Wednesday, July 25

Avonization

While blog hopping yesterday I discovered some conversations about the "Avonization" of authors. Unfortunately I have a brain like a sieve and can't remember where these posts were, but it got me thinking and that at times can be good or dangerous. Good in that it pulled me away from the latest on-line train wreck. Dangerous because my thoughts may turn out to be nothing but hogwash ;)

Some of my favorite authors write for Avon, which at times I find at odds with my firm belief that there is a certain level of "Avonization" going on over there. I went over to The Avon Author website. Of the 60+ authors listed I've read books by about 40 of them. Of those 40, 9 are autobuys:
Book Cover
  1. Adele Ashworth
  2. Rachel Gibson
  3. Laura Lee Guhrke
  4. Judith Ivory (it would be nice to have something new soon :)
  5. Eloisa James
  6. Mary Reed McCall
  7. Susan Elizabeth Phillips
  8. Julia Quinn
  9. Karen Ranney

Book CoverAs readers we have differing reading criteria, some like me read for voice and writing style, some read for story and others prefer a combination. So, what works for me may not work for someone else. I read these authors for their distinct writing styles and voices, I don't always love the story their telling, but I always like how they write. For me this separates them from the other 30 or so Avon authors I've tried. And this is where I think the "Avonization" comes about. Within the historical line there are authors whose books and stories sound too similar, so much so they're writing and stories can seemingly be interchanged with other authors that write historicals for Avon. If Avon put the wrong author's name on the cover I wonder how many people would notice the style or voice is wrong, because we really can't tell them apart. Without a really distinctive voice, writing style or story will these authors languish among the midlist realm?

Book CoverBook CoverHere's the thing. Which came first? Does Avon sign them because they are already writing in this style or do Avon editors push them toward this mold? For some reason I don't think the editors push them toward this, because there's enough authors within the group that don't fall into the "Avonization" category. Or are the authors that feel interchangeable actually writing to a glutted Regency/Victorian market? Do they need to write a spectacular or completely different story to get noticed? I ask this because Anna Campbell's Claiming the Courtesan garnered so much positive and negative attention because it wasn't interchangeable with anything else on the market right now. I've heard good things about Janet Mullany's The Rules of Gentility, and I'm left wondering will it fall into the Avon mold or will it be distinctive and different.

14 comments:

Bookwormom said...

I read for characterization, personally. Which often leads me to keep only one or two of a series instead of the entire group.

Of the authors listed in the drop down box on the Avon site you link I only read 8. Only two of those regularly. Non are autobuys. I've heard the "avonization" claim before, but I don't read enough of them to really have an opinion, TBH.

I know there are romance readers out there who actively dislike Avon, but since I usually like the ones I read I've always shrugged and asked, "What's the problem?"

Wendy said...

I don't think the "avonization" label stems from style and voice so much as the complete and total glut of the Regency England setting. Because of this setting constantly popping up within Avon walls, the back cover blurbs/plots/etc. start to blur together and sound the same after a while.

The highlight for me was when the back cover copy of My Fair Temptress by Christina Dodd touted the book as a "Regency" when it actually took place in 1840-something. Um, no.

Now, this happens in every sub genre (I could go my whole life without reading another western featuring a relative's "lost gold mine"), but given the sheer numbers of English historicals that Avon puts out it makes them an easy target for that "avonization" label. Also, for a while they really seemed to be promoting the heck out of their writers who have a "lighter" voice.

I think the only autobuy I have left at Avon is Laura Lee Guhrke - and that said, I've bought all of her Avon books and haven't read one of them yet. All buried in the TBR. There are a couple of other authors I "keep track of" at Avon, but I don't necessarily buy every single book they publish....

Kristie (J) said...

I agree with Wendy. I think it's their England only and only England policy that I find so frustrating. And when I think of "avonization" I don't include contemporaries in that word - just historicals. Plus almost every single one of the heros is a duke/earl/viscount and the occasional baron. They are very limited in their selection these days whereas once upon a time they featured books from many different settings.
With their mid-list historical authors another thing that strikes me is so many of the covers are completely interchangeable.
(now back to cataloguing)

Rosie said...

I read for the author's voice and characterization. If that even makes sense. Until a couple of years ago I didn't really pay attention to what publishing house my fave authors belonged to.

I think when one publisher is so narrow that they only do historical romances set in one historical setting (England in this case) they run the risk of words like "Avonization" being attached to their authors.

BTW, did you see this in Julia Quinn's Q&A at Sybil's blog?

9. If you could retire two words from Romanceland, what would they be?

TSTL and Avonization.

Jane said...

Jayne loved Rules of Gentility and gave it an A-, I think. The review will go up next week. After I read the review, I was perturbed I hadn't read it before I sent it to her. Now I'll have to buy my own copy!

Tara Marie said...

Amanda--"What's the problem?" I think it's a combination of complaints--too many Regencies set in England add to that bad covers and bad blurbs that don't actually fit the stories and readers get annoyed.

Wendy--I think on some level we're saying the same thing. I find the overall market was and Avon market is still "glutted" with Regencies that unless the author is outstanding there's nothing left to differentiate them from every other Regency out there.

Kristie--I wonder why... They are very limited in their selection these days. is it what's being submitted to them or is it what they're looking for. They seem to be writing to the "market" but who decides this?

Rosie--I think when one publisher is so narrow that they only do historical romances set in one historical setting (England in this case) they run the risk of words like "Avonization" being attached to their authors. Well, you probably nailed that one and I've hyper analyzed the whole thing :)

Jane--I've got a good feeling about the Mullany, so I'm glad to hear Jayne liked it :)

Angela said...

