I get quite a bit of mail asking about the permutations of the audiobook versions of the OUTLANDER and Lord John novels, so thought maybe I'd clarify—as much as is possible.
Hokay. Back in the day….around 1994, this would be…audiobooks were a new and Highly Suspect (in the minds of publishers, who tend to be a wary breed) development. Publishers didn't want to risk money on producing an audio version of a book that they didn't think would sell well, so they seldom did audio versions of anything that wasn't already a bestseller—and costs being what they were, they were even warier of recording an extravagantly long book.
Well, in 1994, VOYAGER (my third book) was published, and hit the New York Times list, thus becoming an official Bestseller (as my beloved first editor also used to say, becoming a bestseller is really the only good solution to the "where do we shelve this?" conundrum—because a book that's a bestseller automatically gets display space at the front of the store, no matter where else it may be shelved. Seemed like a good strategy to me, so I've pursued it ever since. [g]
So. This meant that the publisher's audiobooks department was now cautiously interested in my books. They looked at said books, uttered loud screams of consternation at the length (this being the universal reaction of all publishers, anywhere), and then offered my agent a small amount of money for total world rights, abridged and unabridged, forever.
As I had a very good agent (I still have a very good agent, but not the same one; my first agent, Perry Knowlton, retired, and then died, alas), he said nothing doing, and proceeded to negotiate them into a somewhat better deal: English-language rights only, and on a ten-year license (renewable if agreeable to both parties), rather than the usual, "We'll publish it as long as we feel like it (i.e., as long as it makes money)" contract. They still insisted on having both abridged and unabridged rights, though—in spite of the fact that they made it clear that they only intended to do an abridged version, given the books' length.
(Right. A word about "abridgement." This means that the publisher wants to publish a shorter version of the original book—ergo, they're going to take stuff out. In my innocence, I assumed this meant removing short passages of description, excise a few adjectives…maybe cut a nonessential scene here or there…perhaps boil the book down by 15-20%...not ideal, but maybe acceptable, in that it would introduce a new market, and perhaps someone who "heard" one of the books and was attracted by the characters or storyline would then go and buy some of the others.
Well. "Abridgement" does indeed mean the publisher's going to take things out. They rather cunningly do not tell you how much they propose to take out. And they did offer me "approval" of the abridgement. More about this, below.)
I didn't care for this, "approval" notwithstanding. "I think eventually the books are going to be sufficiently popular that there might be a market for the unabridged version," I told my agent. "And if I thought stuff could desirably be left out of these books, I would have written them that way. I want to keep the unabridged rights. We may never sell them, but if we give them to these guys, they'll never use them, and there'll never be an unabridged version."
Excellent agent that he was, he went back and fought for my unabridged rights, emerging triumphant a few weeks later. Unwilling to absolutely surrender these rights, though, the publisher had insisted on a "non-compete retail" clause. In other words, I could sell the unabridged rights—but whoever made an unabridged audio version could not sell it in the same physical retail outlets (i.e., bookstores) where the abridged audo was sold. (The publisher accurately fearing that if anyone saw the abridged and unabridged versions side by side, they'd see just how much was missing, and not buy the abridged form. (Just as an example, the abridged form of A BREATH OF SNOW AND ASHES contains 9 CDs. The Unabridged form contains 48. Yeah, you'd see, all right.))
This was the best we could do, and I agreed.
Some time later, the Bantam Audio department called up, burbling with good news: "The usual audiobook is only six hours—but we got permission to do OUTLANDER as nine!" they said.
"Yeah?" I said. "I'd be a lot more impressed if I hadn't just read that book myself for Recording for the Blind (see footnote*), and know that it takes at least 32 hours."
"Oh," they said, still chirpy. " That won't matter; we have wonderful Scottish music to bridge the transitions!"
Still, I didn't realize the full extent of the carnage, until they sent me the abridged manuscript for [cough] "approval."
"Approval" of an abridged manuscript is like a newspaper photographer coming to your house and taking a picture of your sweet child, all dressed up and combed to perfection. Then the editor calls you to tell you the picture is running on the front page! But…owing to space constraints, "You can have the left ear, the chin, the middle button on the dress, and your choice of nostril—or would you rather have one eye, the bottom lip, and both shoes?"
In other words, they hand you a pile of bloody shreds, and you have four days to make any changes you like. Right. Well, I did the best I could to smooth the unspeakably ham-handed transitions that someone had written to (haha) "bridge" the gaping holes between these chunks, but that was all that could be managed.
OK. Well, they produced the abridged audios—the reader, actress Geraldine James, is a lovely reader, I'll say that for them—and they do include snippets of Scottish music (which, btw, I do not consider an adequate substitute for my deathless prose.) Sold a modest amount of them—mind, this was early days for audiobooks, so pretty much all audiobooks sold modestly.
Well…the more books I wrote, the longer they got—and the bloodier the carnage of the abridgements. (They discarded Fergus altogether from the second book, for instance, thus causing considerable confusion when he inexplicably appears in the third. He's in VOYAGER, but they didn't bother to explain to Ms. James that he's French. He therefore appears with a most incongrous heavy Scots accent, she having evidently (and reasonably) assumed from his name that he was Scottish, and there being nothing left in the abridged text to indicate otherwise.)
So I really wanted an unabridged version. I looked into it, and at that time, there were only two companies who did unabridged titles: Books on Tape, and Recorded Books. Well, I happened to be doing an appearance at a Public Librarians Association conference, at which there was a trade show, featuring all kinds of publishers—including a booth rented by Recorded Books. I strolled casually past this a time or two, screwing up my courage, and when I found the booth momentarily without visitors, walked up and introduced myself to the gentleman manning it, proceeding swiftly from general schmoozing to pointing out the popularity of my books—which were fortunately being sold in inspiring quantities from the Random House booth on the other side of the room; every third librarian walking by was carrying one of my books, as I'd been their principal program speaker.
