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Toni Weisskopf: Editor Extraordinaire

This isn’t going to be a post on Toni’s life and accomplishments, directly. First of all, I’m not nosy enough to have asked her for that, although I’d love to interview her sometime formally. What it is, is a story of friendship and generosity.

Toni is the editor in Chief at Baen Books. Baen is extraordinary for many reasons, something Jim Baen set up in his time. When we sadly lost the man, Toni stepped into very big shoes, and filled them seamlessly. She kept it all going: the business, the policies that made Baen special, and she did it with a gentle hand that never felt like it was there. But it was a guiding light. Eh. My metaphors are mixing. She’s going to tease me about glowing fingers next time I see her.

But that’s the thing. She pays attention. And she adopted all of us. The strange mixed crew of Baen’s Barflies, the realm of outcasts and geeks who came to Baen’s Bar because it was a safe place. Sure, there was a forum where you could talk Politics. But if you didn’t want to? You didn’t have to. And the moderators made sure of that. If you pushed, you got sent to Blazes (another forum). In the lifetime of the Bar, only a handful got so obnoxious they had to be banned entirely. Most of the Barflies lived by Jim Baen’s mandate: don’t be a butthead. Baen’s Bar wasn’t about the politics. Baen, the publishing house, was and is the last major House who didn’t apply a sociopolitical litmus test to it’s authors. It doesn’t discriminate. Have you any idea how powerful that is? It’s so powerful a concept, it’s led to the attacks that have shut down the Bar, and gotten a WorldCon to disinvite Toni as GoH, and is pushing to do away with Baen entirely.

I asked Toni yesterday if there was anything I could do. She suggested “Spreading the love that is the Baen Free Library–would love to see that positive contribution be known far and wide.”

So, let me tell you about the Free Library. It saved my life.

No, I’m not joking or indulging in hyperbole. I’m absolutely serious now. I found Baen’s Bar in 2000. I was a very young mother (my daughter was an infant, and I was pregnant again) in an abusive marriage. I was being isolated from friends and family by my now-ex. I was stuck at home, not allowed to drive (no license, only one car anyway), and my outlets were watching television (golf works for SAD, by the way. Sunshine and green grass) and reading. I ran out of books. Also, nursing an infant and wrangling a paper book isn’t so easy. I had discovered public domain ebooks, and for funsies, I went looking for more free books… and that’s when I found the Baen Free Library. This isn’t what saved my life, although maybe my sanity at that time! Finding the Free Library led to finding the Baen’s Bar. It was…

It was like coming home to a home I didn’t know was even possible. I found kindred spirits. I found people I could talk to, who grokked me, and I got them right back. It was incredible. I don’t have the words for the emotions I’m having now, remembering those bleak days where I almost couldn’t go on. And finally, the Free Library brought me, through the Bar, to a quote in a Lois McMaster Bujold book about resetting one’s personal honor. That was like flipping a switch, and the light banished the shadows in my life, that were extinguishing me, and enabled me to see the way out. And through it all, I had unseen friends encouraging me and giving me support, on the Bar and later the facebook communities when the Bar had software issues and we all migrated.

I was out of that, but still struggling to stand on my own two feet, when I met Toni in person for the first time. It was a kaffeeklatch at Boskone. She knew me, even before I was properly introduced, and when another person at the table asked a question about the Bar, referred him to me, as I’d been part of that community for more than a decade at that point. I was surprised, then. Now? I know better. She is gracious, generous to a fault with her time, and wise. She knew what she was doing.

There were other cons. I asked her questions about publishing, writing, editing. She knew I was becoming an Indie publisher, but never treated me like I was competition. She gave me shrewd business insights, and gentle encouragement. I think I’ll always come back to that. Gentility – that’s Toni. She is gracious, kind, gentle, and very wise.

It hurts me to see her disrespected and rejected by the SFF cons. But then again, Baen has been under attack for a long time, for failing to fit into the correct mold. Baen won’t take sides. Toni’s letter about why – about free speech – is characteristic of this refusal to bend the knee to those who want to make it all about identity politics. Baen is about the story, not the identity of the author. If you can write a good story, a solid plot people want to read, Toni doesn’t care if you have purple polka dots and one horn and fly. She’s going to publish you.

