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Books, eBooks, and Audio Books, Plus Ivory, Plus Writing

Judith Ivory’s Black Silk is one of my all time favorite historicals. At the time I read Black Silk, Ivory’s books were not available in eBooks. There were terrible, horrible, cheap POD versions — with newsprint quality paper and ink that was smeared… I returned the copy that arrived with a crooked cover and located a used mass market paperback.

Ivory’s books are now available as eBooks, as  I came to learn on Twitter. I immediately purchased everything (including the Judy Cuevas books) and I added the audio book to a couple of them. Set that aside for a moment, while I gush about Ivory …

I LOVED LOVED LOVED The Proposition even with the cheesy ending. I’m in the middle of The Beast right now (in audio) and well. Judith Ivory. Her writing is lovely, and she does what I miss so much in historicals and that I strive to do in my own writing, which is tell as story as if the HEA is not a given. My personal description of this goes like this: A Romance written as if it were not a Romance.

Aside: I said this once on a loop and got a tremendous, even vicious, push back. Not that any of the disagreement came close to changing my mind. I still believe that a Romance that is written as if it’s not a Romance will have far, far more tension.

Also, especially now that I’m not traditionally publishing, I really don’t care about the prevailing beliefs about what sells. A lot of those beliefs are wrong. Sure, it’s crucial to know what’s happening in the market, but even so, I get to decide what I write, and I get to write exactly the way I want, entirely in line with the stories I want to tell.

Because, and, yes, another aside, when I am gone from this world, I want to have written the stories that speak to me, without compromise in the way I’ve told them. (This is NOT the same thing as not listening to editorial advice. Editorial advice is crucial.) If that means I sell fewer copies, I am at peace with that.

When This Is A Romance permeates every aspect of the story, there’s a very real risk of the book being too familiar. Tired, even. The Insta-Love trope is a predominant approach these days. I don’t necessarily mind it. There are lots of such stories that are great books, too. But there’s an awful lot that don’t distinguish themselves.

Yes, this is another aside.

Too often I feel I’m getting a Romance where sexual attraction is the container of the story … such that it is present from the start. Even stories where the hero and heroine, ostensibly, do not like each other, they are powerfully attracted underneath. Again, I’m not saying this should never be done. I’m just saying, it’s now really really common. Plus, well, I guess I also think there are lots of authors who aren’t challenging this. You have to be really, really good to make such a story extraordinary.

This leads to stories where something else delays bringing together the sexual and the commitment to the person they love. Often, this ends up being “I’m not worthy.” A flavor, if you will, of “I’m in your ass, saving your life.” Again, it’s possible to pull this off, but you have to be good. Really good. (P.S. I read that book and liked it better than SBTB. But that review started a meme/trope/Romance inside joke.)

Anyway, one of the things Ivory does so well is to give us characters who, despite any attraction, have lives that allow us to see exactly how they might walk away from this potential relationship. And that possibility is credible. Even when you know it’s a Romance and there will be an HEA.

Right. OK, so when I was on my Ivory spree, I clicked Add the Audio Narration because I’ve been listening to some audio books, and I am finding a place in my commute and certain other moments where an audio book fits quite nicely. I just finished listening to a Romantic Suspense audio book (not an ACX DIY book) by a favorite author, and I loathed the narrator from the start.

Loathed. The. Narrator.

She read the book as if she felt contempt for the work she was reading. The male voices were phony and contrived and because she was trying (and failing) to roughen and deepen her voice for the male characters, they were all the same. That production wasn’t as bad as the production for A Darker Crimson (my first paranormal, audio rights not mine at the time) which was just horrific, I’m sad to say. Terrible narrator. Terrible production values.

I started listening to the audio book for Ivory’s The Beast, and the narrator is wonderful. She never sounds strained or phony, and I’m just so struck by how very, very good this reading is.

So. Here are my questions to you. Do you listen to audio books? What are your thoughts, pet peeves, loves, hates about them? Have you read Ivory?



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7 years ago

I have been listening to audiobooks for 15 years, and love them. I agree that the narrator is absolutely key. A couple of my favourite books have been narrated by people whom I consider unsuitable (the wrong nationality, for a start) and I cannot listen to them even though I love the books. So while (obviously) a good book is essential, a good narrator is even more important when it comes to audiobooks.

One of my pet peeves is the use of a good narrator trying to do an accent, or not even trying but being the wrong choice. If the book is quintessentially Australian, why use an American narrator? Ditto, very English books. You would think some publishers have no capacity for employing foreign narrators! Some of my favourite audiobooks were produced by an author who retained the audio rights and was very particular in choosing the right narrator, and then in listening to and “proofing” the draft narration. So, ironically, in my experience some of the worst audiobooks are those done by a publisher with no author input.

But my biggest peeve is that the world-wide rights are not sorted out before the audiobook is made (or afterwards), in many cases. For example, I know that Joanna Bourne’s books have been recorded. I would love to listen to them; I think they would be ideal for audio. But I can’t buy them digitally in the UK. And JB wasn’t aware that they wouldn’t be available here, so it is not a case of the author refusing to sell the necessary rights. And this is not an isolated example.