I got a card from this cordial gentleman, and once home, emailed my agent with the contact information, suggesting that he go at once to reinforce any good initial impression I might have made. Subsequently, Recorded Books made an offer for the unabridged audio rights to OUTLANDER, and thus began a most satisfying relationship.
Now, nothing against the production or the reading/acting of the Bantam abridged versions—both are excellent—but the simple fact is that the abridged version of THE FIERY CROSS, for example, includes precisely 23% of the original story. No, they didn't leave out 23%; that's how much they left in.
Recorded Books has (so far) recorded unabridged versions of all of my novels, both the main OUTLANDER series (read by the exquisite Davina Porter) and the Lord John books (read by the marvelous Jeff Woodman, who just is Lord John, in vocal terms). Both these readers are nothing short of spectacular in their acting ability and facility with accents.
Anyway, if you should be curious, the Recorded Books website is (reasonably enough) www.recordedbooks.com , and I am pleased (having just gone to check it) to see that HAND OF DEVILS is their monthly special at the moment:
All right. Moving right along with this gripping saga…
Because of the "non-compete retail" clause in the original contract with Bantam, the Unabridged versions done by Recorded Books couldn't be sold in bookstores, until the license for the abridged versions was terminated. We (current agent and I) did terminate these licenses, as each one expired—so far, the first four books have been terminated, which means that while Bantam has had a six-month grace period after each expiration in which to sell off their stock, after that, the unabridged audio can be sold in bookstores. I haven't checked, but I think you can in fact now get the unabridged versions of the first three or four books from Barnes and Noble, as well as from Amazon.com, in addition to the Recorded Books site. (I should note, btw, that Recorded Books also has a rental plan—which, considering the size and expense of the unabridged books, is a nice alternative.)
Oh—and for those who like to download their books as mp3 files— www.audible.com now carries the first three (or possibly four) unabridged audios in this form, by arrangement with Recorded Books. (They may have the abridged ones, too—be careful what you're ordering!)
We will be terminating the licenses for FIERY CROSS and A BREATH OF SNOW AND ASHES, as these reach their expiration dates—but it'll be a few more years. In the meantime, I'm afraid you'll have to get those two audiobooks in unabridged form direct from Recorded Books.
And I should mention eBay. I'm sure there are sellers there who are selling legitimate copies of the unabridged audios, but there are also a lot of fly-by-nights selling bootleg copies. If the item advertised consists of mp3 files on CD—they're almost certainly bootlegged, and my agent would like to know about it. (If you post a link here in the blog, I'll forward it to him; he's got a regular procedure for dealing with bootlegged stuff on eBay.)
Oh, Alex Kingston. Ms. Kingston has absolutely nothing to do with my audiobooks—though I'm certain she'd be a marvelous reader. It's just that our valiant assistant, Susan (who saves us from financial disaster by coming and doing the family book-keeping, hauls things to the post office (no one would ever get anything if it was left up to me to take it to the PO), pulls bookplates for me to sign, and is the only person who knows where the family membership card to the Zoo is) was here yesterday, and while we were chatting about the various interesting (and occasionally baffling) responses here to Claire's graphic-novel portrait, told me that from the discussions on one site she frequents, she thought the odd notion that Claire has corkscrew curls comes from the fact that a number of people, in the course of that mental casting game that's so popular, had firmly fixed upon the actress Alex Kingston as "their" mental picture of Claire. Ms. Kingston, of course, having that sort of hairstyle.
Right. Well, look. Ms. Kingston is a fabulous actress—I don't watch TV, so don't follow ER, but loved her in the "Moll Flanders" miniseries—but she doesn't actually look anything like Claire, aside from the minor similarities of being female and having curly hair (but not that kind of curly hair; Claire has the silky sort of curly hair, not the coarse kind. If you have to have an actress to visualize, think Madeleine Stowe in LAST OF THE MOHICANS, in terms of hair. Claire's is shorter, wilder, and naturally a different color, but that sort of texture.). Sorry, but she doesn't.
- Recording for the Blind and Dyslexic. This is a non-profit group that—as the name suggests—provides free recorded textbooks (or books for professional use or development—i.e., we don't read purely recreational books, like novels, unless required for an English class or the like; the Library of Congress Talking Books Program does this, though) for "print-handicapped" readers.
- (This means anyone, who for whatever reason, has trouble physically reading a book. It includes not only people who are blind or have very low vision (I think RFB&D told me that only about 10% of their clients are actually blind), but those who have substantial cognitive reading difficulties, or those who (because of MS, paralysis, or some other condition) simply can't hold a book. I've been a volunteer reader for them for….geez, more than 27 years now. They tend to give me scientific texts to read, because I don't have any trouble with the vocabulary; nice to kind of stay in touch with more recent developments in science, if only in this sporadic kind of way. (It's also usually the only time in the week that I sit down—not at a computer—for any extended period, so I can knit. The knitting also keeps me awake while reading the less-gripping sorts of books).)
- They always need volunteers—not only for reading, but for "directing" (a director handles the actual recording of files and follows the reading, to insure that the reader doesn't blink and miss something, or make mistakes, and to fix places where the reader sneezes, coughs, or accidentally impales self with a knitting needle), marking books (so we know where to read the tables and figures, and where to give page numbers), duplicating files, and general office work. Should you have the urge, there are RFB&D studios in most large cities—check your Yellow Pages and give them a call—or go to their website at www.rfbd.org . They'd be thrilled to see you. [g]