I wrote a post about it, and for me, Avonization is the result of Avon's success with the English Regency(sometimes Victorian[who may as well be Regency since they're no different--but I'll save my rant for another day *g*]) period AND the frothier voice(they did just acquire Julie Anne Long and Kathryn Caskie from Warner) that caused other publishers to want to mimic that success, and as a result, avidly acquired authors in the "Avon" mold.

What's so harmful about "Avonization" is that because Avon has branded itself as an overwhelmingly "Romance" imprint in a way no other publisher has--Signet and Berkley's Eclipse & Sensation lines, respectively, are only three or four years old, while Pocket & Warner had horrible Wal-Mart distribution[IMO, an important factor that helped Avon get where they are today], an SMP doesn't have a romance imprint at all--other imprints can't break through because Avon has such a huge headstart on them. Karen Hawkins, Sabrina Jeffries,Christina Dodd and now Lisa Kleypas have been lured away from them, but when an author leaves, Avon seems to replace them with another author in a similar vein(the acquisition of Kathryn Caskie and Julie Anne Long).

While their super-successful authors like Eloisa James or Teresa Medeiros,etc are unique writers, for every one of them, there seem to be two mediocre and tepid mid-list/new authors.

Honestly--and this is not a reflection on the author--I feel the acquisition of Anna Campbell was an image move for Avon because now when discussions of "Avonization" crop up, she is always held up as an example of how "Avonization" doesn't exist.

Jenster said...

The only Avon authors I read somewhat regularly are:

Marianne Stillings
Mary Reed McCall
Susan Elizabeth Phillips
Julia Quinn

All four of them have different voices and much different stories so I'm not really qualified to give an opinion.

BTW - totally off subject - I'm reading my first Nora Roberts ever and I thought of you! Morrigan's Cross. Loving it so far.

Tara Marie said...

Angela, I think it was a combination of your blog post and a recent review by Rosario that triggerd my thoughts.

...for every one of them, there seem to be two mediocre and tepid mid-list/new authors. That mediocratiy is what leads to my feelings of interchangeability (is that a word--LOL)

Jen--only one of the four authors you list is a "Regency" historical author :)

Ah, you're reading Nora, you'll be hooked. I thought Morrigan's Cross was the weakest romance of the trilogy, lots of good world building though. If you "love it" you'll probably love the rest of the series :)

Jenster said...

Yeah. I meant to say they're all different genres and to me they each have very distinct voices.

As for Morrigan's Cross - I'm thoroughly enjoying it. I don't mind a lack of romance if the story is good. Still, it's good to know there will be romance later. :o)

Devon said...

Angela--you had left a comment regarding the new Kleypas, "Mine Till Midnight", pointing out that it was Early Victorian rather than Regency.
It's funny you pointed that out b/c
I find with a lot of these English historicals, there is little to distinguish the time period. It's like an amorphous early nineteenth century thing. Unless a specific person or thing (i.e. the Bow Street Runners) is mentioned, I find it hard to conclusively date them. Thus, they all become Regencies to me.

Is this part of Avonization?

sybil said...

But really what is Avonization? Is a bad thing that Avon is doing? If it is than their sales will drop off, right?

If their sales continue than how can you blame them for publishing what people are buying? Or get pissed off other publishers are following?

There is many a read online who hates everything Avon puts out. Or what they have 'done' to authors. To the first I say, ok don't buy them then. To the second I call bullshit.

Like it was said many an author has left Avon. Sabrina Jeffries is selling better than ever and is with Pocket, although I was a big fan while she was with Avon. Karen Hawkins first two books with Pocket are hands down better than her last four with Avon. Lisa Kleypas is fucking awesome and rocked out with Avon and with St Martin.

Does an author get better leaving Avon? Could be. Is it because they are no long with Avon? Is it because there is new energy being in a new job (publisher). It can be a lot of things. But every author has a choice. It is their name on the book.

NO ONE can say well if Lorraine Heath would leave avon and write a western it would be Texas Glory or Always to Remember. It is possible her style has changed. It is possible the reader has moved on.

All sorts of things can be said and can be argued. But the fact of the matter is at the end of the day - money talks. The sales numbers are what matter.

If Julie Ann Long's next book blows, the fault is JAL's not Avon's. And if it hits the bestseller lists... what does that say?

Tara Marie said...

Sybil, I don't think it's something Avon does "to" authors, it's more about a mold and choosing authors/books that fit within their mold. Good or bad there's a sameness to their mid-list authors.

We as readers talk about expanding our comfort zones and reading books that wouldn't normally appeal to us. With the exception of a handful of authors, Avon historicals are very much in their own zone. That's fine and maybe the average reader isn't looking for anything else. On a business level they're going to go with what works.

But the average blogger isn't the average reader. Maybe we're too obsessive and have higher expectations, I don't know.

Ultimately it is the authors name on the cover and if they fail they fail alone, if they succeed so does everyone along the process.

Isn't it odd that the actual writing process is considered an art/craft, but the process of publishing is all about business.

Tara Marie said...

Devon...

I find with a lot of these English historicals, there is little to distinguish the time period. It's like an amorphous early nineteenth century thing. Unless a specific person or thing (i.e. the Bow Street Runners) is mentioned, I find it hard to conclusively date them. Thus, they all become Regencies to me.

It is difficult to differentiate the time periods from the blurbs or synopses. And I have to wonder if this vagueness is a business decision. Regencies sell and the publishers want to appeal to the Regency buyer. And if the story delivers what the reader is looking for maybe it doesn't really matter.