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Eric Flint

Jim Baen died a month ago. I suppose that's a strange way to begin a preface for a collection of stories from my 1632 series, but it seems appropriate nonetheless. Jim was the founder and publisher of Baen Books. He was not only the publisher who bought my first novel, Mother of Demons, and twenty-two out of the twenty-four novels that followed. He was also the man who published 1632 and was enthusiastically supportive of the series that emerged from it—which includes the Grantville Gazettes.

Jim was willing to take chances that few publishers would. When I first approached him with the idea of producing an electronic magazine devoted to the 1632 series, and distributing it through Baen Books' Webscriptions service, he agreed immediately. And, after the first few issues of that magazine indicated there might be a substantial readership for such stories, he agreed to start producing the volumes in a paper edition.

"Let's see what happens," he said to me at the time.

What happened was a success that surprised both of us. We had decided to hedge our bets with the first volume, which only came out in a paperback edition. Coming out in a time when the market for mass market paperbacks has generally been terrible, we expected the book would sell perhaps ten thousand copies. Instead, it sold over three times that many, with an excellent 77 percent sell-through.

(Sell-through is a term in the publishing industry that refers to the number of books actually sold, of the total number shipped. The average for the industry is about 50 percent. To put it another way, most books sell only half the copies shipped. The first volume of the Gazette sold better than three copies out of four.)

Once he saw those results, Jim decided to issue the second volume in hardcover first, with a later mass market reissue. Hardcover editions have a much better profit margin for publishers than paperback editions, and they bring a lot more in the way of royalties to authors. But, of course, they're also chancier, since they're more expensive to produce and it's always possible that customers will shy away from the price tag.

"Let's see what happens," he said.

What happened with that volume, which came out in March of this year, is still uncertain. Not enough time has elapsed for net sales and sell-through to be solidly established. However, the shipping order was very good—about fifteen thousand copies. That's probably twice the average shipping order for novels, and three times the average shipping order for anthologies.

That was good enough for Jim to decide to produce the third volume in the series in hardcover also. That's the volume you're holding in your hand right now.

At the beginning of June, I called Jim on the phone and asked him if he'd be willing to commit to a fourth volume of the Gazette in paper edition. He was, and we made the deal right then and there. That volume hasn't been scheduled for publication yet, but it'll appear sometime either late this year or early in 2008.

Grantville Gazette IV was the last book I ever sold Jim, or ever would. On June 12th, he suffered a massive stroke from which he never recovered consciousness. He died on June 28th.

All things considered, I'm glad the last book I ever sold my friend and publisher Jim Baen was one of these.

Eric Flint
July 29, 2006


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