Jim Baen’s Legacy

I just read this rather nasty blog post.  Like most Marxists this guy reaches for the wrong thing and doesn’t have the depths to understand what’s going on.

http://cloggie.org/wissewords2/2015/05/12/the-baen-fallacy/

Mr. Wisse, the very unwise, misses the point of the blurb that Jim Baen  used to put in the back of his books.  This one:

TRAVIS SHELTON

LIKES BAEN BOOKS

BECAUSE THEY TASTE GOOD

Recently we received this letter from Travis Shelton of Dayton, Texas:

I have come to associate Baen Books with Del Monte. Now what is that supposed to mean? Well, if you’re in a strange store with a lot of different labels, you pick Del Monte because the product will be consistent and will not disappoint.

Something I have noticed about Baen Books is that the stories are always fast-paced, exciting, action-filled and seem to be published because of content instead of who wrote the book. I now find myself glancing to see who published the book instead of reading the back or intro. If it’s a Baen Book it’s going to be good and exciting and will capture your spare reading moments.

Another discovery I have recently made is that I don’t have any Baen Books in my unread stacks — and I read four to seven books a week, so that in itself is a meaningful statistic.

Link:http://smallestminority.blogspot.com/2006/06/well-dammit-there-goes-another-one.html

Jim didn’t put that in the back of his books to imply that what he published was just a commodity.  I don’t think that Jim ever thought of the things he published as just a commodity.  Baen has always had a diverse and eclectic stable of writers.  And Jim was ALWAYS looking for new talent.  The thing I can remember most on Baen’s bar is that he would post “write something up and send it in.”  That’s how John Ringo and bunch of others got their starts.

Baen’s wiki touches the highlights but doesn’t give you the story.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Jim_Baen

I followed Jim Baen starting in 1975, when I discovered Galaxy Magazine in my High School library.  The librarian would give me the issues as came in every month, probably because I was about the only person reading the magazine.  I still have most of them.  One thing I really liked was the fun stories and mind blowing concepts that were always in the magazine.  Along with Jerry Pournelle’s, A Step Farther Out, Spider Robinson’s review column and the crazy alien.  Galaxy magazine is where Jim started his habit of finding new talent and reaching for new ideas.  Remember that this was the depth of the 1970’s when “that Buck Rogers stuff” was in high disregard and new wave was in.  Yet Galaxy published Pournelle’s “High  Justice” as well as the accompanying science column by Pournelle explaining how space travel worked.  Heady stuff for a 17 year old.

Baen moved on to Ace books where he pioneered things like the shared world anthology and published nonfiction as part of the Ace package.  That’s how “thieves World” got it’s start.  And how some very right wing ideas got out into the real world.  “Expanded Universe” and the book edition of “A Step Farther Out” weren’t the only things he published.  And the book magazine he tried. Of course the fact that he published Newt Gingrich’s book and stuff about things like missile defense is probably why he was never in the running for a Hugo.

After his brief stint at TOR he started Baen books and the innovations came fast and furious.  As did the new authors.  Elizabeth Moon.  Lois Mcmasters Bujold.  Computer books.  Speculative nonfiction.  Another book magazine. More bad politics, you know, dangerous talk about liberty and such.

Enter the 1990’s and the internet.  I know that Baen was an early internet presence but I’m not sure when the Bar started.  Baen’s Bar was probably the most important innovation that Baen ever did.  It was so innovative that I don’t think that the Big Five have understood what it does for Baen to this day.  The Bar gave Jim instant connections with his customers.  He could propose an idea and get an instant response.  Authors could put up snippets and get early push for sales.  And long, long discussions on how to do electronic publishing went on well before anybody had heard of ebooks.  The free library? Copyable ebooks? Earcs?  All that happened on the bar, back and forth.  To say nothing on the discussions  about ereader technologies well before the ipad or kindle.

Jim Baen’s passing left a big hole in a lot of us’ lives.  I do know that the one thing he never compromised on was a good story. To hear the smear that he only wanted commodity books disgusts me.  Especially from somebody who obviously hasn’t read what Baen had published.  Jim was always looking  for diversity of ideas, the mindblowing stuff, never the literary pablum that seems to be norm in reading these days.  And he was always, most of all, looking for high quality storytelling. If that’s the Delmonte that Baen represents, then hand me the can opener.

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15 comments

  1. James Resoldier · May 18, 2015

    Hear here! Good response!

    Like

  2. Robert Evans · May 18, 2015

    Well said.

    Like

  3. Dan Kauffman · May 18, 2015

    I never thought about Del Monte but years before the internet I found myself doing a lot of waiting for new books by authors I like, one day I noticed that a lot of my books had Baen on them SO I started looking for that and tried some new authors almost years later and I have never been disappointed

    Like

  4. oldshib · May 18, 2015

    Amen, brother.Like Mr. Shelton, no unread Baen books, in my stack, and a whole lot of Baen books that get read and re-read. And let’s not forget the free Baen Library.

    Like

  5. dougdandridge · May 18, 2015

    He also published my first writing mentor, Charles Sheffield. Charles told me several times about how Jim got him to write his first novel. “Just write a bunch of short stories and we’ll string them together.” I don’t only read Baen authors, but at least half of the books I read have their label.

