June 30th, 2006

International Kittens of Mystery

Jim Baen (1943 - 2006)

A sad day. I never met Jim, all our correspondence was conducted by email, but I can honestly say that he changed my life. He lifted me from the ranks of the oh-so-nearly-published-on-oh-so-many-occasions and gave me my chance. He published my novel, Resonance, and recently bought Shift.

And I wasn't alone. He discovered Bujold, Weber, Flint and Ringo and encouraged thousands of others. With so many publishers moving towards agent-only submissions, Jim went in the other direction. He introduced an electronic slushpile and made it easier for people to submit. And set up a free online workshop on Baen's Bar where authors could post their novels a chapter at a time and receive feedback from fellow workshoppers. And it worked. Authors made it from both the slushpile (of which I was the first) and even more from the workshop.

And Jim didn't stop there. In the case of John Ringo, who had his novel rejected by a slush reader, Jim took the time to read the ms, explain to John why it had been rejected and how it could be fixed. John took the advice, resubmitted and, several NY Times bestsellers later, the rest is history.

Much has and will be written about Jim. David Drake says it better than most here: http://david-drake.com/baen.html

But what I think made Jim Baen unique in the SF field is the way he turned Baen from a publishing company into a brand. There are bigger publishers than Baen but only Baen has a fan base, and creating and nurturing that customer loyalty is an incredible achievement. There are thousands of readers who buy Baen books not necessarily because they recognise the author but because of the Baen name - if Jim published it, it must be good.

And how did Jim do that? I'm sure they're are many opinions but here's my take. He did it in two ways. First, by concentrating on publishing books he liked to read - ones that were heavy on story and entertainment. And, second, by connecting with the public.

Accessibility could have been a Baen watchword. Jim was accessible - anyone could have his email address or walk into Baen's Bar and talk to him. His books were accessible - no encryption on ebooks. Whereas other publishers might post a sample a chapter or two of their books on their website, Jim would offer a dozen or more. And encourage his authors to snippet widely and often. And give their books to the free library after a year or two for free unencrypted download by anyone in the world. Or give the book away on a promo cd slipped inside another book.

Jim had the ability to make everyone feel involved. Baen was a family with many children. And Jim would listen to them all. If you had an idea - a favourite book that had gone out of print, a novel inside you bursting to get out - he'd listen and if he liked the idea, he'd run with it.

There are too few people like that in the world. Today there's one less.
International Kittens of Mystery

Germany beats Argentina (perhaps)

On a lighter note, it's quarterfinal day and I've recalibrated the magic pendulum. Apparently, it was concentrating on red cards (it predicted both of them) and the result after 90 minutes (which brings the success rate to 7 matches out of 8). If I add another rider that it can only predict events up to 30 hours away, the success rate soars to a perfect 7 out of 7. Yay! Which just goes to show that there are lies, damn lies and magic pendula.

So, first up we have Germany v Argentina. Argentina are favourites but Germany have home advantage - which means they can pick up the ball and go home if they're losing. Always an advantage. Another advantage is that they'd have seen the way Mexico got at Argentina and whatever Mexico did the pendulum guarantees Germany will do in spades. The only problem is that Mexico had a better defence. So can the German back four hold out while the rest of the team surges forward. The pendulum thinks yes. Expect an upset. Argentina with time to play is a great team, under pressure they're human - except Riquelme whose part elf.

Next we have Italy v Ukraine. This all depends on Italy. They have two teams. One that has flair and confidence and one that expects the worst, blames everyone else and hides in a shell. The magic pendulum predicts a close match, it sees a draw, it sees extra time but no penalties. And it sees neither side winning. Whacks magic pendulum. Can both teams be disqualified? Tries again. It goes for Ukraine.