Carolyn Jewel
7 years ago

In my experience, it would be rare indeed for an author to be consulted about any subsidiary rights sales for a book that was traditionally published.

And, it’s just plain fact that for traditionally pubbed books, there are almost certain to be problems with territorial rights. I wish that weren’t the case, but it is. It’s so frustrating for readers!

7 years ago

I listen to audiobooks by the bucket-load 🙂 I like listening to books I’ve read just as much as to books I haven’t, although I’m a stick-in-the-mud (for the most part) when it comes to genre, as I read and listen to historicals – romance, fiction, mystery, whatever.

I always look at the name of the narrator first. Always. In that way, I do sometimes stray outside my genre of choice as there are some narrators I’d listen to reading the cereal packet. (One such is Nicholas Boulton – if you haven’t heard him reading Laura Kinsale, you’ve missed a treat!)

I have to agree with HJ about accents – it’s my biggest beef and I’m really picky. Given that a large proportion of Historical Romance is set in England, it would make sense to use a British narrator. I’ve heard some American narrators who are good with the accent – but not good enough as not to make common mispronunciations which give it away. I haven’t listened to any American set romances, but it would sound just as strange not to have an American narrator reading them. I have no clue about American regional accents, but I imagine a native could tell the difference between NY and CA the way I can tell Scottish from Irish – and wince just as much when they’re done badly!

I’m very lucky, in that I obtain a large number of audiobooks for review purposes (although I still buy just as many!) so I get the opportunity to listen to new narrators without financial risk. And at the end of the day, it’s a very subjective thing. There’s one narrator who records a LOT of historical romance, and who clearly must be popular – but to me, it’s like listening to nails scraping down a blackboard!

And one for HJ – I know it’s frustrating, but I think you can purchase the Bourne audios in CD format in the UK. That’s a huge problem for me, too – there are lots of titles I’d love to pay for but can’t because of geographical restrictions. Fortunately, with an increasing number of authors self-publishing audiobooks now, there are more becoming available worldwide.

7 years ago

I mostly listen to audiobooks because of eye problems. I too am very fond of Judith Ivory and I wish more of her books were in audio. I think you have hit on a key reason that Judith Ivory’s books stand out; it is true that there is always a sense that there are real issues that may not be resolvable.

I also agree with HJ about needing to use narrators who are adept native speakers of the main language (or dialect?) used in the book being read. I had to quit a British mystery series because the male reader made all of the women characters either whiny or vampish and always unpleasant. And then the detective ended up in the U.S. and the narrator had to voice a woman character who was from the South and rather unpleasant anyway, and he absolutely massacred her. I really think that he just doesn’t like women.
Since the 60’s I’ve been exposed to British accents of all sorts, starting with the import to the U.S. of BBC productions presented as Masterpiece Theatre, and later from being able to travel. I can almost always tell an American putting on a British accent, and usually in that case there is very little understanding of the different British accents, so it sounds very much the same. I have on occasion been amazed at British actors/readers who can do a real American accent, not making it too flat or too nasal. Again, though, it is hard for British readers to get American regional accents. The narrator for Sharon Lee’s fantasy trilogy set in Maine does a Down East accent so well that it was a pleasure listening to the books just to hear her voice.
And then there are all the usually excellent readers who massacre fake French or Italian or Swedish (etc.) accents and words. My ear for French and Italian in particular is good enough that I really cringe.
And then there are all the mispronunciations of words. Poor audio productions with incompetent narrators apparently don’t bother to look up words they don’t know and mispronounce not only foreign words, but English words as well. In my experience this is more of an issue with American narrators than British ones; I think the British books I listen to may be of a higher caliber in general than the American ones I sometimes listen to, so there’s more of an effort to pre-read and then re-record real bloopers. I think there are many publishers who treat the audio version of books as a cheap throw away and often hire young girls who cannot give a voice to male characters at all and all of whose female characters are breathy and silly sounding.

HJ, the Joanna Bourne audiobooks are wonderfully done and worth buying. I find her books so well-plotted that I can re-read them with great pleasure, so I think it’s a worthy investment. And I also second the gush for Nicholas Boulton’s reading of Laura Kinsale’s books; the books are great already, but his voice and his ability to create voices for male and female characters of all ages is wonderful. If authors have the opportunity to keep control of the production of their audiobooks, and if those authors are as careful in their choices as Laura Kinsale has been, I think audiobook sales will skyrocket even more than they are doing right now.

Carolyn; thanks for writing such an interesting blog. I am an eclectic reader and I really love and support authors who don’t just write another clone of their previous work. I love being able to count on an author’s skill in writing so I know that a book will be well done, but I would much rather have that author jump genres and trash tropes than be bored stupid.
So keep it up, thanks, Hope

Carolyn Jewel
7 years ago

I have discovered Barbara Rosenblat who did a brilliant read of Ivory’s Beast. I just finished listening to Kate Reading’s narration of Lord Of Scoundrels which was mostly very very good. There was actually an audio editing error in the middle of the book, though. ;-(

Phyllida Nash’s reading of Venetia. Also very good, but listening to the book underscored some of my building discomfort with Heyer as an author.

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