An Acquisitions Editor’s Guide to Making the Most of Exhibits and Conferences

Today, our editorial director Eric Schwartz will participated on the panel Making the Most of Exhibits and Conferences, at the annual meeting of the Association of University Presses. For those of you who were unable to attend the meeting or the session, he’s written this helpful guide for acquisitions editors looking to make the most of academic conferences.

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ACADEMIC CONFERENCES and their exhibit halls are essential to the acquisitions editor. It is where the concept of the editor-as-publisher is best embodied, as conferences require editors to engage all of our skills, from prospecting for the next field defining monograph to hawking copies of course adoption staples to networking with the movers and shakers in our fields. Whether the list is a long-respected front-runner or a plucky upstart with no reputation, exhibit success is all the same. It’s all about gathering useful information for the future and making a positive impression. The key to it all:

  • Know your list’s focus and its strengths
  • Tell a consistent story about who you are, what you are doing, and where you want to go

Plan and Prepare

As with everything, planning and preparation are essential for editorial conference success. This begins months in advance with careful consideration of which books to display and sell, and who to meet with while you’re there. Conferences have a focused and dedicated audience. The books that receive the best reception in the hall are not necessarily going to be the books that sell the most copies overall to a broader public. When considering what to bring, ask yourself what are the books that the field will appreciate? Then, focus audience attention on them. Coordinate with editorial colleagues in adjacent fields to bring books that may be new to your field but you think will be useful, engaging, and intellectually generative. A word of caution: too many outside books might make your list come off as unfocused and sprawling; too few, and you might seem undynamic and unimaginative. It’s all a delicate balance. Consider using a publication date as a hard cut-off so as to focus attention on new work and not the greatest hits. Bound galleys of books that publish after the meeting can give visitors an insider peek at what is to come.

Be Proactive—Don’t Wait to be Courted

Depending on the field, inquiries for one-on-one meetings with hopeful authors will come in by e-mail. Don’t wait to be courted. Be proactive. As soon the program is available, start thinking about who you want to see and why. Are there people in the field that everyone should know that you don’t? Write to them. Who are the journal editors that review the books in your field? Write to them. Are there people working on a new project you’re dying to know more about? Write to them. Catch-up with contracted authors on their progress, future authors on their potential, and network with the key gatekeepers in the field. People like to talk about their work to people who are genuinely interested in their work. Editors have a unique position in the academic community. Make the most of it.

Spend Quality Time at the Booth

Even if the press has multiple staff members attending the conference, an editor should spend some quality time at the booth. Being at the booth provide insight that you won’t get elsewhere. Take note of what books people gravitate toward? What makes them special. Is this unique to the conference or evidence of something larger? Are there books that get ignored?  If so, they probably don’t belong. Find out why. Don’t bring them again. Learn how people engage with the list. There is nowhere else to find out about the books on your press’s list that are of interest to a field all at once. You are conducting a natural experiment. Learn from it.

Drive People to the Booth and Follow-Up After the Conference

Finally, consider creative ways to draw attention to your booth and make a positive impression that will last beyond the meeting. This should happen before, during, and after the conference. How about creating an exhibit trailer and promoting it on Twitter before the meeting starts? At the conference, book signings are a great way to gather a crowd. Sneak in a little Prosecco for the authors and their friends, and it’s a party. Do you have a new textbook? Give away copies and be sure to capture email addresses, then follow-up to see if the book was adopted. You’re building your contact list. Make sure all of your messaging reinforces the image you want to project. Is your list edgy and quirky? Is it serious and scholarly? There’s not a right answer, except to be accurate and consistent.

Now, what are you waiting for? Get planning. That next conference is right around the corner.


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