    Like

  6. Uncle Lar · May 18, 2015

    Snippets weren’t just for push. Early on when Ringo was perfecting his craft he had an entire squad of Baen Bar Flies as first readers. He would post, we would respond, he would rewrite, and eventually Baen would release a new Ringo that we all had a vested interest in.
    And then there were snippets of a story John had absolutely no intention of selling to Jim. A little something that eventually became Ghost. Not by any stretch SF at all. Jim insisted that John give him first refusal. And thus was the Kildar series born. And how that eventually won John an award for best romance is a story for another day.

    Liked by 1 person

    • jccarlton · May 18, 2015

      To be honest, I don’t remember how snippeting got started. I do remember John posting the snippets for ghost and Jim saying “send it in!!” And arguing with John about it when John said that he wasn’t sure he wanted to.

      Like

    • lobo314 · May 19, 2015

      Ahh best romance. yeah that was epic. I laughed and laughed. Still gives me the giggles

      Like

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  9. connorcochran · May 29, 2015

    “Jim was always looking for diversity of ideas, the mindblowing stuff, never the literary pablum that seems to be norm in reading these days.”

    The Jim Baen I illustrated (and read slush) for at GALAXY and IF, and was in contact with regularly later, during his time at Ace Books, would be the first to take you to task for not including the material you call “literary pablum” in the general “diversity of ideas” spectrum. Baen Books as a commercial enterprise represented only a facet of the man’s taste — in his earlier jobs he was just as thrilled to publish Joanna Russ and Roger Zelazny and James Tiptree, Jr. as he was to publish Jerry Pournelle, and I can tell you from the many hours I spent in his apartment in the early ’70s that the books on his shelves were phenomenally wide-ranging and included just as much of the “new wave” work you disparage as anything else. The narrower focus of Baen Books was a conscious choice designed to establish a quick identity within the marketplace (much as DAW Books had done earlier). Canny marketing, to be sure, but not a reflection of the whole man..

    Jim Baen had many more dimensions than you grant him.

    (Nice to see a mention of THIEVES’ WORLD, My company is working with Lynn abbey to bring that series back to life.)

    Like

  10. connorcochran · May 29, 2015

    Not to be a grumpy gus about this, but (speaking as one of the new talents Jim discovered when editing GALAXY and IF) his quest for new talent wasn’t ENTIRELY driven by noble motives. A great deal of it was sheer practical need. The publishing company behind the two magazines was notorious for (a) paying very little and (b) paying very late. Since Jim had to put together great magazines on a ridiculously small budget, he had no choice but to pay established names more, and faster (so he could have those names to ballyhoo), and then fill out the rest of the magazine with unknowns or lesser-knowns who were okay with getting less money and waiting longer to get paid. And why not — life was cheaper then and we were all thrilled to be breaking in!

    Officially everyone was paid “within 30 days of publication,” but in practice the name authors were often paid in advance, and the rest of the writers (and all the illustrators) got paid when Jim could squeeze the money out of the publisher. Longest I ever had to wait was around six months. The usual time was two or three. I certainly don’t fault Jim for this — indeed, his was a Herculean task and I am grateful both for the initial career launch and the fact that he really did fight hard to get us all paid eventually. I also have to give him points for never bullshitting me about anything that was going on behind the scenes.

    We did a LOT of slush pile diving to fill up those books, and sometimes that worked out really well. I was the slush reader in the office the day that Jim and I found several stories by a then completely-unknown John Varley in the mail. Being there for that discovery was pretty cool.

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    • jccarlton · May 29, 2015

      I was a teenager at the time and an outsider looking in. At the time I never even dreamed of visiting the Galaxy offices and saying hi. magazine and their staffs were sort of on a pedestal. My larger point was that Jim was always looking for new talent and was not afraid to publish a diverse portfolio. this was in rebuttal to the just wrong comment that Jim only published “commodity books” whatever the hell that means. I’m also perfectly aware the Jim’s main focus was to make a buck and stay in business. After ten years of being on the bar do you honestly think that anybody could believe otherwise.

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      • connorcochran · May 29, 2015

        I was only a little older than you at the time, actually — I started illustrating for Jim when I was 19.

        My own larger point, based on direct experience with Jim and 41 years work in publishing, is that there is no actual contradiction between the statements “Jim was always looking for new talent and was not afraid to publish a diverse portfolio” and the one you incorrectly characterize as “wrong” about commodity books. When Jim set up Baen Books he quite deliberately narrowed the focus of his publishing choices in order to quickly establish, and then develop, a quickly identifiable brand. Did he still look for new talent within that focus? Yes. Was that focus diverse? Yes — but the diversity was kept within a narrower range than the choices he made at Tor, Ace, and the magazines. Baen Books’ list was absolutely NOT as diverse as the offerings from the larger publishing houses Jim was competing with, and they were given a unified “look and feel” that branded them so strongly they could be identified as Baen Books at a glance. This was canny commodity (yes, commodity) marketing theory, consciously and deliberately applied by a consummate marketer. Whether you think this is admirable or not in the greater scheme of things is a matter of personal opinion, but Jim would never have denied (as you are) that commodity marketing was what he was doing.

        In short, you are taking umbrage at a statement that Jim would have grinned at and said “You bet!”

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