Department of "Huh?!": Noah Smith Claims the British Economy Today Is Not in a Keynesian Slump
Today's Economic History: Alfred Marshall on Aggregation

Science Fiction: Jim Baen

Re: John Scalzi: The Myth of SF/F Publishing House Exceptionalism

I don't doubt that Baen Books under Jim Baen was primarily a print-good-stories-that-Jim-Baen-thinks-will-sell-and-get-people-to-buy-more-Baen-books enterprise. And I don't doubt that Jim Baen was very good to John Ringo.


Consider three things:

First, Walter Jon Williams's take. Walter Jon Williams tells stories of unhappy dealings with Jim Baen. WJW is a very, very good writer indeed who writes cracking good stories that have a beginning, a middle, and a (more than satisfactory end--in fact, who writes stories that are so good that everyone would benefit from some more serious publisher marketing muscle behind him. He casts a rather different light on Baen. See, on life in the days when Jim Baen was both an editor at Tom Doherty's Tor Boks and running his own Baen Software computer-game company: "Those were the days when there were only three people in the Tor offices. Jim Baen the editor, Tom Doherty the publisher, and Mrs. Doherty the bookkeeper....

"When I told Baen I was going to be late, he insisted that I write an ending for the book I’d written thus far and send him the manuscript.  I wrote the ending— it was a damn good ending, too, filled with sadness and pathos— and sent him the ms. I had no idea why he was being so insistent, and only found out a few years later, when I told the story to another Tor editor.  She thought for a moment, then said, “Oh!  Tax fraud!”  I don’t know any more details than that....

"I'd never met anyone quite like Baen before.... His politics were extremely conservative, his ideas on race dated from (let’s be charitable) the 1940s, and he had an amazing repertoire of sexist jokes (at one point telling me a whole string of them while his wife and daughter were in the next room, and in a position to overhear). Though his politics were somewhere to the right of Attila the Hun, he nevertheless published lefties like Mack Reynolds and Eric Flint. And he published me, which is clearly to his credit.

"He also bought a number of games from me, for his new Baen Software company.... He’d hire me as a game writer. I’d then hire the programmers.... The games would then be distributed like books, by Simon & Schuster’s highly professional sales and distribution team. This was a recipe for a nightmare. Firstly, the advances Baen was paying, while suitable enough for a writer churning out quickie paperbacks, didn’t even approach the going rate of a first-rate computer programmer.... This meant that the programmers who actually worked with me were (1) hobbyists who were making a very good living elsewhere but just thought it was cool to create games, and (2) bullshit artists.... The latter tended to predominate. And bear it mind it was me who was hiring the programmers, and I lacked the skills to tell one from the other....

I’d had to fire a programmer off one of my projects, resulting in delays, and Jim didn’t like delays. (I can understand that he was under pressure, running a company with his name on it that had a fatally flawed business plan that was slowly dragging us all into the Pit--but on the other hand it was his damn business plan, not mine.) Anyway, Jim informed me—-at the Baltimore Worldcon, no less—-that he wouldn’t pay me the advance on signing for Knight Moves until I delivered on the [computer] game project.

"Now, this was a problem on any number of levels. Firstly, the game contract and the book contract were from two different companies. He was threatening to ruin Tor’s reputation for honesty and timely payment in order to solve a problem at Baen Software. Secondly, I had done my work. It was the programmer that had screwed up. Baen was punishing me because I was the guy he had under contract— he had no business relationship with the programmer at all....

"Baen’s threat to withhold the advance from Knight Moves ended when he left Tor Books. He had started Baen Books, and for a while it looked as if he’d be editing both lines, but the Science Fiction Writers of America, in a rare moment of belligerence, made threatening noises in his direction, and he left Tor. My new editor was Harriet McDougal, with whom I got along very well indeed....

"How, I wonder in retrospect, did I survive 1983? I conclude that this is because I was as crazy as any of the people I was dealing with. By the midpoint of the year, I was a staggering, raging wreck, filled with madness and raw cunning. I was a complete convert to the Law of the Jungle. Jim Baen had showed me that only ruthless sociopaths could expect to prosper in the world. I was prepared to eat or be eaten, kill or be killed. I simply didn’t fucking care any more. I wanted to grab a ballpeen hammer and start crushing heads. This proved a useful state of mind next year, when I started writing Hardwired..."

Second, San Francisco Planet. Out there on the internet there is a third-hand report: chain of transmission Scott Raun from an unremembered Minneapolis author from (perhaps) Lois McMaster Bujold. Scott Raun:

"I recall hearing from a reliable source (a M[innea]p[o]l[i]s Author--I just can't remember which one) that sometime after Ethan of Athos, Jim Baen told Lois [McMaster Bujold] she could write anything she wanted EXCEPT a sequel to "San Francisco Planet" [i.e., another openly SJW book like the cracking good story Ethan of Athos]..."

Third, Island in the Sea of Time. Emily Mah's interview with Steve Stirling

Emily Mah: "I’ve heard you tell the harrowing story of how Island in the Sea of Time almost didn’t get published. Would you share it with our Black Gate readers?"

Steve Stirling: "Well, the publisher [Jim Baen] strongly objected to certain aspects of it; primarily, the race and sexual orientation of a major character[, a Captain in the U.S. Coast Guard]. He thought that this would make reader identification too difficult, and wanted it completely rewritten. I disagreed, obviously. In fact, I was convinced that this was my best work to date and the start of a new phase in my work. After much discussion, which got quite heated, I pulled the book and paid back the advance--which, since I was utterly broke at the time was a bit of a struggle, to put it mildly.

"Instead I got an agent (the incomparable Russ Galen) and he shopped it around after reading it and liking it. At the time he mentioned that there were only two ways to get him to read a 1000-page manuscript; either he liked it a lot, or I was holding a .45 to his head. [Interviewer's note: I hope I don't need to tell you which of the above was the case?] (Harry Turtledove recommended me to Russ, for which I’m eternally grateful.)

"It sold quickly--several publishers expressed interest, in fact. Russ recommended going with ROC/Penguin, a very shrewd decision which I have blessed repeatedly since. Both my editors at ROC, Laura Anne Gilman (since retired to write full-time) and Ginjer Buchanan, have been joys to work with. And since Island in the Sea of Time is now in its 25th printing since the first in 1998, I feel my judgment has been vindicated!

"Still, I don’t regret my initial spell with Baen Books, either. Jim did me a lot of good when I was starting out, and I’m sorry we quarreled. He’s done the field good, too, and his company continues to do so..."

In Steve Stirling's Island in the Sea of Time, the ingenue is a barbarian moon-priestess, and the hero is a mighty sword-wielding sea-captain. The ingenue, however, is whiter-than-white-white: a Briton from 1200 BC. The mighty-themed sea-captain is an African-American. And their relationship is a lesbian one. And so Jim Baen's editorial judgment was that readers would find it difficult to identify with Captain Marion Allston...

Note: All stories are unreliable. All people's recollections of the past differ. Mileage varies...