What Baen Does Right

I've talked a lot about what publishers are doing wrong in the analysis of the current transformation of book marketing and publishing.

Let me talk about some things one of my publishers is doing very right.

First, let me admit to some built-in bias. For those who haven't heard the sob story at cons or panels, my first book came out a month after 9/11. This was back when people - even I - still went to bookstores on a regular basis. Only at that time we didn't. We sat at home and watched the news, and waited for the other shoe to drop. (Well, I did. While writing the third book of the series.)

Because of this, many of the copies weren't even unpacked at the various bookstores; never made it to the shelves. The sell through was terrible, the laydown on the next book was lower and on the third lower still (according to the iron law of book death spins.)

After that, no one would touch me - yes, this was the year of the seventeen proposals. I could have been Shakespeare, Jane Austen and Robert A. Heinlein rolled into one, and NO ONE would have considered publishing me. Except... Baen did. Through a concatenation of events too long to recount, Dave Drake recommended me to then-publisher Jim Baen, who a few months later bought Draw One In The Dark, the first shifter novel (for now available only in e-format from the Baen website. Good price and no DRM.)

I don't know if there was a connection, but once Baen had dipped its toe in, other houses bought me too. So, if you like my recent works, remember they wouldn't exist if Baen hadn't taken that chance back in... 03?

This is the sort of thing that can't be paid back. I've said before and will continue to say: Baen can publish me as long as they wish to. I would agree to terms from them that I wouldn't agree on from anyone else. (Not that they offer me worse deals than other houses, mind, but they could, if they needed to. [I can see Baen's current publisher - Toni Weisskopf - who once told me NEVER to tell anyone I'd write anything for free scowling at me through the computer. I assume she'd tell me never to tell a publisher I'd sell something cheap. Sorry, Toni. It's still true.])

However, there is a rational reason for my wishing to continue selling to Baen, beyond my gratitude to them.

Baen does a lot of things right. Not everything by any means. I'm a writer. I reserve the right to bitch about covers, grouse about copy editing and moan about distribution. BUT - but, Baen does do some things very right.

One of the things, started by Jim Baen, was the website, with an attached "bar" where the "barflies" gather. Early on I was given my own conference in the bar. The diner is quieter these days, in competition with sites such as facebook and twitter, but it is still a place where I know I can find die-hard fans when I need them. And sometimes I need their psychological support more than anything else.

The other thing Jim did was make stories available in non-DRM format, not treating his customers like dishonest people a-priori. It paid off. I'm not saying Baen is not pirated, but it's not dying from piracy.

Another thing - and in this Toni is as good as Jim was - is the strong "personality" of the books published by Baen. A lot of people think Baen is only one political color. This is wrong. Regardless of the beliefs of the editors, Baen covers a gamut of beliefs among its writers. In fact, we could start our own UN complete with internal wars and backstabbing. We don't, but we could. If we weren't so busy writing.

But Baen books do have a certain - for lack of a better word - flavor. In a literary world in which SF/F is trying to buy a place at the academic table by flaunting pretty words and ignoring plot (not always, but it seems like that's the preferred mode) Baen goes for story every time.

As a result, they've built a strong following that looks for the PUBLISHER'S brand, as well as the writer. If I had a dime for each new-acquired fan who tells me, "I didn't think this would be my kind of thing, but it's a Baen book, so I tried it," I'd have a big pile of dimes.

This, as we go into a time when writers ask "what have you done for me lately?" and "Why shouldn't I just publish myself?" is the type of thing that adds value and that makes writers think the publishers are earning their money. Brand building, which allows a not-so-well-known writer to find an audience is just the sort of thing e-publishers of the future WILL have to develop.

For now - and reverting to my lol-cat-persona - I'd have to say Baen, u iz doing it right.

*crossposted at According To Hoyt  (and since linking is refusing to work for me this morning, that's http://accordingtohoyt.com)*

posted by Sarah on 01.14.11 at 10:10 AM


Drake and Hammers Slammers got me into the Baen line, and you are absolutely correct. From the outside, it looked like it was pretty much Drake, SM Stirling, and especially Jim (PBUH) pushing the entire idea of usable ebooks that didn't treat your customers like you hated them.

I've never read your work, but I just picked up DOitD on the webscriptions site. I feel comfortable doing that if for no other reason than that I know that since there's no DRM, it's going to work on whatever reader I'm using -- and I've gone from computers, to my iPhone, and now to a nook.

Of course, I also got Drake's latest RCN novel, so you've got stiff competition for my attention. :D

Phelps   ·  January 14, 2011 3:21 PM


You might prefer Darkship Thieves, which is Science Fiction, though my fantasy is by no means fluffy. If it's not too much trouble, would you go forth to http://accordingtohoyt.com and tell the gentleman asking for a link to buy Draw One In The Dark where it is?

And I'd never expect to be read before Dave. For one, he's much cuter. (Oh, wait, depending on your gender, you might disagree :))

Sarah   ·  January 14, 2011 4:15 PM

Looks like someone's beat me to it. In any event, I think that the dividing line between fantasy and scifi is completely arbitrary. Orcs are fantasy but space orcs are sci fi? Magic wands that we can't make are fantasy but charged particle weapons we can't make are sci fi?

A good story is a good story.

Phelps   ·  January 16, 2011 1:37 PM


Absolutely! Actually ever since reading Card's definition "Fantasy has trees; sf has machines" I have wanted to write a fantasy called Big Bright Shiny Machines. But I'm a contrary personality...

Sarah   ·  January 16, 2011 2:56 PM

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