Today I’ll be preparing for an upcoming conference. As an editor, I attend many more conferences covering a much greater variety of topics than I ever did, or conceivably ever would have, as an academic. And preparing for them is a very different task. Weeks before a meeting, I will have arranged with the conference organizers for a booth, conferred with colleagues to compile a list of books to display, and coordinated with the marketing and sales teams to make sure the books we picked would show up at the booth we paid for. But all of that has been done and today is more about planning my time at the conference. Which is fortunate for this post, because this is more interesting than ordering a hundred tote bags.
My job has me on the road at least once a month, and it is not to sell books in the exhibit halls of the Marriotts of the world. I travel to meet people, to gauge trends in the research, to get feedback from authors, whose student just completed what project, and so on. A lot of doing acquisitions is about establishing and maintaining relationships with people in the field. These are the folks who write the books and who read them. So today I’ll be trying to schedule as much of my Hyatt time with as many conversations as possible. I’ll be going through the program many times and putting together a list of people I’m hoping to speak to at the conference, be they recent authors, people currently working on a book for me, people who mentioned at the last conference that they might have an idea for a book, people who I think should write a book, or people doing cool research that I’d like to hear about.
I am afraid that I must dispel the image I imagine you to have of me diligently studying a conveniently searchable and hyperlinked pdf of the program on the conference website, making notes with efficient copy-paste keystrokes, deftly tabbing between applications strategically spread across multiple monitors. If this post is supposed to indicate what my day is like, then I am compelled to confess to a printed, paper version, colored highlighters, and a notepad with pen. I’m not sure that’s any more interesting or relevant, but it’s true, so there you have it.
Regardless of a possibly anachronistic (and certainly tree-hungry) method, after a bit of time I have a long list of names of people, some of whom I already know, many of whom I am contacting for the first time. I have found collaborators of researchers with whom I have worked in the past and some people whose abstracts and publication records are interesting and promising.
On the one hand, this is a somewhat repetitive task. On the other hand, this is a great way to get a flavor of what is going on in a particular field. And what a privilege to be able to spend my day learning about cutting edge research. It’s the sort of repetitive task that induces the good kind of headache at the end of the day: the “my brain is full of new words and is straining from trying to piece together coherence from technical paper titles and abstracts aimed well over my head” feeling.
List in hand, I write to each name highlighted. Are many of the mails very similar, suggesting a form of some sort, with just the salutation changed? Sure, certain sentences appear in each, but on the whole, they are all different and mention what I’d like to talk to them about. I would rather send fewer emails that are more specific, than the alternative. (I will note that other editors take the exact opposite approach and send a uniform letter to many more people. That is just not my style and I am grateful to have a job that I can do in the way that I am most comfortable and that I find the most satisfying. Perhaps one day, I’ll change my mind on this, and then I’ll be grateful to be enjoying the ability to change how I do things. We’ll see.)
Emails sent, carrier pigeons dispatched, telegrams tapped, I take care of whatever tasks had been waiting for me (paperwork to review, contracts to approve, questions to answer) and that’s a day.