review may also be selected to be featured in the Kirkus email newsletter, which is distributed to 50,000 industry professionals and consumers.

Kirkus is generally considered to be very much a literary reviewer but they cover a lot more than the mid-list and it’s one of the few services to offer wide-ranging non-fiction reviews. I’ve spotted some good reviews on the site for, among others, romance novels, thrillers and even a golf book.

Whether the cost is worth it for you is very much an individual choice, but if you do manage to get a good review or even a coveted starred review, then your book will undoubtedly get a boost as Kirkus endorsements carry a lot of cachet – and the possibility of a $50,000 prize if it does get a star.

At the very least, a Kirkus review could be a reality check, an expensive one, with a professional, independent assessment of your book.

But, of course, you shouldn’t necessarily take an unfavorable review to heart as it’s one person’s view and doesn’t mean your book wouldn’t necessarily be a best-seller. I’m sure some Kirkus reviewers would probably not be keen on a lot of books that have turned out to be massive Kindle sellers.