When a stroke felled publisher Jim Baen at age 62 and left Baen Books leaderless in June 2006, speculation ran wild about the future of the renowned independent science fiction and fantasy press. Fortunately for devoted authors and readers, from the very beginning Baen Books has been driven by a focused vision of genre production and development. Though Jim Baen’s absence is keenly felt, his legacy and company have proved sturdy even without his direct guidance.

David Weber, whose military SF novels featuring Honor Harrington have been among Baen’s most popular titles since the early 1990s, says that even in the days immediately following Baen’s death, production remained steady and professionalism won out over grief. “My feeling is that the tempo at Baen never really faltered,” Weber says, “despite the very deep and very real sense of loss we all shared.”

The determined emphasis on continuity came most of all from Toni Weisskopf, who joined the company as an editorial assistant in 1987 and rose to executive editor before taking over as publisher, but the entire team helped to keep things running. Weisskopf explains that at the time of Baen’s passing, the core editorial team was very stable, which helped ease the strain. “Other than the editorial assistant, the most recent hire had been six years before [Jim’s death],” she says. “Everybody pulled together and there were remarkably few communication problems during the transition period.”

Jim Baen was always something of a maverick, founding Baen Books in 1983 after Simon & Schuster asked him to head its SF line; he said he would prefer to run his own company and sign a distribution agreement with Simon & Schuster instead. Since then, Baen Books’ output has increased to around 75 trade and mass market titles each year, ranging from original novels and collections to reprinted classics and omnibus editions of popular series. First located in Manhattan, Baen now has its offices in Wake Forest, N.C.

Baen was also a pioneer in the e-book field, creating the extensive Baen Free Library in 2000 to allow readers to download free, unencrypted digital copies of recent books and samples of nearly every title. Before he died, Baen was determined to expand and improve the e-book program, and Weisskopf is carrying that vision forward.

In accordance with Baen’s guidelines for electronic content, Baen Books maintains an aggressive stance against digital rights management and other forms of copy protection. “Don’t treat your customers like thieves,” Weisskopf says, “and they won’t act like them.” Weisskopf has also preserved the Baen traditions of conversations between readers and the Baen Books staff, both on Baen’s Bar at www.baen.com and at genre and bookseller conventions around the world. She likewise strives to maintain open, fair relationships with authors, a policy that Baen considered his hallmark.

David Drake, one of Baen’s first discoveries, is quick to note that Jim Baen enjoyed nothing better than “acquiring writers who had distinctive voices, and letting the writers themselves develop those voices.” Jim’s record for picking winners and nurturing careers is legendary, and his last efforts are already bearing fruit: John Lambshead, a British biologist whose first novel was the historical fantasy Lucy’s Blade, and Mark L. Van Name, whose debut, Slanted Jack, is due out in July. Both authors have more fiction and nonfiction in the works, validating Baen’s assessment of their long-term potential.

Even though Jim Baen no longer personally lifts aspiring authors from the slush pile, his powerful personality and determined sense of style haunt the lineup, which reliably produces the same kind of core offerings of tough, smart science fiction and fantasy that built the company’s reputation. The formula continues to work its magic: in 2007 Baen Books enjoyed record sales in eight figures.

Jim Baen’s enduring sense of genre and market trends remains a firm underpinning of daily operations. Weisskopf expects that to continue for the foreseeable future. “Like Henry II of England,” she says, “Jim established a structure that should thrive for a long time.”

Author Information
Cherie Priest is the author of four novels from Tor Books and Subterranean Press. Her next book, Fathom, is due out from Tor this fall.