So my buddy Brad Torgersen, who recently signed with my publisher wrote this: http://bradrtorgersen.wordpress.com/2014/03/16/why-publish-with-baen/
I’m pretty sure Brad wrote that after a straw effigy of our publisher got burned for things she never actually said by a mob of butt hurt Social Justice Warriors. Basically Toni wrote a guest post on Sarah’s blog about her opinion on the recent butt hurt from the Anti-Puppy lobby, so of course the response was to make up a bunch of fabricated bullshit about “divisiveness” that Toni never actually said. And that crowd—the one which is “purging” sci-fi, chasing “badthink” from their ranks, all while threatening boycotts or actively character assassinating those who disagree—accusing somebody of being divisive is pretty hilarious.
But rather than take the time to Fisk the attention whores, I’ll be positive and chime in about my publisher too. I started with Baen in 2009. They picked up my original self-published novel and I’ve been with them ever since. During that time I’ve written ten books for them, and am currently under contract for, if I recall correctly, fifteen more. I’ve also written a bunch of short stories for them, and they’ve sent me all over the country for tours and events, so I’m fairly certain I’ve worked with just about everybody in the Baen office at one point or another.
Basically, I love my publishing house.
I know a lot of other writers, and I know somebody with just about every publishing house out there. Hang out with a bunch of writers long enough and you’ll get to hear them gripe about their publishers and their editors. And if they’re not a star or a golden boy with their publisher, then you’ll really get to hear them bitch and vent. After five years of this stuff I’ve heard all sorts of horror stories, yet I’m unable to commiserate with them because luckily for me, my editors don’t suck, and I haven’t ever felt like my publisher is trying to screw me over.
Editing complaints are the best. I don’t know how many times I’ve heard stories, especially from the mid listers at one of the big houses about how they’ve turned in a book and waited 6 months, 9 months, or a YEAR to get any editorial feedback. Hell, at that point I’ve already written another novel and have forgotten the prior one. Then when the feedback comes back it is “Hey, throw away this half of the book and write something entirely different, oh, and I need that by Thursday.”
Sorry. Can’t commiserate with you, buddy. My editing advice, with three different Baen editors, has all been helpful, valuable, and useful. They don’t tell me how to do my job. They treat me like a professional. They just tell me when I’ve done something wrong and give me suggestions of how to make it better. I’ve had Toni circle a scene and write “Make this part not suck!” Yes, ma’am. And because we’re both professionals, I then go and make that scene not suck. I’ve had Jim Minz give me some great bits of advice to make parts better. Hell, one time he had me move up the appearance of a cupcake with a birthday candle in it to add some cognitive dissonance to a scene, and it make and okay scene awesome.
Baen editing is straight forward because their honest to goodness corporate goal is make the readers happy. If the writer is happy, then that will come through the work, and then the reader can by happy too. Yay! And that wasn’t just after I was successful enough that they could trust me, but they treated me with respect when I was a totally unproven newbie.
I’ve got friends with big houses where their relationship with their editor is so adversarial that they actually use their agent to contact their editor… holy shit. I can’t even imagine. But I don’t even have an agent. I don’t think I need one. Like I said, 10 books in 5 years, and enough under contract to assure my steady work for the next seven years, so apparently I’m doing okay without an agent. (I was a government contract accountant, so I wasn’t afraid of reading contracts) But I’ve got a sneaky feeling that if I was with certain other publishing houses, damned right I would have an agent to try and protect myself from their bullshit.
Let me give you an example of what doing business with Baen is like. When I first started out I had absolutely no idea what I was doing as far as business, and like I said, no agent to guide me (got rejected by pretty much all of them, which is funny because I’m betting they’d love to be getting 15% of this action now!) so when I signed my first contract, I gave over things like dramatic rights (movies and TV), audiobooks, and foreign rights to Baen. At that point in my career, I was just happy that anybody was reading my stuff at all, and I couldn’t imagine that people would want to listen to it or read it in other languages.
So then I got approached by my first movie producer. Wow. Didn’t see that coming. Uh oh, my contract turned all that over to my publishing house… The contract doesn’t specify percentage details for that kind of thing. Now, at this point many publishers would have just screwed me over. Nope. One phone call to Toni, she sticks Baen’s Hollywood agent onto it, we talk, and boom, no problem. I’m then getting an extremely large percent of any of that sort of thing. For the last three years I’ve been collecting option money.
Foreign rights? I believe I’m now in 7 languages with more in the works. I didn’t do anything to arrange that. Baen did. And my percentage that I’m getting for it is extremely fair. Audio? I’m doing awesome (seriously, if I could do in books what I do in audio I’d be on top). Also something they arranged. If I’d kept those rights for myself and an agent had tried to sell them for me, they’d be getting 15% of everything and they might not have gotten me into as many markets. All of this ancillary money for MHI is something that they could have hosed me on, but they didn’t, because Toni is an honest businesswoman.
You’d think this stuff would be a no brainer, and you’d run a business like a business. Keep your suppliers happy and keep your customers happy, that’s pretty basic right? Not in this industry. Oh heck no. There’s a reason most successful industries hire us heartless conservatives to run companies, but publishing is part of the entertainment industry, which means it can get goofy.
Meanwhile, while I’m hearing horror stories of other editors being a bunch of PC douchebags to their authors and being jerks to them over politics, Baen is happily publishing the likes of me, Tom Kratman, Mike Williamson, and Sarah Hoyt, while simultaneously publishing Eric Flint, Misty Lackey, Sharon Lee, Steve Miller, and Stoney Compton. If you’re unaware, that is pretty much the entire political spectrum and then some, but because Baen is the only place to not actively muzzle people like me, Tom, Sarah, and Mike, then obviously we’re that Evil Right Wing Place. But right wing, left wing, republican or democrat, libertarian to communist, it doesn’t matter what an author is. Toni just wants our readers to be happy and keep buying books.
