I’m a very middle-aged person whose life took a small but unexpected turn a few years ago when I started – and finished! – a novel. I dipped my dainty yet stinking toe into the publishing world and found it to be lukewarm: I landed an agent but lassoed no publisher. When I decided to self-publish this past April, I mistakenly saw it not as the start of a journey with the novel but as the end. Time and temperament meant I couldn’t spend months promoting it in the hope it’d make a dent on the world. But I didn’t want to throw the book naked into the Amazon sea, so I bought it a tiny lifejacket in the form of a professional review.
At almost 90 years old, Kirkus Reviews critiques 10,000 titles a year and is, along with Publisher’s Weekly and Library Journal, one of the sources that industry professionals rely on for reviews. All I knew about Kirkus was that it contained the surname of a space captain I’m very fond of. So I said eff it and signed up for a review using the few quid I had in my running-away account (I’m happily married but also an Irish mammy). I was kind of excited for a few days afterwards and then anxious and then distracted. Time always takes you away from the things that seem important. And because Kirkus says to wait at least four-to-six weeks for the magic to happen, I knew that, by then, I would have put the pending evaluation out of my head and my psyche would be protected from damning criticism by the defense of time. I didn’t make it that far.
Just over two weeks later, when I was putting on my pajamas at 9.33 one evening, an email told me my review was ready. I opened it immediately so I wouldn’t get nervous, then I whispered the words to my snoring husband. All I’ll say about the assessment is that it was grand. At first, I thought maybe I’d misunderstood what Kirkus was about, that perhaps it was a money-making machine preying on writers desperate for approval. But when I looked at what the internet has to say about the company, it seems like getting a positive review from them is not common, that Kirkus is still known as a tough critic, a strict reviewer, a destroyer.
The evaluation simply let me know that I did a good thing, I made a nice yoke. Of course, writers shouldn’t have to gaze outside themselves for approval, but we’re extremely human and it’s always nice to hear that a reader didn’t vomit onto their Kindle while looking at your stuff.
So now I find myself in the uncomfortable position of being a lazy introvert with a little novel that deserves a push. I well appreciate that there’ll be limits to how much I’ll be tweeting and redditing and writing for blogs and trying to create a momentum for the book. Encouraging friends to write reviews would be unsettling and also fairly impossible, given my friend count. Putting the novel forward for ‘best-indie-cover’ awards would mean going through the rejections again – I created the cover myself, and although I like it, my brother preferred the old Microsoft-Paint cover, sowing doubts in my mind (those doubts aren’t extensive, given that the old cover had a bloody potato plant on it…literally, a potato plant covered in blood). If someone were to interview me and ask me where I got the idea for the book, I’d have to say, ‘Well, I was pushing the three kids in a pram down a freezing cold street in Copenhagen during a snowstorm when I suddenly wondered what it would be like to have no clothes on and to be lying in the snow.’ That’s never going to sound normal. I’d always be self-conscious talking about lying nudey in the snow.
I’m not a publisher or a publicist, and I envy the tough and focused indie authors who promote their books successfully. I marvel at those who get their creations out to readers so effectively that they may as well open publishing houses, though they wouldn’t need to because they’re already reaping the rewards. I wish I could do the promotional stuff like they do, but it terrifies me – and admitting that fact unterrifies me.
Yet the Kirkus review also means I can’t abandon my oily baby. The reckless hope is too loud to ignore. You won’t find me jumping out from street corners with my paperback in hand, shouting, “Buy This!” at post-lockdown strangers enjoying the daylight, but I’ll do what I can within my introvert limits. Not everyone will be as interested as I am in a book about serial killing, terrorism, the hazards of idealism, and roast potatoes, but the stamp of approval means that maybe there’ll be a few. And when a couple more ratings come in on Amazon, with the odd review now and then, I’ll smile and thank the strangers and rename the folder Starving Men.
STARVING MEN – “An absorbing tale brimming with politics, historical details, and mystery…Unwavering momentum…This whodunit has a discernible, enthralling narrative arc that reaches a gratifying resolution before the end.” – Kirkus Reviews
See the full review here.
(c) S.E. Finkielman
About Starving Men:
Michael Gleeson didn’t want to be a killer, but history gave him no choice.
Dublin, 2019: Michael is a well-respected psychiatrist – a quiet man, a good friend, and a useless cook. He’s also a Republican sympathizer who spends part of his professional life counseling former members of the decommissioned IRA.
Michael always thought this would be enough to satisfy his Republican heritage, but when the highly skilled yet deeply disturbed Turlough O’Sullivan enters his office, Michael sees an opportunity that the demons of his past won’t let him overlook.
Haunted by childhood tales of the gruesome history of the Irish people under British rule, Michael persuades his new patient to help him track down the living descendants of the worst men in Ireland’s history – Cromwell, Trevelyan, and other figures whose names still send a shiver down the Irish spine.
But Michael’s plan for a bloody revenge doesn’t go unnoticed, either by the IRA or by the Irish and British police forces. He soon has a young Irish detective on his trail, an officer who becomes obsessed with stopping the unknown serial killer who is out for an historical revenge that she can’t understand.
Starving Men is a gripping literary crime thriller set in contemporary Dublin and London, inspired by the horrors of the Irish famine, the Great Hunger.
Order your copy online here.