What are some upcoming trends for 2014?
Even in science fiction, trying to predict the future is a mug’s game. We try to simply publish good books, regardless of trends. Steampunk as a literary genre seems to be refining and defining itself across the field, though.
What book/genre/topic would you like to see cross your transom?
I am always interested in stimulating hard SF, exciting space opera and military SF, well thought-out alternate history, urban fantasy and heroic quest fantasies that are not simply retreads of existing fantasy worlds.
For space opera, the Honor Harrington series by David Weber is the modern gold standard. For urban fantasy, we like a more muscular tone than, say, the Twilight books, so Larry Correia’s Monster Hunter International series is one of our favorites, as well as Mercedes Lackey’s Bardic series. For alternate history, there is no better than Eric Flint’s Ring of Fire/1632 series, which has its own dedicated long-running magazine, which also serves to develop new authors for the series (and there’s a forum on the online community Baen’s Bar entirely devoted to helping new authors for this series, as well as another one to help new authors in general). For pure adventure, David Drake’s RCN series can’t be beat, and for all-around wonderfulness, there’s Lois McMaster Bujold’s Vorkosigan saga. Both David and Lois write fantasies for other publishers, and their material there is also great, as is the work of Elizabeth Moon (author of the Nebula Award–winning novel Speed of Dark) and Brandon Sanderson (author of the Mistborn fantasy series).
What topic don’t you ever want to see again?
We are looking for writers with something to say and who know how to say it. Rewrites of popular movie franchises or TV shows don’t work for us.
What is unique about your corner of the industry?
I think its cooperative nature makes SF unique. From the very beginnings of the field, SF writers have believed in the “pay it forward” principle. SF is not a limited pie where you have to jealously guard your slice. The better SF as a field is, the better we all do. There is a great reader feedback system in place, and writers, artists, editors and readers all contribute to make the field they love exciting and vibrant.
How exactly does the fandom contribute to reader feedback?
There’s an entire book in this answer, but to try to narrow it down: Science fiction is not a zero-sum game. The more people who are involved the better everyone does. So there are contributions at all levels. In the beginning of the genre in the pulp magazines there were letter columns; nowadays, there are blogs and comments on publisher’s Facebook pages or websites.
In a sense, all of science fiction is a “shared world” in which a constant literary conversation is going on. Tropes are played with and bounced back and forth, expanded and compared. The only way I can compare it to other genres is this: If you write a mystery and come up with a new way to pull off a locked-room mystery, you’re not sharing it with everyone else to see what they can do with it. But Isaac Asimov’s Three Laws of Robotics (itself taking off from the Karel Capek play R.U.R.) has been used by many other authors, either explicitly or implicitly. And the readers who write fanzine articles or compile bibliographies or do technical analyses of imaginary space travel systems are part of the system, not passive consumers.
How have you approached the publication of e-books, and what have you learned from the experience?
This one can be boiled down to one simple principle: Listen to your customers. When Baen Books founder Jim Baen was first starting to get into e-books, in the late 1990s, he tried various different formats and pricing systems, and the Baen readers, specifically those on our forum, Baen’s Bar, let us know what worked best for them. Then we implemented it.
No. 1: We don’t treat our readers like thieves, and they don’t act like them: Expensive digital-rights management schemes were simply not needed. No. 2: Make the books priced reasonably. Then they’d buy more. No. 3: Make the books available in as many formats as possible. Yes, that means more work on our support side, keeping up with new formats and all the labor associated with converting hundreds of books to them, but it’s worth it in customer satisfaction.
Anything else you’d like to add?
In a time when the cultural divide in our country seems only to be growing, it gives me great pleasure to publish Baen Books, where readers and writers are united behind one idea: that science fiction is, and ought to be, fun.Toni Weisskopf is the publisher of Baen Books, known for its New York Times best-selling science fiction and fantasy, including books by David Weber, Eric Flint, Larry Correia and Lois McMaster Bujold, among others. Under the name T.K.F. Weisskopf, she is the co-editor, with Greg Cox, of two science-fiction anthologies for Baen and reprinted recently in an omnibus edition by Sterling Publishers: Tomorrow Sucks and Tomorrow Bites, about vampires and werewolves, respectively. With Josepha Sherman, she compiled and annotated the definitive volume of subversive children’s folklore, Greasy Grimy Gopher Guts, published by August House.