So I’ll leave you with this. Instead of dwelling in anger, let’s go do two things. Spread the word about the Baen Free Library. Let’s make it about the books, not the scum who are attacking what we love best about Baen. Secondly, if you have a Toni story, tell it in the comments. Let’s give her some love!

(Header image: Toni Weisskopf, Larry Correia, and Mike Kupari at LTUE about 6 years ago)

33 comments

  1. I have no story to tell. I only know Toni through her interactions on FB. She’s always seemed like a nice and rational person, which is all I really look for in people. I had no clue until all this started going on that she was the Editor in Chief at Baen. Yay for her! But she’s just another regular joe in my world. And the world needs more people like her. I hope she isn’t taking any of this nastiness to heart. She doesn’t deserve any of it and the people dishing it out aren’t worth the time, the energy, or the headspace. Hang in there, Toni. We’re behind you all the way. :hugs:

  2. I haven’t met Miss Weisskopf, but from what’s been said about here here and elsewhere, she sounds like a gem, exactly the sort of editor / publisher the industry should celebrate. Whatever we can do to protect her, Baen, and any other outlet that exercises no political bias, we should surely do. Time to promote the Baen Free Library!

  3. I’ve had the pleasure of meeting Toni on a couple of occasions. Each time, she was fun, welcoming and understanding about a then-wannabe writer fangirling. She was quick to offer advice and encouragement. She is, in short, a class act and undeserving of the behavior that has been leveled at her not once but several times by the so-called “Fans”.

    I completely agree with you, Cedar. The best way to combat this latest attack is to do what we, as Baen fans, have done so well over the years. Spread the word. Spread the word about the Free Library. Spread the word about the books Baen has and is publishing. Spread the word about how Jim Baen, and Toni after him, have not been afraid to buck tradition to bring innovation to the industry.

  4. I have met her once, at some con in upstate New York that I was volunteering at. Possibly Albacon, maybe something in Rochester it would have been in the early 2000’s. I was a grad student with a car and Toni was giving a presentation and didn’t have the right cable to connect her laptop to the convention projector. So I ended up driving her around the city, looking for an office supply store. As I recall I wasn’t quite sure where one was, and she was extremely nice about the whole thing. I talked about what I liked reading and writing, and she listened (and I now suspect she’d heard it all before and would hear it all again). Her panels were well attended- at the one on upcoming Baen books there was a blind gentleman taking notes in Braille and she answered all his questions. Baen has an even larger library of free audio and ebooks for the blind. She was one of the best guests I worked with, and the impression she made certainly stuck. She shouldn’t be disinvited from anywhere, and Baen has been at the forefront of ebooks and keeping them reasonably priced for decades, since they included CDs of ebooks in the back of hardcovers in the late 90’s. Baen is what publishers should be, and Toni is everything a con could want in a guest of honor.

  5. Had not read SF in years, last book was Dune I bought in 1970. Found Baen Free Library via Instapundit. Very thankful to Toni and all.

  6. I don’t know Toni except by repute. But the repute that showed her character… one of our lot, green as grass, on his first contract and thinking really small, related how she was like, “No, that’s not how you do a book contract,” and proceeded to give him a *fair* contract. For more money.

    A fair contract. From a publisher. With no l/e/e/c/h/ agent in the middle.

    Unheard of.

    That’s when I decided that in the exceedingly unlikely event that I stop being a total control freak and offer my stuff to a publisher, there’s a choice of exactly one.

  7. I’m not an author and I couldn’t pick Toni out of a lineup. But I know of her, and for Worldcon to do this to her, AGAIN, is so despicable that I must self-edit the vulgarity.

    I’ve already bought $30 in eARCs. Now . . . Cedar, do you know anyone who is in a position similar to what you were in back in the day? You can see my email on here. Send me that person’s contact information, and I will buy that person $100 in Baen money to spend as they like.

  8. Toni was my book editor years ago and I loved working with her. She is a brilliant editor, and was tremendously kind and encouraging when I was a fledgling writer. I stopped writing SF/F fiction to focus on my video games career, but if I ever returned to it, I know I would hope to work with Toni and the Baen team again.

