On Wednesday, June 28, 2006, Jim Baen, one of the founders of Baen Books and a SF publishing icon, died. For an excellent review of his impact on SF publishing (and the genre and industry in general), read this by one of Baen's authors.
I'm very new to the "inside" world of publishing--so new that I'm not a part of it yet but am looking for my way in (read: writing the best damn book I can)--but this is a big loss to the SF community. It seems that Baen had a detailed emergency measures plan that has since been put in place, so nothing's going to happen to Baen Books anytime soon. But I'm still left wondering what this significant absence is going to do to the world of SF publishing. Having started writing at the tender age of 24, I figured out pretty quickly that, even if I didn't get published for another ten years, I was still going to be a part of a different publishing world from the one I first learned about. It's simple math and biology. I plan to write until I die, and I hope to live until I'm old enough to mumble "uphill in the snow both ways" stories to my great-great grandkids. This means that I'm bound to see some big names in publishing come and go.
It makes for a strange perspective on the nature of the job I'm in. Publishing is, at its heart, a subjective business. It's all about writing the best book you can and then having everything connect so that the right agent or editor reads it at the right time and can pitch it to their colleagues at just the right time to get that book published. Any number of subjective, human factors can derail that line. From my understanding, Jim Baen was very much involved in the running of Baen Books on nearly every level. No matter how well-detailed a plan he put into place, he can't transfer his subjectivity to anyone.
While I pause a moment to mourn his passing, I'm also going to watch and learn and see how we adapt without his voice and vision.