It is conference day! Despite the fact that I am at meetings like this one pretty regularly, I still find myself excited on the first day of a conference.
My day starts earlier than it would if I were in the office. I need to be at the exhibition hall hours before it opens to the rest of the conference to make sure everything that was shipped has found it’s way to my booth and that the booth is all set up by the time of the first scheduled break of the day.
At some conferences I am the only Springer editor. At others, I’m joined by a colleague, as I am today. He is another science (but not math) editor from our office in Switzerland; our areas overlap, so we have found ourselves together at conferences before. We work with a lot of the same authors. Having a compatriot in the field is nice (especially in a case like this, when we get along so well). We catch up while unpacking books and having our morning coffees. It’s a quiet “calm-before-the-storm” kind of feeling, full of friendly hellos to the editors we see from competing publishers, and a leisurely stroll to see who is giving away the best schwag. (Engineering conference exhibitors typically have cooler stuff than those at math conferences, in case you were in the market).
Once the exhibit hall is open, the curtain goes up, the show is on. My day is filled with meeting people whom I’ve contacted, tracking down people who never got back to me, squeezing in talks that seem particularly interesting, and selling books at the booth. My phone remembers the where, the when, and the who of the meetings. I keep track of the why. This can vary from “How’s the book coming?” to “Your talk this morning was great. Did building the physical models help you improve the numerical ones at all?” to “People seem really interested in your new book. Have you been by the table yet to see it on display?” and so on.
Some conversations can be more focused and eventful. I had a particularly rewarding meeting this morning with someone I hadn’t met before. I had reached out to her on the basis of the abstract for her talk and some papers that she’d published recently. I was pleased that she agreed to meet, and we had a nice talk about her project and what else was going on in her lab. I have fairly low expectations that the first time I speak with someone they’ll have a book proposal for me; I’m just happy to make the connection — I sometimes work with a long timeline (some projects take years to take shape, decades are not unheard of), which has its own rewards. But this morning, the timeline was compressed, and after mentioning options for the types of books she could consider (I was mostly just planting the germs of ideas, expecting to check up on their growth in a year or so), we hit one that clicked! She’ll put together a proposal pretty much now and off we go! (Also, her work is on the control of tiny autonomous robots, so… cool.)
Though, of course, selling books is not my priority here, it is something I do and actually something that is quite enjoyable. After working the rest of my time to help conjure these books from the ether and produce tangible objects, it’s pretty rewarding to see people thumbing through them approvingly and then buying them to read. At the booth toward the end of the conference, conversations, especially between veteran editors, tend toward reminiscing about the pre-internet days when we’d sell ten times as many books at conferences than we do now. Now, we have lots of folks taking pictures of covers, to order the books from the comfort of their offices. I’m not about to complain about technology though, as I work with people around the world and don’t want to think of a world without video chatting.
And that is a day at a conference. Disjointed, jumping from one thing to the next, standing for hours, jotting down emails, and drinking cup after cup of terrible coffee. I’m pleased that I’ve met new people, reinforced existing connections, learned some interesting things, and helped a few people further their projects. And I am grateful that the hotel has a pool.
(A bit of advice for anyone who travels often for work: Use the closet and dresser in your hotel rooms. You shouldn’t have to see the suitcase you’re living out of every morning when you get dressed.)