  9. Here is the story my first interaction with Toni. I was a slimy contractor working for the Army out in a pretty safe but unnamed small desert country. I had heard that Baen sent books to servicemen, but technically I wasn’t one anymore. Toni didn’t want to know and didn’t care about my status. Once she established I was out there, working for the military, all she wanted to know was the address and if I had any particular favorites. As I’ve continued to work for the military and watched both coworkers and family go out to those places, Baen has done this for me three more times. Each and every time, all she wanted is the address.
    ~
    Since then, she has agreed to be on my friend list. I have had the pleasure of a few direct exchanges with her talking about trying to get back into shape, or good books, or staying motivated about things. All pleasant and I am better for them. She has been nothing but a positive effect and that is why, over the last 12 years, the percentage of books on my shelf with a little rocket ship logo just gets higher and higher.
    ~
    If this thread can be jacked, I hope it becomes nothing but a thread granting her the acknowledgement and recognition she deserves. Thank you, Toni, and God Bless Baen.

    1. I remember that, especially during the Second Gulf War. The guys coming back to Flat State U from the Sandbox and other military locales sang the praises of Baen for all the books they got.

  10. Here is the story my first interaction with Toni. I was a slimy contractor working for the Army out in a pretty safe but unnamed small desert country. I had heard that Baen sent books to servicemen, but technically I wasn’t one anymore. Toni didn’t want to know and didn’t care about my status. Once she established I was out there, working for the military, all she wanted to know was the address and if I had any particular favorites. As I’ve continued to work for the military and watched both coworkers and family go out to those places, Baen has done this for me three more times. Each and every time, all she wanted is the address.
    ~
    Since then, she has agreed to be on my friend list. I have had the pleasure of a few direct exchanges with her talking about trying to get back into shape, or good books, or staying motivated about things. All pleasant and I am better for them. She has been nothing but a positive effect and that is why, over the last 12 years, the percentage of books on my shelf with a little rocket ship logo just gets higher and higher.

  11. I met Toni at GenCon a few years ago during one of the panels concerning writing. They have a large writer’s symposium there, and many people love to attend.
    To clarify. When my son and I go to GenCon we take a lot of snacks, water, and sodas for the panelists and writers. We’ve been in the habit of doing this since we’ve been attending. Just ask a few of the panelists, like Jim Butcher (Who was thankful for the caffeine), who attended GenCon’s where a lot of bagged snacks and sodas appeared for the “hospitality” room. That was my son and I, when we could attend. Giving a little back to the people that give to us the readers and fans.
    This particular GenCon, BAEN was very prominent. Jim Minz was there and we we had a great conversation. We attended as many panels as was able.
    It was at one of these panels/talks that Toni wanted to talk with me. Yes, she wanted to talk with me!
    My heart raced, I was sweating profusely, my brain failed me and reverted to fanboi mode. At least that was how I remebered it. If I remebered at all. It was a wonderful blur. All I could think about was that she noticed the kindness I was trying to afford the writers and was very thankful and gracious to me. That Lady, Toni, was far more professional, honorable, honest, and sincere than almost anyone I have ever met. She left a profound impact on me. I am eternally grateful. God bless you, Toni!!!

  12. I know Toni mostly through attending LibertyCon in Chattanooga and working with the Interstellar Research Group (formerly the Tennessee Valley Interstellar Workshop), which Toni is on the advisory board of. We’ve always had enjoyable and informative conversations, although I tend to pull back when others want her attention as she’s always in someone’s sights as a conversation partner. But whenever we’ve needed her help and advice at IRG, she’s been ready and able to help. A definite class act in every way.

  13. You reminded me about why I went to the bar. It was just after the towers fell and I needed someone to talk to. I had a Baen book in my hand and it gave the address for the bar. The rest is history. I’m not an author or maybe not even a big buyer by anyone’s standards and certainly never a BNF but Toni has always been nice to me but that’s just how she is.

