iStock_000004062139SmallIf you have read even one of our Speaking of Audiobooks columns, it’s clear to you that I’m an avid proponent of audiobooks – romance in particular.  Celebrating June is Audiobook Month (JIAM) is a special joy in that its goal is to increase consumer awareness of the audiobook industry.  I’m amazed at the large number of planned events as well as the concerted effort to exhibit the vast array of choices, the ease of listening, and affordability of audiobooks to readers and non-readers alike.  Taking place in June as well are the Audio Publishers Association Conference and the Audie Awards Gala and Awards Presentation (sponsored by the Audio Publishers Association) for excellence in narration, direction, and engineering.

For years, I paid little attention to the Audies.  More often than not, those nominated for romance failed to impress me as worthy of such an award.  I started paying closer attention to the finalists in 2009 as the Speaking of Audiobooks column had become a twice-monthly event and we were seeing the occasional Audies comment in our discussion area.  We usually heard a confused “Huh?” while looking over each year’s romance finalists and, I fear, the awards were ignored for the most part.

As I recently took a closer look at past Audie Awards, I realized that romance listeners’ lack of interest was well founded.  Although the Audies started in 1996, a romance was not named a finalist until it received its own category in 2005.  Since that time five to six romances have been chosen as finalists each year although, sadly, that number includes six finalists (including one in 2012) that aren’t categorized as romance.  Of the more than 150 finalists each year, romance hasn’t even averaged its six finalists positions nor has it appeared in one of the other finalist categories such as Solo Narration – Female (or Male).

As romance listeners/readers, we are accustomed to the lack of recognition.  A self-proclaimed eternal optimist, I still find myself hoping for the day when the publishing industry (and readership in general) will quit judging the romance genre by misperceptions and the ridiculous clinch covers the publishing industry itself pushes on us.  Oh, for the day when romance can be given respect for the quality source that it is with smart, thoughtful, intense, and well-written books of fiction that can make you laugh out loud, move you deeply, or plunge you into a fascinating conflict other than the love interest.  That’s not to say we’re not still plagued with some thoughtless, formulaic books but can’t that be said of any genre?

Although the Audies recognize excellence in narration, direction, and engineering, it also takes into consideration the marketing information and numbers provided with each nomination.  It’s apparently not a case of the most popular book within a genre so we, as listeners, can’t expect it to be that sort of instrument.  But for romance fans, who merely buy the product and listen to the end result, news of the Audie Winners is usually a disappointment.  Even with the knowledge of how the Audies are structured, it’s still met with doubt and the feeling that someone somewhere just doesn’t get it.  Seeing J.D. Robb’s In Death series as a romance finalist four out of eight years indicates to me a lack of research or imagination.  I don’t deny In Death’s popularity among its followers, but there is so much more to be seen and considered in the world of romance audio.  I see hope in 2012’s romance finalists as four of the titles are well-known by many of our listeners and have been discussed favorably.  Could that be related to the increased selection of quality romances we are seeing from audio publishers?  I have to believe there is a strong correlation.

The Audie Awards remain a thrilling event for audio professionals and an award that can only enhance one’s resume.  This time of year, I catch the excitement of those nominated and I’m delighted when I see one of our favorite narrators of romance nominated for an Audie in another genre.  I’ll applaud with great enthusiasm should any win as they so deserve.  And, yes, I have my list of favorites I’m secretly cheering on.

– Lea Hensley

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