When I was writing Grimnoir, and I had the FDR vs. Francis bits, I asked Toni if she thought that was a good idea or if I was pushing it too far, having a beloved democrat icon be the total asshole he was in real life. Her basic response? I don’t care if my authors get political as long as it is entertaining, and if it is something they are honestly passionate about and that comes through, then it’ll make the readers happy.
Boom. Done. Those made for some great scenes by the way. And I’m still getting hate mail about how FDR rounding up a hundred thousand people to throw them in prison camps is just ripping off X-Men… Thanks American education system!
Meanwhile, I know a bunch of authors who have been actively silenced by their editors (or worse, openly sabotaged) because their writing (or in some cases, their personal beliefs) go against the accepted groupthink of the Manhattan party set. I know of authors being hosed for their beliefs, mocked, shunned, attacked, maligned, you name it, until most of the ones who fall anywhere on the right half of the spectrum just keep their heads down. But the proper goodthinking side of the industry has its head so far up its own ass that it doesn’t even recognize that it is biased. They are simply doing what is proper. Heck, half the time when somebody like me mentions somebody like this the SJW crowd shows up demanding the names of these authors. Yeah, I can’t imagine why I shouldn’t just reveal the identity an author who has a problem with their vindictive, petty, spiteful editor so it can damage their career. Yes. They are demanding that we “out” people. That side isn’t super good at irony.
So you can see why I think it is funny that Toni, who’ll publish just about anything as long as it is entertaining, is labeled as “divisive” for not sucking up to the perpetually butt hurt crowd. Recently I discovered sci-fi author John C. Wright, who is openly staunch Catholic and a fantastic deep thinking political blogger, and I was absolutely stunned to discover he writes for Tor. Go John! All I know is that he must sell a freaking ton of books. 🙂
I’ve worked with just about everybody in the Baen offices. They aren’t a big operation. I think we’re like the 4th biggest publisher of sci-fi and fantasy, but most importantly, we’re headquartered somewhere OTHER THAN MANHATTAN. Those of you who’ve dealt with New York in your careers know that it is a very special place with a very special class of people who live in the city who think they are the absolute center of the universe. Most of America isn’t Manhattan. Hell, most of New York City isn’t like that. The last signing event I did in New York I had a ton of NYPD (all of the ones who actually know how to shoot!) show up, and the running joke was that they were only allowed across the bridge through the servant’s entrance. Baen realizes that most of our target audience isn’t Ted Mosby.
Baen’s employees rock. They are always helpful, whether it is publicity stuff, or writing stuff, or tour things. On that note, our marketing director, Corinda, is a total badass who gets things done. Everybody in the office is on the ball. If I’ve got a question, they’ll get me an answer. If I need something taken care of, they’ll take care of it. Marla, Laura, Tony, Hank, Grey, all awesome (and I’m probably forgetting somebody, and I’ll kick myself later).
Then you’ve got the Baen fans. Brad mentioned this in his post. I think we’re about the only publisher with fans who are loyal to the entire brand as opposed to just individual authors. They loved Jim Baen for the work he did and the stuff he put out, and Toni has picked up the mantle and ran with it since he passed on. Baen fans are hard core. They know that if Baen put it out then it is going to be first and foremost, fun. Back when eBooks started, Jim Baen was a pioneer. When other publishers were charging hard cover prices and putting annoying DRM software on their books, Jim decided to be fair and not treat all his customers like thieves and pirates.
Brad mentioned the size of the advances. Yep, Baen advances for new authors aren’t that big. Toni takes the long view. She is taking a risk on a new author, so it is way easier for a book to become profitable with that smaller risk than a big one. On the bright side you are spared the massive whine fests like that recent blog post that went around with the chick who got a $200,000 advance for her first book that then sold a pathetic 8,000 copies. Holy shit. The publisher just took a massive loss. Then after several years of moping around and, I’m not making this up, forgetting how to write in the first person, some dumb ass gave her a $30,000 advance for another book.
Personally, my first few books got a smaller advance, and now that I’ve proven myself and have a solid fan baseI get a pretty good advance. But it doesn’t really matter since every single one of my books has earned out during the first royalty period so this hasn’t been an issue for me.
I’ve got friends who’ve gotten the big advances for their first book. Hey, no pressure, except if this book doesn’t blow up huge and you’re not the next Robert Jordan, you are now considered a total loser and your publishing house will hate you… Even though you as the author have zero control over how much that publishing house is going to push your work, advertise or promote you. And we’ve seen repeatedly that most of this industry can’t make a business decision for shit. Hey, we have this first time author’s book, and it sold pretty respectably, but since we threw a 50k advance at him, he’s a total financial loser. Oh well.
I know of one publishing house that gave a first timer a big advance, and she sold an extremely respectable 40,000 copies of her first book (the average midlist novel in America only sells a measly 15k) so she should be good right? Only they printed 200,000 copies. So she was a “loser”. Wow. Holy shit, publishing industry. Speaking as a retired auditor, somebody should get fired for that, but it sure as hell isn’t the author.
Is my publishing house perfect? Nope. It is an organization made up of human beings. Duh. However when you go to a convention and you’re listening to a bunch of authors who’ve had a few too many drinks whine about how much their publishers suck and how the publishing industry is screwing people over, you’ll begin to notice a theme of how the industry is such and such way “except for Baen”.