  14. I don’t know any of the Baen authors on a personal level, haven’t met them. For a group of Wokist Communists to attack some of the people who’ve given me countless hours of enjoyment, with the prospect of many more, is intolerable. I’m going to have to order some more books from the website directly

  15. I’ve never met Toni, or anyone from Baen, in Real Life. But my basement is full of Baen books, so her work over the years has made quite a difference to me. She wins the Benjamin Award here at Chez Phantom.

  16. Toni is not only the best editor in Science Fiction, she is, also, a science fiction fan. She grew up in Fandom. She was a Fanzine editor before she was a professional editor. She’s held room parties, which were fannish enjoyable, and not the very uncomfortable ones that NY editors held. Every time I’ve meet her, I’ve had nothing but good times with her at conventions.

    That can .NOT. be said for other science fiction authors/editors, who are still ‘beloved’ by Fandom. (Indeed one currently highly ‘beloved’, years ago out right insulted and humiliated me to make a stupid joke for his fawners at his panel.)

    And she’s a great editor. Someone I *wish* I could work with. I had her review one work through a writer’s workshop, and I wish I could work with her more than that slight bit.

  17. I could talk about Toni the Baen Editor/Publisher — many of you have, and she’s wonderful at it. But that’s only half of Toni and fandom.

    I’d like to remind people that she’s a fan of four decades (which is when I first met her). She’s won all three of Southern Fandom’s major awards — the Phoenix, the Rebel, and the Rubble (don’t ask about the Rubble). She’s been the Guest of Honor at DeepSouthcon — but she was also Vice Chair of DeepSouthcon 50 (June 2012 — long after she was a major professional). She was just part of a panel being interviewed about Southern Fandom for fanac.org (it should be up on the FANAC Youtube channel soon). And, besides the editing she’s done professionally, she edited the 1997 edition of the Southern Fandom Confederation Handbook & History (a 200+ page document).– it’s now available online, besides the printed version.

    I’ll let others give Toni her well deserved praise as a professional (although I can’t help but point out that Baen publishes a lot of books I really like). But it’s important, I believe, to recognize her major contributions as a fan.

  18. I don’t know Toni, met Jim Minz when Larry and Bridget came over to London. I was fan-girling Larry.

    I’m British, and therefore left of pretty much every American on account of my culture. Some of you here know I have argued against prejudice about gay and lesbians, transgenders etc., which is driven by my professional life as a mental health nurse and cognitive behavioural therapist.

    I also, as some of you know write Mil-SF, like guns and shooting, and would’ve been happy to have Baen publish my novels, but mine didn’t suit their target audience. That’s okay, I’m happy writing independently.

    Anyway, the purpose of the long preamble is that I’ve tried to discuss/argue/engage with the Worldcon fannish SF community, and have been blocked by three people, who’ve actually met me in the flesh, on social media; gotten into rows with other fans for daring to challenge their call to cancel Baen and just allow her to investigate first and see what happens; oh, and been told I write fascist second US civil war fan fic…

    So, I’m here to say… nothing really, because words fail me.

    1. Careful, Ashley. A girl with a cute accent who writes Mil SF? That’s like walking into a room wearing Chanel Number 5555.

    2. Ashley, I think that’s what a lot of people are feeling right now. Not quite stunned disbelief, but disappointment, surprise, frustration, and sorrow, all wrapped up in a messy emotional package.

      1. I agree. I also think that yes, there are bad people saying shitty things, but it’s like have an infestation in your house. If cleaning involves burning the house down then I’d suggest perhaps that wasn’t a good thing. The fans complaining are IMHO burning fandom down.

    3. I haven’t visited the Bar for years now – but when I did, the one thing that would net you a W80 equipped cruise missile up your nether orifice was an exhibition of sexual/racial/gender prejudice. Then a mod would sweep up the ashes and eject you. Now, cultural prejudice – as in “no, honor killing your daughters for showing their face in public, or forcing a woman to have an abortion of a second child” – THAT was rampant.

      (I stopped not because the Bar was annoying, or boring – the contrary, it was far too much of a time sink. As in looking up and realizing that the sun was rising, in mid-December. On a work day.)

  19. We were living in Prince George BC when one of the local schools had a fire in its library. Total loss. We contacted Toni via the Bar, and her instant response was “We like libraries!” Then the boxes of books showed up…

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