I’ve long touted the scholarly conference as an absolutely matchless place to meet university press editors, to peruse the offerings and styles of various presses, and to help them know your work. Now here, in the words of one of our best-published authors, is another perspective on the same idea:
I encourage [faculty] to work hard at developing their research and writing skills but also at making contacts. I would say that the time I spent in book exhibits at conventions schmoozing with acquisitions editors and publishers rather than listening to boring and self-aggrandizing research papers has paid rich dividends. That kind of networking is incredibly important. Of course, so too is having something significant to say: original research, new insights, not to mention engaging style, etc.
One common problem Booklab authors report is having to come up with fresh topics for conference papers that may never actually lead anywhere in terms of published research. Although the ideal situation is a conference topic that develops into an article and eventually becomes part of a book, real life is rarely that neat and precise. Instead, scholars often spend a great deal of distracting, rush-rush time on conference papers that wind up as unpublished computer files.
Milena Santoro in the French Department offered a workaround that I like much better. She suggests working on articles for publication from the beginning, and letting conference topics arise as the fruit of that research. Her logic is sound — a paper published in a key journal counts much more at tenure review than a conference presentation (sometimes as much as 3-4 times more). But if (for example) a journal article counts for 3 points and a conference presentation only counts one, they can be combined. An author can easily craft conference presentations from the paper’s core concepts or from outtake material that did not end up in the final draft, turning a three-point paper into four or five points without either increasing the writing workload or distracting the author from the goal of publishing the paper. Smart!
Today is Thursday, September 2, and faculty may write with me at the Mortara Center from 9:30-11:30. Please send a note to me for details about location and protocol (pretty simple, actually).
Also, tomorrow a small group of faculty will join me for booth visits at the American Political Science Association conference at the Marriott Wardman Park hotel in DC. I met with a Yale editor yesterday pre-conference, and Friday I have meetings planned with MIT, Harvard, Chicago and Duke. Our team will meet for coffee and strategy at 10 a.m. followed by two hours on the exhibit floor… they are welcomed to shadow me to the two morning meetings, or go off on their own. Lunch is next where we’ll compare notes and plan the afternoon (some faculty may leave, others may arrive).
Here are several reasons why it makes sense to visit university press aisles of a major conference in your city even if it’s outside of your field:
- For the price of a $10 exhibits pass you can visit all of the major university presses in one day, getting a feel for the respective cultures, publishing priorities, and even in a very tangible sense budget.
- Editors are usually friendly and interested in meeting you at conferences, whereas they may be quite busy if you approach them during normal business hours.
- Although key editors usually have meetings scheduled for most of the conference (and if you have a book to pitch I urge you to make appointments much earlier), some find themselves with quite a bit of downtime, and most are willing to discuss the books they love if you show genuine interest in the product and the process.
- Your field doesn’t matter since the booth is usually similar at various conferences. Books will change of course, but so much of a university press’s identity is still out and visible, there for you to learn about.
- It’s a great way to snag a range of catalogs to scrutinize to understand even more about how a press offers its wares, what makes it different from its colleagues and competitors, and how it balances its priorities.
We’re getting excited about the upcoming American Political Science Association conference in early September, because it will provide a wonderful opportunity to visit the university press booth aisle. You do not have to be in one of the on-target to get a lot out of visiting booths at this conference; it will be instructive for faculty in many fields. Here is a list of exhibitors:
A group of Georgetown faculty (four so far) will go with me on Friday, September 3, and if that describes you, then you are welcomed to join us. I will host a pre-conference planning session in mid-August (TBA) so we can discuss presses and outreach for meetings. Then I’ll meet with faculty that morning at the Marriott Wardman Park hotel for coffee and strategy, followed by a morning of meetings and press booth visits. Those of us who want to will meet for lunch to discuss progress so far, and then we’ll break for more afternoon meetings and visits, with a final round-up discussion in the bar at 4 p.m.
Just FYI, this will NOT entail paying for the entire conference if you are not participating in it. At most conferences exhibit/day passes are available, and I will confirm that before the first information/strategy meeting.
Richard Brown, Ph.D., Director of Georgetown University Press, is also the president of the Association of American University Presses this year. Later I will blog more about some of his key issues, as I will from time to time throughout his presidential year, but for now these links should be of interest:
Brown’s 2010 presidential address.
An article from Publisher’s Weekly on the annual conference in Salt Lake City.
Coverage by Jennifer Howard in the Chronicle of Higher Education (subscription required).
I promised to blog the MLA, and I will also blog future conferences. The best part of MLA was visiting the university press booths and getting to know even more editors and publicity people as human beings rather than figures behind monolith names. I loved that part, and I so look forward to going to another conference in a different discipline to meet still more editors this way (in addition to the on-site visits I already do).
I recognized a particular faculty member at MLA whose name I didn’t see on any of the panels. She said yes, this was the first time she had the luxury of going when she wasn’t looking for a job, sitting on a hiring committee, giving a paper, or trying to get someone to do something for her. Instead, it was all about professional development and networking sans agenda. She seemed so happy!