CARL SLAUGHTER: Let’s start with some business questions, especially about ebooks, the first one being very open ended. How has Baen’s adapted during the ebook revolution and what has been the result?
TONI WEISSKOPF: Baen joined the ebook revolution very early on; we published our first ebooks in 1999. Jim Baen (and our webmaster at the time, Arnold Bailey) listened to our readers, so we quickly settled on the best way to deliver ebooks to our customers, at a price point they would accept. We helped create the market for ebooks with our CDs full of free ebooks bound into first edition hardcovers. And with our Baen Free Library, we made it very easy for people to understand how to download and use ebooks. And we still do.
Do most ebooks sell through retail, direct mail, or downloads?
Through retail outlets like Baen.com, Amazon, B&N.com and so on.
Does every book have a hardcover, paperback, and ebook version? Are they published in a certain order? Are they ever published simultaneously?
No, not necessarily. Sometimes a book is a paperback original, and only later gets a hardcover edition, like Mike Williamson’s Freehold or Eric Flint’s first novel, Mother to Demons. We have two modes of ebook delivery: pre-pub, in which we sell both the EARCs and the serialized Webscription books of the month. Then post-pub, when both the paper book and ebook edition are available simultaneously.
Which version sells more copies? Which version is more profitable for the publisher? Which version is more profitable for the author?
Entirely depends on the book and the times.
Does a manuscript get to the reader faster because it’s in electronic form?
How many copies of a book do you need to sell to break even?
Another question that depends on so many variables,it’s a different number for each title.
Exactly how many sales constitutes a best seller?
Also a sliding scale, depending on what other books were published that month, that week, that day.
Has Baen been affected by the self publishing revolution?
Probably, in that some authors go directly to self-pub and we don’t see their submissions. But I also know many authors who do both. So perhaps not all that much.
Now some writer questions. Are there any subgenres you are specifically looking for, any you definitely don’t accept, any you like but get too much of, any you like but don’t get enough of?
We are always looking for strong stories, whatever the subgenre. Of course we publish only science fiction and fantasy.
Looking through the catalogs of the speculative fiction imprints, I notice an awful lot of trilogies and series. Is this the order of the day? Or has this always been the case?
There is such a large investment in a writer’s time to create a world, a future history, a magical system, that often they discover that more than one story can be told. And the same is true of the reader’s time, getting invested in a world. So it’s inherent to the genre.
Is a trilogy/series more commercially viable/safer than a string of stand alones?
Depends on the author.
When you sign a contract with an author, is it for a single manuscript, a certain number of books, or a certain amount of time?
Either a single book or a certain number of books. Again, depends on the author, how much experience he or she has had, what our experience of working with the author is like, and so on.
About how many manuscript submissions per year do you receive?
What percentage of those manuscripts do you buy from debut authors?
We buy on average 1-2 new-to-Baen authors a year.
Do you prefer an author with a resume of several short stories and maybe an award or two, or is the decision based solely on the manuscript?
Those other things don’t hurt, but the decision to buy is based solely on manuscript.
What are the most frequent questions you receive from writers at conventions/workshops?
While most people are there to hone their craft, a few, perhaps optimists, are looking for a magic bullet, the secret thing that will shoot them to the top of the bestseller lists right away. If there is such a thing, I don’t know what it is. Some people ask, what are you looking for now? But the answer is always the same: great stories of science fiction and fantasy. If you say vampires or space opera or unicorn zombies, you will always be chasing a trend. I’d rather see what most excites you now.
What are common misconceptions writers have about editing and publishing?
Perceptions of time. Things take longer than they think, from typesetting to marketing and sales promotion.
What are the most common manuscript mistakes authors make?
Computer screen formatting instead of double-spaced, no line breaks between paragraphs. Oh, and not numbering the pages. We need a running head or footer with page number, last name of author and enough of the title to identify it, if say the printed manuscript the editor is reading gets mixed with some other manuscript. I’m not saying that’s happened to me,but it’s happened to me.
Advice to aspiring writers?
Pastiches, fan fiction, and homages are a great way to hone your craft. But at some point you will want to find your own voice, and write about what moves you most.
Carl Slaughter is a man of the world. For the last decade, he has traveled the globe as an ESL teacher in 17 countries on 3 continents, collecting souvenir paintings from China, Korea, Thailand, Vietnam, and Egypt, as well as dresses from Egypt, and masks from Kenya, along the way. He spends a ridiculous amount of time and an alarming amount of money in bookstores. He has a large ESL book review website, an exhaustive FAQ about teaching English in China, and a collection of 75 English language newspapers from 15 countries.